Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Courage to Feel Creative: Taking Control of Your Quilting

At some point most of us need to learn how to move past complete and total imitation in order to sew the quilts that we long to make and feel truly creative. That’s a given. Perhaps it’s because of the left brain thing, but for many of us, it’s an extremely tough process that doesn't happen overnight. I call it 'taking control of your quilting’, but the fact is, it’s far easier to stick with the familiar (staying with printed directions) than to try something new. With the familiar, there is a feeling of guaranteed success which is much more attractive than edging out onto the limb of many unknowns, risking possible failure or disappointment. There is a certain amount of resistance (fear) when out on that limb that simply has to be overcome.
Started with a pattern:
Changed the colors throughout
While it's true that we need someone to hold our hand to start with, that shouldn't have to last forever! We have trained ourselves to work from step by step directions and can‘t quite figure out how to do anything different! It‘s very clear why we are involved in this craft in the first place. We love quilts.  Old, new, vintage, scrappy, traditional, modern quilts--you name it, we love them! Along with that love, comes the desire to learn how to reproduce our favorite styles and we‘re trying as hard as we can to do just that. So, there’s a bazillion techniques and methods to learn, experience to be gained and we ask, where’s the time to make a horrible flop? Figuring out how to deviate from proven, successful formulas is a bit intimidating, scary and yes, even feels a bit unnecessary at times. There is a lot of comfort in sticking with the familiar, especially as we get better and better at our technique.
Started with a pattern:
Slight change in colors
A dictionary definition for the word creativity is this: The use of the imagination or original ideas, esp. in the production of an artistic work. See? It’s all so confusing when applied to the business of making quilts. Leaving aside the bit about ‘artistic work’ because we don‘t dare call ourselves artists at this point, what if we just want to make beautiful quilts regardless of who designed them? Is it okay to feel ‘creative’ about making a replica of a fabulous, stunning quilt?  After all, it IS a very difficult undertaking (not something just anyone can accomplish) and we do end up with something incredible in the long term. We certainly can’t deny the feeling of pride and accomplishment in that! 
Started with a pattern:
Very subtle change in colors
Added a border
Sometimes it feels like we practically have to reinvent the wheel in order to get credit for our creativity when, obviously, imagination and originality aren't something the average person can carry around in their hip pocket. Hmm… Okay, so it seems that creativity isn't just about ability then, but rather something a bit more personal and unique.

Here’s the way that I see it. Quilting is not a new craft. There is very little that is radically different (original) in the quilting world today than from what was made hundreds of years ago.  It’s still bits of fabric sandwiched together with batting and binding, held together with some kind of stitching. I personally LOVE the fact that the quilts we make today are based on hundreds of years of copying, adaptation and assimilation! If you bring it down to it’s unadulterated form, quilting is evidently an industry that flourishes from what is technically years of quilters ‘borrowing and stealing’ ideas. How fascinating that the end result is quilt after quilt made with subtle variations that somehow translate into something very personalized and unique! Yay! for human nature!
Started with a pattern:
Changed background color
Slight change in other colors
Changed sawtooth block on inside of snails trail to
present differently than border stars
Since most of us aren't content to forever (exactly) copy other peoples work, then eventually we too are going to have to dive off into the abyss of creativity regardless of our possible misgivings. We have to take control of our quilting by making some personal decisions. How far we take it is certainly up to us, but the fact is, most of us are already doing it in one way or another! Having our favorite colors, techniques and/or methods, personal biases and preferred quilting elements make it perfectly normal to want to change one little thing in a quilting pattern. Or even two or more! When we follow through with that urge, it’s called partial creativity. For the creatively challenged, I think it’s probably the golden key that unlocks the door to the magic kingdom--making very personalized quilts, one little change at a time and taking control of the end result.
Started with a pattern:
Changed from two-solid colors to dark & scrappy
Added more blocks & rows
Once again, I have more to say on this subject that I don’t want to hold over till next week! Eek! Will I ever quit? lol I have a list of ideas for partial creativity that I want to throw out at you tomorrow--nothing new or earth shattering, but I think it does kind of wrap this topic up a little better. So much to think about.... Does anyone else agree that partial creativity is a very valid part of the quilt making process? I kind of view it as a sneaky way to take control of our quilting with the little baby steps that seem so necessary to the less confident among us!


