Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Imperfect Quilts

Thank you for all of your e-mails and comments on my recent blog post about quilts that are not perfect. Some of you "got" exactly what I was talking about. In case anyone misunderstood, this is what I should have added -
 
I am not saying that we should be careless in making our quilts or aim to make quilts that are sloppy or slipshod. Not at all. I think we should always try to do good work, should AIM for some kind of standard or even perfection. But we should not beat ourselves up if we don't make it every time, particularly if we are just learning, either quilting itself or a new technique. We're not all quilting in an attempt to win a ribbon, but if you are, then that's great. You should be proud. What I meant was that we should never let others judge our quilts according to their standards. They may be in an entirely different place than we are. We should not be afraid or let anyone keep us from trying to do something just because we're worried they may think it isn't "good enough" (according to their standards).
 
 
I know that creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of safety and acceptance and play.

Some quilters are naturals and have an easier time of it than others. Their first time at the sewing machine they can whip out a perfect block or quilt and then continue along at this pace. I admire those who can do that. Others, like me,  had a longer learning curve. No matter how hard I tried at first I always made mistakes and got frustrated easily. Most of the time I was trying to quilt with all sorts of distractions and children underfoot. But, you know, I never let it stop me and I never talked down to myself or listened to others who did. (There were more than a few who did this when I was first starting out, let me tell you). I knew I wasn't an expert. But I told myself to keep going because I loved the process. I listened to my heart and it told me I loved to quilt. It took me awhile to learn to go easy on myself and give myself a break. I knew my quilts might never come out perfectly but thought - what if I could still offer something to all the quilters out there who were like me?
 
 
An early quilt full of triangle points that don't match. Neither do the borders, LOL.
 
In the end, I like to think I did okay and I hope at the very least I gave encouragement to a lot of  quilters who were just like me. Maybe the very first quilt they would make would not be a fancy appliqued quilt or one with a thousand pieces that would win a prize.  Some of you have made or will make quilts like this right off the bat. Others will not and Guess what? That's okay. Everyone has to start somewhere and be comfortable choosing a pace of their own. And no one has the right to criticize how they do it. Perhaps we're not all "natural born" quilters with tremendous artistic ability and skills. But we can still call ourselves quilters. Sometimes we have to work a little harder at it but the rewards are great when you accomplish something you weren't even sure you could do in the first place.
 
 
 
One of my imperfect quilts. Maybe not a big deal to some, but never in a million years did I think I could hand piece an entire quilt with Y seams, even a small one. "What are you thinking? You can't do this," I said to myself. But I pushed that thought aside and tried it anyway and then went on to make 3 more just like this one . . . . Not at all perfect, but so much fun. You should try this one.
 

A few years ago I taught a workshop and a woman came up to me, hugged me and showed me the first quilt she had ever made from a pattern in one of my books. She was not a quilter before that and I was proud of her for beginning to quilt and then taking classes to learn even more. I remember her friends in the class all rallied around her, cheering her on.
 
My purpose in beginning my pattern business (and eventually writing my books) was to encourage others who wanted to quilt but maybe did not have the confidence to try it or felt they shouldn't try if they couldn't do it perfectly. I knew that feeling and I jumped in anyway.
 
 
If you wait until you can do a thing perfectly, most likely you will never do it at all. Creativity is a process and we all have to follow that instinct inside that tells us we CAN do something, not listen to the little voice that says we're not good enough to even try in case it does not turn out perfectly. What I learned is that, if you never try, you will never succeed. And that this does not just apply to quilting, it applies to almost anything in life you dream of doing. 
I like to show off a few of my quilts with mistakes when I teach to inspire others to be confident and to keep going despite difficulties. Sometimes I have to shrug off the mistakes and try not to worry when they are scrutinized by others who are better quilters.  I think of how much work still went into the planning and the piecing and figure - so what? In the big scheme of things, this imperfect quilt means much more to me than someone's critical words or looks. I'm the one who has to live with it as a reminder that I'm human, that I will always need to continue to strive to be better. I know we can all be a little critical of our own work. But someone who criticizes others' work rather than champion their attempts has to live with that attitude that she has to prove she's somehow better than everyone else (and you know where that attitude comes from). I've met people like this and you probably have too. They're rarely happy with anything other than making others feel bad. I've never met a critical person who is a happy person or knows how to make others happy. I also know which type of person I'd rather be or spend my time with.

 
Trying to live up to other people's perfectionistic standards just "ain't" worth the headache.
 
That woman at the workshop inspires me today when I think about her. She was sooo proud of herself and I was too. No, her quilt wasn't perfect, but it was still beautiful. I could see the pride and sense of satisfaction in her eyes when she showed it to me. To me, that's what quilting is all about.

*   *   *   *

A reminder -  the beautiful Quilted Koala boxes you saw on my blog are available for purchase on their website. Just because you didn't win one doesn't mean you don't deserve to buy one for yourself   : )
                                                            

 

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have never expected my quilts to be perfect. I always try to do my best, of course, but I quilt strictly for the enjoyment of it. It's therapy, soothing and relaxing and if my quilts are not perfect, so what? They are beautiful to me...Thanks for insping me, Kathy...Sandi in San Angelo

Denise said...

