Friday, March 10, 2017

Growing Pains

I'm going to blather on today about a quilting issue I've been having for quite awhile. Last year I veered off into a very different {for me} way of working called Adhoc Improv. While I feel that it's been an important shift as far the style and originality I'm always looking for, it's quite thoroughly changed and interrupted the normal way I go about making a quilt.
One step at a time for Folksy Flowers
Maybe not obvious to you, but I've noticed something different. Digging a little deeper into my reflections of the past year, I sort of woke up to the reality of having growing pains. How I was working the past several years produced some wonderful quilts for me. It was a comfortable, pleasant, sometimes invigorating, place to be. So why change things up? Especially as the previous stage of quilting was so hard won in and of itself. I didn't just drop into that place without some very hard work! I guess the best answer is that I've felt a nagging desire to be challenged again and the thing that kept drawing me in was Improv., something very much out of my comfort zone.

And honestly, some of my quilts seemed to be missing just a little something beyond my grasp or understanding. This happened very gradually and mostly I thought the Adhoc. Improv. would just be something for fun and play. But then I realized that I was growing increasingly frustrated with some of my earlier quilting choices, even projects 'in-the-works'. It has increasingly seemed to me that I was betwixt and between.

Take the quilt below. I specifically remember wanting to work with these specific colors, experimenting with a challenging block and feeling pleased about adding the surprising twist of a tumbler block border to the quilt top. But as I was quilting it this week, it felt boring and much too predictable. Too formulaic and well, completely unoriginal. In my disdain for the quilt, {yes, I was essentially 'sneering' at it}, I basically placed zero importance in binding choices and simply raided the leftover binding tote until I had the proper lengths--something 'close' to the quilt colors. I didn't even check, okay? That's how uncaring I was. Then.... something very odd happened. After the initial phase of sewing the binding onto the quilt {it's still not hand sewn to the back}, my heart melted just a little and I started to feel that all-so-important connection again. All because of some unexpected color choices {pretty clashy in a couple cases if you want to know the truth of it} and a scrappy, make-do attitude. And I fell in love all over again.
Saint Paul quilt: Still learning even after the project is basically finished....
How obstinate is that? And then, the project below. Started from a Material Obsession book, I really thought it had the power to keep me interested clear through to a finish. But nope. Time and time again, I've recommitted myself only to procrastinate, be sloppy in my work, practice avoidance, blinker off into fun new projects, and always, always feel like I've been pulled back by the skin of my teeth. Is it ugly? NO. Are the fabrics impossible? NO. I just haven't felt any real connection. Which still leaves me three blocks left to applique.*grr...

The funny thing is, now that I've finally determined to cut up seven out of 12 blocks {terrible stitching issues} and just make do, I've actually started to relax. And enjoy. Hey? Is this quilt really salvageable? Be still my heart!
Rising Sun blocks to undergo some surgery...
And so I've decided to make use of those strange lighter, green fabrics left out of the original blocks {a decision that has always bothered me}, scribbled up some ideas for simple applique and well, yeah, I am back to being fascinated and intrigued by my quilting adventure. The methods that used to give me the basic framework for what my quilt might look like at a finish, are simply not working anymore. Occasionally yes. But not often enough to be reliable. Even though every phase of my previous quilts wasn't set in stone, I still had the comfort of knowing a basic outline. hahahahahaha

