Posted on Leave a comment

Quilting to Heal…

I will not go into a lot of detail because the incident that I am about to describe is very graphic.  However, I do feel that the most general parts of it & the things that I learned are important to share…

On a beautiful autumn day, I saw one of the most horrible things a person can see.  I lived close to a major college campus & had gone to Church that morning.  I wanted to go to a park & take pictures of the waterfalls that afternoon.  The sun was shining, the sky was the most beautiful blue you can imagine, & the fall glory was blazing.  It was Homecoming weekend on campus; so everyone at the college had partied HARD the entire weekend & the town was pretty ghostlike on a Sunday afternoon- just quite as a mouse.

GPS told me to go one direction, but I knew where it was directing me & decided to get on the highway up by the stadium instead because I hadn’t taken that route in awhile.  I passed the stadium, the hospital, & one of the underpasses for an intersecting highway.  My dog, M, was buckled into the seat next to me & was happily watching the scenery go by.  Seconds later my life changed.

A car blew past me in the lane I had just moved out of.  I watched the horrible crash that followed & was the first one on the scene to call 911.  I think God led me there that day because I used to work across the street & I knew the area well.  I was able to give clear & concise instructions to the first responders & they arrived quickly.

I got some minor injuries at the scene, but what I saw & went through with the person who had crashed hurt a lot more.  I went home & went into shock.  I took a week off work & talked & talked & talked trying to get what I had seen out of my head.  What ended up helping was repetitive tasks that did not require a lot of thinking but kept me busy like doing the dishes, going for a walk, & cutting out fabric yo-yos.  I tried a number of things- like working on a painting.  I just couldn’t.  It required me to think & I didn’t have the brain energy to decide which color to put where.  But I could trace & cut circles all day long & that became my life-line.


I thought that was interesting.  Art can be healing in so many different ways.  When I’m stressed from everyday life, getting lost in a project & making decisions about it is a welcome escape.  Matching colors, choosing fabrics, creating a design- it usually rejuvenates me.  But after taking a mental shock like that, I needed something more basic, more rhythmic, like just cutting out yo-yos.

That seems to be the case with other major stressors- like moving or when my schedule is too over-packed for far, far too long.  In situations like that, I get so exhausted for so long, that I feel like I’ve lost brain energy & I need to do something, but I also need to not think & out come the scissors & yo-yo templates!  So- I’ve realized that I need different types of art & craft for different times in my life & that I need to listen to my mind’s rhythms as well as my body’s.


It’s important to make time for the things that give you sanity.  It’s also important to recognize when something works for you & when it doesn’t.  I’ve talked to other people that have been through trauma & encouraged them to have more than one person that they depend on when they’re having really hard days & I have to say, the same applies to your creative life.  You can’t always depend on just one thing to meet all of your stress release or creative needs.

I think a lot of people beat themselves up for this- the tendency to hop around from one project to the next.  Best case scenario, we make fun of ourselves.   Don’t believe me?  Google: “T-shirts dedicated to Quilting UFO’s (Unfinished Fabric Objects)” or go to a quilt show…  You’ll see!


But— what if we actually need to do all of that hopping around?  What if you’re just following what your body/mind is telling you that it needs at the time?  On days when you need to block out the world, getting lost in designing a quilt or working on a complicated design will probably be a dream.  Other times, you’ll sit down & try & try & try.  You’ll rip out more than you sew & your poor project will go into the “Time Out Bin” because you just end up mad at it.  Poor quilt!  It’s not it’s fault.  On nights when you can’t focus or concentrate on a complicated project, you probably need something that’s rhythmic- like embroidery work, hand quilting, sewing a bunch of mindless seams, etc.  That’s not a bad thing…so give yourself a break!  I made myself finish ALL of my UFO’s once & I’ve never been more depressed & uninspired in my life.  It completely stunted my creative growth.

So- if quilting is your job, you probably need to find a way to stay on task & get projects done, but if it’s your hobby (as it is for almost everyone), give yourself a break & work on what you need to work on in order to be happy & find your daily sanity.  Remember that what you need from your art life is going to change from time to time.  It can be different types of quilting- or completely different art forms like quilting and knitting.  Sometimes you might even need to throw in a different activity- like mixing your quilting time with swimming (for neck pain relief)!  😉  Find what works for you & don’t beat yourself up about it.

Happy Creative Journey!






Posted on Leave a comment

The Quilting Lies I Told Me


One of the most common phrases I hear when I’m demonstrating or talking with perspective students for art, quilting, or any hand craft is,

“I wish I could do that, but I just don’t have the patience…”

And it’s true.  Part of what we have lost in modern society are the values of patience and persistence that are learned through handcraft and cottage industry arts.