Wonderful post!

Judymc said...

I think those quilts are adorable. I didn't see anything until you mentioned it. The colors and placement are so pretty! And that's what I see when looking at them. I'm all for encouraging everyone that wants to quilt. This is supposed to be fun!!!

Kris B said...

From a beginner and all those learning and striving to improve, THANK YOU! We do it for the enjoyment and satisfaction which comes from within.

Phyllis said...

Thank you so much. I quilt for the joy of it and that is what is important. Love your quilts!!

Phyllis in Colorado

moosecraft said...

You are a genuine doll! Thank you so much for posting this! Who knows how many more people will enjoy quilting because you have encouraged them to try! :-)

GO STARS! said...

Gotta walk before you run! Practice makes perfect. How many times do we right the letters before someone can read them. Quilting and any other new thing is the same. Mistakes are made and learned from. It's the process and not the product at first.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I so agree with you. I started quilting about 16-17 yrs ago and am self taught. As I was reading this blog entry I remembered a few early quilts that I just had to keep ripping blocks apart or cutting down the size of an unpieced block because I didn't have exact 1/4" seams on the pieced blocks. I got frustrated at times but loved quilting so much that I just kept at it. I still make mistakes, most I rip out but now and then it's so small that I live with it. :) ~ Jody R.

Shuttle, Hook and Needle said...

Thank you for this wise and wonderful post!

Nancy said...

I appreciate both this post and your previous one. I liked that you clarified that no matter where we are in our abilities we should do our best.

I'm a relatively new quilter. I made a few tops a few years ago, then had to move away from quilting for a while. When I began quilting again a year or so ago I started a blog and have been posting the quilts I've been working on. I've been very blessed to have supportive readers who dismiss the imperfections that I point out (because they seem so obvious to me) and praise the good they see.

I'm getting ready to layer and quilt a top I finished several years ago. As I laid it out to look at it I saw one rather glaring problem. Now I'm debating with myself whether to fix it or leave it as a "picture" of my limitations when I made it. I have to decide if I will appreciate it with the mistake or if the mistake will always glare at me!

Thanks for sharing your beautiful quilts and your thoughts about this topic. I'm grateful for both.

Donna Klessner said...

I never sewed until I took my first quilt class. I hand pieced and hand quilted my first projects because I was afraid of the sewing machine. I have been quilting since 1978 and still am not that confident about my abilities but keep trying to improve. I don't know what I would do to entertain myself if I didn't quilt! I love the process!

The Civil War Quilter said...

Amen, sister! I couldn't have said it better myself. My first quilt looked like a Mexican sombrero. I didn't know you weren't supposed to quilt around the edges and work towards the middle! Oh, my. It never made it on a bed and I wanted to discard it, but my Mother saw the "beauty" in it and has kept it these 40+ years. Perfect post,Kathleen, to encourage all the beginners out there.

backporchcarver said...

about 12 years ago I decided I wanted to quilt so I took a few classes just to get me started. I saw all the beautiful perfect quilts the other ladies were making and felt that I could never ever be that good so I quit for about 5 years. Every time I saw a quilt I had such a longing to make one and finally I realised I needed to do it so I started again and I have never been happier. My kids love my quilts even though they are cockeyed, and I love making them. I wished I had someone say to me way back then just what you said in this post. Thank you for putting into words what I feel about the joy of quilting.

Melanie said...

You inspire me....I've said it before....a quilt changes everything...

Susan said...

Thank you so much.
From a VERY imperfect quilter, who has learned to forgive herself and love her quilts anyway.

Purl Buttons said...

Thank you for today's post. It made me feel good to read it. I think it is easy for women to jump on the bandwagon with criticism. Have you noticed how often the quilt creator is often the first person to point out her flaws? Others think they are "teaching" when they join in. I prefer the attitude of support your ladies had for their beginning classmate. They had a wonderful role model as their teacher.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I've been quilting since the mid-nineties and not with a sewing machine. Yes, everything by hand....cutting from templates, piecing and finally quilting and I loved every minute of it. I could see my quilts improve with each one with plenty of mistakes. I finally broke down two years ago and bought a sewing machine.What a disaster that was trying to piece. I thought I would be more accurate using the sewing machine, not! My first sewing machine quilt has many uneven pieces but it is my favorite quilt of all that I made. It's a basket quilt and I proudly display it on my bed.
Catherine

Debbie Rogowski said...

Well said! sounds like a book jacket note :) One of my internet quilt friends tells us all the time, there are no quilt police

pens and needles said...

We all need to hear this sort of thing, especially when we try something new and it doesn't turn out like we hoped. It's important to keep trying! And who really cares, unless you're quilting for a ribbon, if it's perfect? No one is perfect. Remember that in early samplers little girls deliberately turned a letter backwards, because only God is perfect. :)

Jo Ferguson said...

No matter what our style of quilting. No matter what we are striving for. Whether it be our first quilt or our 50th. We are all quilters and, as such, are part of the same community. Thank you for spreading the word about acceptance and support.

Val said...

