Putting the Focus Quilters

It’s not all about the quilts.

It’s about the quilters – the fellowship. 

It’s about sharing the good times and the bad.

It’s about multiplying the joys and halving the grief.

It’s about taking the scraps life hands you and sticking your finger in fate’s eye when you make something beautiful out of it.

That’s what quilting is all about.

–Sherri Fields, May 2012

When I decided the theme for 2020 was “Leveling Up,” a lot of thoughts ran through my mind.  I knew I could emphasis more advanced quilting techniques.  I knew I could push daring color choices and placement.  I spent Thanksgiving week pouring over blog ideas I had never written about because I didn’t know if my reading audience would follow them.  I re-read books and articles that had challenged me to become a more advanced quilter.  Then I made a list of 45 ideas for this year.  And at the top of the list was you – the quilter.

There are all kinds of quilters in this world.

And thankfully, there is enough fabric, thread, and (generally) acceptance for all of us. 

This year, along with talking about some complex quilting techniques, I want you to focus on you, too.  We all wear lots of different “hats.”  We’re mothers and sisters and daughters and employees and employers.  We’re sons and fathers and brothers.  We’re in-laws and significant others and professionals and retirees.  We’re at various stages of life.  Some of us are taking care of small children and some of us are taking care of aging parents.  Some of us are widows, some of us are childless, and some of us are raising our grandchildren.  Some of us are dealing with a sick spouse or with our own health issues.  We’re all at different stages and at different places.  But the tie that binds us together is quilting and all of its creativity, chaos, and color.  No matter what technique or designer or fabric line we like best, get a bunch of quilters in a room and the talk quickly turns into the Fellowship of the Quilt. 

This is important.  And that’s why we need to take care of us as much as we take care of our fabric.  What do I mean by this?  I want each of us to define our quilting journey as uniquely ours and not compare it to anyone else’s.  I could never design quilts like Kim Diehl.  But you know what?  That’s not my quilt journey.  Each and every quilter has his or her own creative path they carve out for themselves.  My path is not your path.  I (almost) visibly cringe when I hear another quilter say, “I could never quilt like you.”  Know what?  You shouldn’t.  You should quilt like you.  And you should cultivate what makes you great as an artist and strive to make each quilt a little better than the one before.  What you shouldn’t do is compare yourself with other quilters. 

When I started quilting back in the mid-eighties, it became all-consuming.  During that time, I had small children and still made all of their clothes and most of my own.  I worked and my spouse worked out of town a lot.  This meant that my quilting time was limited.  I primarily followed patterns or took Saturday classes.  Once Target opened in my city and , my made children’s clothes a relatively cheap purchase, my sewing time freed up more, and I started to seriously quilt.  I began to take patterns and put my twist on them.  There were quite a few failures, but there were a few successes, too.  And I soon found out that I enjoyed “doing my own thing” much more than always following the directions.  I began to play with proportions and settings and color placement. 

Here began my creative path as a quilter.  These were the days before the internet, Facebook, and Instagram.  At this point in time, I had never heard the word “blog.”  The local public library was my Google and Hancock Fabrics was my quilt class.  Consciously or unconsciously, I was exposing myself to more quilts and quilters.  My interests began to expand.  I dabbled in art quilts.  I tried new techniques.  I wasn’t afraid to fail, and I didn’t know enough to be too intimidated by another quilter’s quilt.  I refer to this period in my quilting life as “Free Fall.”  I’d try just about anything and didn’t mind spending time with my seam ripper if things didn’t go as planned. 

This year, along with learning new techniques and playing with color and patterns, I want everyone to become sensitive to their creative process.  If you need to hit the pause button on your quilt journey, do so.  Sometimes time away from quilting is what you need to “reset” yourself as a quilt artist.  Sometimes that pause means leaning solely on patterns or kits just so you don’t have to think so much.  We’ve all been there, and usually the quilt mojo returns (either in a trickle or in a flood), and we release the pause button and hit play again. 

It’s also important to document your muse.  In other words, keep those things that inspire you near you.  The cell phone is actually a great help in this.  Take pictures of flowers or trees or buildings that inspire you.  Quilters are often inspired by non-quilty things.  A catalogue that comes in the mail.  Paint chips from the hardware store.  A design on a scarf, in a tile, or even in a wallpaper that we just have to reproduce in fabric.  Any and all of these things can push us towards our next quilt.  I keep pictures in a file on my phone.  I have several Pinterest boards.  I also keep a physical file folder with clippings and such that stir my muse.  Sometimes it’s color.  Sometimes it’s texture.  Sometimes it’s a pattern.  But it’s important to me that I keep them accessible.  They help me in two strategic ways:  If I am planning a new quilt, they give me inspiration.  If I am pushing my way through a project, they give me an added desire to finish it so I can move on to other ones.  It’s equally important to note that you need to document what inspires you.  What works for me may not stir any inspiration in you.  With me, it’s all about color.   Nine times out of ten, it’s colors that that inspire me.  Patterns make up the other one-tenth.  What works with your muse may be something entirely different.  And that’s okay. 

This year as we are challenging ourselves to try more complicated techniques and patterns, let’s stay sensitive to what inspires us as well as to what challenges us.  As we each carve out our own quilt journey, let’s not compare ourselves with each other, but encourage each other and hold that individual quilt path as nearly a sacred experience.  Next week we really begin our Leveling Up when we will look at a new way to paper piece.  Have your freezer paper center front and ready.

Meanwhile, don’t be afraid to try something new!  Level it up!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

2 replies on “Putting the Focus Quilters”

Happy 2020 to you. Looking forward to read more of your insight. It took me years to realize I am a “Me” quilter. Not a traditionalist, modern, art, or one of the many other categories. I am a me quilter. I make what I like that is in heart at that moment. It makes life fun to embrace all.

A “Me” quilter is the best kind of quilter! I learn so much from them. If we’re all making the same quilt, or the same kind of quilt, we have nothing new to share and nothing to learn from!

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