Mojo – (Noun) Magic charm, talisman, or spell.
That word is used a lot, and I wasn’t sure if everyone knew the definition of mojo or not, so I put it at the top of this blog. And I did that for a reason. I want to discuss your Quilting Mojo this week.
There are times in our quilting life when we feel that artistically we are on fire. The colors we’ve chosen go together wonderfully. Our points meet. Our applique stitches are fine. The blocks square up and the quilt is square. The quilting is beautiful and appropriate. Yes – there are times when our Quilting Mojo is fully present and raring to go.
And then there are other times…when either that mojo is half-present, or worse yet, not present at all. And it’s the later scenario I want to talk about. What do you do when your quilting mojo has left the studio? What do you do when you don’t feel like making another stitch, cutting out another square, or petting one more piece of fabric? What do you do when there is no desire to quilt at all?
This is a tough place to be in as quilter. When there is no desire to work your craft, you can’t help but think about all you have invested in fabric and machines and patterns and other quilting stuff. Then you feel even worse about not wanting to quilt. However, this blog is not written to make you feel guilty, it’s to help you realize that we’ve all been at that place during some part of our quilting lives. And I also want to clue you in on some ways of how to jump-start yourself and get back into your quilting groove.
This sounds really simple, but it’s not, especially as you get older. I can honestly tell you that I have a harder time calming down and going to sleep now than I did when I was in my twenties and thirties. I think most of us do. So, let me get a little personal here (as I promised this year I would). Several years ago, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I won’t go into all the details of the diagnosis, but one of the symptoms I had was insomnia. And at the time, I didn’t look at insomnia as a curse, but blessing. I had a lot going on (small kids, a husband that worked out of town 90% of the time, my job, grad school) and for me, the ability to be able to “function” on four hours of sleep a night was simply wonderful.
Then the doctor explained to me the harm my lack of sleep was doing to my body. While I could go to sleep, I didn’t sleep well, and I didn’t sleep enough. I needed that deep REM sleep. The REM sleep is the deepest state of sleep and you go through REM several times a night if you’re getting enough good sleep. REM (short for Rapid Eye Movement because your eyes move rapidly back and forth under your lids during this state) clears your brain of toxins and helps the brain “file away” everything it’s encountered during the day. You not only wake up more refreshed after REM sleep, you also have better clarity of mind and are calmer.
It goes to reason if you’re not sleeping enough, and that’s perhaps coupled with the fact that the sleep may not be deep enough, you’re going to feel a bit fuzzy, disoriented, and overwhelmed the next day. And that can translate into no desire at all to quilt.
If lack of sleep is an issue with you, then address it. There are some foods that can help you sleep better (almonds, bananas, milk, honey, whole grains) you may want to snack on before bed. A sleep mask may be helpful. Aromatherapy may work for some. Yoga works for others. Experiment with a few and see if you can’t tell a difference in your sleep and your sleep patterns. If you’ve exhausted the list, you may want to try a natural alternative such as melatonin. And if push comes to shove, have a talk with your doctor.
- Clear the Chaos
Some people work fine surrounded by clutter. I am not one of them. It makes me anxious and jumpy. On top of that, I don’t know what I have or don’t have because I can’t find anything. I’ve learned I need to have at least some semblance of organization around me in order to function well. And not surprisingly my quilt studio was actually more organized when it was smaller. The reason for this is simple: I had less room to have more stuff. Now I basically have two rooms designated for quilting (a studio and a storage area), and there is more room for quilt paraphernalia and thus, more room for potential chaos.
Early on in my sewing life – back when I didn’t quilt but made most of my clothes and all of my children’s – I developed a system. As soon as I was through with a project, I cleaned my sewing area, including my machine. This is a bit harder nowadays, as I have multiple quilts on multiple machines, sometimes all going at once. So, I developed a schedule. When I am through with a quilt – any quilt on any machine – I clean that area. I have a long arm, an embroidery machine on a table, my featherweight on a sewing cabinet, and Big Red on a table. When I complete whatever project I’m working on in one of those areas, that area is neatened up.
