The Free Motion Quilting Project: Sinkhole Journey

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sinkhole Journey

Today is What's Leah Working on Wednesday and I'd like to share a few shots and a bit of the journey into Sinkhole, the quilt I'm working on during my favorite week of the year:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Why is this my favorite week of the year? Because it is the LAST week and whatever is finished this week is added as a bonus to all the other finished projects of the past year.

It's a week of time off, of relaxed schedule, and short dark days that are much more cozy in the warmth and comfort of the sewing room.

I never realized the potential of this special time until 2008 when I was working, and rather stuck, on The Duchess. That project had stalled, but the day of Christmas I was downstairs basting and by New Years Day, the entire center had been quilted and the new year was looking bright indeed.

Last year I used the week to blast through 9 blocks of Winter Wonderland, which was both fun and meditative as the blocks were all gray snowflakes perfectly matching the weather outside.

And this year I'm working with shades of gray again in Sinkhole. Warning - this is a deeply personal post with some explicit language. Read only if you wish to go there with me.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

To say that quilting this quilt is difficult is an understatement.

It is not technically difficult. The quilt is moving over the table just as smoothly and evenly as usual. I've been quilting a lot of new designs this month so my arms aren't too sore moving the bulk of the quilt around.

No, it is WHAT I am quilting that is difficult. I decided back in September that the only way to quilt this quilt, to truly make it symbolize my dark past in every respect, was to quilt it with the harsh, negative words of my past.

Words like "You are so selfish" and "You are so ugly. No one will ever love you if you look like that."

They were the lies I was told or inferred from the situation I was raised in, but because I was a child when I heard them, I didn't know they were not true. I believed these lies. I truly thought I was an unlovable person and expected to be treated badly because I thought I deserved it.

While that might seem incredible to believe, I now think that most people are carrying around words like these. You may not even know it, you may not even realize you're consciously doing it, but when I dug down to the roots of my horrible Inner Negative Voice (INV) I found only these lies, these relics of my childhood that were so obviously not true.

It is only now, after 27 years of living with them tattooed on my skin, pumping through my veins, bouncing around in my head, that I'm finally asking the question:

What is really true? What is MY truth?

Facing these words, actually writing them down, marking them on the quilt - that was a hard couple of days. I've been on this journey for a long time, I've had many breakthroughs, especially with this past year with Shadow Self and My Cup Runneth Over, but I have never, ever experienced anything like this.

Because for the first time I'm facing the lie. Looking it in the face. Staring at it and honestly accepting the fact that I have believed horrible things about myself. I have hated myself because at the root of my being, I believed the lies for years and years.

Writing down these harsh, cruel words - actually stitching them into this dark quilt is absolutely essential. I can pretend to get better every day for the rest of my life, but the lies would have stayed at the root of my being, always ready to undermine my actions and thoughts.

Many people tried to talk me out of quilting the words on. Why add to the negativity? Why say the words again, let alone several times? Why stitch that dark shit on a dark quilt only to make something that you will never be able to hang on the wall?

I can only say this: if I had any doubt that this was what I needed to do, I wouldn't have done it. The idea came during the piecing of Sinkhole and I knew it was the only way to quilt this quilt.

With Shadow Self inference and symbolism worked. With Sinkhole, I need to make myself perfectly clear. These are the lies and this is the truth, any questions?

Last week I mentioned that I was planning on only quilting the lies into this quilt. While marking it however, I quickly found that I could not write the lies on the quilt unless I had the truth follow it.

I've kept a journal with me the last few months and whenever I remembered a scene or got a particularly harsh thought, I would write it down. By last week I had a page full and I began marking the rings.

I knew I'd hit a dark ring on the head when it would make me faintly nauseous. It does make me slightly physically sick to face these words, not because they are bad, but because I believed them so completely. They literally made up the seams of my personality. What negative junk!

Writing the light rings were no walk in the park either. I'm not content to write "Believe in yourself" on a quilt and call that positive. That's a band-aid. That's a statement like "Wash your hands," but has less effect because it's not something we can do by turning on the faucet.

