There is a well established connection in my life with feeling stress and wanting to buy something. Obviously, this pattern is rather problematic. Back in 2018, I went on a fabric fast and stopped buying fabric and quilting supplies for about nine months. The experience was painfully amazing. Which is to stay I had many moments of feeling uncomfortable mixed in with increased peace and connection. And I need a repeat.
My work in progress pile is piling up and I am flitting between projects with no real purpose. I need to stop starting and accumulating and working through what I have. Thus, it’s time for a do-over. Starting July 1, 2021, no more fabric, quilting notations, patterns, thread, or that-cool-thing-I-saw-on-Instagram/Estsy/wherever. For this to work, I need rules. So here we go:
No new fabric, notions, books, patterns, blocks of month, cool thing-a-ma-jigs before 2022
No starting new projects until I’ve finished three of my outstanding projects
I am allowed to buy fabric to complete outstanding projects…but bonus to me if I can use what is in my stash
When/if I get to start new project, I have to use what I have.
I am allowed to accept gifts.
None of this applies to someone commissioning me to make them a quilt since they will be doing all the buying/spending anyway.
Anyone else ever feel like they need a cleanse every once in awhile? I find that sometimes I have too many choices and by giving myself some limits it helps me direct my focus. In this case, I want to focus on finishing and practicing my quilting skills. I won’t ever do that if I keep getting distracted by that shiny thing I saw…
I bought most of my quilting stuff online. I loved coming home to packages. I love the surprise of mail. Sometimes I feel the urge to buy something so it can arrive. I actually have this fantasy of coming home from work to have fabric in the mail that I was not expecting.
And that happened to me! I won an Instagram contest hosted by Annika of @nacktduscherin If you’re not following her on Instagram, stop reading and do it! The package made my day! I was so excited to create after seeing what she made and what was inside.
I am eleven weeks into my fabric fast, that’s 77 days. And I’m learning some stuff about myself (in addition to the mail thing). Right off the bat, I’m learning that I do not measure urgency well. Things that I think need to happen RIGHT NOW, don’t.
For example, I bought the fabric for the borders and backing for my Mischief Quilt on June 1st. I justified bending my rules by saying it doesn’t make sense to wait until January 1st to finish a project I’m excited about and can afford to finish.
Turns out I easily could have waited. My Lepidoptera quilt took my more than 30 hours to quilt. I’m only just getting started on the Mischief. 100Days100Blocks is in full swing and that is filling my time. It was July 18th before I started basting/quilting that mischief quilt. Having the backing fabric was not an emergency. I suspect that by June the adrenaline/addictive nature of buying still had not worn off.
One change I made early in the fabric fast process was to start tracking my time working on a project. I am learning the whole process of making a quilt takes much longer than I thought it did. I made the small version of the Dogs in Sweaters pattern by Elizabeth Hartman. Making just the quilt top and binding took me almost eight hours, spread over about four days.
I’ve also noticing that the “I feel anxious so I should spend money” impulse is strongly connected to my false sense of urgency. As if I didn’t have <<insert whatever>> at this moment I AM SURE the sky would fall. I am starting to realize that isn’t true.
Also, temptation is everywhere.
I received the above coupons from my local quilt shop. In the email version it also said if you arrived before 8 am you received 30% off your total purchase. That’s an insane fabric deal. I’m tempted to call it once in a lifetime…expect that they offered these same deals last year. Also, there is nothing I need right now. I have everything I need to finish all the projects I have started. There is no need for me to start anything else until I finish what I have.
I’m trying to be more diligent in keeping to my fast. When I bend the rules, I trick myself into to thinking I need things that I don’t.
I’m also noticing the false urgency is showing up when I feel tired, anxious or overwhelmed. I start to think I have to start on this or that NOW. I’m learning to take that as a sign that I’m anxious. I’ve started keeping a little notebook in my quilting room. When I have an idea (quilt the mini star quilt with dense straight lines!), I write it down. The quilting won’t be any worse because I had to wait.