If I’m really pushing projects (like making Christmas gifts), at the end of the week, I apply the 15/30 rule. I straighten up and organize for 15 minutes and then spend 30 minutes sewing or quilting. I repeat the cycle until my quilt studio is more organized. This at least keeps me cued in on what I have for my projects and if I need anything else. Every two weeks I sweep, mop, and vacuum to make sure all needles and pins are picked up and walkways are clear and safe. And finally, twice a year, I refold my stash. This is for organizational purposes for sure, but it also reminds me of what I have so I don’t over buy.
I know what some of you are saying now: This is taking away valuable sewing time. But it’s really not, at least for people like me that don’t work well with chaos and clutter. Organizing our sewing area actually makes us more productive because we’re not distracted by mountains of stuff.
- Keep a Simple Project Waiting in the Wings
It’s no secret I like quilts that are considered difficult. I enjoy the challenge (no matter how much I may fuss about it) of an advanced pattern or even just a line drawing of a quilt. The artistic side of my brain jumps right on board and says, “Challenge accepted. Let’s roll.”
After finishing that difficult quilt, or even mid-way through the construction, I need a break. That’s when a simple project helps clear the brain and encourages the soul. Sometimes just chain sewing pieces together is all I need to feel productive. A challenging quilt takes longer and often just figuring the thing out takes so much out of you, it’s hard to see any real progress. But if I’m churning out some block units en mass, I feel so much better about myself.
If my machine is tied up, I turn to hand sewing. I cannot tell you how much I love Cindy Blackberg’s piecing stamps. While she has quit selling them (and to the best of my knowledge the stamps are no longer manufactured), you may want to do an eBay search and see if any are available on that marketplace. I simply stamp out hexies, parallelograms, squares, or rectangles on some scrap fabric, cut them out, and hand stitch along the sewing lines. It’s easy work but oh so rewarding. Ditto with hand applique. Most of the time I have some hand applique project waiting in the wings. The steady rhythm of hand sewing calms me and clears my head enough that I can return to that challenging quilt refreshed and renewed.
- Avoid Hours and Hours of Solitary Sewing
Sewing of any type is a very solitary hobby. Most of the time we generally don’t have other people quilting along with us. And while Facebook groups and internet forums are all very important aspects of today’s sewing world, they don’t take the place of real human contact.
Let me encourage you to find a someone to sew with, even if it’s just one other person. Meet one Saturday out of the month. One weekday evening a month. Join a guild. Find a quilt shop or other fabric store that has a Sit and Sew (FYI, if you live in an area that has a Hobby Lobby, several of these stores are now hosting Sit and Sews, God bless them!). I can’t express how important this contact is with other fiber artists. We encourage each other, help each other, and just make each other better quilters and people. Quilters have a long history of quilt bees and guilds for a reason: We need each other. We need the encouragement, the constructive criticism, and the social connection.
If somehow you’re completely isolated from other quilters or fiber artists, don’t despair. Still get away from your machine. Go for a walk in the park. Go window shopping. Grab some friends and go to lunch, dinner, or a movie. Go get a cup of coffee together.
My point is this – we need social contact with other people. This helps our brains to function better. And better functioning brains makes us better artists and better people.
- Do the Hard Things First
Most quilters are accustomed to breaking projects into steps. Most of the time the process goes something like this: Read the pattern, cut the fabric, make the block units, sew the units into blocks, sew the blocks into rows, and then sew the rows into the quilt center. I know that there are some variations to this process, depending on if you’re making an applique quilt, or adding sashing, or if your quilt has borders. But no matter what kind of quilt you’re making, there are steps in the process.
We’re used to moving from step one to step two. That’s easy. But if you find yourself losing momentum from the time you’ve chosen your fabric until the time you’re creating the quilt, you may want to change up the steps a bit. In other words, if at all possible, whatever is the hardest part of the quilt for you, do that thing first or as soon as possible. Get it out of the way and move on. For me, this is cutting the quilt out, and if it’s an applique quilt, prepping the pieces. It’s not that these are particularly hard tasks, but I dislike these steps the most. Get the steps that are most difficult or most disliked done, over with and behind you. Then it will be smooth sailing (hopefully) for the rest of the project. The dread you may be feeling about a project is gone and you’ll have no hesitation about finishing the quilt up.
