mental health, quilting

From Beginner to Expert

My first block for #100Days100Blocks2018 was a legit stunner. I am still surprised that I did that. And many of you asked how. I am not an expert quilter, yet. My real area of expertise is in mental health.  So I thought I would share my thought approach to quilting, specifically developing a growth mindset.

Dr. Carol Dweck of mindsetworks.com coined the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset.” She defines a growth mindset as, “The understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.” A fixed mindset views abilities and intelligence as permanent.

A growth mindset looks at the various skills involved in quilting (selecting fabric, piecing, basting, quilting, hand sewing) and asks, “How I can get better?” A fixed mindset assumes how things are is how they will be. A growth mindset believes people developed skills by learning. A fixed mindset assumes a person came by their skills naturally, without much effort.

One of the mistakes we make when comparing our work to another person’s work is assuming that person achieved that work with ease. My first block  for 100Days had to be re-cut right away because I forgot to to allow for the double seam allowance needed for fussy cutting. Then I had to rip and re-sew many times to get the center to line up. When all was said and done, I probably invested two hours into making that block. I struggled to execute my vision. None of that struggle is obvious from the photo.

In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth talking about improving a skill through deliberate practice. First, identify a stretch goal, something outside your current comfort zone. Work relentlessly towards that goal until you achieve it and get feedback on the process from others who are better than you.

My stretch goals for 100Days this year are:

  1. Improve fabric selection, especially mixing color and patterns
  2. Improve my fussy cutting skills
  3. Increase the precision of my piecing.

I also have a way to measure each of these:

  1. overall visual impact of the block, feedback it generates online, how many patterns, colors, fabric types did I use and did that work?
  2. how well the seams line up, is the selected image properly centered in the block
  3. Are my seams straight, is the finished block the correct size, do seams match where they are meant to?

To prove that I wasn’t always this good a picking fabric, behold two of my disaster blocks from last year:

img_3751

I hated how block nine came out so much that I re-did it with a solid pink in the middle. Block 43 I also hated, but I left it to remind myself I’m learning. You can see that even my block photography needed work.

Here is the lesson I was learning about fabric selection last year: there is a difference between blender patterns and focal patterns. Your eye needs space to rest on a block and blenders give your eye rest. My fabric pull last year was almost exclusively focal fabrics and solids. None of the patterns worked well as blenders. This is the reason I had such a hard time mixing patterns…they didn’t mix!

For this year, I’m using Tula Pink fabric, and I have blender fabrics. I’m noticing that I’m using those fabrics the most because they bring the block together. For example, I’m using the tortoise shell fabric Tula Pink’s Slow and Steady collection a lot.

img_1704
Notice how every fabric choice has a pattern but the block doesn’t look too busy.

One of the things I enjoy about declaring this quilt about improving skills and learning is that it gives me freedom to play. Here’s an example of something I tried that did NOT work.

img_1659

There is something wrong with these colors, and I can’t explain what it is…I’m still learning about color…I can say that I look at this block and think, “Gross!” So it didn’t make it into the quilt. Oh well and on to try again.

I also want to clarify between honing skills and falling into perfectionism. For example, I recently ripped and re-sewed a block because my seams did not nest exactly. They weren’t that far off:

img_1671

I didn’t rip and resew because I needed to be perfect. I ripped and resewed because I’m experimenting with pinning vs no pinning and different methods of pinning. I wasn’t satisfied with one method, and I wanted to try again. My third goal is to increase the precision of my piecing which I cannot do I do not try and improve my technique. I’m asking myself, “Can I do better?”

I also have a three rip rule. If I can’t get it right after three rips and resews, time to leave it as is or make a big change.

Here’s an example of choosing done over perfect: In this block I chose matching fussy cutting/pattern over nesting seams.

img_1672

What is the skill you are trying to improve? Once you figure it out,  decide how you’re going to measure it and follow makers who do a better job than you do. Ask people for feedback.

