The Free Motion Quilting Project: Hot Cast: Part 6 - Thoughts on Self Love

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hot Cast: Part 6 - Thoughts on Self Love

I meant to post this update yesterday, but got busy and distracted and didn't end up having time before Josh and I headed out to see Sucker Punch, one of the most visually amazing movies I've ever seen.

But I have been wanting to post and share about what I've learned while working on Hot Cast. Yes, this will be a personal post, so if you'd prefer not to read it, just click here to check out previous designs from the project.

Since this is the 6th part of the quilt and since she's almost finished, here's a set of links to the previous posts on this quilt:

Part 1: Design | Part 2 | Part 3 | Getting Back to Hot Cast
Part 4: Slow Revelations | Part 5: Transitions

free motion quilting | Leah DayIt's no secret this quilt is about love. Not the love between two people, like the love I feel for my husband or son, but self love: the ability to love, connect, understand, and cherish oneself.

Working on this quilt has been hard in so many ways, all of them emotional. I just kept wanting to rush the process - hurry up! Let me get over this already! - but Hot Cast wouldn't let me rush her.

free motion quilting | Leah DayFor one thing, she is the most detailed and intricate goddess I've ever designed. Even though Shadow Self was bigger, Hot Cast is a million times more complex, and far more time consuming considering the large number of thread breaks and tiny, dense quilting covering almost every inch of the quilt.

So I was forced to take my time. A quilt I expected to finish in March is going to last until May. It has forced me to stop pushing, grinding, willing my way through hard times. Sometimes you can't get through something just by being an insane workaholic. Sometimes you need to sit in it, deal with it, and get through it by slow degrees.

I'm reminded by a Yin yoga class I attended in 2008. Yin yoga is a type of yoga where you hold the poses for a really, really long time, sometimes sitting in a pose for 15 minutes. It's excruciating to say the least and for the first 5 minutes your body and mind fight and war with one another. It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!

But slowly your body will ease, your mind will stop screaming, and you will find within yourself an ability to just sit and endure. To feel the pain without having to move out of it, run away from it, in order to relieve it. Until by the end, you could be sitting comfortably on the couch, the pain in your leg or hip no longer matters.

free motion quilting | Leah DayThat is how it has been to work on this quilt: a slow, deep, methodical transformation.

At times I felt so frustrated, I just wanted to scream. I felt like I could always see what I wanted, but it was always out of reach or my way was blocked. Like the "x" on a treasure map, I knew where there was gold, but I didn't have the right tools to get to it.

I could see what kind of life I wanted to live: where I am my own best friend, where I listen daily to my wants and needs, where I follow my intuition with trust, and I no longer beat myself up, cut myself down, ridicule and berate myself for every weakness or failure.

To say it straight: I'm just so done with hating myself.

I'm done with my Inner Negative Voice and it's tyrannical hold on my mind. I'm done with feeling insecure and unsure of myself, not willing to place trust in my abilities. I'm done with feeling like my worst enemy in the whole wide world is myself, and that of everyone in my past who has ever hurt me, it was my mind that struck the worst blows.

I'm just done. I'm fed up in the way adults get fed up with a vicious dog terrorizing the neighborhood. It's time to shoot that mutt in the head and throw its manky carcass in the dump.

free motion quilting | Leah DayBut when the vicious dog is in your mind, how do you get rid of it?

This is what stumped me for a very long time. This is what filled me with rage. How to live and love myself, when my worst enemy was in my own head.

I couldn't get rid of it easily. I couldn't just wish this away.

You can't go from a personal habit of hating yourself to loving yourself completely overnight. I've read so many books that included the sage advice: "Love and accept yourself" in almost every chapter, but how? How can I do this when it feels so much easier and more natural to feel ambivalent on a good day and full of loathing on a bad day?

So I started digging.

I've dug into the reasons why I have the INV, where it comes from and the roots of it in my mind. As I've sat at my sewing machine adding miles of thread to this quilt, I've dug back into the source of my self loathing.