You are exactly right Kathy, there is another side tho. I have often been criticized for making small quilts, fussing too much and worst of all, wasting my time with doll quilts.

I listen to their comments and then make a mental note to never ever be like the people that can't ever say anything nice.THEnaFa

Lee Prairie Designs said...

Dearest Kathy,

Wonderful and to the point post!

Carolyn

Jane said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your blog post!!!!!!! I have just started working at our local quilt shop, here in a new town for us, and feel as though I am surrounded by perfectionists!! :). When someone shows me something they've made I never look closely to see if this matches or that's straight....I tend to focus on the colors and pattern. I would love to join a guild but feel as though my work would be scrutinized and that's not what quilting is for me. I do my best, love the process and am addicted to this craft. I want it to make me happy not stressed!!

Ann in PA said...

What beautiful words of wisdom! The "Quilt Police" belong in judged shows only...any other criticism is just plain catty and bullying.

Rosemary said...

I agree with everything you say. I am 76 and have been a seamstress all of my life. Didn't start quilting until about 10 years ago. I was terrified of it and that I might not be perfect!! My sisters used to say that you could turn my projects (clothes, embroidery, etc.)inside out and not tell the difference because they were perfect! Wow! Talk about pressure! I was so hard on my quilting! I've really had to STOP, relax and love what I do. I continue to do my best and sometimes my best is not perfect and that's OKAY ... finally!! I love quilting and my one regret is that I wasted so many years not quilting ... Thank you, thank you, thank you for your words and quilts and all you do.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Thanks so much for your comments! I have gotten so many e-mails from women who are afraid to show their quilts because so many others are critical. I even heard from one woman who STOPPED quilting because of things others had said about her quilts. What's wrong with those people?

Nita said...

sending a simple, heartfelt thank-you for your post today. I love your blog.

Sandy said...

I've been quilting for close to 30 years, and I'm still learning, and I'm still no where close to perfect.

Thanks so much for posting on this topic. I couldn't agree more!

suz said...

You said it all...if we don't try, and make mistakes along the way, we never learn. My guild often does a first and last quilt at the first meeting of the year. Some of those first quilts are totally hysterical...but the quilters persevered and now make amazing quilts. I don't want my quilts to be judged, just loved. Sometimes I take something apart if it's blatantly horrible, but most times I let it go because it's the process, not the perfection that I'm working toward. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Linda said...

What a great post. This is so true. I have been quilting since 1992 and have worked in three quilt shops and still teach quilting. I love sewing and quilting but I'm not perfect and never will be. I make mistakes and have to rip out and start over just like beginners. I get frustrated but it doesn't stop me. To me, quilting is not about winning ribbons or getting as many done as I can, it's about joy and accomplishment and I guess therapy too. Thanks for sharing.

marian said...

Kathy, thank you for another insightful & inspiring post. I agree, we quilt because it's what we love to do. A few small imperfections simply add to the charm of our doll quilts and that's what makes them uniquely our own. I think that's why I love antique quilts, especially the hand pieced ones.. they are perfect in my eyes, imperfections and all :)) cheers... Marian

agullainquieta said...

The handmade things can not be perfect. Precisely in this lies its charm.
kisses

evelyn said...

As we age our hands and eyes don't work quite as well as they used to. That doesn't mean we should still not enjoy the journey. I love quilting and have been doing it for over 40 yrs.I have had to make some changes that were hard in the beginning. I now machine most things including the binding. Thanks for your inspiration.

Helena Antonio said...

Hace dos aƱos he descubierto el patchwork. Me hace feliz. Ahora voy a empezar el Civil War Bride.¿Demasiado para mi? ¡No veo la hora de atacarlo!
De eso se trata, de la felicidad de descubrir y compartir.
Gracias.

Liz L said...

Back in 2005 my first attempt at quilting was to make a table runner. When I look at it now I see all the mistakes I made but at the time my instructor told me what a beautiful job I had done. I was so proud and without her praise would not have continued my journey. Thank you too Kathy for your inspiring words. A great post.

Maureen said...

Wonderful article! Right on.

HomeSpunPrims said...

Well said and I wholeheartedly agree! It's a process and we should love every minute of it as we learn and improve our skills, even when things don't turn out quite right. I've been quilting for many years and I still make mistakes but I learn from them and move on. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. To all those quilters out there that think they don't do good enough work, don't give up! Don't hold yourself up to someone else's standards or compare your work to others. With time and practice your work will improve and along the way try to enjoy your quilting journey. Lori

Anonymous said...

I won't use a machine to sew because I can't sew a straight line for anything, even with a stack of post-its as a guide. I got so stressed over it, I quit, and only hand-sew. I tell everyone I like the lumps and bumps I have in my quilts because they are handmade goods. I didn't sit at a machine and crank out a quilt in a day. I wish i could do that, but not enough to keep practicing it when all it brings is frustration.

asimplequilter said...

This post couldn't have come at a better time for me! I am piecing a Sunburst block for the first time and my courage is beginning to falter. I am donating the block to the quilt retreat auction quilt that we will piece in April. I have only the ring to applique to the background. As I work on the stitching today I will keep the message of your post near to my heart.

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