Why Ragtime Designs?


I’ve been playing the piano since I was 7 years old.  I had 12 years of formal classical training, taught to me by my aunt, who was professor emeritus of music at the University of Minnesota, where she taught pedagogy and piano for music majors.  I learned some pretty complicated pieces of music (all memorized, of course) over the years.  Mozart, Haydn, Chopin, Bach, Brahms, Scarlatti and Clementi could be heard every day in my house growing up (my older sister also played -- better than I did, I might add.  She’s now a music teacher.).  But one of my favorite genres of music is ragtime.  It’s challenging and fun to play, lifts your spirits when you listen to it, and is a bit of a brain workout at the same time.  Let me explain.

The term ragtime is actually a shortened version of ragged time (or rhythm), which refers to the syncopation of the music.  If you look at the way ragtime is written, the left hand (bass clef) provides the steady beat of the music:  1-2-3-4, usually written in quarter notes.  (If written in waltz time, it’s 1-2-3).  No dotted quarters or eighth notes in the left hand -- just a steady beat written in straight time.  On the other hand (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), the right hand (treble clef) does all the “fancy” stuff, syncopated and off-beat, which provides the melody for the song.  The combination of straight time in the left hand and syncopation in the right hand engages both sides of the brain, and requires a sort of split-brain concentration.  The left brain focuses on more logical, sequential, organized thinking, while the right brain guides artistry and random creativity (I know that this oversimplifies the complexity of the human brain, but you get the idea).

Even though ragtime music is considered upbeat and low-brow (think pool halls at the turn of the last century, with dancing girls, burlesque acts, and bawdy humor), it is deceptively difficult to play and utilizes the same degree of proficiency that is necessary for any other type of music.  It requires a large hand span (which is why you usually see men play it) and a lot of hand and forearm strength. Even though I have the benefit of years of training and good technique coaching, it can still be physically exhausting to hold your hands in an extended position for the whole length of a song (the music is filled with octave spans and dense chords).  You must be mentally focused to hold the creative tension between the steady beat of the left hand and the syncopation of the right.

But it describes perfectly the way I approach any creative project.  I try to use good, sound techniques as the underpinning of what I make (like the steady beat of the left hand), then let my creativity take me in any direction that it will (like the syncopation of the right hand).  Wild and crazy shapes, colors, and combinations can be utilized, as long as they are glued down, stitched down, or otherwise attached securely to the project background using good quality products and tools.

Some of the techniques I’ve developed require me to challenge the brain connections that would appear to be intuitive.  For example, when many of my students do free-motion machine stitching, their natural inclination is to guide their work under the needle at the same speed their feet run the pedal.  Slow foot speed, slow stitching, right?  But I run the foot pedal fast and push the work slowly under the needle for much more even, consistent stitching and better control.  

Playing ragtime prepared me for that beautifully.

My collective body of work mostly uses bright, clear colors that are in-your-face and noticeable, and incorporates lots of glitzy threads, rhinestones, beads, yarns, charms and anything that sparkles.  When you listen to ragtime music, you can’t help but tap your foot or drum your fingers on the desk in time with the music.  And it’s the same with my artwork -- you’ll see clear, distinct designs and colors, punctuated with sparkle and shine.  As much as I try to use subtle colorways, those bright, saturated hues and sparkly embellishments always find a way in!

The final reason for the name Ragtime Designs is that, much like the two different rhythms complementing each other, I like to use many of the tools and materials available today to the scrap-booking and card-making world (which concentrates on paper, ink, stamps, liquid and paper adhesives, and die-cutting tools), and use them with materials that are normally found in the sewing world -- fabric, threads, buttons, beads and adhesives that are commonly used by sewists and fiber artists -- to create unique works of art.  Dies that cut small, intricate designs can also be used with fabric; they just require different techniques and adhesives to adhere them to your project.  

Good construction techniques and creative expression -- that’s what gets me excited to walk into my craft/sewing room!