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Creating a Beautiful Life

I’ve been a quilt maker since I was fairly young, all the ladies I knew at that time were quilters. I think I was 15 when I joined the ranks and made my first quilt. I was young enough to not be intimidated by the 1″ postage stamp pattern that I insisted upon making. My mom, in all her wisdom, convinced me to start with one block and go from there. Wise indeed. That quilt ended up as a charming, quirky, sampler lovingly hand-quilted by the sewing bee of my grandfather’s childhood church. It’s not what many would call fabulous but it’s an important part of my journey.

Garden Quilt
My first quilt, circa 1993, age 15.

Because I began quilting in my formative years and grew into it as I grew into adulthood, I never learned to appreciate what a creative force it has been for me. It was always there and I was always making at some level. And all was good…until it wasn’t.

When we needed my quilting room for a nursery, when it was necessary to pack up all my supplies and relocate them into nooks and closets, that thing which both facilitates and fuels my own unique expression was shoved away as well. If maintaining a creative practice is like tending a garden: pulling the weeds and pruning the plants for optimum beauty, then I had let my garden grow fallow. While it led to a low point in my own journey, it also enlightened the path for the rest of my journey. I can no longer deny the importance of a creative practice. And not just any creative practice – I’ve tried lettering, painting, pottery, crochet…none of which make my heart sing. When I returned to quilting after a five-year hiatus, I knew I was home.

So, what is it to “create a beautiful life” and what does this have to do with quilting? It’s about the obligation we have to feed our souls with that creative expression that makes us come alive. That thing that you could gladly stay up all night to do, make, practice? That’s the thing. You must do it. We are created in the image of a creative God which means we are wired to create. It is our job to pursue that thing we’re meant to create and get on it. Find a way to practice it daily. Do away with the notion that being creative takes a great amount of time, dollars, space, or talent. Stop making excuses and make something beautiful.

A beautiful life is one lived slowly, in pursuit of creating rather than consuming. I make my family’s bread and other staples because by slowing down and taking the time to make these things by hand, we are given the gift of knowing the ingredients, feeling the textures, smelling the smells, tasting the freshness, and anticipating the goodness. I make quilts for the same reason – it’s slow, it touches so many senses, it nourishes the soul and cares for the body. It goes deep.

A beautiful life is one spent observing the small, beautiful things that occur naturally all around us. Where I live, this often means building a muscle of shutting out the noise and clutter, ignoring the constant hustle, slowing and making space to go deeper. When you make something you are forced to go deeper, whether it’s brief or ongoing. But to be deep is to savor and appreciate, to focus on finer details and force the weight of a daily grind to take a back seat. That is a beautiful life.

It’s not about physical surroundings. Or the aesthetics of the thing being made. But the intentional act of making. The daily practice of honoring the creative aspect that makes our heart sing. This doesn’t come naturally and it isn’t taught in school. It’s a practice. What is your thing? What can you be more intentional to practice, even just moments at  time, every day?  I dare you to start. Dive in. Don’t hesitate. And definitely don’t compare yourself to what’s found on Pinterest.  Close the computer. Put away the devices. Take up your fabric, your paint, your pieces, your ingredients, and make something.

Pause. Breathe. Sit in the gratitude that’s to be found in the making. And then set your hands to work and your mind to rest.

Ponder that thing you create. Dream up a way that you can practice this thing every day. Is it a page? A piece? A few moments at an instrument? A new recipe? The same recipe pursued to perfection? As you begin the practice, be sure to note the difference it makes. Is there a new lightness to your step? A clarity you hadn’t felt before? A new joy? Progress? The simple act of reflecting on your practice is bound to bring you deeper.

So let’s do this, shall we? Make a beautiful life with me. What’s your creative thing? I’d love to hear about it! 

This post is a part of the 2017 Quilt Bloggers Hop. I’m excited to spend the next several months exchanging insights with a group of talented quilt makers and bloggers. For more quilty goodness, be sure to stop by and check out these others who are also sharing this week:

Leanne @shecanquilt : She Can Quilt

Yvonne @quiltingjetgirl : Quilting Jet Girl

Beth @CookingupQuilts : Cooking Up Quilts

Jess @SewJess: Sew Jess Handmade 

Amanda @ Quiltologie : Quiltologie All Things Handmade

Abigail @CutandAlter: Cut and Alter

Rose @ SomethingRoseMade: Something Rose Made

Stop by and say hi (there’s prizes!), bloggers love to hear from you. And stay tuned for more great posts from the group over the next several months.

