The Free Motion Quilting Project: Hot Cast Part 4 - Slow Revelations

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hot Cast Part 4 - Slow Revelations

So I've been hinting that this post was coming for awhile, but now I'm finally getting around to consolidating all my thoughts and experiences into one post. Yes, this will be personal, so if you'd prefer not to know more about me or my personal journey than you have to, you can click here to check out the latest designs on the project instead.

To say it plainly:

Hot Cast has been a transformation.

There's really no better way to describe her and as I'm writing this, I'm surprised that this was a surprise to me. She embodies transformation - she is in the process OF transforming!

The original inspiration for this quilt was Sinkhole and the desire to understand the words: "I am enough. My love for myself can move mountains. I do not need your approval to be happy or free."

Three months ago, those words, written by my hand, would not have been true. I certainly WANTED them to be true, but I wasn't there yet. As my marching band instructor used to say "If you're not there, GET THERE!"

So for the last 3 months, I've worked to "get there" - to process the anger dug up from Sinkhole, to accept aspects of myself I've previously ignored or been willfully blind to, to fill my body with new love cast from my heart, and to work harder than I ever have in my life to stop worrying about what other people think of me.

I am essentially trying to reload how my brain works. Negativity is a road and I've walked it for most of my life, but no longer.

I can see the crossroads clearly in my mind: when there is a situation that I would normally choose to be negative, turn inwards and start tearing myself apart, I stop. I don't go down that path anymore. The problem is, I haven't yet started truly walking a positive, loving path either. I guess Hot Cast is really bridging the gap of the "in between" place.

It's been a slow process. I wouldn't say it's "hard", but it is slow and requires a willingness to explore and reflect. I haven't found the "love myself completely" button on my body yet, but I'll definitely let you know when I have!

It's odd, but through the beginning of this quilt while I was hand appliqueing the hair, I kept wanting to watch the movie Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. There was one specific scene that I wanted to see again and hear while working on this quilt.

It's the scene where Aragorn has just met Boromir and the sword of Narsil was dropped disrespectfully on the ground. Arwen comes into the room and says "Why do you fear the past?"'

Aragon replies "The same blood flows through my veins. The same weakness."

And Arwen comforts him with the words "You are Isildor's heir, not Isildor himself. When the time comes, you will face the same evil, and you will defeat it."

This scene popped into my head while working on Hot Cast and I couldn't shake it! I had to turn on the movie and watch it and I know why:

My greatest fear is that I am a carbon copy of my mother. That I will make the same abusive mistakes, treat people the same nasty way, disregard and disrespect those that love me most, and worst of all - that I will be an alcoholic that doesn't even see or acknowledge my addiction, and that this blindness will cause me to lash out and hurt all those I love most.

Seeing this clip of Lord of the Rings while working on Hot Cast reassured me that I am my own person, and that life offers REAL CHOICES on a DAILY BASIS. I choose who I am, what I identify with, and my own happiness level on a daily basis. I choose who I love, how I love, and who I allow to hurt me.

My past is my past. My mother is her own person and I pity her the choices she has made because they have brought her nothing but loneliness and pain. But the fact is, her abuse was a form of evil. I have faced that same evil and I have defeated it. I will never be anything like her.

That was a lesson I learned while hand appliqueing the hair and body of Hot Cast. It was a lot like stitching myself together again. I hadn't really realized just how much my parent's divorce had torn me into pieces. The process of stitching those layers of fabric together helped me stitch that wound together.

It still hurts, but at least I'm not in pieces anymore.

So I thought that was the end of my connections with Lord of the Rings, but as I moved into trapuntoing the puffy areas of Hot Cast, I began to think about the second half of the movie. Again a scene would run through my head over and over until I finally sat down and watched it.

The scene was at the very end when Frodo is standing on the beach, making the decision to hop in the boat and continue on his journey to destroy the ring.

He thinks to himself "I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened."

And he hears Gandalf's voice in his head saying "So do all who live to see such times, but it's not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time you are given."

I watched this scene as I clipped away the batting from the back of this quilt and it resonated over and over in my mind.

I worry. It's a habit I've been prone to for a very long time and it's something I don't even think about or consciously do most of the time. It's a constant nagging thread of doubt that works it's way through my mind, insidiously asking "Are you doing enough? Are you sure? How do you know? What if it's not enough? What will you do?"

