The Free Motion Quilting Project: Designing Sinkhole

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Designing Sinkhole

Yesterday I mentioned that a new quilt was coming. This is the quilt that has been on my mind almost constantly for the last 2 months:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Of course, before I explain this quilt, what it symbolizes and what I hope to accomplish by creating it, I need to start with a warning: the information below contains details of my personal history, details of which can be difficult for some to read.

If you are particularly sensitive to stories of alcoholism, abuse, dysfunction, anger, sadness, and depression, simply stop reading right now.

In essence, I'm warning you that this quilt is dark for a reason. It's called Sinkhole now, but more than likely the final name will be The Circumference of Dysfunction because that is what this quilt symbolizes: dysfunction and depression, and the endless cycle this can create in a family.

Of course you may be wondering why in the world I would want to create a quilt about something so horrible. Isn't life depressing enough? Why do I have to go and make a quilt on it too?

Well, if you were around for Shadow Self, then you will remember that I use the quilting process to help me process emotions and challenges that are simply too big, too complex, or too entrenched to work out on their own.

In the case of Shadow Self, I created a quilting design about my terrible inner negative voice (INV). I showed how it felt to live with a shadow over half of my head and heart, and I followed every nudge my intuition sent me while working on that quilt.

One nudge led me to the bookstore where a particular book "I Know I'm In There Somewhere" by Helene Brenner jumped out at me. This is about finding your true inner self, allowing yourself to want the things you REALLY want, and trusting your instincts to lead you down the right paths.

This book also helped me identify what was my REAL inner voice, and by the time I finished Shadow Self, it's like my mind had gotten a good solid scrubbing and all the darkness there was washed away.

But... there is always a "but" isn't there? Shadow Self helped me work through one specific issue: my inner negative voice. The core reason why I had my negative voice, why I was delegated with such a terribly low self esteem, and raised to doubt every move I made... that is still a very big problem.

I believe that all of this happened because of my family's history. Because of the abuse that one generation bestowed onto the next carried down, passing from one person to another like falling dominoes. The core design of sinkhole is circular rings that symbolize the echoing effects of abuse, always rippling out to effect a bigger area, a bigger ring of people.

To say it straight: all 4 of my grandparents were abusive alcoholics. They never hit me personally, but they hit my parents, and my parents, in turn, hit me.

Physical abuse is an extremely damaging thing, and to be hit by a parent, the person you absolutely love best of all in the whole world... well, words can't rightly describe it.

But physical abuse is actually easier to bear than some forms of verbal abuse. At least after getting slapped, the sting doesn't last for longer than a few minutes. Verbal abuse, however, is like poison ivy. Words spoken in anger like "selfish," "stupid," "worthless," "pathetic," and "ugly" snake into the mind and stay there, poisoning all your thoughts with negativity.

Growing up, I experienced both forms of abuse, but it was the verbal abuse that has left the deepest scars. Even now, even after completely eradicating my INV, I can still get set back by a painful memory full of particularly barbed words.

In fact, after working through an exercise within I Know I'm In There Somewhere, I realized that 90% of the horrible, nasty things my INV said was not my thoughts, but things I'd heard my mother say over and over to me throughout my childhood and adolescence.

Of course, I completely understand now how difficult it is to be a parent. It's not an easy job and I will never claim to be perfect at it. But looking into my son's face, I have to wonder how it would ever be possible to hit him or verbally cut him down the way I was on a nearly daily basis. The idea is simply unfathomable to me.

For years I felt an inability to hold my parents accountable for their actions. My childhood was a cakewalk in comparison to what they got, so it seemed selfish and immature to complain about it.

Now, however, I believe that personal experiences should never be discounted or disrespected. Just because Jake or Bob or Sue had it worse doesn't make my pain any less.

I was hurt, and I have every right to be angry about it, to feel that anger fully, and then to let it go.

So Sinkhole is also a way for me to work out my anger, my bitterness, and my judgment of my parents' actions. The pain they inflicted on me will end in this quilt. It will not be passed down to my son to continue this cycle of dysfunction. It will end here.

Understandably, designing Sinkhole has been extremely difficult. It is hard to work through these issues, to allow the memories to come, and to feel all the feelings that come with them. It makes me very sad, and a little fearful that there is no limit to this sadness.

So for the last two months I've avoided this quilt. I stacked my plates up high with everything I could possibly do EXCEPT work on this quilt.

But now the nudges from my inner voice have turned into full body push. I simply have to get the top designed and together. I need to see this quilt and have a visual representation of the feelings in my heart.

I need to get all this darkness out of my mind, and then at the end, maybe I'll be able to find that space of forgiveness and acceptance on the other side of all this anger.