For the light rings I've searched for the words that are true, and also the words that should have been said. "We all make mistakes, we all fuck up, but there is nothing you can ever do to stop me from loving you."

I know I've found a solid light ring when I tear up. Here are the words that touch my heart, that flow purely from my mind into my soul. Here is the self love I've never been able to find before.

I've heard it said before that with every child you have, your heart expands a bit more, swelling with more overwhelming love for this new being. I have personally found this true because it was only after having James and feeling that enormous tidal wave of love that I began to ask why I could feel it for him and not for myself.

During the marking of this quilt, I felt my heart swell slightly with each lighter ring. It's expanding into the space it was always built to fill I guess. It kinda hurts, but it's a good hurt.

So now I'm in the trenches of quilting the dark rings. I decided to quilt these rings with a light silver thread. Yes, the words show up clearly, but I couldn't stand to write the dark words in dark thread. I've gotta shine a little light on this shit.

For the light rings, I'm planning to stitch them in red thread. Red for love. Red because they're words coming straight from my heart. Red because I want these words in my body, flowing in my blood, pumping in my veins. Red because I never, ever want to forget them.

So far I've quilted 6 dark rings. I've found I can only quilt one or two at a time, then I need to get up and walk away.

For a few days I didn't understand the need for distance. It didn't make much sense. I have a quilt ready to go, so quilt it!

Then I realized that trying to force myself to quilt another ring was making me very upset. I needed more time than it took to quilt them to think about the words, to remember them for the lie they were, and finally let them go as a lie. Sometimes I feel a tug on my heart as well. It's expending a lot of love and light to get rid of all this negativity.

After the 3rd ring, I've started to feel kinda weird. It's a good weird, but weird nonetheless.

I've just finished listening to The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein, which is a Sci-fi book about aliens that invade earth and attach themselves to humans like parasites and control everything the human does and thinks.

This weird feeling can only be described as the feeling you must feel when you lose your alien. I feel as though my thoughts and emotions have been controlled for years, and only now am I able to clearly think for myself.

To simplify it: I feel free.

So that is what I'm working on this Wednesday. Yesterday I took a break and didn't stitch any lines. Today I may stitch one or two.

There is no need to rush this type of work. I have decided that I would like to have the dark rings finished by New Years Eve. I like the idea of leaving these lies in 2010 where they belong and only taking the truth with me from now on.

Maybe that is silly, it's only the difference of one day, but to me starting the year completely free of this weight, this alien, this monster of lies in my mind, seems to be the best possible start of a new year.

And here I must stop and thank you. Thank you for reading through this to the end. Thank you for being willing to share this journey with me because it's not easy to write and I bet it's not very easy to read.

Thank you for sharing this year with me. It was a year of hurdles to jump, lessons to learn, and pain to overcome, but ultimately it has also been a year of deep seeking and learning.

Occasionally I will ask myself "why am I doing this? Why dig it all up? Why work so hard?" and I only have one answer:

If I content myself to remain as the limited, unhappy person that I have been for most of my life, I will be doomed to repeat my parents mistakes. I will find myself one day older, but no wiser and unable to find contentment even when faced with overwhelming abundance.

I have only to look into my son's face to know exactly why I make these quilts, why I challenge myself to face myself honestly. I need to love myself as an example. I will love him no matter what, even filled with self loathing, but I need to teach him how to love himself to break this cycle.

I also believe that to hold such self hate within is like holding a ticking bomb. One day it would go off and manifest itself physically as cancer, physical pain, or another chronic illness.

After believing that I wasn't worthy of living the life I have, that I really shouldn't plan for anything after the age of 22, I now see my life stretching on in an endless series of days, months, and years. I don't want to miss a single minute.

Looking back at my post from last year on Looking Back and Letting Go, I can see just how much things have changed in the last year. I even wrote in that post:
"I really feel like 2009 was my year to evolve and 2010 will be the year to bloom"
Well, it turns out 2010 was my year to clean out my closets, pull everything out of my cabinets, and give it all a good hard look. I've aired myself out and slowly put back only the things I wanted to keep.

This means that I have also lost a few things this year as well. My mother, a sister, and my dog. Two from necessary choice and one from a totally unexpected illness. Losing Jinjo was perhaps the most painful because I feel that she had a lesson to teach me about unconditional love that I failed to grasp until after she was gone.