This constant worry about the business and supporting my family is very stressful. It has caused me to go into workaholic states where all I do is sleep and work. I love quilting and I love building this business, but sometimes it makes me feel very, very alone.

Watching this scene as I worked on Hot Cast was a reminder that I don't have to have it all figured out right this second. I don't have to have the next 10 years of my life mapped out and I'm allowed to change my mind on something and be okay.

I go a step further than Gandalf's words: I just need to decide what to do with the time I have TODAY.

Things get a lot simpler when I only have to worry about what I want to accomplish in one day. I've stopped slaughtering myself. I've tried to start working less hours, but accomplishing more work in that time by focusing completely on each task.

I've also had to learn to be satisfied with the amount of work I get done. While it may seem strange to know, I've struggled with low energy levels since James was born. I can't run a mile, but I can sit on the couch with the laptop and work for 6 hours straight. Is this healthy? Is this a sign that I love myself? No. Even though I can blast through work doesn't mean I should.

Turning this corner has brought about some very hard choices. The hardest decision I've had to make is to get off the road, to stop traveling even the limited amount I was before.

This has been so hard because it's seems to be such a core part of what all professional quilters do. In business, it's very easy to get sucked into a cycle where all you do is look at other people's businesses and say "They're doing that! I must do that too!"

But the fact is, not all business models work in every situation or for every person. Traveling wears me out, distracts me from the projects I was working on at home, and it's days before I'm back on track again.

I think this has been such a hard decision because for the longest time I thought if I was asked to travel and teach, it was a sign from the heavens that I'd officially made it - I was in the big time!

This feeling is exacerbated by this story: About 3 years ago I was reading lots of different blogs and writing occasionally here. On some random blog I saw a web ring for professional quilt teachers.

I thought to myself "I'm going to be a professional quilt teacher one day! I'll join!"

Unfortunately the group was not designed for those with aspiring ambitions to teach, but for those that were already traveling and teaching internationally. I got a polite, but firm refusal to join.

That refusal hurt. It threw me off my game for a long time because my self esteem was so low during that time. I was still struggling with postpartum depression, and this just felt like a sign that I wasn't good enough for the professional quilting world, I wasn't legitimate, and I certainly didn't belong to that group.

Even now, 3 years later, the fear and anger of that rejection bothers me. Is that part of the reason why I work so hard? Why I've tried to build both an online and offline business at the same time, despite all evidence that I should just focus on one at a time?

Answering these questions has been hard, but that is the nature of Hot Cast. She's made me ask tough questions of myself and listen to the answer. I've had to face and focus on my history of worry and low self esteem so that by seeing it clearly, I will stop making the same mistakes for the same stupid reasons.

She is teaching me to focus and see. I just read a wonderful book from Audible called Willful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan and it's a book that goes into great detail to explain how we can see the truth right in front of us, but be blinded to it until we decide to see it.

I absolutely recommend this book! It's cast amazing insights into my life and helped me to face many uncomfortable facts about myself and how I will often ignore the truth, even when it's right in front of me.

More than anything else, Willful Blindness teaches you how to ask questions - how to have the strength to see those areas of your life that are being ignored, face them, and ask the right questions that bring change.

One major area of my life has been my relationship with James. Last summer, I finally opened my eyes to my mother's alcoholism - something that had been going on for at least a decade - and I finally faced it and accepted it.

With that realization, I had to also come to terms with the fact that I don't really know how to be a parent. I didn't have a good role model, and I often find myself falling into the same patterns as my mother because that is what I was taught and feels normal to me.

Way back in August I downloaded a book called Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen which is about learning how to communicate with a child through play.

I think I listened to about half of the book before I turned it off. It was so extremely upsetting, and I couldn't handle it right then. I couldn't listen to this guy explain how to play and have fun with a child when I had absolutely no experience with being played with on my level as a child.

My favorite place to play in my parents house was behind a large recliner chair. I had about a 3 ft space to play in that was out of sight and out of mind. I was allowed to play with Barbies, Legos, cut paper, and play with fabric in this space and leave it all out on the floor rather than have to put everything away after I was done playing.