The last thing I’m learning is that my urge to start or try something new, may be connected to the hormone changes that happen naturally over the course of 28 cycle. This new information is starting to reshape some things. I am beginning to see the urge to try something new as normal and cyclical rather than pathological. More on that as I learn more
So slow and steady on I go, missing the mail, trying not to rush the process, and learning about who I am and how I work.
Instagram sew-a-longs are my favorite and no one does a sew-a-long like Angie Wilson of Gnomeangel.com. Angie has a gift for identifying fantastic quilt patterns and engaging a community to sew a long. I have tackled quilts I would not dream of trying because I was sewing a long with her and the community she’s built on Instagram. During an Instagram live event she referred to a quilt as a “bucket list quilt.” That phrase captures why I love quilting along with her. Angie picks bucket list quilts and makes them manageable. In fact, I have my fabric sorted to join her for Tula Pink’s City Sampler Quilt in the 100Days100Blocks2018 sew-a-long.
This kind of event is exactly the reason I started a fabric fast in the first place. I see a cool idea. I get all caught up in it. I forget to count the cost.
Let’s do some math:
The book is listed for $27.99
If I wanted to buy all the paper pieces to English Paper Piece the quilt at one time, it would cost $195.00 OR I could spread it out over course of 9 months a pay $24.00 per month ($216) and then buy the finishing pieces ($14) for a total of $230.
Next there are the acrylic templates. These are super helpful for fussy cutting the shapes AND the book only has paper templates…that means NO dimensions for cutting shapes. There are two template options: only the shapes that appear 10 or more times in the pattern ($80) or every single shape ($240).
Lastly the hosts recommend having 50 fat quarters for the blocks plus a few extra for sashing and corner stones. There are the 12 boxes of fat quarters (10 per box) that Paper Pieces used to make the GORGEOUS version of the quilt showing above. $34.95 each for a total of $420 (if we’re rounding)
Let’s add it all up:
Paper Pieces: $230.00 (because I wouldn’t be able to buy it all at once)
Fabric (not including backing and binding): $420.00
Total: $918.00 add in backing, batting, batting, and thread for quilting, you’re easily over a grand.
Obviously there are ways to do this cheaper. Buy the book second hand, pay for the pieces all at once, only use the top ten templates, and use fabric from your stash and you’re down to $290. Or you could only buy the book and if you have quilting software like EQ8 (which I don’t) you can make foundation paper piecing versions.
My point is that the expense of quilting can get out of control really quickly, especially when I don’t take time to reflect on what I actually need. I have a habit of getting swept up in the excitement of an idea without reflecting on the idea’s long term impact (you can read more about that here). I need to ask myself if the joy of hand sewing out weighs the stress of paying for materials to make the quilt.
I want the answer to be yes so badly! I want to be able to join the Facebook group and post my blocks on Instagram. I want the challenge of stretching my EPP skills.
If I really dig deep, I also want to play with the cool kids. I admire the other makers I see on Instagram, and I want to imagine that money doesn’t matter for them. I want to imagine they live in a world where they get to make whatever they want whenever they want. But I know that isn’t true. Angie has even said many times to stay within what you can afford. No quilt, not even a bucket list quilt, is worth the stress of carrying debt.
Since I am on a fast and the only way I would be able to participate is if I was given the supplies as a gift, and I have yet to secure a wealthy quilting benefactor (is that a thing?), my original plan was to say no.
Then this happened:
Jennifer of @yokokudo88 started the hashtag #GetYourQuiltyWishGrantedSummerEdition Here’s how it works: You post your wishes as a quilter and then someone else grants them. How magical is that?! So I posted my wish for the 1920’s Farmer’s Wife Sampler and someone offered it to me!!! I also posted three pre-cuts that came in my sew sampler box that I was NEVER going to us. I got to mail those to quilters who were excited about them. How wonderful is that?!?
