Quilting and Quitting

You may have heard I finished my last quilt the other day and declared myself retired from quilting.

(Yes, it turned out to be a premature declaration. I remembered one last quilt top that I had stashed at the top of the closet, put away until I could figure out how to do it justice. Oh well, I have a plan, kind of… And then it turned out there was more to do – finishing a “finished” crazy quilt, but let’s save the crazy story for another time.)

You may be wondering why I am so determined to give it all up, especially when I am being so productive (finishing two quilts on Friday! go me!)

It turns out that crafting doesn’t agree with me, physically. Looking down, bending my neck forward has given me all kinds of pinched and tingly problems downstream. I need to spend my time holding my head high. Writing and reading, my other head-down hobbies, take priority over quilting and crafting.

Staying home doesn’t agree with me either and I never figured out a way to take much of my work on the road (large quilts, no car – it doesn’t really work). I can’t tell you how many afternoons I spent cooped up in the house quilting when what I really needed was a good long walk outside in the “sun”. This was back before I started at the library, so my days were long and empty and lonely. Staying home quilting really didn’t help. Going out buying fabric and supplies didn’t help either!

But in the end, I am done with quilting because I got what I came for. I learned new things, I made quite a few quilts, I gave them as gifts and hoarded them at home, and I discovered things I didn’t know about myself. Now I’m finished.

Why quilting?

I started quilting in 2005 for reasons I can’t fully explain, but I soon found that there were a few key things I liked about it – warm (practical) blankets for my home, lovely textures and colors, designing my own patterns, and the makeshift make-do vintage look. Well of course after my first two quilts (made from old shirts from the thrift store) I upgraded and started using bought fabrics and patterns and I experimented with modern wall art quilts…

…and I discovered that I don’t especially enjoy pressing, cutting, machine sewing or quilting. In other words, I love quilts but I don’t necessarily want to make them!

I worked my way through a few quilts before investing in more and better tools (knowing how “flighty” I am) and I kept my stash of fabrics under control. I was quite productive – I made quilts for my family, I made quilts for some kids, I experimented with different methods and designs, and I made some lovely quilts for myself. I couldn’t quite manage to make anything big enough for our bed, and when I finally got close, I realized I didn’t really want anything but what I had – my simple white duvet and a diamond quilted, chocolate brown cover I got at Ross.

2005 was a busy year of making. Almost everything I made was started in 2005.

I spent a month in late 2005 piecing a 1930s style sampler quilt and began 2006 quilting it by hand. A “quilt in a day” brand design, a huge challenge from start to finish, it took me about 1000 days to complete, and now it is one of my very favorite things, imperfect though it is. In those 1000 days my interest was starting to wane. I would wander quilt shows and only really love the vintage displays. Machine quilting is unappealing to me, and overly intricate designs started to bore me. Wall quilts, however beautiful, just didn’t make sense to me. I liked simple expressive practical work done by hand, but my experience with the 1000 day quilt was proving to me that I didn’t have the stamina for it. Not more than once.

Overwhelmed:

One of the big turning points in my quilting life was being given a wonderful gift. A friend had retired from quilting a number of years earlier and gifted me 5 huge boxes full of supplies – fabric, stencils, books, patterns, a vintage top (stained and in need of TLC) and bags of blocks from online block swaps that needed to be made into quilts. Taking on someone else’s stagnant supplies is risky. I spent hours sorting, washing and drying, pressing, mulling, piecing… someone else’s energy. As much as I loved a lot of the fabric, there was too much. It overwhelmed me. I donated a couple of boxes right off the bat, but over a period of months I had to let go of more and more… until it was almost all gone.

I wanted to honor the work and send it to a good home. I sent boxes of stuff to the local quilt guilds to distribute among their members, sell at their fundraisers, complete and donate to their blanket charities. One day last year I saw a quilt that looked familiar on display at the library – weren’t those the “Dear Jane” blocks I had sent the guild, beautifully arranged into a quilt? Exquisite little blocks made by people all over the country for a swap – there was no way I was going to be able to create sashings and sew them up nicely, let alone quilt them. But someone saved them and I hope that made them happy.

My own boxes of unfinished projects sat on closet shelves. I would pull them out and churn them every so often, trying to figure out what to do. Perfectionism would overwhelm me. At some point (two years ago?) I decided to let go of the last of the stagnant projects, the stuff I didn’t like, the stuff I knew I could never do justice, and I prioritized what was left. I decided to use up the supplies I could, finish the projects I loved, and pass the rest on to people who would enjoy it.

And I decided to let go of perfectionism.

And I did.

to be continued

Pictures of the quilts will follow when the sun makes a reappearance.

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