But overwhelmingly I can look back and say that this was a good year, a year of lasting change. As I wrote last year:

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.

Here's to the journey. May your year be filled with light and love and the strength to overcome whatever obstacles stand in your path.

With love,



  1. Thank you for continuing to share your journey. I really admire you for going through this process with your eyes open and your head held so high.

    Thanks for inspiring me in 2010, both personally and creatively, and I wish you and your family a Happy New Year. A big hug from me to you!

  2. I have been quietly following your journey this past year, without comments, but no longer. Your words speak to me, your life, although you are a lot younger, echos mine. I was abused, physically and verbally, and left with the same feelings of worthlessness. But, never managed to find the outlet and healing that you are finding. I still struggle with those feelings, to this day. Bravo to you for having the courage to work through this.

  3. Leah - I feel like I need to give you a hug. Good for you for working through all of the negativity and finding a way to put it behind you. I started quilting seriously during a traumatic time and know how very therapeutic it can be. I hope you're able to get all the bad stuff quilted by the end of the year and can start 2011 with a clean slate. You ARE loved - by people who have never met you in person.

  4. Leah

    I commend you for being so open and vulnerable.

    I went through a similar journey. I was called a slut for many years before I lost my virginity. It was so wrapped in my being that I lived it out for many years. My first marriage didn't last due to my lifestyle.

    It wasn't until I was in my late 30's that I realized the lie that was hidden deep in my soul. I considered myself sexually tainted and forever stuck with immoral thoughts and believed that I'd struggle for the rest of my life to keep that part of me dormant.

    Like you I wanted to be free, but nothing I did on my own would grant me the release I so desperately yearned for. Things I did only gave me temporary relief and then the thoughts would bombard me again.

    I can't take any credit for my healing. God took me on a road that was extremely painful and long. I'm sure He would've preferred to rid me of it instantly, but believe it or not, it was hard for me to let go. I'm tearing up just thinking about that dark time.

    It wasn't easy to let go of the lie that was so deeply rooted in me and embrace the sweet simple truth that I was who God said I was and not who I thought I was.

    I find it interesting that you are using red for the truth - the ultimate color of love. I wish I could visit with you face-to-face about this :) It's so good!

    I'm praying for your complete healing my friend!

  5. Wow Leah.
    Thank you for sharing.
    I know it's kinda weird, but...

    I love you.

    I've been following your blog since almost the first day, and let me tell you:
    You are a magnificent woman!

    Peace, my friend, and Namaste.

  6. Leah, I second what Bev said about your being loved. You have many "mothers, sisters, and probably more than a few grandmas out here that are a part of your family, even if we may never meet in person. We share you sorrows and your rejoicings and revel in watching your growth as an individual and as a family.

    You are loving, you are strong, you are talented, you have a giving and sharing spirit that shines out from inside you. You have a beautiful smile, a beautiful face and a beautiful family. YOU are a beautiful person, body and spirit.

    Wishing you and your family love, light and laughter in the New Year

    Jeanette in KY

  7. I agree with Bev; you need a big hug.
    I feel for you. It is very difficult to disect the negativity and get to the roots. But that is needed for understanding. Get the negative statements quilted quickly. After all, the negative statements should not be quilted with perfect stitches. It is not planned as a show quilt, and you do not plan to put it on the wall (good). After the negative words are quilted, put masking tape over them so they are not seen while you carefully quilt the posivite words. When finished, put the quilt away so you do not see it again. Make a mini quilt of bright colors and quilt only the positive statements to put on your wall. And truely put the bad behind you. If you find your mind drifting to your negative inner self (which you will from time to time even though you do not want to remember), tell yourself, STOP, and think good words. Tell yourself "I am not my Mother", and "I have learned from my Mother's mistakes and I am a BETTER person." Have a Happy New Year filled with positive thinking and creativity.

  8. I've only just found you in the last month or so... but feel so connected to the negativity you are facing head on. I find your strength an inspiration and want you to know I am rooting you on from the sidelines! Give 'em hell!