It's all been completely upended and I'm still not sure when {exactly} it happened. Not a comfortable feeling, that I can tell you. It's like feeling lost in the wilderness of too many choices at times, which is something I've always tried to celebrate and embrace. I can't even explain.....
A total restart
So I deliberately pulled out an old quilt top that I've been putting off the quilting forever. It's a clunky looking thing and almost no one likes it. That's okay. It served a purpose while I was making it, talking about 'The Creative Process so simplistically, and is serving a purpose for me now. So ironic how the old and the new always end up meeting up again and again! Reminding us that all the steps of the process are important. Just because I am learning to go with the flow, allow myself to cut into fabric without any definite, concrete plan, pushing myself to being 'free' and unfettered in every way possible with design, I cannot forgo the very important step of 'Incubation' and just try to make things happen!
Finishing up with machine quilting for The Creative Process
quilt---next step will be some hand quilting....
With this particular quilt, I admit to being cheap, settling on dull fabrics for the 'Incubation' and Implementation' lettering part of the quilt as that's what I had on hand. Now it seems laughably prescient. I rushed the process. Part of Incubation is having the patience to wait on the right idea, making sure all the pieces are in place, recognizing those important connections, and never losing track of elements that work to make our quilting unique. Incubation takes time. There is no formula. It can be hours, days or weeks before things click, especially if you're already working outside of your comfort zone! Because of my experience, there are things I can do to make a quilt progress and probably look okay. For it to satisfy myself creative self, there needs to be specific elements {relating to personal connection} incorporated or really, I'm just phoning it in. Lets just call these practice quilts, because we all have a few.*wink

Part of 'Implementation' is giving respect to the quilt when it indicates something is missing. Paying attention every step of the way to making sure the very best color, fabric, and/or element we have available in our current repertoire is being used correctly. Being decisive and adamant about making the best interpretation of what we're 'seeing' inside our incredibly rich imaginations. Incubation brings all the separate ideas together, Illumination sets the scene, and Implementation is where the details come into play. The ones that can take our quilt from 'nice job' to 'Wowsers! How did that happen?'

It's quite clear to me that {thankfully}, I don't have to empty out my leftover binding tote for every quilt finished. One thing for sure though, as my blue and gold quilt so succinctly pointed out to me: 70 plus fabrics in a quilt doesn't guarantee a quilt will look scrappy enough--for me. Some unexpected color blends and possibly a make-do element will probably do the trick. If my stitching turns up wonky, intentionally or not,, then well, it probably needs to have some control elsewhere, perhaps in a repeated applique or block design. Those sort of things simply ground me and provide a personal connection. Your criteria will no doubt be an entirely different list.

I just can't, in any form or fashion, make color-in-the-number sort of quilts and feel good about them. Which sort of makes the old way that I was quilting feel stale and formulaic. Now. It didn't use to feel that way at all. Aghhh!! Okay. What I'm saying is this. It's not going to be all Improv. all the time, but that method is definitely something I can use to do the sorts of things my quilts are starting to demand. By embracing the new in the parts and pieces that make sense to me, I'm not leaving anything important behind. In fact, it's a way of ensuring that my creativity won't shrivel up and die.
An important thing to remember...
I'm slowly finding my way forward, blending the old method of working with my new found joy in Improv. Finding a style that more completely embraces all the elements I love, not just stumbling onto them willy nilly and hopefully pulling off a hat trick. You might think I love being a reactionary quilter, but really, it only goes so far. And right now? I'm very busy slowing things down until there's a new comfort zone. Because it will happen. The transition is usually the most difficult part of the process!
Trying not to lose the spirit of the quilt....
In closing of this impossibly long post: What matters to me these days is making sure to work 'intentionally', something that has always seemed to be at odds with Improv. I'm finding that it doesn't have to be that way.

I want to work 'purposefully', no matter how simplistic my ideas come off to you or anyone else. If that involves ditching a complex quilting plan and starting from the ground up {all in order to make a very basic foundation of a quilt}, then that's the way it has to be. 

There apparently has to be an element of the 'unexpected' in order for me to feel true connection to my quilting. How incredible {and ironic} to finally understand that it can come in the most basic of forms such as a binding. You just can't make this stuff up.

