The Free Motion Quilting Project: Shadow Self - Part 1

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Shadow Self - Part 1

I've been working on this quilt quite a bit lately and I'm finally ready to share the first part of this quilt story.

The first part, however, requires a good bit of explanation. Shadow Self is as close to a self portrait as I've ever made.

free motion quilting | Leah DayIn fact, this quilt represents more of my life: more of what I have been through and what I want to overcome, than any other quilt.

To say it plainly:

I have battled almost my entire life with a horrible,
soul crippling negative voice within my mind,
constantly shadowing my thoughts and darkening my heart.

This is an inner voice that has told me, as long as I can remember, that I am so stupid, so weak, and so worthless that I don't deserve to live.

In fact, up until the age of 23, I honestly didn't expect to live until 25, not because I suffered from some life threatening illness, but because fate would invariably intervene and wipe out its huge mistake in bringing me into the world in the first place.

Yeah, yeah, I know it's pathetic. ;-)

Looking back I can say that this was an immature viewpoint that I largely lost after having my son, but even now I breathe a sigh of relief with every birthday that passes because it's yet another year I truly didn't expect to have.

Back in February, I really started thinking about this inner negative voice (INV for short). Even though I now see it for what it is, it's still sometimes hard to discern my real thoughts from the inner negativity and self hate.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this issue needed to be resolved with a quilt.

This is not the first time I've used a quilt design to help me overcome a personal issue.

Release Your Light actually started its life being called Light in Me and was literally that: a representation of the amazing explosion of creative potential I had within, just waiting to burst out and share with everyone in the world.

free motion quilting | Leah DayI changed the name of the quilt after completing it because I wanted it to be not just about me, but for everyone. We all have this power, this potential energy explosion inside of us just waiting to get out.

It was while creating Release Your Light that I came up with the idea for this blog, which of course is why you're reading these words today. So making the quilt worked!

Shadow Self is also starting the same way: I meditated for days about this oppressive weight I live with over my mind and heart and the vision for this quilt came to me.

free motion quilting | Leah DayThe center circle is a yin yang symbol, representing the balance of both dark and light within all life. It rests over a goddess figure, severing her heart and mind with shadow.

While I have hated my INV, I also know that it has shaped and formed me into the person I am. I would not be the same person without it.

But that doesn't mean I have to continue living under such a painful, self destructive influence.

Just like with creating Release Your Light, I feel the need to see this quilt, to live with it on my dining room wall every day.

I know that if I see it first thing when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I see at night, maybe I will take heed to let my lighter side dominate and shine through the darkness and negativity.

This tactic has certainly worked with Release Your Light. Every time I have reconsidered this project or thought of turning in a different direction, this quilt has invariably caught my eye and reminded me to share, share, share myself.

It's not always easy, but the daily reminder helps.

As I work on Shadow Self, I have already started to chip away at the control my INV has had over my mind.

It is a daily choice:

Let the negativity make me feel worthless,
or fight to see and truly believe in my own self worth.

It is a quilt I have taken a lot of time on already. The design itself is very simple, but was sketched and re-sketched at the kitchen table while feeding James breakfast or dinner.

I had to take breaks on this quilt, as it hasn't always been easy to see the huge black shadow that rests over my heart and mind so clearly displayed in black and white lines.

But that let me know I was on the right track.

This quilt is dark and it's hard for me to look at because it is so true. Not all life is bright colors and butterflies.

A good chunk is dark and flat and full of anger.

It's one thing to read in a self-help book "Love yourself", it's quite another thing to learn how to do it after 23 years of doing the opposite.

So that is the reason why this quilt is being made. It is a visual representation of my Shadow Self, my darkness, which will probably always shadow some part of my light.

But by seeing it every day on my dining room wall as the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see at night, it will be very hard to forget that every day I have a choice of how far that shadow reaches.

There's always a choice.

So to sum up the design steps I took so far on this quilt:

First it was sketched using tracing velum which is nearly transparent and allows you to design without the use of a lightbox.

This allowed me to work at the dining room table, in the best light and in the room that this quilt will eventually be displayed in.

Using basic symmetry, a protractor, and ruler, the whole quilt was sketched out.

free motion quilting | Leah DayThen I finalized the design and sketched a copy onto plain white paper using a lightbox.

At this point, I began to design the quilting design. After the catastrophe that was my last goddess quilt My Cup Runneth Over, I learned my lesson: the quilting design HAD to be designed first, before any piecing took place.

free motion quilting | Leah DaySo using more tracing velum and a protractor, I created 2 ray designs and planned the inner quilting designs for the head, heart, body, and background of the quilt.