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Saved by Art

creative

I spent many years building a foundation of quilting experience. In that process, I lost my touch with a true creative process and took my art for granted. In the end I wasn’t joyfully making and pouring my soul into something new, I was just producing an iteration of someone’s preconceived ideas.

So I quit.

I used my entry into motherhood as the excuse to walk away from my heart song. I had no idea how important it is to a soul to faithfully cultivate a creative practice. There is something within us, as created beings, that needs to create. The medium isn’t important, but what is important is to know which medium it is that makes your own soul sing. I’ve tried so many, from pottery to lettering, gardening to crochet, and more. I can confidently say I’m a quilter. Quilting just fits like a native language.  That’s an important thing to discover for yourself.

I was blessed for many years to have a room of my own for making. Who doesn’t want to shut the door on an in-process creative mess?! But babies came along and that room as called to serve a different process. And so I thought the thing to do was to box up my tools and focus on other things. I had no idea that doing this also meant that I was shutting away a piece of essence. And at such an important place in my story.

How grateful am I, then, for a renewed connection. An undeniable, visceral connection.

There’s a reason that art is treasured. But I think we forget, while treasuring the pieces that are made, that we should also treasure the act of making art. Each of us. No matter what that art is. There’s a soul-filling mindfulness that encompasses all of the senses when we set out to bring life to an idea.

Find your thing. Dive deep, and gratefully listen for the heart strings. And then carefully cultivate a daily, intentional practice of making something beautiful.

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Book Chat: The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters

Quick note: this post contains affiliate links. All this means is if you buy a product I recommend, the seller shares a small percentage of the sale with me, without affecting your price. I only recommend things I use and love myself. 

Most quilters begin by choosing a pattern and a set of fabrics, follow some instructions, resulting in a lovely and functional piece. I did this for many years and in so doing built a strong foundation of skill and taste. But in working through the works of others, I did not build a voice.

Enter improvisational work. I don’t know why this style has drawn my attention at this time when it’s never resonated before. It’s fascinating actually. So I’ve been reading up on what makes improv work and I’m excited to tell you about The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Lynn Wood {affiliate link}. Improv Handbook

My friends: this is a book for every quilter. Even if you think improv isn’t your thing, there’s much to learn from the author’s approach to creative quilt making.

“At the least it requires a willingness to take risks and make mistakes”

The Score

One of the first concepts she presents is the score. This is the set of parameters the artist determines at the outset of a work and can range from colors and materials, to size, tools, scale, process, time, and more. The myriad possibilities are in themselves inspiring, and the challenge of working within a prescribed framework is both freeing and supportive. She talks about pushing limits and breaking rules as the way to innovation.  Make a list of the facets of your project and then challenge yourself with a new score.

I’m looking forward to working up a piece with a score that involves only scraps from my past projects, using scissors, and working up to 60″x 60″…stay tuned!

I realized that, like the author, I’ve seen my quilting evolve from my earliest works which were perfectly lovely, but prescribed and relatively uninspired. I played carefully to the patterns and choices of someone else, never testing my own footing, building a repertoire of technique and a strong foundation. But “as I became more skilled and familiar with techniques, materials, and process, my quilts often became static and self-conscious. Once I figure things out I’m tempted to strive for perfection”…yes! In that pursuit of perfection I lost sight of my own creative process. I’m not sure I ever even saw it, actually. I was too busy reinterpreting the work of others to have my own ideas. I lost my way and stopped quilting.

Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind

Since I’ve rediscovered my connection to making quilts, I’ve gotten to see with what Wood calls “beginner’s eyes”. Unintentionally at first, but now it’s an intentional part of my practice. I set out, on purpose, with openness and eagerness. She encourages makers to focus on questions rather than answers and to respond with an attitude of not knowing. How easy is it, after so many years of making a particular thing, to think we have the answers?

She writes about working with a spirit of willingness and curiosity. It’s easy to settle into a particular style. A groove. A rut. This can be a fine thing when we’ve determined a specialty or a niche. But if we’re settled in a complacent place, then we ought to accept the challenge to willingly explore and experiment in new and unfamiliar territory, letting go of self-consciousness and working within a comfort zone.

Most important is her advice to cling to awe, wonder, and gratitude and celebrate mistakes. This book has definitely changed the way I quilt.