Growing pains are hard. Stretching ourselves to learn new things, learning how to incorporate those new elements and finding our way forward takes a real, concerted effort. And all without losing the best parts of what we've discovered before! I can see why some people shut down after years of feeling passionate about what they do. It's the path of least resistance. When their projects start feeling boring or they lose the personal connection, then the way forward can feel much too difficult to navigate. How do we know what specific part of our previous comfort zone needs to be shed? How do we grow without damaging our confidence and that very important, trusting-in-our-instincts progress we worked so hard to accomplish? Our originality and growth as a maker depend upon us finding some answers. I'm happy to finally be finding some of my own. Ought to be an interesting year!


  1. Our tastes change over the years - colors, patterns, techniques,design. Growing pains mean we are growing and I think that is a good thing.

  2. Purposeful improv! If that is where your creativity and happiness is, then it cannot be wrong at all!

  3. I've always believed that when you stop growing, you die.
    Can't wait to see where this growth spurt takes you. Grow on!

  4. Very interesting to read your "growing pains". I am now at an standstill and unsure of what the next step is.

  5. I am intrigued by your illumination/preparation quilt. What do the two side borders say?

  6. you are certainly on a journey it is so easy to get stuck in a rut just doing the same thing all the time but you are really branching out. Improv is catching on here in the UK maybe it is time I had a play too though I do scrap things that are a bit improv

  7. One purpose of our journey is to learn as we grow. As I read your post, I sensed you were learning things about yourself and discovering what gave you spark. embrace all of it and enjoy the ride!

  8. I have found myself at "odds" with my usual happy-go-lucky quilts (make do, use up, scrappy-happy, etc) lately; and yet I like a quilt to "look" like a quilt and not so much an art piece--although I dearly love those, too.
    I am caught in between the traditional and moving on somewhere in the ether of quiltdom. But where and how--that is the question. My stash reflects my tases up to now--and so, to try to move on using what I have on hand--is really a challenge. Just sayin' this is where I am right now...hugs--enjoyed your post... Julierose

  9. interesting introspection. I learn something about quilting and myself with each project. Usually I learn about what I wish I had done....then I try to embrace my humanity.
    Sounds like you're working it out with yourself and your quilts are always inspiring!

  10. Your introspective post today is unusual .. and timely.. I have just bumped into Claire Wellesley-Smith espousing the same attitudes in a book I have ordered (from my local HOMR OWNED book store) titled Slow Stitch. You can glimpse a few pages of it with Amazon.. as you likely know... Your remarks here go far beyond the usual urging to develop technically as a quilter..

  11. I love everything about this post. Your willingness to reflect on the process, to fall out of love and then finding that your heart is melting a bit is very good to hear. Thanks

  12. Marvelous post -- thank you for sharing it. As far as the evolution of projects, I gave up on patterns long ago. The idea of prompts or suggestions to be interpreted by each person is much more appealing to me. Simply following directions does not bring me joy. Slowing down, allowing the process to interact with us and reflect who we are at any given time means so much more to me. (and I love the clash-y bits in your scrappy binding)

  13. I enjoyed reading your posts as I have lately found myself going through a similar transition as I grow tired of just recreating patterns. Questioning why I can I be more creative and self expressive. I too have given myself time to slow down and gain personal perspective. Thanks for sharing your growing pains with us. :)V

  14. Great read,and thought-provoking! Thank you for sharing this part of your journey. Your work is always endearing to me, even more so now, and I will always look for your element of surprise!

  15. I love when you do impossibly long posts :)

  16. Thanks for your post, I've been going through this for awhile. Felt like I was churning out quilts in a factory and wanted to quit quilting. This year I'm participating in some challenges and maybe, maybe I'm seeing the light.

  17. Your assessment of your creative process is terrific -- we are each at different places in this journey -- learning to ask and explore is key.... is it technique? is it color? is it ???? I just remade three of the same blocks trying to capture a look that satisfied --- your comments help me understand that the process of journey is more important than the destination -- at least for right now!

  18. Audrey, I read your post first yesterday, but I wanted to read it again before I wrote a comment. Very thought provoking post. You are a very gifted individual! Not just your artistic instincts with your quilting, but your ability to express your feelings and thoughts about the process well. Growing pains, very aptly put! I am so looking forward to seeing your future creations. I hope they won't be too painful! I am also so glad you fell in love with your Saint Paul quilt, it is quite loveable!

