mental health, quilting

The Courage to Rip and Redo

Sometimes you have to rip things to pieces and start over.

When I first started quilting I was obsessed with the Missouri Star Quilt Company  video tutorials. I loved watching them…I still do.

The first tutorial I watch that had me thinking, “I wanna try that!” was the jelly roll race tutorial. Basically you sew a bunch of 2.5 inch strips together end to end, and then you sew the strips together over and over until you have a quilt top.

As a new quilter, I thought all 2.5 inch strip rolls were the same. I went to JoAnn Fabric and bought their version of a roll of 2.5 inch strips. I was aware enough to notice there were only 20 strips in the package so I bought two.  I did not know that a Jelly Roll is a trademarked product by Moda Fabric and contains 40-42 2.5 inch strips from a fabric line. Other design houses have variations of the same things: Roll Ups, Pixie Stripes, Rolie Polie, etc. I believed that two of the JoAnn’s versions would be the same as buying one of the others. I was wrong.

The result was a disaster. All the fabric strips ended up grouped by value in the final quilt. All the lights, mediums and darks were together. It looked awful.

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Sometimes I would look at this picture and think, “Maybe it wasn’t THAT bad.” Then I would see it in person and think, “Nope is really is that bad.” Also, I look a this picture and notice how much my photography skills have improved.

I was so discouraged. I loved the fabric, and I hated the result. I also hated that I hated the result. I wasted by little bit of quilting money on something I could not stand to look at. It was misery.

So like any (un)healthy person, I put it away somewhere I would not have to look at it and pretended it wasn’t a thing. I denied that quilt top’s existence. I moved on to other projects, improving my skills along the way.

About six months later, this quilt top started coming to mind a lot. I started to question if it really was as bad as I remember. I took it out and looked at it, concluding it was worse. The more I knew about quilting, the more I didn’t like it. However, I had come to appreciate the power of a good seam ripper.

A seam ripper is the ultimate permission to declare, “This isn’t working. I’m trying something else!”

I ripped off the borders. And then I remembered ANOTHER Missouri Star Quilt tutorial featuring a technique by 3 Dogs quilting that used three 2.5 inch strips sewn together and then cut into 6.5 inch squares.

So I ripped the quilt into sets of three strips, cutting those strips into 6.5 inch squares. I decided to keep them scrappy and random, so I threw the squares into a laundry basket.

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I sewed them back together as per the pattern, ending up with blocks that looked like this:

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This quilt also started the habit of my youngest of wanting to play on any quilting related object I had laid out on the floor. No blocks in a layout, quilt top to be basted, or quilting in progress is safe.

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There was a time that a seam ripper represented failure to me. Only novice, unskilled, lousy quilters need a seam ripper. Excellent quilters don’t make mistakes.

Now my the seam ripper represents freedom. It’s an opportunity for a do-over or a change of a plan. It gives me the opportunity to try something new or a different way  of doing. And try again if that doesn’t work.

What I love about this quilt is that the materials and essence of the quilt stayed the same. I didn’t buy new fabric or materials. The only thing that changed was how the fabric was arranged.

I am an in-progress quilter. I am an in-progress person. I have not yet arrived a mastery level skill. I am on a learning journey. Part of learning is having the courage to declare that something isn’t working, rip it to pieces and reassemble it into something that does.

The road to mastery is paved with the lint of ripped seams…so at least it’s a fluffy road.

Journey on.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Each side of the hexagon is one inch.

You sew on six more.

Then you sew on 12 more.

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Then you add 18 white hexagons as a border.

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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.

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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).

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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, mental health, quilting

Stitching Through Sad

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. 2012-12-23_09-41-50_283

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. 2012-05-18_11-23-54_734When 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. img_0515.jpgCooper 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.