The Free Motion Quilting Project: 2011 in Retrospect

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 in Retrospect

Every year I take a day right at the end to look back and reflect on what the year has been, what trials I have overcome or am still struggling with, and how my quilting has evolved.

Since I've now been posting for 3 years, I have two other posts at which I can look back at and reflect. Looking back and Letting Go was posted in 2009, only 3 exhilarating months after this project was launched. I was brimming with excitement, filled with positive energy about what was to come in 2010.

Last years post was mixed together in the mire that was Sinkhole Journey, and re-reading that post today I've cringed at the language in that post. I can only excuse my profanity with the explanation that I was angry and hurt, and often those angry, hurt words leaked over to this project.

And now it's time to do the same - look back and reflect - on this past year. A lot has happened that I would like to share aloud, but as always, this is a ride you might not want to take with me, so read on only if you're feeling up to it.

To begin, I think this year started out on a pretty difficult note.

Difficulty is a fact of life. Being an adult isn't the easy cakewalk I thought it would be, but looking back at this year, I believe I've made my life more difficult than it has to be at times. This is a pattern reaching back for many years, and only after this trying year have I been able to open my eyes and see it.

One of my mantras for the new year is "This does not have to be so hard." Because sometimes when things are VERY hard, they're only that way because I'm making them that way.

A major goal for me in 2012 is to not only make things easier for myself, but to also show myself true compassion.

free motion quilting | Leah DayBut last year at this time I was mired in a very hard quilt that I refused to let go of easily. Sinkhole pulled me literally inside and out. I can remember several times while making it feeling so very sad and so very helpless to control the waves of pain that quilt dragged out of my past.

All this pain and sadness also got wound up in the real fundamental problems with that quilt - the ripples and pleats over the surface that no amount of quilting would have fixed. Visual reminders to my lack of ability.

At the beginning of January, I finally folded that quilt up and stuck it under my sewing table, hoping to forget about it for a few years, or forever, whichever one came first.

In a way, I think this set the stage for the entire year. While I don't regret putting Sinkhole away, I do regret allowing that fear into my quilting room. But more on this later...

So after turning away from Sinkhole, I decided to pour my heart, literally, into Hot Cast. This was a quilt that was extremely fun to design. I pulled out books and drew and drew and drew for hours at the kitchen table, trying to find that combination of symbolism and beauty that would capture the moment I was in.

free motion quilting | Leah DayThe design process was awesome, but during at this time, I can remember feeling the first twinges of frustration with my quilting style. I was starting to feel very frustrated by the hours and hours of time it requires to quilt so densely, and I was also starting to feel limited in my use of the filler designs I'd created.

Rather than experiment and branch out with new techniques, I stuck with what I'd been doing for the past 2 years, what I knew how to do well, and what I was honestly starting to feel bored with.

This is where fear really started to worm its way into my quilting room. Because I was unwilling to try new things, because I was so blinded by my need for another beautiful, show winning quilt, because I couldn't fathom creating a quilt that was different, I ended up with the first goddess quilt that disappointed me upon completion.

Don't get me wrong; I still think she's gorgeous! She's perfect in almost every regard, except when I look at her I do not feel the purpose of this quilt - love pouring into every vein and cell of my body.

Instead I see and feel only the cage I'd locked myself into.

At what point did this happen? I have asked myself this question many times, and I can't really find an answer.

At what point did quilting THIS way with THIS thread and THIS style become the only thing I knew how to do, the only thing I could do, the only thing I would ALLOW myself to do?

Several quilters commented in the "#1 Quilting Question" post that the thing stopping you from quilting is fear. You're afraid to start free motion quilting because you don't want to risk ruining your quilt tops. You're so afraid, it's locked you into a terrible place where you sincerely WANT to quilt and want to learn, but you can't because it's too scary to contemplate.

Trust me, I know this feeling very well.

Over the last year I've finally fiddled and worried over the feeling until I've finally found the root of this fear, which is:

What will people think if...

What will people think if my quilting isn't perfect? What will people think if my stitches don't look just right? What will people think if my quilts aren't as pretty as they usually are? What will people think if I stop entering shows, if I stop even being allowed INTO shows, if my quilts suddenly become the laughing stock of the entire industry?

Is this horribly silly? Yes.

But that doesn't stop the fear from being real.

For me I have watched hundreds of quilters look at my quilts. The dense, incomprehensible stitching and excessive thread combine to make quilts that are more stunning the closer you get to them.

Being 28 years old in this industry (and often being told I look 17) requires me to overcompensate with my quilting a bit too much. I deliberately overdo it simply because I feel a deep need to validate myself, to prove that I really am a good quilter.

So the idea of changing my style, of quilting bigger and with less focus on uber excessive thread texture,'s really scary.

But looking at Hot Cast, I can't help feeling that I'm just a silly girl who's trying way too hard to prove herself.

It all boils down to: who am I without this?

Am I still good enough even if I never win another ribbon in my life? Am I still worthy of my life and this blog and my business if I never even get INTO another show?

What will happen and who will I be if I learn how to define myself in a different way?

Again, these may seem like silly questions, but last spring they really stuck me into a rut.

So after finishing Hot Cast, I didn't start another major quilt for several months. I created several smaller quilts, even quilted a quilt for a future DVD, but I didn't start another goddess, despite the fact that I had a quilt fully designed and ready to go.

I just couldn't start another big quilt and risk being disappointed with it. I didn't even really know what was bothering me so much at the time, other than feeling excessively bored and frustrated every time I walked into the sewing room.

I stayed in this state until the middle of the summer when Winter Wonderland won Best Machine Quilting at the AQS Knoxville show.

When I received the news it was really interesting - here was an event I'd built up in my mind as a giant source of validation of my abilities, but when it actually happened, it really didn't bring the huge rush of wonderful feelings I'd been expecting. It was terrific, of course, but it didn't make me any different from who I already was.

And that knowledge finally started a slow process to undo the web of fear that had tightened around my desire for change.

I might as well start quilting the way that makes me happy and fulfills my creative spirit!

And when it comes down to it, why am I working so hard to quilt so densely when the people I want to teach and help with free motion are only going to be intimidated and overwhelmed by it?

It's time to change. Simple as that.

Turning this mental corner has been a slow process, but a necessary step along the way was pulling Sinkhole out from under my table, taking a hard look at that monster quilt, then promptly taking it outside and lighting it on fire.

free motion quilting | Leah DayYes, I burned that quilt in my back yard and I have no regrets about seeing the end of it.

After watching it turn into ash, I walked back inside and began a new design using the same rings combined with a goddess that I'd designed years before. This combination became Emergence, a quilt I've worked on throughout this past fall and winter.

Even starting this newest goddess, I had a lot of trouble letting go of my pattern of dense stitching so a good portion of this quilt had the snot stitched out of it. At least I did branch out of my comfort zone in some small way by creating a new area of heavy, messily pleated fabric which I call Textured Applique.

free motion quilting | Leah DayI also experimented with Trapplique, creating an entirely separate blazing sun that was attached to the top of the quilt only after all the quilting was complete.

Playing with these new techniques has been a thrilling adventure that I can't wait to continue with more quilts in the new year. While not every aspect of Emergence has been easy or fun, it's taught me loads about being true to myself and the direction I need to go in.

Looking back at this year, I see so much fear and sadness being played out in my thoughts and actions. I've been mired in a rut that's pretty embarrassing, truth be told, to share with you here because it seems so very silly in so many ways.

Silly because when it comes down to it - this is all just thread and fabric and batting.

What in the world is there to be afraid of?

It's all the extra "stuff" - the expectation, the seeking of approval, the need to belong and be accepted - it's all these things that have made the simple process of stitching a quilt terrifying.

So here I stand at the end of another year and all I can say is - Thank God this year is over!

I'm happy to be moving on. I'm happy to finally feel unstuck and free. I'm happy to have found a direction to move into and to feel excited about that direction.

Do I have it all figured out? Absolutely not!

I will likely stumble, get stuck in ruts, get mired in my issues or technical quilting problems and bogged down with fear, but this is the human experience. To not feel these things occasionally is to not be real.

It seems to me that I've actually managed to forget one of my earlier lessons. This is from 2009:
Sometimes you have to make the harder choice and give up peace of mind and sanity for awhile and just see where it will take you.
Let's hope this year I don't forget this lesson again and have to relearn it!

And finally here at the end of this long year, I have to say thank you. Thank you for reading this story and sharing this experience with me. Thank you for following this blog and enjoying and using the designs shared here.

Thank you for commenting and emailing and participating, even when I act like a jerk and my issues and anger come out in full force. Thank you for forgiving me for my occasional rants and long, emotional posts as I try to figure my stuff out.

You are most graciously appreciated.

And one last note before I close - I have struggled for an entire year over the idea of change, but finally come to find that it is a necessary, essential part of my life. Change happens, as I have found, and it is better to embrace it than run from it.

So hopefully you will understand the changes and various improvements I plan to make to this project this coming year. I'll be sharing more on this on Sunday, but rest assured, this will always be a place to learn and be inspired to make beautiful quilts.

Now let's go quilt!



  1. Love the goddess! She's stunning!

  2. Great post, change is what makes us grow and develope but this is a hard leson to accept at times.

  3. Can't wait to go along with you wherever you choose to go here.

  4. Indeed, change is the only constant in life. Leah, I love reading your introspective posts; it is like settling down with a good book (sometimes almost an autobiography), and I'm always sorry to reach the end. You are not only a quilter par excellence, you are a teacher and an exquisite writer. Thank you for sharing your time, your thoughts, and your Self in this amazing blog.

  5. Leah--you are wise beyond your years :) Love the new quilt and thank you for sharing. Happy New Year!

  6. What a wonderful honest post. Isn't it funny how we all have different fears..this post really spoke to me in many ways. Thank you. And, I thought your burning of sinkhole was an amazing art piece on it's own. I don't always comment, but I'm always stopping in, and I love your quilting, and you seem awesome. Don't be too hard on yourself. :0) Have a wonderful 2012

  7. Dear Leah,
    Thank you for your honesty. This is *your* journey and you speak from the heart. So please don't apologize. I personally feel your site, besides being an amazing educational/instructional one, is a judgement-free, 'safe haven'. (Although I can't speak for all your viewers) we are, after all, women, wives, mothers, friends, artists, who need one another for connection, support and encouragement. And we are human, so foibles and all, we long for unconditional acceptance.
    As for the artistic process, I personally find I'm most successful with & passionate about it when I'm simply 'in the moment', creating/doing without preconceived results. The end product becomes in a way, incidental to me. Thus far, I've displayed my quilts in a guild show but don't enter them for judging because 1) they aren't created as such, and therefore 2) they wouldn't win, which even though I intellectually know, would probably hurt anyway. (I have been starting to think that one day when I'm more confident, I'd like to enter one for judging, just for the experience of it!)
    It also took me many years to learn that it's okay to let go of a project I'm unhappy with & that's causing me unnecessary stress. You are wise beyond your years, Leah.
    Thank you for all that you give.
    Wishing you and your family a peaceful and pleasant 2012.

  8. It is not an easy thing to be so open and honest in your struggles. Thank you for sharing that, because we all have similar struggles. I don't think your comments or thoughts are silly at all, just human. You are a wonder, and such a giving woman. Happy New Year! Colleen

  9. Thank you Leah for all that you share with us. We all have troughs of dispair and disappointment that we slip down into, but when we pull and claw ourselves out of them it's a revelation.
    I look forward to seeing that you have to share with us next year, and bless you for everything that you've shared with us so far.
    Best wishes to you all for 2012

  10. Halloo...
    ich lese so gerne seit kurzer Zeit,auf deiner Seite...finde es aber ganz schade, das ich hier keine Seitenübersetzung finden kann? Oder habe ich es übersehen?
    I cann`t so good english;-)

    Ich wünsche dir einen schönen Jahreswechsel und einen guten Start nach 2012.

    Liebe Grüße aus Germany,

  11. Leah, you seem acutely self-aware...but also so self-doubting. Doubt not! You are talented and able and imaginative and accomplished. You teach and you create. If you never sewed another stitch, you would still be a success in the quilting world for what you have already done.

    Live in the moment. Enjoy your son and husband, and take joy from the miracle of life. Quilting too should be a joy; give yourself permission to have fun, and don't worry about perfection. Catharsis can be good, but only to the point where it still helps you. None of us are judging you. We love you!

  12. Hi Leah! You remind me of me when I was young, although at that age I didn't have the insights you do.

    My insights came later, over many years, and here's something to think about: the fears don't go away, and the worry about pleasing others doesn't go away, even when you're old like me. So there are many layers of the onion to unpeel over the years.

    However, the fears lessen over time and it's easy to get to an "I don't care" attitude which makes quilting much more fun.

    Keep at it! Keep writing and stitching and sharing your life with those who admire and love you.

  13. Wow, you are so fearless and articulate. I think this post gives voice to the thoughts that many of us have. Thanks

  14. Entering a quilt in a competition is one way to be involved in this "hobby". Creating quilts to learn, explore and fine-tune techniques and then giving them to people you love is yet another way to be involved. While these 2 types of quilting can intersect, I think it is important to remember a quilt created by a human being most likely is not perfect in technique but is perfect in intent.

  15. The goddess is stunning! I really related to your post. Well said.

  16. Leah,

    Emergence is a beautiful quilt, the first of many more in the future. Wishing you a Beautiful and challenging 2012.

  17. Hi Klaudia,

    Have you tried

    I use this all the time and it generally translates very well.

    You can copy/paste the text of Leah's posts and you should certainly get the meaning of her words.

    This is my post using

    Haben Sie versucht,

    Ich benutze diese die ganze Zeit und es in der Regel sehr gut übersetzt.

    Sie können copy / paste den Text Leas Beiträge und Sie sollten auf jeden Fall bekommen den Sinn ihrer Worte.

    Dies ist mein Beitrag mit ....

  18. I am new to this blog. I have been reading your post for about one week. From the very start I was amazed by how much I relate to your story and by how much your sucsess has validated so many things I know deep down inside to be true, but living in this upside down world makes me feel that maybe I have all this stuff figured out the wrong way. But the pull to truth is something I can't seem to let go of. But at the same time the letting go of every thing I now to be false is so difficult. I am stuck but reading your post is some how showing me that it is ok to be me and maybe I'm not that crazy after all.

  19. Ms. Day
    Thank you. You are very much loved and there is perfection, but not on this earth. Since August first ( the start of this ) 14 quilts for kids, 4 for the children in church, and completed my mothers unfinished quilt. A queen Size King David's Crown.

    You are blessed and you do his work by sharing.
    It is by His grace and for His glory


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