Simper Tedium, What I Learned (and you can, too!)



One of the most  important recipes for your personal creative growth within The Slow Stitching Movement is allowing yourself time to play and run away for a few hours a week. It is impossible to sit home all day or, try as you might after a long day of work, to be truly creative and able to get in touch with those deep feelings of creativity that are buried and unstimulated within you.

A great personal sadness of mine is when creative people, like yourself, see play time as ‘wasted time’ instead of the opportunity to bank inspiration, clarity, and renewed energy for your creative work – our stitching.   Frankly,  the more play time you schedule for yourself, the greater the opportunity for profound creativity will be at hand. I’m no professor, I’m not a social scientist, nor am I an art therapist. I only know reaping creativity works this way. It works this way for me and it will work this way for you, too. I’ll talk more about that at the end of today’s blog.


On Friday, I had the opportunity to visit The Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, to see one of their current exhibits, Semper Tedium.   I was invested in seeing the show for a number of reasons. The four fiber and quilting artists featured in the show,members of the Semper Tedium group, are either friends of mine or artists whom I have met.  Friday was the day when all four artists – Paula Nadelstern, Amy Orr,  Catherine Knauer, and  Robin Schwalb —  were going to give short presentations of their exhibited pieces at the museum.  How could I miss that?

Liza Lucy (designer of Kafffe Fassett fame) drove to my Pickle Road home in Morris County, and joined Jeff Turner (Mr. Electric) and me before heading off to the museum, where we were to meet up with our friend and Quilt Alliance President,  Meg Cox.

As a network television producer for 30 years, I have met my fair share of bona fide Hollywood celebrities, yet I still find it terribly exciting to actually know and visit with artists , whom I know, whose work is hanging in museums (yes, you too, Luke Haynes)!   I will never forget walking through Manhattan on my way to visit Paula Nadelstern’s one-woman fiber show, KALEIDOSCOPIC XVI: More is MORE, held in New York City a few years ago.   I was both proud and astonished to see banners with her name and images of her quilts hanging from power and street light poles along the way to the museum.  I felt the same kind of pride and stomach butterflies as I drove toward the Morris Museum on Friday.








July 1 – August 15, 2014

The studio art quilts in this exhibit were made over the course of more than two decades from the talented hands of four different artists: Paula Nadelstern, Katherine Knauer, Amy Orr, and Robin Schwalb.  The exhibition celebrates the “Slow Art” movement of artists who embrace “handmade” as a mantra, blending traditional process with modern techniques and assemblage.  The show revels in process, rejoices in community, and celebrates artwork created in “as much time as it takes.”  Semper Tedium spans a broad variety of artistic styles, from abstraction to representational imagery, and the use of materials that range from fabric to credit cards.



While the group, Semper Tedium, is not directly a  part of The Slow Stitching Movement, it is modeled after The Slow Art Movement. The two groups are very similar, but the obvious difference is one includes all inclusive stitching  and needlework artists only , while the other is focused on artists and their particular art.

SlowArt is an all-encompassing philosophy of art and life developed by the artist Tim Slowinski. It was founded as a business entity under the Internet domain of in 1995. Under the domain, logo and label of SlowArt, Slowinski has operated a fine art production company,

In 1978 Slowinski inscribed on the wall of his studio what was to become the foundation of SlowArt:
“Art is a way of life, a method of being, a way of perceiving the world.”
It was this concept of art, not only as a process of creating objects, but as a way of life and perception that was to become the basis of SlowArt. Essentially, under SlowArt, the life process itself is a devotion to art, all life energy is directed and focused as an expression of art. In a SlowArt life, activity that appears unrelated to art is engaged only as a support structure for art. Art is not an occupation under SlowArt, it is a vocation and devotion. Much as a monk will engage in mundane activity such as farming or manufacturing to support the monastic devotion, the artist working under SlowArt will also perform such activities, but will do so only to the extent that it enables and supports a continuing devotion to art.”