Making a quilt is a little like eating an elephant. It won’t seem so overwhelming if you take it one bite at a time.
- Take a Break
If you’ve tried steps 1-5 of this blog and your quilting mojo hasn’t kicked into even first gear, then maybe you need to take a break from quilting. It pains me to say this, but sometimes you need a break from the things that you love in order to gain some perspective. I’ve had to do this myself. Allow me to explain.
I’ve written several blogs about how quilting and quilters helped me survive That Awful Year 2018. Both sustained me through my daughter’s health crisis, my mother’s ongoing low iron and hemoglobin issues, and my brother’s diagnosis with MGUS. However, there was a time in my life when nothing quilting or quilter-related interested me at all. The year was 2005 and that is the year my wonderful, precious father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in three short months. If 2018 was awful, 2005 was brutal. The loss was incalculable. The pain – enormous.
Afterwards I found that I had lost interest in everything – even quilting. The more I kept pushing myself to get into my then tiny, tiny sewing space and be productive, the more I rebelled. So, finally I just gave up. I would go to my block-of-the-month clubs, pick up my kit, come home, and throw it in a box. For a solid six months this was as close as I got to quilting. I didn’t sew a stitch. Whether it was simply being overwhelmed with grief or depression or a coupling of the two, I’m not sure. All I know is that from September through March, I didn’t sew a thing.
Then the season passed, as all do, and as spring melted into summer and as the school year wound down (I was a high school principal at that point in my life), I found myself back in front of my sewing machine. The desire to quilt had returned. So, I sewed up all those blocks I had been tossing in a box in one Saturday. And haven’t quit again since.
My point is this, unless you make your livelihood quilting, taking a break – even an extended one – is okay. After a few weeks, a month, or even two months, pick up your quilting. If the mojo returns – whether it’s in a trickle or a flood – that is awesome. If not, then give yourself more time.
- What to Do If the Mojo Doesn’t Return at All
This is a hard one. Let’s examine it a few topics at a time.
Could it be the project you’re working on? If the quilt is way above your skill level or if at some point it utterly and completely fails to interest you, get rid of it. It’s no secret I’ve done this a time or two myself. Post it on eBay. Put it on Facebook marketplace. Ask if anyone else wants it. Put it on your guild’s Free Table. Most guild’s will have a “Free Table” at their meetings – a place where quilters put the projects, fabric, books, or patterns and other guild members can have them free of charge. There is no shame in this game. Sometimes freeing yourself from a quilting albatross is exactly what you need to jump start yourself again.
Could you need an extended break – like a year or longer? It’s no secret that as we get older, our lives get more complicated. There are serious illnesses, our own health issues, employment complications and the such that crowd our horizons and need our full attention. Examine your current situation and if an extended break from quilting is needed because you’re too busy and mentally exhausted, give yourself the time you need.
But what if, after you do all of that, you still have no desire to quilt? At this point, it’s important to ask yourself if another hobby has taken your passion. If it has, that’s great! Your still being creative, still using both halves of your brain, and most likely you’re still crafting with at least a few other people with the same passion. You may decide to sell off some of your quilting stuff and keep a machine and a few things. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and it’s happened to a few quilting buddies of mine. We’re still friends and still do things together, but we just don’t quilt together.
However… if you’ve lost interest in quilting and lots of other things, coupled with the fact that perhaps you struggle to leave your home and really don’t want to see friends…if you don’t want to eat or overeat…if you find yourself drinking more than normal or chemically sedating yourself, let me be the first to encourage you to seek help immediately. There could be a clinical depression involved and a doctor should be brought into this situation. Everyone’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. The world needs all the quilters we can get – take care of yourself and then take care of your quilting.
I hope this blog has helped someone that may be struggling with their quilting mojo. As much as I love quilting, I’ve struggled with this a time or two myself and have had to go through this list to see what could possibly be the strangle hold on my creativity. I’m fortunate that my mojo has always returned – sometimes slowly, sometimes in a rush. If you read this and need to message me, I want you to feel free to do so.
Until next week, Quilt with Passion!
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam