Friday, January 31, 2020

Over the Slump


I had good intentions of posting more often, but here I am with another massive post.

I'm also very relieved to have a massive post. Since the time of my last blog, I've been through a massive slump. It was hard enough just to look at the sewing room, let alone go in and get some work done. Coming out of it on the other side, I'm so proud of myself that I continued to work. Some of these quilts were agonizingly slow finishes that weren't made with my usual joie de vie, but they ARE finishes and I'm counting that as a win.

You might be wondering how I broke out of the slump, so I'll share what worked for me.

1. I forced myself to sew. No plans, just sewing bits together. Sometimes I went back to basics and just made improv half square triangles. Sometimes I sewed scraps together. Sometimes I would put one thread worth of hand quilting in. I would tell myself to sew for a certain amount of time and then reward myself with a show. I watched the whole series of Poldark this way! 🙂

2. I took some pressure off myself. I entered an IQF quilt show this fall (after a several year quilt show break) and made myself an absolute nervous wreck. I obsessed over the $100 I spent in entry fees and shipping and started obsessively questioning if I should enter Quiltcon (also after a several year break). I said no and I'm okay with it. Entering quilt shows is a wildly expensive endeavor and I share my work in other ways.

 3. I took better care of myself. I have PCOS so my diet can dramatically influence my overall health and mental state. I made time for myself to do the extra cooking and prepping that was necessary for me to eat the way I need to.  I said no sometimes to extra things I could do at church and my kids' school. I worked to get extra sleep.

4. I put my phone down and unhooked from a lot of social media, including Instagram. I removed all of the push notifications. I found that the flashing IG camera would make me switch on my phone and I'd check my email and other social media accounts while I was at it. That loop sucked way too much time out of more important things. I think this habit started as a way to mentally check out and relieve stress. Once I stopped doing it, I realized how much stress it was actually causing me.

5. I waited it out. Pretty soon I found myself back in the sewing room again without having to bargain/bribe myself there. Creative slumps don't last forever. There is definitely hope on the other side.

Anyway, I hope this helps someone.

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I'm naming this one "Thirteen Bucks." It is 40" x 59" and was an absolute pleasure to piece.⁣

This summer I went to my mom's local quilt shop and raided the scrap bin that was for sale by the ounce. I was thinking only of supplementing my own stash and wasn't consciously picking a palette. I felt drawn towards fabric that had a texture. I picked out flannel, shot cotton, linen blends, chambray, slubs, metallics and fabrics that had an interesting visual pattern. I spent $13 on a pretty large sack and walked out happy.⁣

When I got home to Iowa and started sorting the scrap pack to put away, I realized that the fabrics looked very nice together. With only minimal additions from my stash, I was able to put a quilt together. ⁣

I made this without a ruler and definitely without a plan. My favorite part was trying to meld the sections together without any obvious construction seams and riff on a classic 9-patch.

At my guild presentation in September they asked how I decided when to do a facing and when to bind. I scissor trimmed this edge and admired the gentle curves so much that I decided to draw attention to them with a binding in a darker value.

I backed this quilt with shot cotton. I love that texture!






This is "My Favorite Earrings" It is 62" x by 64." ⁣

I started this quilt several years ago while I was visiting my mom's house. My mother was complaining that she was having a hard time shutting her red scrap drawer because it was so full. Simultaneously, Crazy Mom Quilts was hosting a QAL for her June quilt. Those two ideas collided in my brain and I volunteered to help my mother out with her problem! This isn't an exact June, I fudged the measurements of the inspiration quilt to work for the strip sets I'd pieced. ⁣

I struggled for a while knowing what colors to put with my red pieced strips. Sometimes I like to use the color wheel for guidance in choosing schemes. I kept trying to strategize what to use with the red, but I wasn't really feeling anything. Finally, I decided to do something a little closer to home. I modeled the colors in this quilt after my favorite pair of earrings.⁣

I got these earrings for Christmas several years ago. My favorite catalog in the whole entire world is the Sundance catalog. I love pretty much all of the jewelry in it. Every year for Christmas, my husband buys me one thing. I usually let him pick, but I felt very strongly about this pair of earrings. I left him several hints. When Christmas time came, he handed me my present box and I have to admit, I felt a little sad inside. It was too big to be my earrings. I tried to put on a game face and open my present with a smile. It turns out that it was an empty pineapple box with the little tiny earring box nestled inside. When I opened my earrings, I burst into happy tears and scolded my husband at the same time for teasing me. I still love these earrings. And now I'm glad I have a quilt to go with them.

