mental health

Finding My Voice

I put off starting a blog for years because I wasn’t sure if what I had to say mattered. I wanted to try blogging, and I was afraid. Was what I was going to say any different than what every other blogger online was already saying? Also, I was pretty sure other people were already saying it better. So I’ve been on a journey of finding my voice.

As previously mentioned I have two brothers and a sister and there are five and half short years between the oldest and the youngest. There was another family we knew growing up who referred to my family as “the loud family,” and it wasn’t an affectionate label. Growing up it felt like we were constantly yelling over each other. Each of us landed with our own strategy for getting what we wanted. I learned to work the system in my favor. My big brother would call that being manipulative, and I would remind him I got into trouble way less than he did.

The point is, I did not grow up feeling like there was space for me and my voice because I was growing up with three other big personalities all trying to do the same thing. What I am learning today is that there is enough space for me to be me as long as I’m being me. Which is to say if I try to be another Shauna Niequist then there will not be enough space for me because Shauna is occupying that space (and rightly so. Shauna is an amazing writer. I highly recommend her blog  and her books).

I’m started to see the difference between admiring and imitating. I admire the works of other quilters, bloggers, parents, and therapist. I can learn from them. I can be challenged by them. I cannot be them.

There is an amazing therapist I work with named Margaret. She taught me the neurons in a person can pattern in 10 to the millionth power different ways…that’s a 10 with ONE MILLION zeros after it. When you take into account your personality, natural skills/gifts/talents, life experience, hard work and neural patterning, there is absolutely NO ONE like you. You are utterly unique. You are irreplaceable. No one can do what you do in the way you do it.

I’m loving scrolling through the #100Days100Blocks2018 hashtag on Instagram because I love to see how each person takes the same raw pattern makes it a unique expression of who they are. I enjoy looking at all those wonderful blocks the most when I am focused on celebrating another making being themselves rather than wondering if them being who they are takes away from me being me.

One of my favorite moments in the musical Hamilton is when Aaron Burr sings the line, “I should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” It reminds me that there is space in the world. There is space for you to be your amazing and me to be my amazing. .Friends, there is enough room for you to be you because you are the only one who can fill that role in the play with call this life. If you try to be someone else you will find the process suffocating.

I’ll be here learning to be only me. You do you. No one else can, and we are incomplete without you.

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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Fabric Fast

Fabric Fast Update

I want to start by saying I miss the mail. A lot.

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.

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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.

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It’s so amazing isn’t it?!? I want to make everything Karen Tripp has on her website (thediyaddict.com)

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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

Crushed By Comparison and How To Talk To Anxious People

I few months ago I had this vision for a quilt project. Using only left over fabric from another quilt project I would make a blue/purple peacock on a background that went from yellow to orange to red. I was super excited when I started working on the project. Check out that eye!!!

I was so excited I did not read the pattern closely and ended up piecing the project backwards. I thought that was pretty cool because I think I have enough fabric to make another one in reverse, so green to blue to purple background with a yellow/orange peacock. If I made the second one the correct way it would look like they were mirror images.

Then I started scrolling through other people’s interpretation of the pattern on Instagram, realizing that what I was treating as background was actually the peacock’s feathers.

Now my idea feels stupid to me. How did I not catch that the feathers make up the background?! I’ve spent more than 30 hours hand piecing this project, and I don’t want to look at it. I don’t want to do another version mirrored version of my same stupid idea.

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Some of you may be tempted to write a comment about how much you like what I made and reassure me that my idea is not stupid.

I am gong to invite you not to do that.

If I don’t believe that for myself either I won’t believe it from you, or I will need you to remind me forever. This is why telling someone who is anxious that everything is okay is a waste of your time. If a person cannot do it for themselves, then it won’t stick when you do it. You’ll have to keep doing it. Forever.

It is also not effective to tell people who are anxious to calm down or stop worrying. That’s roughly the same as me telling you not to think about Abraham Lincoln.

Seriously, stop thinking about Abraham Lincoln.

Stop thinking about the beard and the top hats or the Emancipation Proclamation.

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STOP THINKING ABOUT ABRAHAM LINCOLN ALREADY!!!!

To which any sane person would say, “Every time I try to stop thinking about him you remind me of him, and I start all over again.” That process is exactly what happens to an anxious person. Each time you tell them to calm down they are reminded of their anxiety and start all over again.

So what to do instead? Ask people what they need to handle whatever it is they are worried about. If they don’t know, I either invite them to take a few deep breaths or take a few moments to think about it. I do not solve the problem for them. Solving the problems leaves ME with the burden of relieving THEIR anxiety. No thank you.

Where does this leave me and the peacock? First I need to make peace with how my original vision is different. Then I need to decide if I want to spend another 30+ hours making another version or if  I want to move on.

One of my favorite things about quilting without deadlines is that I can put something away for awhile and look at it again when some of the original emotion has worn off. So away goes the peacock for a bit.

Until then, I’ll be thinking about Abraham Lincoln.

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.

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:

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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.