The concept that “children should just have time to be children” is extremely new and is leading us towards a society that doesn’t know how to take care of itself.  For millennia, children were part of the family industry from age 4-5 on up.  It is well documented that not more than 100 years ago, children were required to knit a certain amount of rows on a stocking or sew a certain amount on the family tally before they were allowed to go out to play (“No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting” by Anne Macdonald).  They had chores and responsibilities- and it was good for them.  They developed patience and persistence in trying and trying again until they gained proficiency in a skill or craft.  They had pride in being part of their family’s survival and in being depended upon.  They grew up self-sufficient and able to care for younger brothers and sisters at a very early age.


So, yes- there’s a reason that so many people today feel like they just don’t have the patience for sewing, quilting, knitting and other forms of handcraft.  They haven’t learned to try and try again, and to keep on trying until they become proficient at a skill because they haven’t been taught.  Fortunately, there’s a cure for that!

  1. Just start- knowing that it’s going to take some persistence at first.
  2. Choose initial projects that are small and quick to finish.
  3. Progress to harder projects that build both skill and your will to work on something that takes more time.


We are too used to instant gratification in our society today & I think it can have a negative impact on us mentally.  Traditional arts and crafts remind us to slow down and get involved in enjoying the process of something.  They provide healing from modern stresses and mental storms.

That being said, if you do try a form of needle craft and are completely frustrated with it, there may be a reason outside of our new societal norms that many will never consider.  That is to say that different forms of fine art and craft have different intrinsic rewards and it depends on what you are individually motivated by as to what you will enjoy.  What does that mean?  Here are a few examples to help you sort it out.


Someone like myself who likes to take on extremely long term projects (See the waterfall quilt at the beginning of this post!) that are often intricate as well as repetitive is motivated by the enjoyment of the process itself.  This type of person often enjoys the rhythm of the work.  They will likely enjoy knitting and crocheting in addition to hand embroidery or hand quilting.  They don’t mind how long it takes to complete a project.  The process of working on it is the reward itself.


Someone like my cousin’s wife is driven by the exact opposite- the completion of a finished project.  She rarely works on more than one project at a time and often makes the same pattern over and over and over again because each repetition of it gives her greater speed.  She feels like she has accomplished something when she completes a quilt or project and flies through several per week!  AMAZING, right?!


I would be extremely frustrated if I took her approach and she would be very discouraged if she took mine.  If you have an interest in something- enough to say, “I wish I could do that,” you probably have a talent in it that can be developed.  The trick is in staying with something long enough to know whether it is simply not the right type of hand craft for you- or if you just need some time to develop your skills.  It takes real courage to let yourself fail at something when you first attempt it and to continue to persist until you can find the joy- whether it is in the process or the completion of the project.


Think about the kinds of things that you already like to do.  If you are more mathematical and precise, you will probably like something with a pattern and instructions.  You may be one who needs to finish one project before starting another.  You may like the precision of using a machine instead of hand-sewing.  Blocking out time specifically for your sewing might be important in making it an enjoyable experience.  Following the pattern precisely and having perfection in your finished piece is likely to be what gives you satisfaction.  You may become easily frustrated if there aren’t sufficient instructions or if you don’t have a pattern or class to follow.  Or, you may master each step before you start to invent your own patterns or make variations.  You probably get frustrated when someone else doesn’t do it the “right way.”  And that’s okay.  That’s your mojo.  Go with the flow!

Close-up of Yosaic™ Quilting


On the flip side, if you are more artistic and free-spirited, you may want to learn handcrafts that allow you to make a lot of modifications on the fly.  (Yosaic™ Quilting is great for this!). You’re likely to be someone who has a number of projects going at once- which is perfectly fine!  In fact, once upon a time I thought there was something wrong with me for having so many projects in progress and made myself finish them all before I started new ones.  I have never been more depressed or artistically uninspired in my life!  I discovered that flowing from project to project is what kept my creative juices flowing.  So– good news!  There’s NOTHING wrong with that!  Work it, Girl!  Work it!  You’ll probably carry your projects with you and be perfectly fine with multi-tasking, getting in a few stitches here and there at the ballpark, in a waiting room, or wherever you have a chance.  You’ll see opportunities and ideas everywhere.  Something that has a precise pattern will probably frustrate you.  No worries.  Go with what you enjoy.


And, that’s basically the secret.  If you don’t have the “patience” for something that you wish you could do, it’s either the wrong type of art or it’s time to learn patience simply from doing it- the same way our ancestors did for thousands and thousands of years.  If you experiment, you’ll figure it out.  Good luck & have fun!