In a fun little twist, a quilter messaged me and said she thought she had an extra copy of the Farmer’s Wife and would look for it. She said it turns out is was The Dear Jane book. I asked if she was willing to part with her extra copy and she said yes!!! That’s two bucket list quilts without breaking my fast. Yay!!!!
Now, there is no reason for me to spend $200-$400 on paper pieces and templates. That totally breaks the fast rules. Here’s my plan, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that the person who offered me her book is able to find it. I am going to do some research on making my own pieces or seeing if there are foundation paper piecing versions of the patterns.
Then I’m going to play around with using my scraps from #100Days100Blocks2017 and all those little pieces of Alison Glass I have and the left over Tula Pink that will inevitably exist after #100Days100Blocks2018. Maybe that will work and maybe it will not. We will have to see. In the meantime, I am breaking my habit of leaping without looking and I am going slow and planning.
I’m feeling a lot of sad recently. How much sad occurred to me as I was reading the third sympathy card my bosses wrote to me since the start of the 2018. This most recent card was for the loss of my dog, Cooper. One might believe that loosing a pet is not as significant as loosing a human, and I agree with that sentiment. However, my agreement that humans and dogs are different does not lessen my sense of loss.
Since the start of my fabric fast, I’ve spent a lot more time hand stitching. I find myself most connected with what I’m experiencing when I sew with my hands. So I started using the time I’ve been connecting one piece of a quilt to another to reflect on why loosing Cooper feels like such a big deal to me. And it feels like a BIG deal to me. Partly because Cooper’s loss is connected to other recent losses, and also because I used to buy things to make myself feel better. I am choosing to not do that anymore and part of my process for not spending is to try to stay connected to my whole experience of life. So I am down a self medicating strategy in a time of stress while practicing feeling all my feelings and weaving them into my story. And Cooper is huge part of my story.
Cooper lived a month shy of 12, which for a Newfoundland Dog (big breed) is nothing short of a miracle. Nine is considered well into old age. We brought Cooper home shortly after buying our first house. Sometime after getting married, buying a house, getting a dog and eventually having children, my husband and I made that transition to FEELING like an adult. We were adults by all measure, but I did not feel like one.
Cooper was our dog my whole adult life. He was witness to some great joys and losses in our home. He ran miles with my husband while my husband was training for triathlons and marathons. Cooper laid on my yoga mat while I was trying to do yoga. I used to wiggle my feet under his warm fur during Shavasana. When I worked in my sewing room, he would lay right outside of the gate. He wasn’t allowed in because of the drool and shedding, but he’d position himself in such a way that I could not leave the room without him knowing. He is in the background of most of the photos of our kids. He slept outside our oldest’s door since she came home. Cooper is woven into the fabric of the story our family has been telling for the past twelve years. Then suddenly he was gone.
Lucky for me I am a quilter. And quilters know a few things about what to do when fabric is out of print. Unfortunately, I am now going to need to change the pattern of my life because my life is different now. That fabric we wove when Cooper was a part of the family is now forever out of print. It is time to learn to weave something new. Then we get the joy of experiencing how the past can be mixed with the present in a way that creates something new and beautiful, something unlike anything we’ve seen before.
So I am spending a lot of time sewing, slowly, one stitch at a time, letting the sadness fall across my psyche like waves during a storm. The storm will pass. The sun will shine. And I will weave a beautiful tapestry of life to tell you the whole story. I especially love the part about the big, black, drooling dog we loved.
On May 8, 2018, I resolved not to spend anymore money on my quilting hobby. On May 9th, I received a $50.00 check for my birthday and immediately began questioning my life choices. My mind started spinning, “if I could just…” or “what if I….”
Since I quit trying to use buying stuff as a way to distract myself from feeling uncomfortable, I’ve been experiencing withdrawal symptoms…in other words, MORE uncomfortable. Since I was using buying quilting stuff as a way to feel good, all those bad feelings I was distracting myself from are suddenly so much louder in my life. As those bad feelings start to get louder the urge to bend the rules and start buying stuff grows. I mean, I said was mostly giving up fabric, right? So if I buy myself a new needle holder* so that I can have threaded needles for two different English Paper Piecing projects at the same time that’s still fair game, right? Also, I have a coupon for free shipping from one of my favorite quilting websites. It’s like wasting money to not use that, isn’t it?