According to the book, The Studio Quilt, No. 11:  Semper Tedium:  The Slow Art of Quilt Making,   “Simper Tedium, the pseudo-Latin title for a 2012 exhibition  signifies “always time-consuming” or “always slow.”  Tedium within the realm of needlework has had positive connotation for centuries – – the time set aside for solitary stitching during which the mind floats free while the hands accomplish repetitive tasks. Four artists of international repute, all of whom have been selected for Quilt National juried exhibitions, [make up the group Semper Tedium]. They all quilt by hand, honoring their semper tedium motto and generations of women who came before them.”


 Just click on the book to buy a copy from Amazon




Paula Nadelstern

Kaleidoscope the very word promises surprise and magic, change and chance. Exploding with visual excitement, a kaleidoscopic design organizes an abundance of light and color, form and motion into a complex and coherent image. My goal is to harmoniously integrate the idea of a kaleidoscope with the techniques and materials of quiltmaking. I try to free myself from a conventional sense of fabric orderliness, seeking a random quality in order to imitate the succession of chance interlinkings and endless possibilities synonymous with kaleidoscopes.

I make quilts on the same block in the Bronx where I grew up. Being a New Yorker wrapped up in the fabric of city life creates an inherent paradox contrasting the traditional image of quiltmaking as part of a simple, make-do, rural way of life with my own
complex urban-shaped space.

Historians have suggested that the block-style method of quiltmaking evolved in response to the cramped quarters of early American life. My family’s living arrangement in an urban environment created similar considerations which, unwittingly, I resolved in much the same way. For over twenty years, my work space in our two bedroom apartment was the forty-inch round kitchen table. A long distance view, alternate space, or not making quilts were not options. I believe this reality merged with my personality and passion for fabric in shaping the direction of my kaleidoscopic piecework, causing me to rely on intricate detail and inherent symmetry, and to invent a shape that makes the most of limited space. My block style method is based on a pie-slice section.

Until I met quilts, I thought I was creative but not talented. To find something you love to do is a gift. To achieve recognition for it is a miracle. Whenever I got overwhelmed by a longing for functional space, complete with a door I could close, I tried to remember this.

Lives change shape. In 2003, the second bedroom of our apartment was transformed into a studio.

My quilts have achieved international recognition for the innovative and complex designs inspired by the bilateral symmetry of kaleidoscopic images. Honored by inclusion in the Twentieth Century’s 100 Best American Quilts, my designs have inspired products including the vast carpet in the Hilton Americas hotel in Houston, TX and were showcased in the American Folk Art Museum’s first one person exhibition highlighting the work of a contemporary quilt artist (2009). In addition to numerous awards, I was a recipient of fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and The Bronx Council on the Arts. I’m the author of Kaleidoscopes & Quilts, Snowflakes & Quilts, Puzzle Quilts: Simple Blocks, Complex Fabric, Paula Nadelstern’s Kaleidoscope Quilts: An Artist’s Journey Continues and Kaleidoscope Quilts: The Workbook. I design textile prints exclusively for Benartex, Inc. and live in New York City with my husband, Eric.



Robin Schwalb is a New York City native who explores the rich variety of the written word in her graphically compelling quilts and fabric collages. The use of written symbols in her work balances an appreciation of their abstract beauty with the desire to include the “found art” of relevant texts. However, since the natural tendency to read a text disrupts emotional or intuitive responses to her work, Schwalb tries to circumvent this in several ways: by using individual letters or ideograms from exotic or obsolete languages; by using the text decoratively as a repeating pattern in the background; by so cropping and chopping the text that it becomes illegible; or by concealing the text in the quilting. A wry sense of humor informs her choice of images and text, which are manipulated and combined for maximum visual impact. The desire to use specific, personally meaningful images dictates a process-oriented approach. Schwalb transforms her basic material with photo silk-screen printing, stenciling, dyeing, and painting, in addition to the standard repertory of piecing, appliqué, and quilting.