Try, Fail, and Try Again. This is how experts are made. It’s hours alone in your sewing space. Over and over until you figure out what works for you. Then you get to show the masterpiece on Instagram, creating the illusion that you create with ease.

Let’s get practicing!

mental health, Project Status, quilting

Grandmother’s Flower Garden Quilt and Looking Before Leaping

I love forward motion. Want to watch me crawl out of my skin? Put me in a meeting where NOTHING is getting done, like a brainstorming session. I hate brainstorming sessions. I don’t want to put 100 ideas on a board and not examine them. Examining them in the fun part. I want to pick one that seems like it will work and start working on it right now. I can always adjust, right?

There’s a word for that. The Gallop Strength’s Finder calls someone like me an activator. Activators love motion and doing stuff. There are activators in the world who are also strategic thinkers. I am not one of them. In fact, in my list of top five strengths (you can find yours if you take the Strength Finders Inventory) I have activator (likes forward motion) and adaptability (don’t mind changing plans on the fly). Put those two things together and you end up with someone who tends to jump into things and figure them out as she goes. For the most part, this works pretty well for me.

Sometimes it does not.

Around November or December of 2016, I started to get the feeling that I might want to learn English Paper Piecing. Some people I was following on Instagram were doing it and I thought it looked interesting. I watched a YouTube tutorial, bought a starter kit online, and started cutting some fabric I’d gotten in my sew sampler box. I went with a Grandmother’s Flower Garden Pattern because that was what was on the YouTube video and in January of 2017 started cutting and sewing.

I know it was January of 2017 because it’s now July of 2018 and I am about half done. I had no idea what I was starting when I bought a bunch of 1 inch hexagons and started sewing them together.

Here’s how the pattern works:

You start with one hexagon.

4ed7406c-9bbe-4dcf-8dd4-18af2137925f-493-0000003c82e7fee1_file
Each side of the hexagon is one inch.

You sew on six more.

Then you sew on 12 more.

img_3539

Then you add 18 white hexagons as a border.

img_3672
When you live in a house with preschoolers, toys always seem to find there way into pictures.

Then you attach them with green hexagons which represent the garden path between the flowers. You need about 11 green hexagons to attach the flowers together.

As you can see, they start off really cute. Then when I get to the white hexagon border I start to question my life choices. When I’ve assembled a few together and have a long stretch of green to sew, I am sure that I am crazy.

img_0982-1
All the white around the edges need a green hexagon. That’s about 100 green hexagons.

I had no idea how big this was going to be. I thought I’d make it 8 rows of six flowers and that would be no big deal.

Turns out, it’s a big deal.

I learn a lot along the way when I leap before I look, and I also end up feeling frustrated. I’d never heard of fussy cutting when I started. I’m sad I didn’t fussy cut my flowers. I also have two flowers where the 12 hexagon row alternate fabric because I didn’t bother to check if I had enough fabric for a whole row before I started (turns out I did).

img_1366
See? The hexagons alternate. Those are the first two flowers I made.

This is a bit of pattern for me. I read the quilting pattern once, quickly, get a general feel and then go for it. As a result I miss stuff. That is how I ended up with an extra seam in the backing of my Lepidoptera Quilt. And why Ice Cream Soda quilt is sitting in a box looking a mess.

At this stage in the journey I’ve started to view my Grandmother’s Flower Garden Quilt as an exercise in persistence. I want to finish what I’ve started. I must accept that even thought I’d do it differently now, that does not make it any less of an achievement. There will probably be about 2,000 hexagons by the time this quilt is finished. Two thousand is a lot.

I will finish what I have started. Half of the growth is achieved through persistence. I’ve learned my lesson: I need an understanding of what I’m getting myself into and make a plan to get myself out.

If I understand the beginning and the end, I’ll have fun making it up in the middle.

Fabric Fast

The Withdrawal

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:

extinction-burst-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.

Fabric Fast

I’m Already Messing Up

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.

Extra disappointing.

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.

Fabric Fast

The Fabric Fast Rules

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?

Exceptions:

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

Goals:

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

5. Do something about my growing pile of WIPs.