  1. I agree with you! I have sometimes had a couple quilters in the small informal group that I go to ask me how did I decide on color because they can see that I changed colors from the original or they will point out that an applique is different and did I make a mistake and need to fix it! When I tell them that I changed it they well say "why" and when I say so it is mine and I felt like it they do not always understand.
    Several in the group can not think outside of the box at all and have to have it exactly the same as the original right down to the same color scheme.

  2. I loved this post! I change almost every pattern...or take an idea and change it altogether...and venturing into making my very own patterns! (or mess, however it turns out!) Love your work!

  3. Partial Creativity? Absolutely! It bothers me when "liberated" quilters bash the very idea of working from a pattern. As you say, it can be a safe way to "venture out" by making small changes to a quilt design or colorway without having to face the daunting task of figuring out a complete design (and all the math!) on your own.

    In the past I have read comments by acomplished quilters who said just what you did -- there is nothing really new under the sun so for them creativity was about taking what's already around and tweeking things or forming new combinations of elements to create a "new" look. So maybe your approach is not so partial afterall!

  4. See, I go the other way. I usually think something up and then try to find a pattern for it and can't. Then I get to try to work out the math for myself and since I am a bit new to quilting, I'm not sure when my figures are right. I have nothing to compare them too. So, me, I would love to have a pattern =)

  5. Because a quilt is a useful object--like a table or a chair--we do need to know some basic construction elements. That's when patterns can be a big help. Beyond that, we have the creative opportunity to pick from endless variations in color and fabric. As we learn the necessary construction techniques, we can venture out even more. I love the fact that quilt-making has various levels of entry for various levels of creative individuals. I like to think of myself as learning this craft by "copying the masters." This is how the great painters used to learn their craft. We tweek and adjust as we go, and our own style emerges. We can develop our creative selves through quilt-making. Patterns give us the "training wheels" to accomplish this.

  6. That's just it, total creativity takes more time. I use partial creativity in all my quilts. I change colors, put things on point, even make up my own shape for a basket or leaf that doesn't quite suit me in applique. Sometimes it's doesn't work as well as I would like it to but I have to try. It's all about learning, improving your skills, and enjoying the process.

  7. I have a whole stack of patterns I've never used, because for the life of me I can't seem to make heads nor tails of the written instructions! I'm one of these folks that need to be shown, like in a class or workshop. I envy those who can truly follow a pattern, as I believe its a good exercise for the brain. For me is more of an exercise in frustration.

    That said, I would be lost as a quilter without a constant source of inspiration - ie, quilt books, patterns, other quilts. Grabbing design elements and color ideas from what's already been done, then putting it all together in my own way. The results are not always wonderful, but they are uniquely mine.

    I love this thread, and that you encourage folks to branch out and be brave. You will probably make mistakes in the process, but that's the risk. Some times you might end up with something brilliant - and that's the reward.

  8. I rarely use patterns for anything. I just cant follow them so even when Im imitating there is a fair degree of creativity in sorting out the maths , and how something has to be done.

    I completely agree with you that for new quilters the first step is partial creativity – the use of colour is a great example. I’ve often made quilts I’ve seen with different fabrics and colours to put my own twist on things. The whole time Im doing it and wondering if it will work out I remind myself "its only fabric "

    I think courage in quilting comes with experience and a willingness to take new ideas on board in order to extend techniques and foster different types of creativity.

  9. 3 cheers for partial creativity! It's one of the great things about quilting.

  10. I had never heard the term 'partial creativity' but it's a great one. Some of my students moan at their lack of creativity, but will be delighted when I explain this idea, and show them that they are well on the way to 'full creativity'.

  11. enjoyed reading what you had to say here and loved all of the wonderful examples that you have included . . . it's like a mini quilt show~!

    i'm one who finds it difficult to follow all of the instructions given in any particular pattern. i used to think it was a 'flaw' but now realize that going my own way with things is what has kept me interested in quilting for so many years.


  12. I'm a little late to this game, but I think I have been doing partial creativity for years. Just had no idea it had a name. I always change a fabric in every quilt even kits.


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