  9. Hi Leah thanks for all the sharing of skills, family life and what has been on your heart over the past year, you should be proud of the help you have given to all us quilters out here.

    A word of wisdom that comes from my meditation over the past year. You can ONLY live in the present moment! You cannot change the past!

    I send loving kindness to you and your family for NOW and every moment that follows.


  10. Thank you for sharing this Leah. You are working through this difficult thing and telling us about it - maybe you don't realise how much it is helping some of US as we read your words. I am going through a difficult time of my life where big scary choices have to be made, and dark pasts dealt with.

    You are an inspiration to me and I pray that you manage to finish quilting out the negative by midnight on New Year's Eve. May you begin 2011 afresh, with love and positivity in your heart. May your love, clarity of mind, and creativity continue to bloom. I am sending you a huge hug.

  11. Leah, I would just like to say your LIGHT IS SHINING THROUGH. Keep doing what you are doing and make every day better than the day before. Know that you are not alone and each day you become a stronger person.

  12. Wow you are such an honest person all I can do is echo the other commenters and say Thank You for being so forthright and sharing both good and bad.
    The quilt is looking amazing but I am sure it feels alot better than that.

  13. Leah--You are one strong lady! I'm so proud of you for choosing to heal instead on staying in that sink hole and believing in the lies. Your quilt will help yourself and others to heal--what a blessing :)

    Happy New Year!

  14. Looking at your lovely face in your profile pic it is hard to imagine how anyone could NOT love you..... but I am so glad you have found out the ARE loved and lovely. May God open your heart more and more to His Perfect love. Thank you for your authenticity Leah.

  15. Leah, I cried when I read your words. Too many people have grown up thinking they weren't good, weren't worthy,. . . . . . My childhood was horrific, and I try not to think about it too much. I am very lucky I had a fantastic mother, maybe I should have spoken to her more about things. . . . When I make a quilt and my work mate makes me show people, I get embarassed about all the attention and good comments, I find it hard to say, I am glad you like it, I did well with that one! I hope your new found understanding about yourself continues into the new year and I hope I will be following you not too far behind. You are an inspiration Leah.

  16. You are so, so awesome! You go girl!!! I am so proud of you!

    On a very random sidenote, I originally typed "You are the shit!" instead of "You are so, so awesome!" but then I thought, "Uh oh, what if she reads that and thinks I calld her shit instead of reading that she is *the* shit?" so I wanted to make it clear that you are indeed great and not "shit". I know a quick, cursory glance at a comment can leave out a word or two and I didn't want you to not see the word "the" hahaha. Anyway, this post got me pumped. I am in the middle of some llama llama holiday drama right now and I needed this dose of awesome. Happy New Year to you Leah. Your blog has meant so much to me this year.

  17. You are an extremely strong, brave woman and your incredible generosity of spirit is inspiring. I don't know you personally, but I am very proud of you.

  18. I think your blogging on this has been exceptional. The quilt itself is a bone deep testament to the power of quilting (and much else, of course, both good and bad). This is obviously a very personal quilt for you. But it is also a work of art that, as the best art does, speaks to and for others as well. I expect this quilt to have real impact. It has the courage and strength of the hardest art and I commend you for it. I wish you the best for this new year as you step forth scrubbed clean and ready for the new.

  19. Thanks so much for allowing us to share in such a personal journey. You go Girl! Wishing you much happiness and peace in the new year.

  20. Wow, Leah...I think I'm one of the grandmas who love you. I am so impressed with your work which you share with such generosity. And I am so impressed with your head-on approach to learning from the mistakes and hurt of the past to make a much deserved good, loving, happy life for yourself and your son. You are awesome and awe-inspiring. Wish I could give you a real hug, but a virtual one will have to do. xo

  21. Leah, you have cracked and broken free from that restrictive shell that has been confining you to believe the lies from the past, now you can enjoy the bounty and rewards that this freedom give you.
    I'm sure like all others we will enjoy discovering the world of inspiring art that this freedom will give through your quilts

  22. Leah- I did a self portrait a while back- a silly face I make when people ask me to smile. It's a long story, but I titled it- they can't hurt you if you make the joke. I quilted affirmations into it that reminded me none of the bad things I used to hear were really true! You can heal with this kind of work, and I'm in awe of your courage to share it with us!!!