I'm still struggling with a final layout for the piecing design. I keep fluctuating between fusing the pieces together perfectly using Robbi Joy Eklow's fusing techniques with Wonder Under, or simply painting a white bedsheet like I did with Release Your Light.

I've also fluctuated with many different variations of the circular quilt theme:

free motion quilting | Leah DayCreating the visual 3D effect that you're looking down a deep hole is quite difficult. The idea for the quilt was inspired by images of the Guatemalan sink hole, so I'm really trying to create the illusion that you're looking down into a dark tunnel.

This is the first time I'm using a computer graphics program to help me design a quilt, so that may be the problem. Maybe if I get off the computer for a few days and sit at the kitchen table, the designs will start flowing and the quilt will take shape.

So I'm off to clean up the studio a bit, put away every fabric that isn't black or gray, and settle down with my Sadness, pull out a chair for my Dysfunction, and start designing all the Abuse and Anger out of my body and into this quilt.

Let's go quilt,



  1. Good for you for tackling the inner gremlins while you are so young. I started in my late 40's and maybe that is the only time it would have helped...but I so wish what I know now, I could have known in my 20's.

    Be well, grow strong, look to the light.

  2. Bravo Leah, so much of what you write totally resonates for me and I commend you on the incredible work you have done so far and are continuing to do to stop the dominoes falling. You are entitled to your pain and anger and at some point someone in the cycle has to stand up and say "enough". How blessed for your son that it is you who has spoken. I for one, can't wait to see what your pain and process create. Truly inspirational.

  3. This is a lot for me to process, so I can't even begin to "know" what you are (and have been) going through. If nothing else, you are NOT passing this on, you are a joyful mom, and wife, as expressed in your many are loving, level headed, and a fighter-and that INV has NO power over you! It is good to clean things up, but it will be even better when you can let this go....fondly, Sandy

  4. By sharing you have started the process already. Good for you. From much pain can come beautiful art. That would be you!! I am proud of you!

  5. Good for you for being brave enough to face your past. And bringing the idea to others to express their grief, hurt, and anger in an artistic and tangible way? Brilliant. Keep it up!

  6. I totally identify with you. It's hard for others to comprehend the lives of those of us with a less than idyllic childhood. Sometimes people only want to see the happy well-adjusted person you could be. And sometimes you are because you don't let those inner demons win. But these undercurrents will surface occasionally.
    The best way to deal with them is to acknowledge rather than ignore them. Do what you're doing: express them. Each time you do, their influence diminishes. Will they ever go completely away? Probably not. Will you ever be the person you could be with a positive supportive childhood? I think you could come darn close. Just keep chipping away.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I completely understand your need to work things out through your quilting. Creative outlets, I think, are the best ways to deal with our inner demons and start the healing process. I commend you for having the strength to share your story. It will help others out there.

  8. I love reading about who you really are. Knowing the stories behind your quilts and what they mean to you makes them even more beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  9. what a brave post - it sounds like you grew up as my dad did - what I love knowing is that each generation can take a step further away from the wrongs of the past by making a better childhood for their own children, who in turn can do that again.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your life. You are a brave woman. As someone who suffers from depression, and has often described it as a dark hole that I can't get out of, I am excited to see this quilt emerge. Thank you for listening to your good inner voice.
    As for forgiving, it is a choice, not a feeling. Once you chose to forgive, you may need to chose it over and over again until it becomes a feeling. You will triumph. Live strong.

  11. Thank you for sharing your inspiration, it is a very brave and I am sure difficult thing to do, but I agree with what everyone else has written, you are a strong, beautiful, loving and sharing person. That is what matters now. Now, as to your quilt, I recently saw a demo by Cheryl Phillips who has created and manufactured wedge tools which I think you might want to take a look at. Her website is She recently did a presentation for our quilt guild and it is amazing what she has designed using these tools. Hope you have a chance to check her website out before you get started on what I know will be a fantastic piece. Bernie

  12. When I first read this tonight I thought what a neat idea. After scrolling down and seeing the offset circles literally pulse on my screen, almost alive, I thought what an amazing idea. I cried for those of us that have demons trying to get the best of us. I hope we can use our craft to be inspired and healed. Art is the mirror of the soul and you my dear have a beautiful soul...

  13. Brave is probably the best word that I can use right now. I can only imagine where you are now and where you have come from.
    Please remember that from here it sounds as thought you didn't get trapped in your sinkhole but found a way out. That takes great strength, from following your blog you sound as though that is something that you definately have.
    Thanks for sharing and reminding us that the cycle can be broken.

