Better Not Said

I’ve been thinking about what we don’t say.

When asked how we are doing we say “fine.” Not “I’m anxious as hell and I don’t want to take it anymore.“ When we are in a group of strangers it’s difficult to talk about abortion, racism, immigration or politics because it might step on some peoples beliefs. We send out little hints in polite company, feeling out which side of the great divides they are on before revealing our position. We use code words to express our dislike. In the South it is “bless her heart” for someone who is hopelessly wrong or clueless.

So I started thinking about how a language that doesn’t say anything would look. Kind of a secret language we keep to ourselves as we navigate these non-conversations. It’s a language only we understand. You know how it sounds right? It’s that voice inside that calls out your truth but in a whispering tone that only you can hear.

These hieroglyphic shapes could mean anything to the passing stranger. Or nothing.

And then I started thinking about what holding back does to our consciousness. How does NOT saying something affect what I believe to be true? How does NOT saying something create a tacit understanding among community members of where I stand? How does NOT saying something affect my inner peace? Does saying my truth out loud create barriers or bridges?

I’m all over the place with this. It’s hard to even write what I mean here.

Does polite conversation have a place in the dialog of change? Certainly ambassadors must use it when they are negotiating deals with despots. They seed their conversations with objectives while avoiding hot spots. Our president seems to think that name calling and dramatics will result in him getting his way. But will it? Or does the abandonment of polite conversation give us chaos instead?

Keeping my truth to myself results in little reservoirs of doubt and anxiety.

Keeping my truth to myself results in little reservoirs of doubt and anxiety.

So here is Better Not Said. A study of inner thoughts and outer NON dialog.

Better Not Said, 41” x 26.5”, linen, cotton, thread and batting. Paula Kovarik


Sometimes I have to unsettle the settled patterns of my mind. I start with no ideas, no burning need to communicate. I just have to get out of my head and into my hands. I grab the nearest slab of fabric, stick some batting into the fold and start stitching. Black and white satisfies the need for definition. It forces me to focus. These pieces flush out and flesh out latent anxiety. Perfection isn’t here. Neither is story or parable. It’s just a traveling line.

traveling lines in black on white.

They mean nothing. It’s just a release. I may find a use for them in the future. The dimensions please me.

What fun.

In the Weeds

It’s about the process. I’ve said it before and I say it to myself every day. But it’s more than that. It’s about connection, meditation, intuition and evolution. The work I do is no longer precious, no longer final, no longer static. It lives on, breathes inconsistency and opens new insights. This process keeps me thinking. This process brings pieces together. Here’s a brief summary about the process for a new piece, In the Weeds.

I started with this piecing composition. My thoughts were about sentinels — beings tuned into signals that may not be heard.

I did a lot of stitching on this piece, both by machine and by hand. There was an inkling of dissatisfaction during that time. But my motto tends to be “more is more” right? You can see the warping that is happening to the piece as I add more texture. Not a good sign most of the time.

I let it hang on the studio wall for about 4 weeks. Then I put it into the divide and conquer bin. This piece would not see the light of day until I could resolve its main problems — frivolity without reality, composition inadequacies, warpage meant for the sea not the wall.

Then one day I had an itch to destroy, erase, and engage.

I ended up with 96 4” x 4” squares. And it felt really good.

Reassembly took a few days. This was one of the solutions I had. Still not there. I attach the blocks to a substrate. This time I used drapery blackout fabric. It stitches very well and maintains its shape.

Of course, I am not shy about adding details. And, I added a few pieces from other quilts that were in the divide and conquer bin.

It was about this time that I knew the title of the piece, In the Weeds. According to the Cambridge dictionary: Concerned with so many problems or so much work that you are finding it difficult to deal with something; or concerned with small details, often when this prevents you from understanding what is important.

I’ve been in the weeds about a few things lately. Understanding what is happening in our governmental bodies, concern about the environment, moving into the third period of life. The catharsis of stitching helps quell the storm.

In the Weeds, final composition. Paula Kovarik, 34” x 39.5” The sentinels are still there but they are more active in their environment.

In the Weeds, Paula Kovarik, back panel.

many moons

I was not in a colorful mood. So this piece will linger on the boards for a while before I get back to it.

I came back from a number of trips last month with a swarm of images floating through my thoughts but no map to figure out how they go together. It was frustrating to feel so aimless. I looked around at the work that I had done prior to my trips and felt totally disconnected from them.

My friend Jeanne Seagle, a very talented artist here in Memphis said the following in an interview: “Make a lot of work. Put the good stuff in shows. Recognize the bad stuff, and put it in the closet. After a while maybe you can fix it. If not, you can still learn from it what not to do. Just don’t show it.“

After a few days and a number of puzzled thoughts I decided to be radical. I took out all of my older pieces lurking under the studio tables and made some judgements. Some still spoke to me about their intent and focus. Others did not. Some showed a learning curve in the stitching that no longer represents my work. Others were pieces that didn’t get done.

This piece never got done. It was an experiment with geometry and connections.

I chose a few and laid them out on the cutting board for some fun with rotary cutter.

Fun with my rotary cutter. No piece is sacred.

This piece, called Keeping up with the Dow Jones, was done in 2009. I’m over it.

Just that act of cutting up several pieces into 2.5” squares was a release from the aimlessness. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with it but I knew it was the right step. Catharsis. Resolve…and a little panic.

After some mix and matching, twisting and turning I finally came up with a composition that seemed to hold together. I stitched the squares onto a canvas backing. All 420 of them.

And now the fun begins. My goal as an artist is to channel what is invisible into the visible. The work I do is intuitive and exploratory. I’m never quite sure what will result with a piece like this. I just know that I am channeling lots of different emotions and thoughts. Beauty, complexity, doubt, anger, worry, whimsy, calm and depth. They are all in there. The layering of stitch and fabric brings out the best (and worst) of me.

I’m going to call it Many Moons. Because that’s how long it will take to finish it and because its taken me many moons to get to this stage in my work.


I travelled a lot in October. I soaked up inspirations at museums, in class at Arrowmont and while teaching and gathering with friends. It was a long time away from the studio.

During that time I brought my Bernina to our local dealer for maintenance. So my main machine is missing in action. It takes my dealer 5 WEEKS to finish the maintenance. 5 WEEKS. How crazy is that? And, unfortunately for us in Memphis there is no valid alternative at this time. I have 2 weeks to go before I get it back.

This hole in my table normally houses a Bernina 740.

This hole in my table normally houses a Bernina 740.

Then, upon my return I decided to reconfigure a few things with the help of my very wonderful husband. He is helping me install more design wall space which meant that the current space was disassembled and piled onto the work tables. The place is a mess.

Styrofoam insulation board and felt will give me a space of about 7 x 14 feet to play with. Then with a roller track above the wall another 8 x 8 space in two panels that will move side to side. Space, glorious space.

Styrofoam insulation board and felt will give me a space of about 7 x 14 feet to play with. Then with a roller track above the wall another 8 x 8 space in two panels that will move side to side. Space, glorious space.

I am at sea