  23. When we find and embrace truth it fills us up and bursts forth from within us. Truth-you are of infinate worth, filled with divine nature. Continually seek opportunities for learning and growth and you will help others through your service. Thank you for helping us!

  24. Hi Leah,
    Thanks for sharing your bravery and courage. You have been on a difficult journey. I wish you love and continued healing!!

  25. Leah, you are such a strong person to have worked through all the negativity and pushed it out of your life. You must feel like such a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. 2011 is definitely your year to bloom. You've already started! Hugs to you.

  26. Well, I'm sorry for your losses, especially the loss of the positive childhood you should have had! My mother should never have been a mother, and always said she was sorry she had us - I am 57 and still carry this message into the wierdest areas of my life. So - even though you have identified the falseness of early lessons, you will still have to keep your eye open for 'carry over' but the good news is YOUR kid(s) will be great because of how conscious you are of what you say and the impact you have.... Okay, going on too long, good luck!

  27. Dear Leah,
    You are an amazing young woman. Reach for the stars - you deserve them.
    You are a wonderful role model for girls everywhere.
    G-d bless,

  28. I know a medicine to break the ´curse´, just say ´I love you because you are so wonderful´ to your child(ren) every day. Start with it, when they are young and recipient. Every single day. And if they start answering you ´Yeah, that´s because you´re my mother, no wonder´, you just smile and say ´that´s true, I am so proud on being your mother´. And it will lighten up your heart to realize every day that there are other ways to raise a child. It´s your personal revenge and it heals.

  29. Brava dear girl.
    Isn't it amazing what our children inspire us to do? Your love for your son enables you to face the demons of your past, in wanting to be the best momma you can be to him. You are so very lucky to have Josh and James in your life and to help you on this journey.
    I had a period where I couldn't interact with my mother for several years. Time changes things, and for me it gave me what I needed to finally have her in my life again. She'll never be a 100% for me mother, but she's there. I can only imagine what losing your mother and sister means to you, but it is enabling you to clear away their cobwebs and become your own healthy, strong family.
    Despite the horrid words you heard as a child, you have grown to be a lovely woman. As such, I imagine your sinkhole to be like a sewer drain, washing away the bad stuff to leave the good in its wake. Perhaps the reverse side of the quilt (for I don't remember it mentioned) could show a small hopeful seed growing from the composted detritus from the purging of these words from your life?

  30. How brave you are!
    You are beautiful both inside and out and you're giving your son such a great gift: healing his mother.

    I was so moved by your post and it reminded it of the lovely Shaina Noll song:

    How could anyone ever tell you
    You are anything less than beautiful
    How could anyone ever tell you
    You are less than whole
    How could anyone fail to notice
    That your loving is a miracle
    How deeple you're connected to my soul.

    I really do feel connected,
    like stitches on the same quilt,
    however far apart on the surface,
    still all part of the same thread.

    Sending you lots of love and light and a very Happy New Yaer.

  31. Leah, Bravo. Lady, you have an amazing insight and resilience. I wish you and yours the very best in this new year and in this bright future you are building for yourself. Bravissimo

  32. Before reading this post, I admired your work ethic, commitment, wonderful quilting skills, and was very thankful for all the quilting patterns you were sharing freely.

    Now I admire you, just for you.

  33. Wow Leah, I've been popping into your blog for a while, trying to acquire some quilting skills but not really reading the blog itself, picturing it as some kind of picture perfect land with a picture perfect all American lady with a perfect life and everything lovely and perfect and then I actually take the time to stop and read this - my eye was caught by that lovely spiral - and then I was drawn into the whole story and - wow - now I see you as a real person rather than a perfect person! I hope quilting this quilt lifts that cloud from over your head and helps you to learn to love yourself. I agree it's easy to say that statement but actually doing it is a whole different thing and not something that comes at the click of your fingers. Anyway, thank you for all the wonderful quilting advice and designs and I'll be popping in from time to time from over here in the UK to see Leah the real person rather than Leah the impossibly perfect quilting lady!