One of the mixed benefits of being a therapist is understanding the process of your own misery. On the one hand, it normalizes my experience. On the other hand, I can’t pretend I don’t know when I’m acting in a way that is unhealthy and blame it on something else. I know what is happening right now. It’s the extinction burst.
Extinction bust is an old idea in behavioral theory that is a fancy way of saying things get worse before they get better. Check out this graph:
The above graph is charting a child’s behavioral change after being exposed to an intervention. The first five dots represent the baseline behavior or how things were before any attempt at change was made. The vertical line is the when something was introduced to change the behavior, in my case the line would represent the day I gave up spending money on quilting stuff. Notice what happens next? It gets worse…a lot worse. When you really think about it this actually makes sense. If throwing a screaming fit gets me my way and then one day you tell me that screaming won’t work anymore, I’m going to up my screaming fit to see if you’re serious. If you give in and let me have my way, then I learned that you’re not serious and more screaming works. If you hold your ground, I learn that screaming fits don’t work any more and I need to pick a new behavior.
My sister is a special education teacher, working with kids with how struggle to control their emotions. She says all the time, “The way to guarantee an undesirable behavior lasts FOREVER is to respond to it inconsistently.”
I know all this stuff. Which really stinks because I can’t pretend that I really need the needle holder for my EPP projects. I don’t. I already have one and there are other ways I can thread multiple needles at a time that are free or use what I already have. This desire is me looking for a fix. It is a distraction from something else.
So instead of shopping or updating my Amazon wish list, I’m sitting with the discomfort and breathing through it. I’m focusing on the projects I have in progress and letting myself bounce around between them. I am reminding myself there is no connection between what I own or buy and my value as a human. Then I take another deep breath.
*I love my Clover needle holder. It’s great to thread 10 needles at once and then sew, sew, sew. If you’re not on a spending freeze because of emotional spending, I highly recommend it.
I mentioned in another post that I engage with intensity, part of that is personality and part of that is patterning. I imagine most people have a handle on personality, so I’d like to explain patterning and the pattern I’m trying to rewrite.
We are wired for maximum efficiency and habit. Sort of like how some quilters have few favorite patterns or designers they use over and over. We are constantly looking at what is happening around us and matching the present to the past. Growing up you learned a style of dealing with conflict. You may have learned healthy things like how to listen, respond assertively, and hold boundaries. If you learned growing up that it didn’t matter what you said, you would have to do thing the way your parent(s) wanted you to, the pattern you may have learned was to go along to get along and not assert yourself. As an adult, you will likely struggle to set boundaries. If growing up you were encouraged to keep trying no matter what, you likely developed a pattern of perseverance and resiliency (the ability to bounce back after a set back).
We are constantly pulling patterns to respond to our present. If you have ever had the experience of meeting someone new and immediately disliking them, they likely tapped into a pattern. If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again and you feel like you can’t stop, pattern. I hate that stuck feeling.
I would now like to introduce you to my favorite phrase in all the study of brain and wellness: neuro plasticity. Neuro plasticity refers to brains ability to grow and change at any stage of life. So right now, even in my mid-30s, I can undo a pattern that is causing me problems in my life. So about that pattern…
My Pattern:Where it came from
My parents are wonderful people. They are wonderful and like everyone else, they are not perfect. My parents got married very young and had four kids in five years. We did not have a lot of resources growing up. Money was tight and my parents were exhausted most of the time. My dad work 12-13 hour day, often 6 days a week to support us in a job that was seasonal, so every winter my dad didn’t have work, unless it snowed. I was probably one of the few kids who was super conflicted about snow on Christmas. Snow at Christmas meant no dad but holiday pay. And we really needed the money. My mom was tasked with caring for four very young kids by herself from wake up to bedtime. Anyone else feeling tired and stressed just imagining this?