  19. I made a quilt a few years ago. It was a BOM at a local quilt shop. I started it because I love baskets and the line of fabric was so gorgeous. As the months went on the blocks became more and more of the yellow shade of the line while I was hoping for more red. Then the finishing up kit was more of the yellow shades. I have nothing against yellow but it wasn't my favorite with the rest of the line. I finished it up and stored it in the back of my closet. I had done a very nice job at piecing and applique and embellishment. Craftmanship-wise it was a very nice quilt top. One day (after the incubation period) I decided to call it THE MERIT QUILT because while it wasn't my favorite color usage, it was beautiful in it's own way. It had merit! I determined that I would make it shine. I hand quilted each block creatively and different from all the rest. It turned out beautifully. The name of the recipient came to me while I was quilting. I still have the thank you card she sent me. She was so delighted. I learned a lesson about the quilts that don't turn out exactly as imagined. They all have value/merit to someone. That's why we're all different.
    Also, from your post, I think you have stepped over the line from quilt maker to artist. It is meant to be.

  20. I felt that same gnawing dissatisfaction last year. It felt like all my quilts were the same-old-same-old. When I finally decided I was rushing through the process, part of the solution was to slow down. Thinking about each step has reinvigorated quilting for me. (I probably drive other people crazy blogging so frequently with little forward progress but this is working for me.)
    Like you, I'm enjoying adding unexpected elements, and others I've wanted to try (but been afraid or in too great a rush.)
    Your "total restart" quilt - I think was a tulip but I see an angel.
    Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, Implementation. Great sequence!
    This is a wonderful post, Audrey. Thanks!

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank are most wonderfully generous and giving in sharing such insight. This is the process that normally never gets articulated in such a way as you have managed to do. Now I understand so much more.....

  22. I'm always impressed with your insightful, thought provoking posts. I am not an introspective person [trained as a fashion designer "just get it done!"] but I always learn from your ideas. Thank you!

    lizzy at gone to the beach

  23. It's wonderful to keep growing and exploring our ideas and views of this crazy obsession of ours. So looking forward to seeing where your thoughts take you....... X

  24. What a great, reflective post. Growing pains mean you are evolving creatively, and I think the choice of working intentionally. and accepting this may mean more slowly too for a time, is a good one. As you develop your own improv language things will flow more easily.

  25. Growing pains mean that changes must be coming. I'll enjoy seeing where that leads you.

  26. Wow! My brain hurts! You always make me think and I truly thank you for that. I have been quilting for so long I feel it is time for a little improv. I never do this, but I am printing this post out and hanging it in my sewing room for future reference. I will read it whenever I feel "stuck". Thanks a million!

  27. AHIQ has definitely changed my thinking on things as well. And that spark of interest and fun is always a sign that you are moving in the right direction. I need to remember that too sometimes. :)

    I don't think that working with intention means starting with a pattern. I think that if you start playing with different intentions, you will never run out of interesting directions to take your quilting. Great post, Audrey, and a good snapshot of where you are now. You know how climbers will set a stake, move on, set another stake? That's what this is. A good place to move forward from. :D

  28. Wonderful post Audrey! I'm learning with each project and getting braver with my choices, but I must admit improv is still a real challenge! Looking forward to seeing where you end up, especially with those 'rising sun' blocks!

  29. Everything that has been said was what I thought, too. I love your rambling and thoughtful words about your growth as a quilter. I ponder whether my quilt style has gotten lazy. Do my quilts say anything about my skill? If I slow down and write about my process I see that I have developed a lot of intuitive choices that don't mean I'm lazy, they mean I have tons of experience. Your words reflect that about you. Your improv style says you have developed a keen intuitive approach.

  30. Not all are true. Everyone has their own way of thinking but I think they have to reconsider. I like to argue for the most accurate results.


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