  34. Leah,
    I've been following you almost from the beginning of this project and have been in awe of you. I've read the love you have for your husband, son and dear departed Jingo. You are an amazing person! You have faced many trials over this period and you regroup and get back up. I love how you are flexible and adaptable, all traits that will guide you throughout your life. I also see how you process through things and that's important and that you take your time to do so.
    You have inspired me to make a quilt to deal with a difficult issue and it's funny as I've been processing through it the last couple of days and then came to this post (catching up on your posts) and it's helped me to understand why I want to do it.
    Thank you for all that you do!
    Laura T

  35. Leah, I hope you are able to share this quilt in quilt shows. There are many women who need the same healing you do. The hear the same awful voices in their head. I am glad you are adding the positive words, but I agree that they are hard to come up with. I am excited to see the finished product.

  36. Amazing, Leah. I can't wait to see this piece; I know that it will be very powerful, as it comes from such deep emotions. I hope it helps you heal, and I know that it will help others who see it. I wish you peace.

  37. Leah, I only "found" you a couple of months ago, but I've always been drawn to your blog because you radiate talent, good will, beauty, and fun, and you have inspired me to break free of my perfectionistic worries and DO THAT QUILTING!

    I'm so glad you've found an art project that facilitates recovery and true healing. You're doing the breakdown and rebuilding so much more gracefully than I did. It's worth the agony, though - you're going to love being able to move forward into a positive life that is no longer crippled by childhood scars.

    Bless you!!

    And Thank you for inspiring me!! I'm about to embark on a daily journey of following in your footsteps with the daily squares as a way to get comfortable with machine quilting. I'm just waiting for my sewing table to arrive. :D

  38. When you expose the hurtful messages to the light they lose their power. If you ignore them, they'll just show up again later. You are a very wise young woman. I wish I had your wisdom at 27! Thank you for sharing your heart with us.
    I am one of your "Moms" out there in blogland. Hugs to you.

  39. I have just started following your 365 Days of Free Motion quilting posts. And it liberated me: I had been paralyzed to even try again FMQ because I had previously broke 4 needles and I was terrified to try again.
    Then I found your 365 FMQ posts. And it sent me a clear message: there is more than one way to do this thing.
    Today I read your Sinkhole discovery post. And I will say to you: Hooray. Weeeeeeooooo! Freedom!
    The analogy between your personal journey and the FMQ & emotional journey you help your blog followers travel is real. You grant to us the freedom to think "there is another way."
    I am so happy for your liberation from negativity of the past. You are a great example to me on many levels. Thank you for sharing your deepest feelings. Know your journey is mirrored in many other lives. Your honesty gives us courage to address our fears of our past and FMQ.
    2011 is a new year. New thoughts. New hope.
    God Bless you with endless goodness to you and your family, Karee

  40. Where was this post when I was 27? I'm very happy to know that you are on this journey to wellness at your young age. It's very brave, and bold, and crucial.

    Thank you for sharing this deeply personal experience - from this 43 year old mom who only sees flaws in the mirror. Thankfully, I don't see them, or apologize for them, in my quilts. But I've still got a lot of work to do for myself. Reading about your process is incredibly inspiring, Leah. Peace.

  41. Today I was searching for a site to help inspire me with my quest to become a better free motion quilter. I was taken with your blog. Your words and thoughts about past lies touched me. I am glad quilting has given both of us a way to deal with our "troubles". Connie Rae

  42. I cannot believe I missed this post! I cried when I read this and thought about these unwitting journeys we take. My own has been around my daughter and the awful things that have happened to her under my supposedly careful eye. Learning to forgive myself is as hard as letting my children live their own journey without me. Sometimes you really don't see things build up until they blow up right in front of you. My studio is my place of healing. I can create beauty...I can do it my own way...I don't need YOUR approval of how I spend my time...I don't have to make a lot of money doing it in order to be worthwhile!! What happened to the love of doing? The respect for creating for creations sake? The years it takes to gather all the skills TO create? The personal investment in self for the sake of self? I am constantly amazed by the number of quilters that have these stories to tell. We are not as alone as we think we are!


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