Growing up in my family, I developed this connection between spending money and value. If someone bought me something it was a BIG deal because it didn’t happen very often. Special people were given gifts or spending money. Anyone else see how this can be problematic later in life?
I developed this association between spending money and feeling good. Every time I got to use my extra income for a new thing, I felt empowered and special. Today, I find myself buying fabric, participating in another sew-a-long or buying a new quilting tool I saw cool people use on Instagram to stop me from feeling uncomfortable, tired, or emotionally drained. But as soon as those feel good chemicals cool down in my brain, I am left with all the discomfort, exhaustion and emotional drain with the added stress of having spent money I did not need to spend.
So that is how I got to this fabric fast. Really, it’s more like “don’t spend any money on quilting related stuff.” For me, I need a hard line in the sand that I cannot dance around to force myself to handle feeling drained in another way. To use all the strategies I teach as a therapist for myself so that I can experience the benefits. In the end, I hope to be a more balanced, calm, thoughtful person.
Step One: Follow the Breath
My favorite tool for healing to connect with the breath. In addition to all the physical benefits of lowering your heart rate and reducing tension in the body, deep breathing also helps to switch myself from an anxiety state to a calm state. Now when I’m sewing I make an effort to connect my breath to my movements and engage as many of my senses as I can. I even started doing a lot of yin yoga to help me learn to slow down my breath. The overall goal is to be a fully integrated person.
When I first had the idea for the fabric fast, I had great visions of increased clarity and creativity. Maybe I would have an idea for my first pattern or feel inspired to create a class.
At day seven there was no glory only a feeling of failure. I broke my rules seven days in. Here’s what happened:
I was feeling disappointed about something when a package arrived in the mail addressed to me from a store I did not remember ordering anything from. I got really excited. I love mail and packages.
I opened the box and it was a gift I’d bought for someone else and wasn’t expecting for a few more days.
A few hours later my husband sends me a few items to order from Amazon and I find myself looking at my wish list. I notice the preorder price on a book I’m interested went up by TWO WHOLE DOLLARS. Friends, this is a disaster. What if I wait and don’t get the best price? What if my life cannot be complete without this book?
I was feeling disappointed, sad and a made up story that if I didn’t decide to buy this book NOW bad things would happen.
I bought the book.
Rush of pleasure and excitement.
I remembered I resolved not to spend money on quilting stuff.
Rush of embarrassment and shame.
At first I wanted to pretend it didn’t count. There’s nothing specific in the rules about books, right? That rationalization sounded too flimsy.
Next, I wanted to hide it. Maybe make it my anniversary gift from my husband. After all gifts are fair game. But, let’s be honest; it wasn’t a gift.
Then I remember one of my favorite therapy concepts: The What the Hell Syndrome. Here’s how it works, it’s New Years and you’ve resolved to give up desserts. On January 14th, you’re celebrating so-and-so’s birthday and eat some cake without remembering your goal. Or maybe you remember your goal and ate it anyway. Then you think, “I messed up my goal. I already failed, so what the hell? Put some ice cream on my cake. I’d love seconds.”
A more dangerous version of this the teenager who thinks, “Well my parents already treat me like I’m a terrible untrustworthy person even though I am not. I might as well do those terrible and untrustworthy things and at least get some benefit out of it.”
So I messed up. Now I have a choice. Let the What the Hell Syndrome walk me towards quitting or remind myself:
“Everyone makes mistakes, so why can’t you?” -Big Bird (That Big Bird is really wise for being only six.)
So this fabric fast isn’t going to be perfect. I make mistakes. And just like it wouldn’t be fair to expect my kids to walk on their first try, I am going to be kind to myself when I make mistakes. Because Big Bird says it happens to everyone.
Side note, If you’re wondering what book I just HAD to have:
Side note: can we take a moment to laugh that I titled this blog “Welcome Too Imperfection” as an upfront acknowledgment that I make mistakes ALL THE TIME and then I got stressed out at the idea of saying when I made a mistake? Yep, I thought that was kind funny/ridiculous too.