Buy this book

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Creative is Brave

I’ve been working on a creative practice. It’s been incredibly life-changing. Not that what I’m creating is amazing in any way. That’s entirely not the point. It’s just about practicing creativity. That’s it. The goal is to practice. Like anything else, when you practice creativity, in whatever medium in which you work, you get stronger. Exception isn’t an accident. Intention is the impetus for improvement.

We have the unfortunate experience of being makers in an age where consuming and comparing the work of others is almost unavoidable. When we consume and compare we stifle our own voice a little more each time. Look around, be inspired. But before you consume, sit down and create.

To bravely practice your art is to put aside the fears that stand in the way of moving forward. It’s easy to hear reason after reason why you shouldn’t.

“I’m not good enough”

“My work isn’t as beautiful as theirs”

“They’ll laugh”

“They’ll judge”

“I can’t”

Oh, but you can. Find your thing. Sit down. Be brave. Just start.

#30minutesaday

 

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Planning a Year

Quilting is in, my friends. I have rearranged the family room to permanently accommodate a miniature studio, I’ve taken up with a guild, I’ve taken a significant commission, and I’ve got several classes scheduled in coming weeks. What a change from a year ago.

I’m on fire.

Not to sing my own accolades, by any means. I’m just little old me. But I’ve been intentional to practice the art that makes my heart sing. And my soul is lit. How fun is that?!

2017 readingThis year I embrace my calling to create. I’m a quilter. It’s what I do. It makes me a better version of myself – my bucket is filled, my energy is renewed, and my mind races with beautiful things yet to be made, rather than trivial worries that used to drive me batty. It’s glorious, actually.

I have a stack of books at the ready. There’s been so much good publishing done in the five years I’ve looked away. Wow! All those yellow “E” stickers at the top of the stack? They’re actually “New” stickers, designating books that have been added to circulation in the last 90 days. Yep, I took them all! I do love my library so I suppose I’ll give them back someday. I can’t wait to get through these books and share the highlights in future posts!

I’m declaring this the year of paper piecing and wonky stars. I’ve dabbled in both so they’re not new techniques, but I am diving in this year, to add depth to my repertoire. I have several project ideas stashed away. I will (WILL!) finish a New York Beauty before too long. Soon, my precious. And all the wonky stars?! Oh yes.

Also, can we talk about Instagram swaps? I think I’ve signed myself up for five in the last few weeks. Somebody stop me! But really2017 goals, how fun is it to be a part of a vibrant community, each of us tackling the challenge of making something for which someone else set the boundaries. And then I get to receive something that was lovingly made according to my own preferences? So fun!

Seriously, if you haven’t joined a swap, you must find join in. It’s like the twenty-first century version of a quilting bee and an important part in the evolution of our common thread.

I’m setting my sites on conferences, maybe Quilt Fest here in Chicago in April, and Sew Pro in the fall? Quilt Con? Sadly it’s too far away and right around the corner, but it’s high on my list for next year! I’m anxious to get out and experience this new, modern quilty community for myself. It’s so different than the one I thought I knew so well.

Goals are good, but life happens. So much life. I hold goals loosely and like to take a broad. Mainly, in the coming year, I’ll be working to deeply inset a daily practice of creativity. It’s more and more obvious as I’ve been working and creating these past months that a creative practice is every bit as critical as daily exercise and brushing teeth. So I’ll add #15minutesofcreative to each day and work on a few neglected skills like free motion quilting, applique, and curves (knowing I won’t likely be able to stop after just 15 minutes!).

Keep me accountable, will you? Another goal I have is to use this site as a weekly record of what I’m learning, what’s working for me, what I’m working on, and maybe if I get my act together I’ll dip my toes into tutorials. I look forward to sharing this adventure!

 

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Building Creative Muscles

In order to grow and improve in skill and creative flow, practice is critical. This we know. But practice is hard, my friends. We’re all busy. Dang, the suburbs are crazy with the busy-ness they conjure. Life in the twenty-first century is a lot of things, and topping the list is busy. Can I get an amen?

There are a thousand things conspiring to keep us from practicing that thing which keeps our soul alight. Work. School. Family. Volunteering. Commuting. Sleeping. Being busy is exhausting.

So, then how do we practice?

Since my return to quilting a few months ago, I’ve loosely held a goal of sitting down just a few minutes every day. I used to think that quilting was something to be done in large blocks of time, a luxury not experienced in my new season of motherhood. My days of uninterrupted solitude had passed, and so I thought my quilting days were gone as well. But when I realized how important quilting and creating is to my soul, I also realized it only takes a few minutes to make an impact. “Just do something” I tell myself. You don’t have to finish anything, or even make any real progress. Just practice. This is tops for my list of new habits to embrace in 2017. #15minutesaday.

