"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What I get out of quilting

A lot of people take up quilting for emotional reasons. They like the idea of doing something traditional because it ties them to the past, their families, or their idea of what that means. Some take up quilting as a bridge to the future or as a way to stay in contact with life as it moves beyond them, i.e., they want to make soft, welcoming gifts for babies and newly married couples. Or puppies. Or house warming presents. Or they want ways to make their own home feel warm and cozy. Or they just want to show off. But the point is that a lot of people take up quilting for reasons that have little to do with the actual process.

Quilters who have been quilting for awhile still want those things but I’d say that for most of us, the impetus shifts to the sensual and tactile. We fall in love with the colors and how they clash and combine. We love the feel of the fabric. We become almost addicted to the way a design suddenly pops out of the fabric. We notice little things like the color of variegated thread. We get lost in patterns and swirls of colors. We notice colors that we completely overlooked, before. Visual artists know all this stuff just as musicians “hear” music the rest of us overlook. However, many pre-quilters are living in a barren, sterile world except for when we eat chocolate. We begin wanting to touch strangers’ scarves and ties to get a better look at the pattern. When we compliment ladies on the pretty fabric in their blouses, they smile, which just encourages such behavior. When we are piecing and quilting, something happens in our brain at the point when what we see in our head and spirit abruptly comes into being in three dimensions. Granted, the result is not always a good thing but seeing it take place is a thrill.

For some of us, striving for perfection becomes an obsession. We study, we practice, we compulsively frog sew (rippit… rippit for the uninitiated). We learn new skills, plateau for awhile, then suddenly lurch into a different technique and become obsessed, again. We used to love florals, now all we want are batiks. We create quilting blogs. We try applique, but only if we have been drinking heavily. We look back at earlier projects with horror and and a certain kind of satisfaction that we have come so far. When we see a perfect, first project from a rank beginner we experience a demoralizing sense of inadequacy similar to what we frequently felt in junior high (those were the days, weren't they?).

Some of us can be unkind to folks who aren’t as dedicated to perfection as we are. Candidly, NONE of us like mean spirited people who tsk tsk others to their face, no matter if we "get" where they are coming from. We keep our thoughts to ourselves for the most part and hope no one equates us with the quilt police. But after we get more snooty, we still inwardly cringe from time to time at decidedly odd, discordent color combinations and non squared blocks and seams that probably would be more at home in a crazy quilt. Still, mainly we are hard on ourselves – and love every moment of it because this is an endeavor that does improve with practice and dedication. And we can see it happening. And truth be told, we aren't that hard on ourselves - we are secretly and not-so-secretly delighted at our personal progress.

A lot of people go into quilting with the notion that it is an inexpensive hobby. We start out with grandma’s old singer and plan to use old clothes we can cut up to make “blankets.” The hobby could stay inexpensive and compared to a lot of things (harness racing comes to mind), it is. Many of us, however, after being bitten by the bug begin compulsively buying fabric (of the LQS variety); upgrade our sewing machines; get a backup for when our baby is in the shop; and buy as many rulers, templates and magazines as we can sneak into the house ("No, Honey, these aren't new - I've had these a long time..." [A long time translates to being in the car trunk for two days under the emergency kit]). We frighten our children and non quilting parents with the size of our stashes. We hope they think we paid $2.00 a yard for most of it (Their reactions are similar to what could be expected if we joined a religious cult). We buy quilting books, including novels that are only indirectly associated with quilting (perhaps the cover pictures a quilt block or the title includes the word “quilt”). We plan our vacations around shop hops. We dream of a long arm quilting machine and justify our purchases with the notion that “after we retire” we will be able to entertain ourselves inexpensively with the proceeds of our buying orgy if we live another 200 years. It is a fine justification for spending. It also has led to the popular quilter’s resolution that THIS YEAR, I will only shop from my stash. And lose 50 pounds.

For most of my life I sorely neglected feeding my creative side because I perceived that as frivolous. I was working as hard as I could just to stay upright. I viewed taking time to do MORE as stealing time and money from my family. To a certain extent, I still believe that, just not as strongly. However, I no longer think of quilting or other crafts as frivolous (even such things as painting doorknobs or crocheting plastic dish scrubbers). I am at a different place and have much more time than I did when the kids were growing up. All the same, I am just sorry it took me this long to figure out the need for balance.

I am still working on it.

photo - Jezebel

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I like what you wrote...insightful. "Visual artist" is a neat phrase. You captured many of the elements that define us as quilters.