Last night was my birthday and I got another pair of earrings. I opened the gift bag and pulled out the tiny Sundance box inside.  My husband instantly started apologizing that he hadn't wrapped it "properly." I'm glad he was tired. It definitely cut down on the clean up!! 😜





I am excited to show a much better photograph of my quilt, Rattlesnake, that I pieced in 2017. I hung it from tree in not great lighting and all I managed to do was give myself nightmares. ⁣

This quilt appears in the new book by Thomas Knauer called "Why We Quilt." I was honored to be asked to write a brief essay about why I choose to quilt. This invitation came at the perfect time. I had just gotten Rattlesnake back from a quilt show and had received some feedback that stung. The criticism made me feel like I shouldn't be quilting anymore. Within days of that occurrence, I received a fortuitous email from Thomas Knauer asking me to write an essay about why I quilt. In addition, he also asked to include a picture of Rattlesnake in his book. I am so glad for the moment of clarity I had in writing that essay at that particular moment. ⁣

It's important for all of us to contemplate the reasons why we quilt. Quilting can be wildly expensive and time-consuming. Thinking about the motivations alters the perception of the final product and helps prioritize goals. For instance, I know I quilt as a way to create personal meaning. I look at my quilts differently than I would if I didn't understand that I was trying to SAY something. I write about them. Transmitting a feeling is important to me. Knowing that changes how I choose what quilt I make next.⁣

If all of that seems like a whole lot to think about, it's because I've had a chance to look through this book since receiving my contributor copy. I found the book to be very thoughtful discourse. You'll have deep thoughts about why you quilt, too. I've loved reading different perspectives. I recommend it highly. It is currently available.



This is "Bucket List." It is 35" x 35."⁣

My favorite compliment is that looking at my quilts makes people feel happy. I like that. Creating is a joyful act for me. I am happy when I create and happy that others feel it too. The challenge this year at my guild is to include words on a quilt. This is my word.

I made these buckets improvisationally and hand sewed each handle down along with the H, P,P, Y. The stars are pieced.




"Rising," 31" x 33"⁣

I went to a lecture by Weeks Ringle of Modern Quilt Studio last month. She included a picture of The Gates by Christopher and Jean-Claude in her presentation. Something about the vibrant orange next to the drab winter landscape in Central Park really spoke to me. The colors were enhanced by each other.⁣

I worked on my idea the next day at the workshop. I started with the orange part. My favorite part was to watch people walk by me and physically flinch. The purple somehow calms it down and makes it look purposeful all at the same time. Color is so cool!!⁣

It is improvisationally pieced, naturally shaped, freehand crosshatched in monofilament and finished with a faced edge.

I didn't have the original picture I took of this quilt from the front lawn, so I got it out from the cupboard today and took a picture of it in our living room. I still love it!



I have a soft spot in my heart for making baby quilts and a soft spot for a couple at church who deserve all the good things. I delivered this in person. It was totally a "This is why I quilt" moment.

It is 40" x 40." I quilted it loosely (for the extra cuddly factor) with freehand ribbons.



This is "Phyllis," 20" x 30." I named this for the guild-mate that gave me a bag of oddly shaped scraps. While I was deep in the funk, sewing the weird shaped pieces together to make a sort of rectangle was the most I could handle. I repetitively sewed these shapes together for a couple days, then grouped them by size and repetitively sewed them together again. If you are in a creative slump, I highly recommend that activity. I've found that I have to keep touching fabric (even when I don't feel like it) to sew myself through these periodic lulls in creativity.

I decided to matchstick quilt this in hot pink thread.




"Not an Asterisk," ~36" x ~36."

In 2016, Pantone surprised everyone by announcing a dual color of the year--Rose Quartz and Serentiy (blue). Not everyone was happy. I remember reading horrified comments like, "It looks like shades of an 80s bathroom!! That was the year with no Pantone Quilt Challenge. Given the reception? Totally understandable.

It is, however, the asterisk in a long string of Pantone years and quilts that I needed to fix.

I made this from three dress shirts I bought on final markdown clearance at Goodwill and a small bit of dark blue and light pink from my stash. If you look closely at the left, you'll see the Nautica logo I trimmed off a pocket from the chambray. I used a scrap of wool batting my mom gave me and backed it with a piece of gingham that came from the free table at guild. It is pieced and quilted with thread that I've won from other Pantone Quilt Challenges. I think that means that I spent about $5 for this quilt (and that includes an estimate of how much spray baste I used).

I've been using recycled dress shirts quite often lately. The commercialism in the quilting world is starting to really bug me. I'm not much of a social media "influencer," but I'll say this...having a "make-do" spirit is good for me creatively.

This quilt is improvisationlly pieced without a ruler and the edge is scissor trimmed.


I was just starting to mentally get over the slump with some hurried sewing (this was originally going to be for a wedding gift) when I got sick. I was just about finished and ready to send it for an on-time arrival when I got pneumonia. I didn't sew at all for more than two weeks. I'm pretty sure that's the longest I've gone without sewing since I first started quilting about 10 years ago!