When we decided, rather spontaneously, to spend several weeks this fall, driving to Arizona and back, I worried about keeping up my creative practice. A sewing machine and stack of fabric isn’t exactly RV friendly. At least it didn’t fit well into our little RV with our two little kids.

So I improvised.

sketchingQuilting is a multi-faceted art form. It can be done quickly, with the main goal being simply to finish. That’s fine, I worked that way for a while when I started quilting. But that’s not where my heart has been this time around. This time, I can’t seem to leave a pattern well enough alone as I incorporate tweaks and edits to make the thing my own. Where I was once content to run a quick meander and call a project finished, now I’m much more interested in letting a top breathe and finding just the right motif to complement the piecing. But this motif-style quilting isn’t something I have much experience working in, so I’ve been reading and sketching and studying different styles. This is how I kept my flow going while we drove.

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Across the plains, from sea to shining sea (just kidding, we didn’t actually make it to the ocean, but I’m pretty sure we saw all the plains), I sketched and traced and read tips from the pros. All in the name of muscle memory and training my eyes, hands, and brain to see and feel a new set of motions. I have visions of wildly quilting my future projects, but when it comes to laying thread to fabric…call me chicken.

Practice can take many forms.

My friends, it’s working! I have miles to go, I suppose I’ll never be an Angela Walters, but compared to the lazy stipple routine I had been comfortable with for so long, I’ve come a long way, baby! By hyper-focusing on the shapes and rhythms of this particular facet, I’ve gained new confidence and forward momentum. So there you go…just practice.

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I’m a Quilter

We’ve been driving for days. And there are days still to go. This, our first road trip of any consequence…oh. my.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a wonky sense of scale for the contiguous 48 states. I’ll own it. I grew up in Alaska, ask me about the last great frontier. But please don’t look to me to tell you where Pennsylvania is in relation to the rest of the north east. It’s over there somewhere. And so, here we are, somewhere between Illinois and Arizona. They’re a lot farther apart than I thought they’d be.red rock

With all this drive time, I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey as a quilter. That’s what I am, at heart, even though I’m just now putting words to it. I’ve been practicing over half my life, I’m not sure why it just now occurs to me to own it, but here I am. A quilter.

Quilter 1.0

We’ll call the first part of my quilting journey 1.0. Call it the project manager in me. It’s the first version, perfectly useful but bursting with potential. I practiced all the techniques, played with fabric and pattern combinations, and poured love into every piece. I consumed all of quilting that I could find.

But I didn’t recognize or embrace the central role the practice had in the wellness of my soul. It was just something I did.

Creating and making is important, no matter the form it takes. So it’s with caution that I have been trying to distinguish the difference between how I created then and how I’ve been creating lately. The bit I missed back then was the focus on creativity. I was more focused on productivity than pouring myself into my pieces. Both ways are fine and produce beautiful things. Right now what my soul needs is the tender, generous care that only a creative practice can give.

Quilter 2.0

In this new season of my quilty journey, I have shifted. More than just getting a project done, it’s a multi-sensory experience that lights my soul and renews an dull senses. Picasso said, “art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life.” And that’s exactly the experience I’ve had this time. Most of my quilting happens late at night, after everyone goes to bed, when the house is quiet, when nobody needs me. I get lost. Stop watching the time. Flow.

When the bustling of a day settles, it’s just me in this space where there was once so many little feet bouncing, running, playing, messing. It’s just me in the quietness, left to think, breathe, make. I can see, feel, hear, even smell quilting. And my heart is full of peaceful gratitude.

I sit. Breathe. Wait. Thankful.

When I set out weeks ago, to create a little baby gift, I didn’t expect the visceral connection that happened when I felt the familiar softness of the fabric and heard the comforting hum of my old sewing machine. Home sweet home.

The connection to my art has been undeniable. While I’ve dabbled in many forms, even investing in all the pottery equipment any ceramicist could want. But nothing resonated. Nothing changed me like my quilting. Like a heart song. I would be remiss to neglect the practice of the one thing that fills an emptiness.

So friends, if you’ve not had your own encounter with creativity, you can borrow mine. Make something. Practice. Close your eyes and breathe with gratitude.