Let’s be honest, I can rationalize my way into or out of basically anything. Which means, if I don’t have clear goals and rules I will worm my way out of this fast as soon as this gets hard and pretend I was successful.
So here is the big rule:
1. No money spent on quilting stuff from May 8th, 2018 to January 1, 2019
I’m already asking myself if amazon points and gift cards I didn’t pay for count as money…I’m going with “yes” for now…see what I mean about worming my way out?
1. I am free to accept fabric/quilty stuff as gifts (because Christmas and my wedding anniversary are included in that time)
2. Day to day maintenance stuff life needles, thread, rotary blades, etc. are fair game
1. Keep quilting as an act of mindfulness and creativity which adds beauty to my life
2. Discover how much quilting I can reasonably fit into my life at this age/stage
3. Focus my attention on what I have vs what I see. (that seems like a more inspiring way to say “sew from my stash”)
4. Find my voice as a maker and writer rather than trying to be like the people I admire
About four years ago I decided I wanted to learn the sew. I’d just given birth to my first child, and I was obsessed with cloth diapers (I will totally own the weirdness of that sentence). Money in our house was a bit tight, making it difficult for me to convince my husband that spending the money for the start up on a new hobby was a grand idea. In all fairness, I have a history of discovering something new, becoming super obsessed with it and then moving on to another thing. I was a vegan, super into loose leaf tea, making homemade ice cream, scrapbooking, roller skated some marathons….well, there’s a list. My husband was not going to invest in another hobby to take up space in the closet with the vegan cookbooks, cast iron tea pot, and ice cream churn I just had to have.
I was not giving up. I got my hands on a used sewing machine from a family member, and I was going to make this happen. While talking about learning to sew, my husband mentioned he’d always wanted to turn his old t-shirts into a t-shirt quilt. I saw my opportunity and I took it.
“What if,” I suggested, “my first project is making your t-shirt quilt?” Husband went for it, and I was in business. Now all the start up supplies: needles, thread, a class, fabric, etc. are all in service of making his quilt. He had so many t-shirts it turned into two quilts. I was hooked. All thoughts of sewing diapers flew out the window. I was a quilter now.
Fast forward to now. I love quilting. It has turned into the practice that keeps me sane and balanced. Our family has grown to two children, and my work as a therapist has evolved into specializing in trauma. I need something to help me unwind and quilting is my thing.
Here’s the problem, more specifically my problem, I don’t know how to engage without intensity. The pattern of throwing myself into something 110% has followed me into quilting. In the past, I’d throw myself head first into a hobby get bored and move on to something else. This time I threw myself in 110% and quilting as a hobby had enough diversity to absorb it. There is so much to do and learn. Between the online sew-a-longs, different piecing and quilting techniques to learn, and the new lines of fabric coming out ALL THE TIME, quilting started to lose all the therapeutic benefits. I started more projects than I can finish, buying fabric I cannot afford or don’t need, and trying to work or produce on par with makers who quilt as a full-time job.
My hobby has gotten out of control. I started to distract myself with quilting rather than heal and restore myself with quilting. Since I don’t want to quit and I don’t want quilting to continue to run amok in my life, I’ve decided on a challenge.
I am starting a fabric fast. It’s actually more like don’t-spend-any-money-on-my-quilting-hobby, but calling it a fabric fast is much catchier and shorter. For anyone who doesn’t quilt or sew, imagine giving up all added sugar.
The fast will go from my birthday, May 8 to January 1, 2019. That’s 238 days or 34 weeks, starting on a Tuesday and ending on a Tuesday (I didn’t plan that, but I think it’s pretty cool). I hope to use this blog to document my journey. It took me 7 days to figure out blogging and set up. 7 days down and 231 to go.
I’m sure I can do this. After all, I was vegan and skated a marathon on roller skates. What’s 231 more days without new fabric?