Warning: deep thoughts on the way …
I thought I’d carry some of the philosophical tone from my last post over to this one because I wanted to share something about the process of quilting and how it affects me and my reaction to my finished quilts.
By now, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that piecing is a means to an end for me and that most quilt tops, no matter how fancy, don’t excite me much – in fact I find a lot of them to be dull and flat – until they’re actually quilted. Even after quilting, I only “love” some of them. And of the ones I do love, very few escape being listed for sale in my Etsy Shop. VERY few.
Here is one I made for myself near the beginning my my quilting journey, with fabrics I initially loved in store but then couldn’t buy enough of to make my quilt. I eventually found it unexpectedly while on a trip along the Oregon coast and chose to make a quilt for myself and keep it as a memento of the trip. I’m not a collector of typical souveniers and prefer to bring home things that are useful but will also serve as memories. It hangs in my living room and once in a while I use it, but mostly it’s something I enjoy seeing because it evokes memories of the trip and of the lovely coastline and ocean waves we stopped frequently to appreciate.
So I’m going to share some things I’ve learned that have helped me and might help some of you recognize and identify where it is along the way in your artistic endeavours that you find your greatest joy and main reasons for doing what you do. I think when we do that, it helps us focus and makes it easier to leave behind any expectations we feel based on outside influence.
You see, I love “the process”.
My process is the planning and execution of the quilting designs. Not the piecing, but the quilting, especially the custom quilting. And once that process has been finished, I’m not overly attached to the finished product. In my experience, this makes me a bit of an odd nut in the quilting world. Let’s say an invisible minority (ie. I’m certain I’m not alone in this, but I haven’t yet met anyone in person who shares my perspective). I’m a bit of a nut too, but that’s for another blog altogether!
I once watched a program where a lady who had made a lovely artistic looking quilt was about to cut it up into something else to demonstrate a technique. Yes, you heard that right! I couldn’t believe it and neither could the program hosts. Some of her quilting had been done by hand, some was like embroidery. But I watched as she confidently and happily laid it out on the table and began to cut it into different pieces, acting very relaxed about the whole thing as the audience gasped. Then she showed how she was going to sew them all back together into a totally different configuration, changing the overall style of the quilt.
I didn’t get it at all until she spoke the words that resonated with me.
She said that her passion and joy was all in the process of making the quilt. MAKING THE QUILT. Once the quilt was made, the process was over and she was on to other projects that – through the process of making them – would bring her new joy.
That’s how I feel to a large extent about my own quilting – the actual QUILTING. Once I survive the piecing of a quilt top, imagining the whole time how I will stitch on it, I begin the quilting process with a sense of joyful anticipation and I thrive all the way through. When it comes off the frame or away from the sit down machine and I can see the whole thing clearly, I’m happy with what I’ve done – proud even, if it’s been a real challenge and I’ve met it – but the process is complete and something in my brain has accepted that. I’ve usually tried and learned new things, made mistakes, figured out how to do better next time and am ready to start again to keep the process going.
Binding gives me something to hand stitch in the evenings while relaxing and catching up on my favourite tv shows, and the sooner I finish, the sooner I can move into the laundering and photographing for sale stage. But while I’m binding I’m already imagining the next quilting process, and the anticipation of the joy it will give me begins to build.
This explains how I can spend many hours, sometimes over days, working on a quilt only to feel little to no desire to keep it when it’s done, even if for a moment there might be a twinge of “I should” because I worked so hard. I think that comes from a sense of what’s normally expected: 1) what most other quilters might do with their completed project if it wasn’t already designated as a gift for someone special, 2) from a general idea that after spending so much time on something it seems strange to part with it so easily and not even care to keep it for myself, or 3) that there’s no price to be put on something with that much personal time and effort in it. Those influences are outside of me.
Inside of me is the understanding that – as harsh as this might sound to others – I’ve done what I set out to do and the quilt has already served its purpose for me. It was always about the process not the quilt itself. And the process was meaningful and fulfilling. Most days it could be any fabric at all on my machine because I’m looking at the stitching possibilities and the fun I can have doodling on the fabric with my thread, making art.
“Be in love with your art. Every detail of it. Practice it. Create from the heart. Trust your instincts. Pay attention to details. Because art, undeniably, is conducive to happiness.” ~ Sharon Blackmore, Love Shack Quilts
It is the process that brings me joy, satisfaction and fulfillment. It is the process that is my passion. And that’s why I’ve been able to learn and accept that perfection isn’t necessary or even attainable in the reality of quilting. I do my best, I practice, I progress. It is in the doing that I find my “zen” if you want to call it that.
Of course there is also satisfaction and joy in giving a finished quilt to a special person; often it has been planned for their enjoyment and I do like making others happy by sharing my quilts, but that’s another human experience altogether 🙂
I can now understand how it is that so many people piece quilt tops and fold them up and store them while piecing more quilt tops and so on. I imagine that is their own process, that the piecing itself is their passion, the thing that brings them joy, and once the top is done, their process is finished, and it’s time for the next top. And if that is true – if that is YOU – then celebrate it! I hear a lot of piecers expressing guilt feelings over having so many unfinished quilts because they aren’t actually quilting them after they sew them. Some even express that they’re disappointed at the thought of leaving so many unfinished things behind when they leave this world.
But my thoughts on that are these: if you enjoyed the process, you fulfilled your creative task. When someone gets hold of your work, finished or not, there will be a new process for them; your work will not be in vain. We just have to open our minds up a bit to see that just because we have completed something, it doesn’t mean that thing is forever to remain unchanged. And it’s OK for someone else to pick it up where we left off and make it their own. What a cool legacy! Do what you love and don’t sweat it if you open a closet and see a bunch of things you haven’t done. You did your part.
“Do what makes your soul shine”.
Have you thought about your own quilting/crafting/artistic process and which elements mean the most to you? Have you ever taken something already finished and broken it to make it into something completely new and maybe even better? I would love to hear about it in the comments!