THE QUILTING BRAIN
The Quilting Brain is an amazing thing. I think most of us take it for granted. Common traits among quilters, crafters, and artisans include the ability to “steal” an idea- to see how something is put together & pull an idea from it. You might not go home & make the exact same thing, but you take something from it & make it your own.
I had a boyfriend who worked in a professional setting & loved to collect unique ties. He was crazy about them. He was also the first one to introduce me to the theatre. We went to see Les Miserables. One day at our annual Fall Foliage Festival in Bedford County, PA (if you’ve never been- it’s well worth the trip- people travel from all over the US!), I saw a vender selling homemade men’s ties. I decided that if she could make them, I could make them! I went home, asked my dad for an old tie that I could take apart to make a pattern out of & went to work. On the first run through, I did not know to cut it out diagonally on the fabric & ended up with a tie that twisted like a corkscrew! Hilarious! Thank goodness for moms who can come along & tell you what you’re doing wrong… I got the cutting problem straightened out & started major tie production. Eventually, I started to embroidery them as well. He really flipped out when I presented him with a stocking full of homemade ties at Christmas. But that’s a quilters brain for you. I want it- therefore I will make it!
Creativity like that can’t always be taught, but I think it can be learned. It comes from thousands of hours of labor & experience. When I began learning Spanish, the first thing I learned was to read the words & recognize them in print. It was surprising to realize that I also had to learn to hear the words & that hearing was separate from reading. It was the 2nd step. The final step in fluency was being able to speak because you have to be able to both hear the language, think in it & respond in a very short amount of time. (I was actually shocked when I first learned that I would one day think in Spanish & not just always translate English to Spanish & vice versa. I didn’t realize that it would become a part of me.) It takes more practice than you can imagine. You practice reading. You practice writing. You practice hearing. And, you practice speaking. If you practice enough, you begin to think in the language; it becomes a part of you.
THINKING IN THE LANGUAGE OF ART
People who are artisans- whether they quilt or sew or paint- don’t realize that they are learning a language- that they can think in quilting, but it becomes a part of them as much as any language. It took me nearly 40 years to recognize that the reason that I see & react to the world so differently, so incredibly uniquely is because I am completely immersed in the creative process- I think in quilting- I think in art.
How do you think in quilting or art though? One way is by approaching many facets of life using the design process.
The design process broken down simply is this:
- Gather up all of your options (materials/patterns/etc.) & survey possibilities (like free writing in creative writing class)
- Eliminate what doesn’t fit & begin to focus
- Choose pattern/design/fabric/etc.
- Begin project
- Problem solve throughout the project
I follow this process at work. In sales, I gather up leads for potential clients to work with. I keep a large file (several boxes actually- kind of like a fabric stash!!!) & when I’m running low on appointments, I go through the box & pull out all of the ones that I might want to work with. Then I eliminate the ones that can’t afford my services, followed by the ones that aren’t as likely to advertise at that time of year, until I’ve whittled my selections down to the right ones to chase. Then I problem solve through the process of trying to land the account.
I fall back to the design process when I have any problem to solve, really. What are my options? (Gather up all of the possibilities.) Sweep away the stuff that is too hard, too expensive, ridiculous, etc. Reduce, reduce, reduce, until I can choose a solution. Implement. Repeat the process to further problem solve.
The design process spills over into a lot of avenues in my life and I’m proud to say that it’s a really practical & useful skill set that I have gained from my quilting & art adventures!
SEEING COMPONENTS & POTENTIAL
Another way that you can think in art is by seeing how things fit together & using that knowledge to pull anything apart, extract what you need & create something new. It’s an incredible talent that seems to be innate to most artisans; so we typically take it for granted. It’s part of that language of art- an integral part of how we think & process life.
I was totally guilty of taking this part of the language & the talents I have gained from years of making art in various ways for granted until I went to college. I was not a little bit surprised to find myself among a dozen PHD candidates who expressed amazement & stated that they couldn’t understand how I could alter an item of clothing by making my own pattern or take a couch that had been kicked to the curb, strip it, figure out how it was upholstered & how to reupholster it, when to me, it was just “common sense.” It was easy to look at things and see how they worked or didn’t work- what I could or couldn’t do with a given material & what might work on a proposed project if I tried because I had done it with so many materials & so many projects before. Skill sets & experience easily transferred over to new things.
MISTAKES ARE OPPORTUNITIES
But, of course, it didn’t always work. One time I ended up making myself a purse out of a blouse that I cut out with the stripes going the wrong way on one panel. But that’s another thing that the quilting brain does- it sees possibilities. That ruined shirt made out of fabric that I could no longer get more of at the store still contained brand new fabric. WHY waste it?!? ;-). Mistakes are opportunities.
ARGUMENTS FOR & AGAINST
Some might argue that this is not a language that I’m thinking in, but a skill set that I’m applying to various facets of my life. I think the bell could toll both ways. Because the skill sets that I’ve gained affects the way that I think & approach life, to me it has become a language. I also state this because the things we make convey meaning outside of words & to be immersed in the making of those things means thinking outside of words- it means to think in quilting or art.
I picked up a book last night about Scandinavian embroidery & was fascinated to learn about the custom that some of the folk women had at one point of keeping an elaborately embroidered bed made up at all times for show & nothing else. It was a status symbol among them. It conveyed meaning.
LANGUAGE AFFECTS PERCEPTION
So- yes. I think it’s possible to think in quilting. I believe that art is a language & that it can shape the way that you see, think & interact with the world. There are some fascinating Ted Talks on the subject of how different languages affect the culture’s perception of the world.
One of my favorite examples notes that in the US where we speak English we generally have 1 word for snow- and will add just a few adjectives such as wet or dry. However, the Eskimos have 21 words for snow! They live with it for much more of the year. They interact with it more intimately. Of course they see more types of it. My bet is that there are names for crusted snow verses drifted snow, dirty vs. pure & so much more. (If I recall correctly, the Ted Talk references this example as well, but I heard it in a different talk years ago.)
Another example that I love comes from my days in Spanish class, as well as the Ted Talk (linked below) that I recently viewed on YouTube (not an affiliate). In Spanish- there are no words that assign blame to the individual who forgot something. The literal translation of: “I forgot my keys.” is “The keys, they forgot me.” What’s interesting is that English speakers are much more likely to be mad at the person who forgot the keys and made everyone late, whereas Spanish speakers accept that sometimes things forget themselves! (Here’s the link to the Ted Talk for anyone who wants to watch it: How Language Shapes The Way We Think)
Languages really do shape how we see the world & the decisions that we make. When we immerse ourselves in quilting & art, it becomes a part of us- it becomes a part of how we think & see things. It is entwined into our vocabulary & vision. I believe it can only change us for the better.