The Free Motion Quilting Project: Challenging Core Beliefs with Abstract Art

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Challenging Core Beliefs with Abstract Art

This week I've been reading a great book about writing called Everybody Writes and it got me thinking. A big chunk of the beginning of the book was all about doing the work - carving out the time to write for 30 minutes every day.

Hmm...Could this apply to quilting? What if I set a timer and just quilted...whatever...for 30 minutes every day? This quilt would not be preplanned or prepared for so I couldn't make it complicated.

I decided to try it and pulled out fabric I'd dyed a few years ago, grabbed a scrap of batting and fat quarter for the back, and sat down to quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

And that's where the trouble started. Here's the problem with quilting verses writing: it's far more time consuming! I can type up a fairly nice blog post in 30 minutes. But I cannot quilt anything in such a short space of time.

So I readjusted my goal, turned off the timer and challenged myself to quilt without planning. Here's what happened:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

After quilting this section in blue I had to walk away. James had come home from hanging out with his grandparents and I needed to make a grocery list. The honest truth is I was also so completely uncomfortable by this quilting process that I wanted to chuck the whole thing in the trash.

Where did all this negativity come from? Was I really so dependent on planning and designing that I couldn't stitch some random fillers over some fabric for fun? I posted this photo to Instagram and immediately got positive feedback. Clearly this looked good to a few people, but why did I feel so uncomfortable about it?

free motion quilting | Leah Day

I returned to quilt more on this piece and attempted multiple times to clear my mind and stop trying to judge what I was doing. Because it's an abstract piece, that means there really isn't a right or wrong choice or a good or bad design. I knew this, but I kept wanting to pick it apart and judge it.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

It has taken a few days of space and reflection to figure out why this process was so difficult - it tripped up against a contradictory core belief that I am not an artist and not allowed to make things like this.

Core beliefs are things we believe deep down about ourselves. Most start in childhood thanks to the things we see and hear repeatedly at home.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
My issues with art come from my sister who decided around the age of 6 that she was the family artist and there wasn't space for more than one. Anytime I drew or painted, she would jump down my throat with criticism. I realize this was much more to do about her - her jealousy and inadequacy and need to control others - but it still formed an indelible barrier in my mind. I'm allowed to be a quilter, but never an artist.

This core belief is completely illogical - every person in the world has the ability to speak, and that is a form of expression. Drawing, painting, quilting - these are all just different forms of expression that we all have a right to as sentient human beings. We all make art every day!

While this experience was painful and challenging, it's something I definitely need to do weekly. I need to quilt without thinking and judging myself constantly. I need to learn how to use the word ART without cringing. This illogical core belief will not last if it is continually challenged on a regular basis.

I know from reading many books on art, writing, business, and quilting that skill is not gained by obsessive planning, but by doing the work. Sheer volume is the key because the more you create, the easier everything becomes.

So here's to embracing uncertainty and challenging negative core beliefs. The process might not pretty or fun, but someone has to do it!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

18 comments:

  1. There is another way to look at this. I think ever stitch you take is art. And, I think it is beautiful. But what I think doesn't affect you beyond the cursory thanks very much. What matters to you is what matters to you! You need to convince yourself what so many of the rest of us already know--you are absolutely an artist. Heck, that fabric you died is absolutely delicious. It is art without a stitch on it--your art. From what I can see, your stitching this randomly, isn't really random as it follows the design in the fabric. Perhaps you are not seeing the forest for the trees. You are good at planning and stitching and designing. Embrace your art, because it is absolutely art. And let us not forget some of your best attributes, your art of sharing, inspiring, and teaching others. Oh yes, Leah, you are an artist!

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    1. Thank you so much Carol! You're right that it's really what it means to me, but the trouble is the negativity in my head wasn't allowing me to SEE that it was pretty and good. It sounds crazy, but I look at this piece even now and just feel really confused. Do I like it or not? I have no idea! I need to do this more and hopefully begin to develop an opinion about it.

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  2. i have a similar mental challenge with myself. whenever i make something i feel like it has to have a destination... this will be a pillow for the couch, this will be a framed pieced for the MIL, this will be a lap quilt for the nephew. for some reason i never feel the freedom to create something just for the sake of creating it. i'm working on a little christmas embroidery piece, to learn to embroider, and can't help milling over what i'll do with it and who it will be for.

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    1. I think it's a sort of mental trap we can sink into. Let's call it Obligated Quilting. My problem is all my quilting has to have some product or purpose behind it because quilting is my business. But creating just to create is also important, it just feels different because what will it be in the end? That question loop is what gets me too. Let me know when you find the magic cure for it!

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  3. It's beautiful Leah! Keep going!

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  4. I had the amazing fortune to sit down to dinner last night with an amazing art quilter who has been in the business for 30+ years. Even better, she was willing to look at some of my quilts and offer me suggestions and advice.

    I came away with a very positive sense of self (she was extremely gracious about complimenting my free motion quilting and 'sense of texture' and even asked if one of my quilting designs was a stitch on my machine!)

    But the other take away, to help me improve, was that I just need to sit down and try things. I don't need to try to make a final product- I just need to let art tell me what it wants to be. And I can't be afraid that something won't work, it needs to be tried anyway. I've always been held back on starting something if I don't think it will turn out to be a finished piece that I enjoy. Instead, I just need to sit down and create. Eventually I will create a good one :)

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    1. I completely agree...it's just hard! I struggle with the overwhelming feeling that I've wasted time quilting something that doesn't work out. But why does that bother me so much when I can easily "waste" 3 hours bouncing around online or running errands? It's the acceptance factor - stitch and accept it and love it that is the hardest for me and that's where I'm stretching.

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  5. I am loving that piece! The dyed piece was gorgeous from the start and the quilting is truly enhancing it. It's good to hear that you are going to continue to challenge yourself and to call yourself what you are, an artist.
    P.S. If you really don't like the piece, please email me at quiltzyx at yahoo.com and I will happily send you my address!

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    1. Lol! I'll definitely remember that! Josh is actually pretty attached to this piece so we'll be keeping it. I want to hang it as a reminder to stop thinking and just shut up and quilt. I need to be reminded of that more often!

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  6. Wow, what a great post. First of all, the second photo on the blog looks like an intricately carved Oriental fish chess-piece. How bad can that be??? Second, I have never thought of you as being anything BUT an artist. I mean, look at your goddess drawings!!! Not to mention the hundreds of beautiful sketches that turned into free-motion motifs. Face it, you've been making art all along--whether your sister likes it or not.

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    1. Thank you Linda! For some reason my goddesses have never been caught under the "art" issue because they are quilts. This little piece is also a quilt, but it triggered all my alarms because it wasn't planned to death and didn't make an actual picture - it's abstract. I still can't quite wrap my head around it. What makes it good or bad? It's like my brain wants to pick it apart and find something to judge, but now that it can't, it doesn't know what to do. It's very confusing, but I'm at least trying to lean in rather than run away and hide (and chuck the quilt in the trash). I think that's progress!

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  7. Leah, What a wonderful blog. You have just encourage me to start experimenting with quilting and forget about planning.

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  8. I followed you are for a year. I am empressed by your, in my opinion, 'art quilts'. I follow the creative process of some of your godesses quilts that I consider as beautiful art quilts. You are an artist who inspires me. Besides that you are a hard worker, making on a very creative way a living of your hobby. So you are creative in two ways. An artist needs skiils and needs to be creative. You have both.
    Lots of success with your art.

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  9. I have always thought of you as a talented art quilter because the pieces you design are always so beautiful and unique, especially your goddess series. If that's not art, I don't know what is :-)

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  10. I definitely think of you as an artist. Perhaps you're simply one that prefers to plan things out beforehand instead one that goes with the flow. Not every artist uses the same process to create something.

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  11. Tell that voice in your head that YES, I am an artist!! Look at all you have created!

    About planning: as you created your 400 (?) designs, you didn't KNOW what it was going to look like, whether you designed as you quilted or did it on paper.

    Add me to the chorus: I do think of you as an "art quilter." You aren't making bed quilts, you are making art.

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  12. Perception is reality and very hard to shift. If you think of yourself as quilter, then it is difficult to embrace the fact that you are an artist. Why do the two have to be mutually exclusive? Why can't we be quilter and artist? After all we can be accountants, wives and mothers. We have many identities. What I so appreciate about you is your willingness to share your insecurities and allow the dialogue to take place. Yes, I look at your work and my jaw drops, because you have the vision of an artist and the talent of a quilter to execute your dream.

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  13. I wanted to write more before, but I got taken away from my computer. In my opinion, art is something that is pleasing to the eye (of the beholder… tastes vary!) and/or evokes a feeling or a message. I think when doing unplanned art, you may be struggling with the confusion of "what am I trying to convey or accomplish here" … most of your other art (and yes, it IS art and you ARE an artist) has a pretty clear message or feeling or thought behind it. This one is more subconscious, more random… but that doesn't make it less meaningful. You may figure out what it means to you later and be amazed at how it came to express something you didn't intend or plan for. This is an amazingly adventurous part of the creative process and I think, the times that we are most likely to strike upon something genuinely new and extraordinary.

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