Schwalb studied painting at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where she received her BA in 1974, and has worked as an archivist and media tech at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for more than thirty years. Her quilts have been widely shown in both juried and invitational exhibitions in the United States, Europe, and Japan, including Outside/Inside the Box (2012), Crossing Lines: The Many Faces of Fiber (2011), Talking Quilts (2004), and Quilt National ’87 – ’97, ’01, ’05, ’07, and ’13. Her work also has appeared in numerous publications, including The Art Quilt by Robert ShawAmerican CraftThe New York TimesCanadian Surfacing Journal,FiberArtsThe Detroit News, and Patchwork Quilt Tsushin,and is represented in the collections of the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, the Visions Art Museum in San Diego, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as well as in corporate and private collections, including the John M. Walsh III Collection of Contemporary Art Quilts. Schwalb was awarded a grant by the Empire State Crafts Alliance in 1989 and received the Quilts Japan Prize at Quilt National ’05, which was awarded by given by Japanese publisher Nihon Vogue and allowed her to visit and teach a workshop in Japan. The experience of traveling to Japan resulted in several quilts, as had earlier trips to China and Russia.




Katherine Knauer began making quilts in 1976. Inspired by traditional quilt patterns and textile techniques, Knauer frequently prints her own fabric in order to layer-in imagery taken from contemporary headlines. A sense of humor is an essential component of her work and a familiarity with textile history would provide a deeper understanding of the many visual double-entendres. The juxtaposition of a medium most often associated with comfort and warmth and surface imagery concerning war and environmental degradation gives her work a unique perspective and energy.


Why quilts? “Stitching is my native language and I am more fluent with this medium than any other. The amount of focused time required, the singular concentration on the subject and the repetitive nature of careful craftsmanship provide a meditative atmosphere for reflection on the topic.”

Press about Katherine:

Read about Katherine on the Textile Study Group of New York Blog.

Read Katherine’s article “Stencil Printing on Fabric” from the Summer 1993 issue of American Quilter Magazine (PDF Download 7mb).



Post-consumer ephemera provide Amy Orr with inpiration and working materials. Orr’s artwork has been widely exhibited and published internationally. She graduated with a MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University,an MA from the University of the Arts and a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Israel. Amy Orr is the Director of FiberPhiladelphia and a faculty member at Moore College of Art and Design. Orr lives in Philadelphia and Southold, NY with photographer, John Woodin and their son, Hal.



This is a photo of the gallery space at the Morris Museum and some of the people that were in attendance. I’m showing only some of the quilts that were hung for the exhibit. The Semper Tedium exhibit runs through August 15, and I urge you to attend for yourself!



Paula Nadelstern discusses her work while standing in front of her quilt, Kaleidoscopic XXXIII: Shards  (2007), 64.75″ x 57″,   while our friends, Meg Cox and Liza Lucy look on.




 Kaleidoscopic XXXIII: Shards, (2007), 64.75″ x 57″, Paula Nadelstern


 Kaleidoscopic XXXV:  Service for Eight, (2012), Paula Nadelstern

I would like to point out that the “plates” in this piece are not circular pieces of fabric appliquéd to a background, but are all pieced from tiny bits of carefully cut fabrics to create this kaleidoscopic design!  Incredible!


  Kaleidoscopic XXXVII: Pseudo Symmetry, (2012), Paula Nadelstern


Fiber artist, Robin Schwalb presents her quilts to the gallery audience at the Morris Museum.

Robin sch



SPQR, (2013), 70 x 48 inches, Robin Schwalb

Robin comments on this most delicious piece:

“The past, both ancient and more recent, is always present in the Eternal City. The ancient acronym SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus, ‘the senate and people of Rome’) is still used by the modern municipality. Here, a contemporary mannequin–you may think of her as Candida, patron saint of yeast infections–is haloed by the coffered ceiling of the Pantheon. Is she receiving an electric shock from those outstretched fingers?–a shout-out to Michaelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel. Her torso is a composite capital in the Capitoline Museum, in Rome. The borders are based on Roman cosmati, or mosaic floors. And no image of Rome would be complete without a buzzing flock of Vespas, with an old Fiat thrown in for good measure.”

The quote stenciled in the lower border is from Gary Shteyngart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story (2010): “The city of Rome appeared around us, casually splendid, eternally assured of itself, happy to take our money and pose for a photo, but in the end needing nothing and no one.”

