The Free Motion Quilting Project: Emergence from Sinkhole

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Emergence from Sinkhole

Last year around this time I started a quilt called Sinkhole. The story of this quilt, why I created it, and why I eventually had to fold it up and put it away has already been told over several posts which you can read here:

And if you read any of those posts, you'll find that they are all carry the same warning - this is pretty personal stuff. I like to write about it because it helps me process it and work through it, but you may not like knowing so much about me, so feel free to not read this post today.

Here is one of the last photos of this quilt:

free motion quilting | Leah DayOn the front, I stitched negative words from my past into the gray rings in silver thread. On the back, I tried to quilt positive words in red thread. Unfortunately the silver showed up far better than the red so the dark, hurtful words always seemed to stand out better.

Yes, I was advised by many people not to stitch out all my negative words onto this quilt, but I did anyway, and I found this to be a very, very helpful and healing experience.

So it wasn't the dark words that sunk this quilt and ruined the project, I want to be clear on that. It was the issues: pleats caused by baggy fabric over the surface that would never, ever quilt out.

free motion quilting | Leah DayWhy did my quilt have these issues?

Quite simply I've never appliqued a circle larger than 6 inches before and had no idea that the rings would be so complicated to put together. The first 6 went together pretty good, but the larger the rings got, the more the fabric twisted and contorted.

Fabric is not a stable, solid thing. You can't think of fabric like paper - flat and easily controlled because it's much more alive. If you pull on fabric hard from one side, you will distort it. If you layer it together and one layer is baggy and loose, all the layers on top will be baggy and loose.

So quite simply - I did not fully understand the difficulty of the design I'd created. I also choose a pretty difficult way of putting it together - turned edge applique. Combine the two together and add in the fact that I was in a hurry to put the thing together and you get a recipe for a disaster quilt.

The issues in the construction was apparent to me from the minute I put the quilt on my design wall. I could see the baggy, excess fabric. I knew it wasn't going to quilt out. I decided to try anyway.

So I basted Sinkhole and started quilting out all those negative, dark words. The top began to pleat in places, the baggy fabric lumping up uncontrollably in places. I kept quilting and the issues kept getting worse.

Finally I got all the dark words quilted and found I couldn't stand to look at that side of the quilt. Not necessarily because of the dark words, but because of the glaring fabric issues rippling over the surface.

So I flipped the quilt over and began quilting the good words in red thread in the opposite rings. Technically these words were affirmations, and though many self help gurus tell us affirmations are a great way to feel great, they really didn't do much for me. Nothing was going to make that quilt right. The issues were just too overwhelming.

That's when I got stuck.

I knew I needed to quilt in 3 more lines of positive, happy words. I knew I needed to quilt the background, but I couldn't work on the quilt without seeing the pleats and baggy, rippling fabric without wanting to throw the whole quilt in the trash.

But all that time and effort! All that fabric and time spent quilting out those words! How could I just throw it all away?!

So I folded Sinkhole up and put it under my sewing table and left it there for the last 8 months. Josh would occasionally mention it - when are you going to finish that quilt and move on?

I would avoid the question, cite my need to create Hot Cast and Forged & Welded, and a million other quilts before I returned to Sinkhole. I was stuck - not wanting to work on it, but also not ready move past it.

Until two weeks ago.

2 weeks ago I posted about the quilter's block I've dealt with this summer. After writing it all out, I went into the studio and started searching for the old quilt design for The Scarlet Letter to make a similar small wallhanging for a friend. I figured it was a good project to pull me out of that funk and back into quilting.

Instead of finding that design, I found an old, large scale drawing of Emergence, a goddess quilt I designed more than 2 years ago.

free motion quilting | Leah DayThe original idea was a goddess emerging from a traditional wholecloth quilt. At the time of this sketch, I was neck deep in The Duchess and was pretty sure I never wanted to make another white wholecloth quilt again.

But there was always a problem with the design: the wholecloth the goddess was emerging from. I could never pick a design that felt right or could handle being split in half and still look decent. I folded up the design and put it away, taped the sketch of Emergence to my wall and left it there.

I found this original design and suddenly made a connection - what if Emergence and Sinkhole were somehow combined into one quilt?

free motion quilting | Leah DayThat's when I finally pulled Sinkhole out from under my tables, opened up the design of Emergence and found the two matched up almost perfectly.

But...what about the issues on Sinkhole? How in the world was I going to make the goddess figure and combine it with that problematic quilt?