  14. You are a very brave young woman. Thank you for sharing your story. Lucille.

  15. Oh Leah, you are in my prayers. Don't know if it helps, but even those of us who had great parents still have issues and inner demons. It is part of the human condition. May you get the help, direction, and comfort that you need as you work through your pain. Hugs, big hugs.

  16. I look forward to following your journey thru the sinkhole.
    It sounds trite, but "been there, done that". Just wish I had done it sooner in my life . . . . so many wasted unhappy years.
    What is it about quilting? So many of us 'find' ourselves when we become quilters.

  17. Therapy comes in many different forms and you are wise to use what works for you.
    Thank you for sharing your story. Here is a big warm hug for you: *HUG*

  18. Thank you for sharing - this so very closely describes what one poor soul is dealing with in our household (her refuge) and yesterday she just got another major 'kick' in the gut, one she certainly didn't deserver in ANY shape or form - when the time is right over the weekend I'll be letting her read this post

  19. Everyone else has said it so well, so I shall just say Blessings and Prayers

  20. Leah, I am so proud that you are not allowing the negativity to rule and repeat in your life, most importantly to the next generation. As I read your post, I imagined one portion of the grey as radiating into a color spectrum ending in yellow (a happy color), showing your escape from it. You are choosing not to dwell on it, but get out of it, and your quilts have traditionally dealt with what you're going through, not what you've BEEN through. One of my favorite verses is from Psalm 23 - "Yea tho I walk THROUGH the valley of death" - this came to me in a depressing time of my life, illustrating to me that I was going THROUGH something, and eventually that something would not surround me anymore. Hope this helps. gina

  21. I knew there was something about you I connected with... I am an adult child of an alcoholic too. It shapes so much of who I am. I love how honest you are about all aspects of your life. It makes you a better artist, to be sure. ((hugs))

  22. I think it is great you doing this, I wish I could.

  23. Hello Leah, Thank you so much for sharing your quilting talents and painful childhood with us. I hope you know as a survivor of child abuse that you are not alone.
    I believe as a parent my most important job is to be my children's great fan. After all, there is a whole big world out there ready to knock them down. My brother told me as parents we have to break the pattern with our children so the cycle of abuse stops.

    If you haven't already done so, I strongly suggest you read the book "Toxic Parents" overcoming their hurtful legacy and reclaiming your life. by Susan Forward, Ph.D. This is a remarkable self-help guide to discovering self-confidence, inner strength and emotional independence.

    All of your feelings are valid. You are a wonderful, talented lady.

  24. Thank you for sharing this with us. It must have taken a lot of courage to make this post.
    I admire the journey you are taking, as well. If I ever find an effective way to connect to that true inner voice, I will consider myself blessed!

  25. Leah, bravo....... well done, I know you can make this quilt..
    warm hugs

  26. Thanking God for the gift of You! He is able to do mighty things through you and your story. Bless you!

  27. Leah, I'm sitting here with tears on my face. Not because I feel sorry for you, but because I am moved by your strength and your ability to create beauty out of sadness and pain. Each time you post about your personal journey I am reminded again that, with enough effort, we can change and become the person we want to be instead of accepting what we have been told we will be (even if the ones doing the telling are ourselves). I admire you very much.

  28. Brava, Leah. Isn't it great that Art can provide a safe place to "figure it all out" and let the cycle of darkness end back there somewhere.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Tina in San Diego

  29. I think you will find Leah, that many people were told to just stand still and accept abuse because what they were getting wasn't as bad as what their parent or abuser had to endure. I am reminded of Flip Wilson's "the devil made me do it"! But that attitude is just an explanation, not an excuse. I prefer the wisdom of the Dalai Lama: he teaches that your job in this life is to pursue your own happiness, but only insofar as it does not impair the happiness of others. Using that lovely teaching has helped me navigate my way out of the sinkholes in my life. I hope it helps you, too!

  30. Bravo! Your life story so closely resembles mine that I got goosebumps. I have had depression and other issues all my life as a result, I have only begun to see it all in the last 2 years( I am now 58). As a parent,I was able to use the memories positively, and did not subject my children to the same emotional abuse I suffered. Avoiding the pain is not wise, stare it down!!
    And never forget-your feelings are not wrong- they are yours!! If you can channel some of it into this work, great. Don't be surprised if you have to face it again at some point, but don't be afraid!
    I am so glad you are healing, and look forward to you sharing more of your exquisite talent with us!
    Much love, Christine

  31. Leah,
    So much of what you said I can relate to so quickly. I feel and know so much of what you have been through and like you said, many others as well. Your sinkhole is a Brilliant idea and reflects some of my own images of the dynamic. I'm so glad I met you on line and thanks for your help and your work!!
    Sandi M. in Ma


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