SPQR_detail robin_schwalb

 Noo Yawk, Noo Yawk, (2006),  38″ x 36″, Robin Schwalb


 Your Name Here,  (2011), 55″ x 40″, Robin Schwalb


Katherine Knauer talks with the audience about her pieces in the Semper Tedium exhibit.




  Storm at Sea, (2008), 90″ x 93″, Katherine Knauer

 I have to tell you, as I told Katherine,  that photographs of this quilt do it absolutely no justice! Yes, the graphic ‘pow’ of the orange octopus is exciting, but what is very difficult to see is all of the detail work that Katherine put into this piece. One of the things that just blew me away was all of the text that she hand embroidered into the octopus shape. I tried to get a close-up of it in the following photo. Can you see it?




  Katrina, (2007), 84″ x 90″, Katherine Knauer



  Solar City II,  (2012), Catherine Knauer

All of the fabrics in this quilt were digitally designed by Katherine and printed at Spoonflower!


Yours truly with mixed-media artist and quilter, Amy Orr!  (God, I salivate when I see her work!)




Amy’s quilt, Coverage, (2014) is an homage to the Affordable Care Act.    It is made of plastic medical cards piece into a log cabin quilt pattern.


Jeff Turner and artist, Amy Orr,  find a logo that Jeff designed, as a medical Art Director, for Allegra in her piece!


A  closer look at the Allegra logo (the logo is right in the middle of the photograph, purple italicized letters with a blue ‘E’ in the middle of the text.  Did you spot it yet?


I love this quilt so much I could marry it! Amy Orr  designed this quilt that she calls, Security Measures, (2008), 35″ x 25″, from a collection of credit cards that are cut and affixed to a quilt with sequins!   I was lucky enough to see this quilt first at last year’s Quilters Take Manhattan, I literally swoon when I’m near it.




$100 Quilt — 100 $1 bills, gum wrappers, glass and metal beads, hand-stitched onto cloth, 58” x 36”, (2002) Amy Orr






The Studio Quilt, No. 11: Semper Tedium,The Slow Art of Quiltmaking 

Showcasing the quilt art of Katherine Knauer, Paula Nadelstern, Amy Orr, and Robin Schwalb, with an essay by critic and curator Sandra Sider. 28 color images, 13 being full page, in a total of 40 pages in paperback form from August 2012.


Light refreshments were served in an adjacent room at the Morris Museum where everyone in attendance got to mix and mingle with the artists du jour.


Guest of honor  and Semper Tedium artist, Paula Nadelstern,   talks with Long Valley, New Jersey,  designer and author, Elaine Schmidt.


I pose for a selfie with art quilter, Elena Stokes.


Author/ designer, Elaine Schmidt gets acquainted with author/designer, Liza Prior Lucy


Guest of honor and Semper Tedium artist, Robin Schwalb shares conversation with Meg Cox.


My old buddy (and an original editor at Mark Lipinski’s Quilter’s Home magazine, Jan Hunold (middle), chats with Paula Nadelstern and guests.


Networking and friend-making at the Morris Museum.  Inspiring each other thorough conversation.



It’s me with award-winning quilt and fiber artist, Benedicte Caneill.   Benedicte was one of the first people who heard my live talk on The Slow Stitching Movement, at my Slow Stitching lecture in Somers,  New York, this spring.


The talented and wonderful Liza Lucy standing beneath a portrait of her childhood playmate.


While the artists and attendees were meeting, mixing, mingling, and eating cookies, Jeff Turner took a stroll around the museum. Just two rooms away and another quilt in the museum’s Honey Bee Exhibition.   Here  is what he found…


This beautiful quilt is by, Joan Lintault,  and is called, When the Bee Stings, (1996). It is hand dyed, screen printed, and includes hand-painted Fabric.   It is on loan to the museum from the collection of John M Walsh, III.







Nothing is like having lunch with your creative idols and other inspiring personalities.   The group decided to have a Thai lunch at a restaurant called, Origins 2, right off the Morristown Green, on South Street.











As I live my life, I am always looking for the lessons, in not only the difficult experiences, but also in the joyful experiences. As I returned to Pickle Road and he began to digest the day (and my Pad Thai), I not only counted my blessings but also my lessons learned. Let me share them with you:

  • Surround yourself with creative people.