I took a good long look at Sinkhole and decided the dark words had to go. I sat down with my seam ripper and began to pick out the letters. One hour later, I'd gotten through about 6 letters and decided that was a seriously unproductive use of my time.

I laid the quilt out again and stared at it for 10 minutes. The pleats were still there. The baggy fabric was still there. The dark words were still there. All my nightmares about this quilt were just as bad as I had remembered. Picking out the words wasn't going to help at all. This quilt was beyond fixable.

So what should I do? Forge ahead and hate the end result? Try to make it work? Throw it away and start over from scratch?

I liked the last idea best, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this quilt, the time I spent on it, all the work and thread and effort, it was all already spent. I couldn't take back what I'd put into it.

I could just throw it away, or I could try to get one last thing out of this quilt - a positive visual experience.

So this is the end of Sinkhole:

Click Here if the Video Does Not Appear

It's really weird and funny when you tell someone you've set a quilt on fire, they always ask "Did you mean to do that?!"

Well, I don't normally take my quilts outside, stretch them out on the lawn, douse them in kerosene, and light a match so YES! I really did mean to burn my quilt!

And just in case you couldn't watch the video, here are a couple photos:

In the end, the quilt was just a thin layer of polyester batting, mostly melted over the backing fabric. The top and all the thread was burned away, and you can see the remnants of the rings.

free motion quilting | Leah DayNow if you're here and don't think I'm completely and utterly crazy now, I have to say that this was one of THE MOST positive experiences I've had so far. Setting fire to a quilt that bothered me so much, that was full of so much negativity, was really the only thing to do, and I'm very glad I did it.

Burning it, getting rid of it in such an elemental way allowed me to move on immediately. That very night, after hosing the quilt and yard down, I came inside and began working on the new quilt design combining Sinkhole and Emergence together.

Luckily the Sinkhole design had been almost entirely created on the computer. All I had to do was create a new sketch of Emergence, scan it into the computer, then combine the two together.

This is Emergence from Sinkhole:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
After creating this design, I couldn't wait to get started! After a whole summer of quilter's block, I finally had something that made me want to drop everything and quilt.

Which is exactly what I've done over the last two weeks. What I love the most is this quilt has finally pulled me out of the fraidy cat stage and I'm trying new construction techniques that I've been wanting to use for more than a year.

I'll be posting more about the construction techniques I'm using, but for now I'll leave you with this photo of Emergence from Sinkhole as I left her last night - already the goddess figure is fully quilted with loads and loads of feathers!

free motion quilting | Leah DayLet's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. I think that was AWESOME!!! I love how the rings remain almost as a caution about falling into the sink hole again. I totally agree with your firs inclination when you did the negative words and then the positive. They balance each other out. They pull on each other and you let the positiveness(is that a word) win! Yeah you!!! And from the ashes of dipair and negativity rise the pheonix of rebirth of creativity. It is always darkest before dawn and other trite quotes...My fav...that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Go on with your strong self!

  2. Fabulous! The feathers on the new quilt are gorgeous. When I realized you burned the previous quilt, I said, "She burned it? Awesome!" You're such an inspiration; can't wait to hear more about this new quilt. :)

  3. Wow, this was really powerful. I made a quilt a year ago as a representation of my journey with severe postpartum depression. I dislike that quilt so much and I have no idea what to do with it. I love the idea of burning it. But I feel like I'd need to write about it first, and I am not sure I am ready to do that, but maybe someday. I admire your courage not only to create the quilt, but also to "finish" it in the way that was positive for you.

  4. What an awesome, inspiring, insightful post! Made my evening!! Thank you so much for sharing this.

  5. This is a really amazing journey. I loved this blog post, and I would like to include it as a guest post on my blog, because so many of us have been in your steps, and I tell you, I just felt better watching that quilt burn. I think the Emergence quilt is going to be spectacular! Thank you for this!!

  6. You are amazing Leah. Thank you for sharing this; what a great ending. It is the perfect example that nothing (no bad words, thoughts or feelings)are permanent in our lives...we can move forward. You go girl!

  7. Oh, this is so freeing. I love that you could share this with us. That is so brave and powerful. Thank you so very much!!!!


  8. You are seriously awesome. I can't wait to see the new quilt.

  9. That was cool to watch it Burn. We all have negativity that would be best put away like this! As I listened to the music with the flaming quilt the thought came to my mind- this is why they put the words "not to be used for sleepwear" on the selvages of fabrics. Scary to think we make our quilts to sleep with.