The reason I loved this space so much is because I could be left alone there. No one would harass me, yell at me, or disrupt my playtime. I essentially checked out of a lot of the turmoil that was going on in that house by hiding behind this chair.

Reading Playful Parenting, I now realize that I was doing something very normal for a child that is emotionally disconnected. According to the book, had my parents wanted to, they could have reconnected with me at any time by joining me in my space on my terms and playing with me there.

But I never, ever remember my mother getting down to play with me in that space, or any space in that house. Even the idea of her playing at all is foreign to me.

I think that's why I got so angry while I was listening to the book. It made me start asking hard questions like "Do normal mothers play? Is it okay to have fun with my son? How do I do that?"

These questions were too hard for me at the time, but Hot Cast and the book Willful Blindness have forced me to start asking them again.

The fact is I will be doomed to repeat my mother's mistakes with James if I don't learn how to play with him. That sounds a bit crazy, but I really will have to LEARN how to do this!

I've spent 27 years playing by myself. This is why even now I'm most comfortable when I'm in the studio, working alone, able to focus and concentrate completely on each task. I get easily annoyed when I'm trying to work on something and I get interrupted more than 3 times. It's like all that time behind that chair taught me only how to play with myself and be alone.

So I will have to learn how to be open, how to play with and include other people in my world. I'm no longer stuck behind that chair, but if I don't change my behavior, what difference will there be? If I don't open myself up, I'm doomed to just make my studio a bigger version of that tiny space behind the chair.

I now see that there is physical closeness and emotional closeness. I can be physically close - the studio is open to the whole basement after all. Josh and James can SEE me at any time, but they cannot easily connect with me when I'm in there.

The same was true for my Dad, and he is probably where I saw this disconnection most clearly from. He was physically around during my childhood, but mentally - I think he resided on Mars.

Connection and closeness can be painful. After reading half of Playful Parenting in the summer, I did try to connect with and play with James on his level many times. The mix of emotions I felt while doing this is hard to describe: hurt, sadness, fear, discomfort, boredom, guilt, and anger. To say it plainly - I wasn't having fun.

It makes me literally uncomfortable because I don't KNOW how to play with him, and this discomfort makes me feel guilty and angry with myself.

But now I'm working through it. I hadn't gone back to that book in a very long time, but yesterday I turned it on and listened to it while working on Hot Cast.

It's almost as though she is insisting that I see and work on these areas of my life. I'm recasting myself with love and light, and James and Josh are such essential parts of that. If I allow myself to be open, if I let go of the fear of hurt and rejection I grew up with, I will find a much happier, more contented life.

While thinking about all of these things, I sketched another goddess last night. It's a mother and child surrounded by a circle of love and light. I realize now that I may not be able to overcome these entrenched issues overnight, but that by working on them daily, I will get better and this process will get easier.

There's a saying in quilting that comes to mind with these goddesses - It will Quilt Out.

Typically this means that any issues you had in the piecing or applique of your quilt can be fixed by quilting the three layers of the quilt together.

The Singing Quilter, Cathy Miller even wrote a funny song about how "You Can Quilt That Out." And all this comes to mind as I stitch through Hot Cast and plan the next goddess at the same time.

I feel like these girls are quilting my issues out. By capturing the emotion, by illustrating how I feel in fabric and thread, and by taking the time to think about it all without hurry or stress, I am literally quilting it out of me.

Maybe it's the daily focus of seeing that image that helps. Or maybe it's the tactile way stitching threads and fabrics together is both a constructive and healing process.

All I know is, it works.

To the journey,

Leah Day

P.S. - I'll post some new photos of Hot Cast later today when I can find the camera!


  1. I needed to read this today Leah. Thank you for sharing this with the world. Hopefully you gain as much from sharing as we do from reading. It's great that you use your life as sort of a muse for your art. It really shows and I think that's why you are so talented.

  2. thank you, leah, for your willingness to be be so open and transparent with us. just that in itself is proof of how much you're growing and healing. you are in my daily prayers!

  3. Oh, Leah, I get so sorry when I read of the hardships you have had with your mother. Really strange, I usually just check your new quilting, but today I decided to read!
    Anyway, most people who grow up with abusive parents will turn out just fine, and I am SURE you are one of them!
    Sending you an extra hug for comfort today, I think you are GREAT!!