If you truly want to be creative, then you need to surround yourself with creative people — not just sometimes,  but all of the time. Creativity, like negativity, rubs off. If you make the decision to seek out and surround yourself with creative and inspiring personalities, it will be next to impossible for you to not become more inspired and more creative than you already are.

I often hear how difficult it is to actually find creative people and/or organizations in certain areas (my own area of Long Valley, NJ is one of those places). You just haven’t looked hard enough.   Creative people are everywhere. The woman checking your groceries at the supermarket might be a well-seasoned watercolorist. The man who takes your clothes at the dry cleaner could be building model ships that are museum worthy. The kid who delivers your newspaper may be a genius at ceramic building. Open yourself up to explore your community, as is a tenant of The Slow Stitching Movement.  Trust me when I tell you that the most creative and inspirational characters in your local area are not going to be knocking on your front door inquiring whether you want to hang out with them. Get off your duff, make a move, and reap the creative rewards!

  • It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality

What I especially loved about the Semper Tedium exhibit was how interesting and thoughtful each of the quilts were.  Each quilt made a statement that was individual and dynamic. Here’s the rub: there were literally only about 10 -12 quilts in this exhibition. It was about the quality of the quilts and not the quantity of the quilts that made such an impact!

As a part of  The Slow Stitching Movement, we know that all of our quilts and stitching is about the quality of our process and not the end result or quantity! Artists, just like the artists  from Semper Tedium, have devoted many years and many hours to perfecting their techniques and vision. Of course, they have many examples of their art to show. You only need one! You only need to work on one important legacy quilt in your lifetime. If you make more, if you are driven to produce more beautiful, quality, and slow-stitched art,  that is a fabulous goal, as long as it is not your only goal. Make sure what you stitch is excellent.

  • Your art is  about what pleases you, not what pleases others.

Find your own perfect.  Never forget that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you are always the ultimate beholder of your own work! Create for yourself, with intention, with total focus, and with an open heart. The beauty will come as you embrace your creative muse and allow your soul to actually work through your hands. No editing, no second-guessing, only creativity.

  • Take the time to figure out what your aesthetic is.

What I noticed throughout the quilts in this exhibition is that each of the artists had a very specific aesthetic. This concerned me because I can say, very honestly, that I am not sure what my aesthetic is! Some people are lucky. They find out very clearly and very early on in their creative process. Some people are not so lucky, and many people are like me — a person who may never realize what their aesthetic is and whose only goal is to create. So, as I write my morning pages, I suppose I will  explore what my aesthetic could be, or reflect on my past work to see where I might have been going aesthetically. As a slow stitcher, finding your own aesthetic is a very important step to your creative success and individuality, not to mention your final legacy pieces.

  • Be open to surprises and take advantage of inspiration.

Paula told a story while she was presenting at the exhibition that she thought, at one time one quilt of hers   (currently hanging in the show) was finished. That is, until someone made a suggestion which changed the entire look and feel of the piece. Paula was open to taking advantage of the inspiration that was handed her. That, folks, is what inspiration and creativity is all about – – being open to suggestion, keeping your eyes open around you, and looking for inspiration in your day-to-day experiences (like the Slow Stitching Movement suggestion of carrying a camera with you to take pictures of things that inspire you throughout your day).  Allow your work to surprise you! Find inspiration from other sources when it feels as if your visceral well is running dry. Take advantage of every visual, audible, and sensory cue around you.

  • If you can’t find what you’re looking for, create it yourself.

I love  that  Katherine Knauer created her own fabrics from Spoonflower for one of her quilts.   If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for to create your art,  find a way to get what you need in ways that might not be comfortable for you, convenient, or “normal.”   You cannot put limits, or you should not, on creativity and your vision. We have read, only 1 million times, “If you can imagine it you can achieve it.”   That’s art, kiddo!  Whatever you can envision in your stitching, you can achieve in your stitching. If you want to crochet with telephone wire, then find a way to find telephone wire to stitch with. If you want to do needlepoint with strips of aluminum foil, figure out a way to use aluminum foil in your needlework! Don’t be limited by your thought or suppositions. Just like you are creating your final vision of your art, sometimes we must create the tools that will help us achieve our creative vision.