  10. I was actually thinking you should burn it...not because it was ugly or anything, but because of what it represented. And then I scroll down and you did just that! I have thrown out a project before that was weighing on my mind that I really did not want to finish...I don't feel bad about it at all and it was the best decision I could have made.

  11. I think your conclusion was absolutely a positive step also. Lot's of times you hear about writing down negative thoughts on scrapes of paper and burning them to release the negativity, well I think you've done that with this quilt.

    Your new quilt is quite brilliant. I can't wait to see it's progress.

  12. I love how open you are about talking about quilts as art. I admire your guts, both with respect to your art and your business. Thank you for sharing this with us. I can't wait to see Emergence.

  13. Awesome fire! That's so cool how the rings still showed up in the ashes. Love the positive flow it finally took. :)

  14. Can you please explain how you go about pinning your quilt, I have never seen so many pins in one quilt.

  15. Jackie - There's a very good reason for it! You can see the red, orange, and yellow fabrics - this section needed to be stabilized A LOT so there are around 1400 pins in the quilt to hold it together. I considered also hand basting, but the pins are doing a good job right now.

    I'll be posting more about this quilt later this week so just hold tight!


  16. Holy crap.... very moving and inspiring on so many levels!


  17. Way to go! My DH is a fire fighter, so we always love a good fire! What a great way to "finish" your quilt LOL!

  18. believe me, going on reading I was thinking "I've to suggest her to burn her quilt".
    This is a common healing practice, write down your negative words, situations and so on, and burn them.
    I can see how healing had been for you to burn Sinkhole, your new quil is turning out wonderful, I know it will be what your soul need now :)
    happy work

  19. Hurrah!
    You made me laugh out loud with shock - but I totally agree with your actions. And besides, haven't we all been there? With a nightmare project that has no end and no salvation? Next time it happens to me I hope I have the guts you do to put it out of it's misery :D
    Love everything you post on here, the quilty stuff and the personal stuff. You are an inspiration, thanks :)

  20. Well done on disposing of something that was affecting you so much. Takes a lot of guts to burn a quilt. Your new "Emergence" is going to be incredible and well worth all the effort. I love all your tutorials and they make me think I could actually do some free motion quilting. Thanks for your inspiration.

  21. Congratulations, the quilt that is 'emerging' is powerful, strong and true. What you have been to yourself in taking the actions you've taken. Destruction of something you've poured time and emotion into isn't easy but as you know there are those who 'destruct' for the sake of it without a care. The difference here is you care, and care a lot, and in doing these actions you've taken and dealt with the darkness and are now embracing the light and joy of freedom. Keep going.

  22. wow, that is so cool burning an ugly quilt like that, sorry it took so long and your time but think of it as a learning experince, and the new emergence from sinkhole is so awesome, it already sent chiles down my spine, I sure wish I could do something that great, this quilt is going to be the best ever, your mind is clear to do great things, you are awesome, and like in a good county too. LoL from a Shelby girl. keep up the good work, and still hope to meet you one day.

  23. G'day. Watching you burn that quilt reminded me about one that I made many years ago. It was a quilt that bothered me, because I couldn't get it to go right. I left it for weeks, but I always knew it was there. Finally, one day hubby had a bon fire going to burn some rubbish, the quilt was on a stool in my sewing room and I happened to be in this room and looked out the window and saw the flames and out I ran with the quilt and a few other things (not sewing related) and threw it all on the fire. Hubby nearly suffered severe burns to save the quilt as he thought I had thrown it on by mistake. Luckily, I turned when I heard him yell to me about the quilt being burnt and ran back down and told him to let it burn.I was so glad to never have to look at that quilt again. Good on you. Looking forward to seeing the new one. Take care. Liz...

  24. Leah, I was completely shocked you burned the quilt but I can see how liberating it must of felt. Sometimes our deepest, darkest thoughts can lead to our greatest work. You proved that with this new quilt! It is beautiful!!

  25. A perfect and cathartic way to rid yourself of the issues, the negativity and a project you hated!!! The end picture is kind of a powerful image! And the way you added flames to Emergence- whether you always intended to or it was an addition inspired by the fire- just AMAZING!!!!

  26. Congratulations! I sounds like you are moving on in your life as well as your art. You're an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  27. Wow...This post left me speechless. You are a brave, bright, and talented woman on many levels, Leah :)

  28. Amazing! I see that word written several times to describe you, your journey and your talents. It is also the word I chose, but it does not do you justice. You need a much bigger word! But I don't know one, so I will just say a very heartfelt, "AMAZING!"! I have tears reading all about this quilt and how it came to be and also it's end. Having a close, personal relationship with God has saved me through all the pain over the years. I am glad you have found a way out and have come out so victorious! BIG hugs to you, Leah!!

  29. I agree with orkaloca, very therapeutic. Though I would have burned it in the fireplace, rather than having to explain it to my firefighter son if it had gotten out of hand.

  30. What a wonderful, brilliant, PERFECT solution!

  31. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with us all. I feel that you have made a great statement, not only about quilts but about the whole issue of negative thoughts etc. I love the fact that you spent some time picking those words out before you took the final step for Sinkhole! the new quilt is looking amazing and I can't wait to see how she progresses. You are an amazing person Leah - don't let anyone tell you any different. Best wishes

  32. Thanks for sharing this post!
    Move forward, your new quilt looks great!
    Love all your work!

  33. That was very moving and transformational and gave me the goose bumps, thank you so much for sharing that.

  34. thank you so much for sharing this inspirational and transformational work, it gave me goose bumps!

  35. That was really amazing. Sinkhole is beautiful, before,during, and after...and exspecially the healing you got out of it, and lessons. Burn on, girl, that was an amazing bit of art in itself.

  36. Wow! Thanks for allowing us along on this journey with you. Justine

  37. I hope that you felt the healing that I saw during the burning of the quilt. I want for you to feel all those negative words are now like ashes in the wind. Drifting far away on gusts of wind until they eventually dissolve into nothing. In this you have become a survivor! an overcomer! Congrats!

  38. First - Emergence - OMG - this is your most powerful quilt yet - It is so empowering.

    Second - I think that burning the sinkhole is probably the best way I can think of to fully achieve your goal for this quilt. I love the picture that shows that, even though the quilt has burned, the rings are still there - but they're flat.

  39. WOW! Leah, you are so brave!

    Did you cry and cry?! I am tearing up just thinking about everything involved. You go, girl!

  40. Good Girl! years ago I made a divorce quilt. quilted, embellished and bound. took it out in the woods, buried it and walked away. was truly a wonderful day.

  41. Well done!! it takes alot of courage to do this and you have made that choice and healed from it. You are an inspiration.

  42. woooo! I just got back from burning man, and I have to say, letting something go into flame is pretty darn amazing. Good for you, keep doing your beautiful work!

  43. Leah--you are wise beyond your years :) Keep up the great work.

  44. Thank you for sharing your sink hole quilt..i totally understand the whys.
    Long before i was a quilter i did a similar thing, the only way i knew how. I wrote all those negative things that were spoken to me when i was growing up, that had "latched" on to me and and my spirit.. then i put them in a small box,wrapped them up in tissue paper. taped it shut, and put in on the floor in my closet. I swore i would never pick them up again, or use the past as an excuse for failing in my future. I was now in control. years later i found the box while moving. i tossed that box in a dumpster..and smiled when i did it! Many blessings my quilting friend!

  45. Leah, you have moved quilting unto a new level, brought it right out of any doldrums anyone could accuse it of being in, and away from any quilt police meaningfulness whatsoever. I always show your work and websites now to people who think quilting is some old ladies boring patchwork-pattern-out-of-a-book-been-there-done-that thing. KUDOS. :)

  46. Leah, Through sharing the sadness of what you came through to where you are now you have blessed the lives of so many. I am glad you burned "sinkhole" as it looked as though you/we could step into it and feel the overwhelming sadness therein. I would like so much more to see a quilt representing coming out of the "sinkhole", coming out of the dark with it at your/our back, into the beautiful light and joy which life is for you now. I would like to see you replace the negative "Sinkhole", even though it is burned and gone, with this new quilt of love and hope and joy and goodness and forgiveness which is the great healer as you have found out. With Love, Marcia

  47. Oh I have found and read your blog in the past, but I lost track.
    Well, I can understand if someone said this was crazy, but really life is crazy and it is good to purge. We carry those demons of the past, and they taunt us like the devil.

    Burning stuff is fun too, though I have never done this. Only cookies, and other edible stuff. haha

    I am so happy I found your blog again and I book marked it. I am teaching myself to quilt and just recently joined a quilt club at G Street Fabrics and met some amazing and inspiring people.
    You are one of those people now, certainly you are!

    ~~Rosemary Bolton


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