  4. Leah, I've been praying for you and will continue. You are such a sweet, open person. Sharing your struggles is vulnerable, but know that you are cared about, even by someone who has never met you.

  5. Leah, I'll trade you a little bit of my plays and ignores her chores for a little bit of your knowing how to focus on work. We all have our imperfections, it's what makes us human. Don't beat your self up over a writer's words, any more than you should beat yourself up over others negative words. After all it is a teaching and learning thing, and the process is the journey.
    Hmmm, I wonder if I played the right way with my son. He is a kind and loving man of 25, but he also could be more focused on his accomplishments, just like me. Enjoy it as you go/grow. Blessings :o)

  6. Leah....So much of your personal journey resonates with me. I had so much of the same experience as a child...and as an only child I had no one to tell me none of the fury directed at me was my fault. I'm still trying to quell those negative voices in me after 58 years. I'd love to give you a hug just like I've given my three daughters. I'm so close to them as I vowed I wouldn't make the same mistakes with them. I must tell you though, from the outside looking in, it's obvious to all of us you are MORE THAN ENOUGH. You're smart, beautiful, talented and your love of family shines through. Thank you for all you do and all you are. You're not alone.

  7. As I was reading your post, I felt like someone was writing about me and my childhood. You made me feel that naybe one day I will be able to move past all of that too. I really want to..just not sure how. Thank you for being so open.

  8. Leah, Thank you so much for your openess and honesty in sharing your continuing journey. You are a role model on self evaluation and growth, one i will endeavour to emmulate. Thinking of you. God Bless

  9. You are an amazing young woman, so fearless.

  10. I rarely comment on a blog, although I check yours all the time for fabulous ideas, but today was different. Such a moving post and such a journey you have been on recently. Good for you! It's not easy to get past a dysfunctional childhood; it's not easy to open yourself up to real emotions and relationships. I admire you so much for sharing. I know you are on the right path, Leah. You have a lot of support out here in cyberspace!

  11. Keep trying and hang in there, it is worth is and when the going get tough remember you are worth it. That you are loved and cared about and that you mean alot. Having that value on your self gives value to your relationship with your boy. God bless.

  12. Thank you Leah for your courage... you touched my heart and apparently those of many others with the way you shared your journey with us today. I hope it has helped you to read that so many of us are just like you, facing many of those same struggles, and feeling all alone in the fight. Today we are one, a sisterhood, and we have you to thank for that!

  13. You are so inspiring. This journey you have shared with us is wonderfully written. It most have been tuff to express.
    Your art is your journey. Keep making such delightful progress. It is amazing to see. Bring your goddesses to life.
    Stay blessed

  14. Leah, I know Tolkien is smiling knowing his writings are helping you! His books were written for more than just entertainment. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I too need to learn how to better play with my kids. I didn't live in an abusive home, but the close interaction was not there. It's hard to do something that seems so foreign.

  15. I've commented on a number of your more introspective posts, and each time my comment has included encouragement. Here's an indication of how much you've achieved since the last post: I feel no need to encourage you (you're doing so well!), and instead want to thank you for the two LOTR moments. This time you're helping me.

  16. Oh Leah--I too need to be stitched together again.....most of my pain came later in life, but when I read your blog I wonder---those of us who were never played with suffered that pain early--you have offered me much to think about--and I will read that book----you are awesome in your growth....and for facing these demons....

  17. Leah, you have made so much progress in the last 6 months. I am so proud of you.
    My childhood issues were somewhat different, but the result on me is very similar.
    And it's taken me 40 years and a lot of therapy, relapses, and medication to get where I am today.
    I completely agree with how hard it is to learn how to play with your child when you didn't have a role model to learn it from.
    My mom will tell you now, that she regrets spending so much time keeping her house "pristine" and not spending more time with us.
    You are a great mom. And an amazing artist.

  18. I've been there. I remember the bondage. Like you, my favorite play spot was behind a love seat. And for many years, I hid whenever my parents came out of their bedroom. My father was the alcoholic. My mother was the manic depressive who was abused and denigrated by her mother. My grandmother was sold as a slave, at the age of 6 to a family member for less than a US dollar, in a 3rd/2nd world country. These are just grand sweeping generalizations of their character.