I wanted the shadow section to have minimal movement and very straight, rigid lines because that's what it's like: living within a box.

The light side, by contrast, is full of movement: fire rays and interlocking lines run from the center heart so long as the shadow does not block them.

After the quilting design was complete, it was also transferred onto white paper at the exact same scale as the original design so they could both be resized equally.

I resized using Adobe Illustrator, but it's come to my attention that there are several free resizing programs on the internet that can help you blow up and print out designs.

Next the quilt was pieced using Sharon Schamber's Piece-lique technique. I wanted the pieces to fit together as perfectly as possible to create a smooth, even quilt top.

free motion quilting | Leah DaySo that's where I'm at now with half of the light side mostly pieced together. It's a slow process and I'm taking my time. Sometimes I walk into the room and walk back out again.

It's not always easy to work on, particularly now that the design is starting to really take shape.

But each step is progressing as it should and so far, no giant road blocks have jumped into my path, which I largely thank to good planning.

So now I'm off to start working on the dark side, which I've so far avoided. It's time to overcome that hurdle and I'll definitely post more pictures when it's further along.

Let's go Quilt!

Leah Day


  1. Change your thoughts and you change your world. Good for you for taking the risk and being brave enough to face your own inner workings. Facing one's true self in the mirror can be so terrifying, but there is NO WAY to better yourself if you don't take the leap.

  2. I have your blog in my reader so that it comes to me every day. I love to see the beautiful free motion designs. But I had to comment today because here I see the movement from beautiful quilting to artistry with the 2 quilts you discussed, the light and the shadows. I think it becomes art because it goes beyond the beauty of lines, though it includes those, to the truth of life.

  3. Is regan referring to the most fabulous book by Dr. Wayne Dyer "Change your Thoughts, Change your Life"? If not, then I am. Go get it. It will change your life.

    glen: I understand

  4. Shining a light is the only way to make the shadows go away. That's true metaphorically as well as literally, and you're turning a great big ol' spotlight on the shadows by creating the quilt - and by posting about it. Congratulations, and I hope that you continue to learn to value your self. We certainly appreciate your skill as a quilter, instructor, and artist.
    You might be interested in a blog called Ordinary Courage. It's wonderful, by an author named Brene Brown, who writes about shame, perfectionism, that sort of thing. She focuses especially on how shame affects women.

  5. How you live your life is a choice. I'm glad you have decided that your glass is half full!!

  6. Your blog is so encouraging on so many levels - you've helped me more than anyone get a start and become comfortable with free-motion quilting, but also, you are so open with your struggles and you have found a way to use your quilting as a bit of therapy or a way to work through things. I would love to incorporate such things in my own life, as I'm enduring a few personal struggles of my own (and I have an INV also). I've never really designed a quilt before, but I'm thinking of starting with a mini-quilt. Thank you so very much for sharing these intimate things with us.

  7. Have you read 'The Shack' by Young? It's the story of one man's journey out of darkness and well worth the read.

  8. Hi, I just had to comment on your post. It takes a lot of courage to share about INV - People who don't really have one can't understand how debilitating it can be. It can be so extremely difficult to believe in your own worth. Thanks for opening up, it is nice to be reminded I am not the only one with this demon to face. For me, I started keeping a journal of positive statements about myself and reading it almost every day. I tell myself, this is the true me, the real me, the me I choose to see. Thank again for sharing - and PS the quilt looks fab!

  9. It takes a lot of courage to open up about inner struggles. I have to say, turning them into beautiful artwork is probably the best use I've seen made of negative emotions.

    I learned to love myself by loving my daughters. I had to stop and say to myself, "Why I am letting this happen? Would I want Madelaine or Carolyn to have to put up with this?" It changed a lot of my behaviors for the better.

  10. Fascinating on many levels. If you could only hear the positive thoughts I've had about you when I read your blog, you might have some other words coming out of the negative magic mirror you look at.

    You seem to accomplish a lot each day, each week. You are a higher energy person than I am, perhaps a "driven" person, which is, perhaps, explained by your post today. Perhaps you are always working to try to be good enough. Good enough for who? You are good enough for your child and good enough for your blog audience, but even more, you are good enough for yourself...even if you stay in bed all day. Never forget that!

  11. BRAVO! At least you have discovered revelation in your youth. Some of us are not able to turn on these lights until much later in life. Wonderful, wonderful blog and you are a fabulous young woman.

  12. I love all that you do and you are a great teach THANK U


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