This was still on the design wall when I started to work again. I decided to name it "Crackle" for the icy shards of cool color and for the sound in my lungs that abruptly stopped it's making. It is 28" x 28."

I quilted this with a combination of monofilament and metallic thread.




I ended up keeping "Crackle" and making another gift for the newly married couple (since it was already late).

My mom was at the wedding and one of her favorite parts was when all the friends and family stood outside at the end of the evening and sent the bride and groom off in a shower of sparklers. I really liked that image and thought I'd make something to remind them of that.

Ths pillow is 18" and is made in their wedding colors. The orchid color is from a Goodwill shirt (It's in Crackle, too). It's quilted with cotton and metallic threads. I was going for sparkler-esque. In truth, I'm just a sucker for sparkles.

FYI, that's our new couch that was delivered over Christmas break. I have never been more excited to get rid of a piece of furniture than I was when we chucked the old couch in the back of the truck. I think I'm going to have the urge to make a lot more pillows!


Last but not least is "McKay." It is 39" x 39."

I made this quilt for the Project Quilting theme of  "Team Colors." My mother's family is from Scotland so the design, the inclusion of Loominous plaids and color selection is inspired by the McKay tartan.

The very last commitment I made in the quilt was to add the metallic orange from Loominous. I think split complementary color schemes make fun quilts, and honestly, I couldn't really resist that metallic check.

I didn't get it done by the Sunday afternoon deadline. I almost made it, but my machine begged for mercy. I've had the suspicion that the bobbin case was wearing down for a few weeks now. About a quarter of the way through the quilting my suspicion turned into certainty. The stitch quality went down and the noise level went up! I made the decision to switch out machines and take the time to rip out most of what I had done. I liked the quilt too much to compromise for the sake of time. So, I finished late. After you've done the best you can, you just have to know when to be gentle with yourself and let things go.

I quilted it with monofilament thread on my spare machine, which is my mom's old Pfaff.

The last is a picture of the McKay tartan for reference.





I hope you all have a great day!

34 comments:

  1. Jill I just love your quilts and the writings you do to go with them. I agree that you do have to work your way out of a slump.

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    1. Thanks, Colleen. I hope there's not another extended slump in my near future, but I definitely feel like I am better prepared to deal with it. Work helps!

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  2. YOU and Your QUILTS amaze me and I love every last inch shown here. And your new earrings, too!

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    1. Thanks, Marsha! It's great to hear from you! I was happy to see that you are doing better. 💞

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  3. Well that was a good read! Glad the major funk is behind you! In spite of yourself, beautiful beautiful work! I'm intrigued by the 'scissor-trimmeding!' Would love to hear more about that sometime...

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    1. Thanks, Debbie. As far as "scissor trimming" goes, I just mean that I use my scissors to trim off the excess batting and backing following the outer edge of my free-piecing. Sometimes it's fun to leave in the natural wavy shape without using a ruler to trim it back to square.

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  4. Amazing quilts! I did enjoy reading your post. The question 'why we quilt' has given me lots to think about too!

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    1. Yes! Knowing why makes the what so much easier to attain. It's also easier to ignore the noise and fluff of all the extras.

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  5. Holly molly. My family tartan is a McKay! We say 'kie' like 'pie', do you? I once had the kilt, but have to console myself with Black Watch.😱

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    1. How cool! No, we don't say it like "pie." I went to Scotland when I was a teenager. I bought a plaid scarf, but I gave it away to someone in my family. I'll have to buy another one for myself. It is such a fun memory!

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  6. YOU and your massive posts!! It is always a charm to read you and discover your new quilts. Please don't change anything, it is simply YOU!!

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    1. Thank you! Yes, I'll just have to accept that doing massive quarterly posts is probably the best I can manage. Thanks for understanding. ❤

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  7. Thank you! Really! Your post is exactly what I needed this cold grey day.

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    1. Thank you! We are on our third consecutive days of sun. I hadn't realized how much I missed it. Too much gray can make it rough.

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  8. I'm really glad you're back in good health, and over your slump, because your quilts are awesome! Your free-piecing style makes your work dance, and your palettes are fresh and unique. Thank you for showing them to your readers.

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    1. Thank you, Pat. That's very kind of you to say. I enjoy sharing.

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  9. Fabulous quilts and writing. If you call this a slump what must your work be like when you're on top of your game?
    Yes, having quilts judged can be difficult, I've experienced it. I don't care what any careless fool says, your quilts are superb.

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    1. Thank you, Janie. When I'm on top of my game there are a lot more quilts! 😁 I don't have a thing in the world against quilt shows or judges. My problems start when the whole concept of "they" enters into my creative realm. Will "they" like it? Will "they" think it belongs in the show? Etc. Etc. That's my creative kryptonite.

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  10. Wow Jill! What a read! I've never had a sewing slump like you describe. I do get bored with things and put them away, but I've always got lots of other lovely things waiting in the wings. It must have been frustrating no knowing what to do.
    But the quilts you have shown here are all amazing. I love everyone of them. I'm glad you're back quilting again.

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. If someone would have told me that entire weeks would pass without me even wanting to sew, I would have laughed at them. I hope I don't have another slump like that for a long time. I felt like I'd lost a vital piece of myself.

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  11. Love this entire post. So very true that sometimes we have to bargain, bribe and climb our way out of a creative slump. For me, working straight from the scrap bin for awhile will usually do the trick, just reconnecting with fabric like you said. I so appreciate your words about having a 'make-do' spirit. More and more I'm trying to focus more on that and make good use of what I have rather than pine away at the fabric that I don't have! Your quilts are always such a joy to see. I am so very intrigued by the first one, it's just lovely to me in that soft color palette with the few busy prints thrown in. My Favorite Earrings is vibrant and rich looking. So enjoyed the subtlety of the pieced sashing. The other one that really struck home with me is Not An Asterisk. Loving those different border additions so much. Great work on all. No matter how long it is between posts, I always look forward to seeing your latest work and am so happy you share! I find that I'm not good with shows either. All I can do to show my work at one Un-juried show a year and even that messes with my creativity a little bit.:)

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    1. Thanks, Audrey. I'm glad to know that others feel the same pressure and that it can have negative effects on creativity as well. I'm sure it's different for everyone. I've heard people say that scraps cause them stress. I'm with you on that one too. I think scraps are so fun and freeing to work with.

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  12. Ahhh, glad you’re back! You have a lot to say that’s worth reading again and again. I hope you learned a valuable lesson from your Thomas Knauer experience! Your work is beautiful, and very inspiring. When I’m in a slump, I explore those block ideas I save but never have time to make. I hit the scrap bin and sew one, then another, and all of a sudden, one will grab me and off I go! One season, I finally hit upon the wonky churn dash and before I know it, I had made 38 of them! I know I’m not the only one who is looking forward to your next post!

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    1. Well, I started a new quilt this morning that's got me all excited. I remembered this comment a decided to just pick a block and go for it. When you see the neutrals + red Shoo Fly in the next blog post (6 months from now....ha ha), you will know that your comment was the inspiration.

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  13. Love your work. Thanks for sharing it with us!

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    1. Thank you so much, Melissa! I am happy to share and grateful for every single person who chooses to follow along. ❤

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  14. Funny that you should post about the effect of competitive quilting on the creative flow, a topic that has been on my mind lately. Some of my favourite quilt artists/bloggers have abruptly left the social media scene, presumably from what I have heard referred to as “QuiltCon Toxicity”. There is a lot of competition and self promotion out there that for me gets in the way of enjoying the work I see online and at shows/show and tell. I quilt to experience, make, and send out into the world that thing called joy. That is an intensely personal experience in which I welcome, not my Inner critic, but my inner muse, mentor, guide. Your quilts are beautiful, luminous! Whatever feeds their creation, keep that up. You are doing a lovely job both in quilting and writing about quilting. Cheers!

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    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. I so enjoy exploring techniques and definitions and boundaries. I guess I do it best in my own little world without bumping up against too many people that feel like they need to tell me how it should be. For now that's how it's got to be for me.

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  15. I love your quilts. Thank you for writing honestly about it all. I think Phyllis is my favorite of all your quilts. I’ve done the very same thing to get through a slump—just slapping two pieces of fabric together, making a seam, and repeating. I also love the art in making something from nothing, scraps someone else would have discarded. Beautiful.

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    1. Thank you! I love working from the scrap bin because I love being surprised. You're constantly making decisions when you run out, and all those decisions become opportunities for design elements. I especially love not knowing exactly what the quilt will look like at the end and the pay off I get from thriftiness.

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  16. I just happened on your blog through Pinterest because I love your pillow! After reading and going through everything, I love your quilts as well! My Mother in laws maiden name is Mackay and my Moms is McCauley! They both would have loved your work! Keep it up!

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    1. Thank you! I'm so happy that you popped over. It's always so interesting to me to see what project people seem to be drawn to for every post. You apparently are in good company with that pillow. I've noticed lots of traffic from Pinterest from the pillow pins. 😀

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  17. Great collection of quilts you have made ~ but the one that grabbed my attention is 'Not an Asterisk' absolutely love it! I find working in an improv kind of way so difficult, so I think how clever you are creating this quilt & using up non-quilt type fabrics to do so!

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    1. Thank you, Jenny! There are so many different ways to be good at quilting. The free-spiritedness of improv really appeals to me, but I seriously struggle with other skills. I put in a zipper for a pillow yesterday and it took the entire afternoon!! I guess we just have to keep trying new things to find out where our passions are.

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