  • Break a few rules, not just technical rules but design rules, too.

There is no reason to follow any rules in your art and stitching, no reason whatsoever! Not only am I encouraging you to break any technical rules in your creative pursuits, I’m also asking you to break the design rules as well, on your slow stitching journey. No great art was ever achieved by following a pattern, a role, or some kind of code. Yes, the goal of slow stitching is excellence in your art, but excellence doesn’t mean following the rules.   Amy Orr stitches with plastic and dollar bills. Robin Schwalb  includes Michelangelo-esque  hands in her piece, as well as Vespas, and very traditional, accurate, patchwork!

  • Only the practice of process is perfect.

The impact of Amy Orr’s plastic quilts is about  the takeaway.  Paula’s quilts are perfectly precise and that is her process.  Amy’s work has some major impact but is not very precise — try to cut insurance cards 100% the same way with every cut!   Paula’s work also has impact, but for different reasons, almost opposite reasons.   Perfect works. Impact works, too.   Try as we might, it is impossible for any of us to be perfect, technically, in terms of design, in terms of our stitching, and that’s why our practicing our process,  our intentional and focused process, is the only  kind of perfection, we as stitching artists, should be striving for and can count on. True perfection is impossible.  That’s why I call our process a practice and not a done-deal goal.

  • Look at everything as resource, material or inspiration.

Slow stitching means stitching out-of-the-box. It is the practice of not being satisfied with the status quo. It is about the risk-taking to create something that has not been created before, with intention and creative focus. It is making a  Storm at Sea quilt like Katherine Knauer, and then appliquéing in a giant,  hand-embroidered, orange octopus over it!  It is making wonderfully detailed and precise kaleidoscopic orbs, as did Paula Nadelstern,  then mixing eating  utensils into the design!   It is blending hard surfaces like credit cards and insurance cards then finding a way to make them into a quilt, as did Amy Orr.   Or mixing modern, with classical, and traditional stitched designs as did Robin Schwalb.    The Slow Stitching Movement asks that you open your eyes and be prepared to  embrace every ounce of inspiration and resources the world offers you!

  • Every artist puts her pants on in the morning.

One of the more important lessons I learned on Friday was that successful artists are just people who practice their art and process.  They interact with people the same way anyone else would.   They order from a menu the same way anybody else would. They make decisions about walking to the train versus being driven to the train the same way everybody else would. They are people. They are people who have taken advantage of their talent through thoughtful, slow, practice. They are people who elevated their raw talent and developed it into sophisticated results. You can do that, too. You have enough talent (no matter where you are presently on the talent spectrum). Allow your talent to come forth, through your own legacy work and important stitching projects. Follow the tenets of  The Slow Stitching Movement, and allow your talent to soar just like the artists whose work I saw on Friday – – the same way everybody else would.





7 thoughts on “Simper Tedium, What I Learned (and you can, too!)

  1. What a lovely and reflective post, Mark. I’m glad I read it- I’ve been doing some stitching the last couple of days for a book project I’m working on. A couple of times I’ve found myself wishing I could work faster or just see the finished product already! But then I remind myself of the importance of the process and of enjoying it. Thanks for the extra reminder and the insights. And the show looks AMAZING!

  2. Mark, You have your gift, you just do not seem to see it. You have many talents but it is your voice that brings people to you. You are an exceptional creative writer!!!! In my humble opinion writing is your gift. Sincerely, Mona Dow

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Thanks for this comprehensive post! You inspire! I would love to know more on finding one’s own aesthetic. I quilt and paint and the issue of finding your own voice has always been a problem for me. Is there a way to access the Webinar? Sorry I didn’t find this blog before the fact.

  4. Thank you, for another inspirational post!
    Your “voice” emerges when you are being your most authentic self. It changes and matures through expression and time, but its essence is always your most authentic self.
    Perhaps, your Legacy Quilt’s legacy will be revealing your voice?

  5. Hi… I just saw your show at the PWPL and wanted to let you know that your work is so beautiful! The colors, the composition, the texture…. an inspiration!!!

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