    At any moment, the flood of rememberance of what I've dealt with comes flooding back. For me, I'm raising two little girls. Every word I say, everything I do can be the one thing that can irrevocably damage my daughters. Living in that constant pit of fear and confusion. I can't let that happen.

    If you need an ear to hear, I'm here. Not too far away either. A friend sent me this book in the past. I can ship it to you if you like. There's a little water damage so I can't paperbackswap it, but it's completely readable and barely noticable when closed.

    There's some really good visualizations and exercises if you are on that path. I got the book after my healing, not before. Email me if interested. I'd rather the book get to use than be destoryed. jen(dot)scheidt{at}gmail(dot)com

    Will I ever be good enough? Healing the daughters of Narcissitic Mothers

  19. Oh my goodness, I haven't read that book about play, but please don't feel like you are alone in having a hard time playing with your son. I would guess that most mothers have a hard time becoming immersed in play with their children. Spend time trying, but don't beat yourself up. Just being aware is half the game and puts you way ahead of your parents.

  20. Reading this post, I get a sense of how very painful this process can be. My prayer for you is that the pendulum turns back and the rest of your life is filled with joy-- like the joy that will come from learning to play with your child.

  21. Hey, Leah, for parenting ideas, there's this great book called "The Five Love Languages of Children." I remember it also having some religious stuff, but I just filtered that out. The basic psychological premise of different styles of connection that different personalities need was SO INFORMATIVE!! and you get a really good idea of how you can improve your parental connection with your child, as well as how to better interact with your spouse and friends. It was an invaluable help to me, who - like you - needed better parenting models than my parents had provided. :)

  22. Maybe, just maybe you can start to read the books of Osho, you can read them for free on sites of him.A lot of love for yourself.When you want to talk more , please contact me.

  23. Leah--I think that your husband and son are very well blessed to have you. You are so young, but you are so wise. Most women will never have half the wisdom you do. You have made the decision to be a great mother and wife :) We are all proud of you and you've touched my heart. You're in my prayers.

  24. Part of the journey is realizing what you need to change, the other part is doing something about it.
    I have a emotional personality. I get sad, I get happy. My mom always said I was extreme - highs and lows.
    It is difficult to work through things that life has thrown you. But our choices of our reactions is so important. It seems to me that you are making positive choices.
    Are all our decisions right? Will we permanently scare our kids if one day we don't play with them?
    My kids have had some rough experiences. With help we have all come out the other side a bit wiser and a bit more sensitive.
    Seems to me you are on track... you care to change and examine yourself. Love your blog and honesty. And your work!

  25. Thank you for being so open and sharing your story. You've given me a boost to start working on some personal issues I've been putting off. I wish you continued strength on your journey. Hugs from manitoba.

  26. Thanks for writing so freely about your experiences. I am a grandma now and I get down on the floor and play with my grandchildren more than I did with my kids. The fact that you are present is the important thing. Follow your child's lead--sometimes you don't have to "play" just be there. And, you don't have to do it for hours at a time! Try 15 minutes and then go do your own thing. Reading every day for a few minutes is great too.
    You might enjoy the blog The Happiness Project (also a book, but most of the content is on-line) by Gretchen Rubin.

  27. Thank you for sharing. Im so thrilled for your that you are "aware" ... Im certain that because you are taking the time to work through where you have been and where you want to travel... that you will be successful. Im so glad that you have your creativity because I have found great comfort in it and I feel that your heart sorts things out and gives you peace and lets you grow some more... while you create. I put on your videos because I talk to myself about problems a little too much when Im hand sewing bindings. I feel it is such a blessing to have found you. Your talents and you willingness to share I hope are a continued blessing to you. Finally... I need to get into my little boy's space and play with him. At the very least be close with no sewing in my hands... so that he can connect with me if he wants to. People do cross paths for big reasons. Im so grateful that our paths crossed. I love your personal writings and I love your presentation in your videos. You are such a warm open person and I join all these other people here to wish you well. Maretta Victoria Australia

  28. And now it's June 2014... And your words are still touching people! I pray you are further down that road called healing, and as others have said, just being aware of the problem areas is half of the battle done. You certainly have taught me much! Know your followers care about you and appreciate your giving of yourself to us! Blessings.


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