It hasn't been pretty or pleasant, but I've made connections to my past that, once realized, seemed so obvious and logical, I wondered how I could have possibility missed it.

The best example of one of these past connections was the understanding of why I've always been sure, positively sure, that I would die before I turned 22. Even this year as I turned 27, I waited with dread for that lightning bolt to come down and wipe me out before I could get a year older.

I could never understand this feeling. For the longest time, I thought it was just my low self esteem, combined with a good dose of morbidity, that made me feel like the universe had to intervene at some point and clean up the mess it made by creating me.

free motion quilting | Leah DayBut sitting on the couch, hiding the millions of loose threads over the surface of Hot Cast, I finally made the true connection.

When I was in 4th grade, I read two books called "Wait Till Helen Comes" and "The Doll in the Garden" written by Mary Downing Hahn, my favorite author at the time. Both books are ghost stories about girls who die very young, but live on to haunt a house and garden.

In one of these books, I remember reading something along these lines "God takes his best children first."

I don't know how or why, but that idea took root in my young mind and grew. Sitting on the couch with Hot Cast on my lap, I saw the long string of that idea and how it has played out in my life.

I never expected to live long because I wanted to die. I thought if I died young, it would prove that I really was good and worthy because God had taken me young, with all his best children.

But as I grew older, the idea festered further. Since I had lived to the ripe old age of 14, I obviously wasn't a good child, I was evil. God didn't want me.

free motion quilting | Leah DaySo the idea changed. My death was still inevitable, but it would be because the powers that be had finally decided to correct their mistake, albeit a bit late in the game.

This is all a bit morbid, and I apologize if it's hard to follow my logic. Children have their own unique logic, and I think this idea took root mostly because it so perfectly fit with what I was being told and shown daily in my dysfunctional household.

How or why I felt this way doesn't really matter now though. What matters more than anything else is that I finally UNDERSTAND.

I understand with vivid clarity why I believed my death was inevitable and imminent. I understand why my young mind made the connections it did, and why every decision I made after that was colored by that idea.

As silly as it sounds, this understanding has set me free.

Because as soon as I remembered those books and that idea, as soon as I was able to see the full string of this idea and how it has wound like a ribbon through my life, I was finally able to let go of the idea, to release it completely.

free motion quilting | Leah DayIt's not an exaggeration to say that I didn't really care about my life until I had James when I was 23. Every single day after he was born, I've wanted to live, and I've feared and hated that idea. I suddenly wanted to live very much every single day, but I didn't know how to kick the feeling that I didn't deserve my life.

But no amount of yelling or pleading at myself would ever unclench the idea from my brain. It has always been there like a ticking time bomb "You are going to die. You are going to die. You are going to die." It was only after knowing where the idea came from that I have finally been able let it go.

This wasn't the only connection I made while working on Hot Cast. I have dug to the root of many negative ideas, seen how their threads played through my life, and finally released them so they no longer tie me in their destructive knots.

As I've worked, I've kept a journal nearby to record my thoughts. Some days I'd fill pages as each new wave of understanding washed over me.

free motion quilting | Leah DaySo after having gone through it all, I'd say the first step to self love is understanding.

You have to know yourself, sit with yourself, dig into your past, and figure out why you think and believe the way you do as an adult.

Because what you think and believe has a root somewhere. It had to start somewhere, and you have to find it and dig it out in order to get rid of it.

But as I've found, understanding by itself is not really enough. Reading through "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert and "I know She's in There Somewhere" by Helene Brenner, I found a common thread through booth books:


Compassion is the ability to hug yourself, the ability to look in the mirror and smile at your reflection, the ability to be your own best friend, and to find that soft voice within yourself that says "I'm sorry. I love you. I will always be here for you."

I have never had this ability. The only voices in my head would punish me, not comfort me. They never offered love or acceptance, only criticism.

Until now. While working on Hot Cast, while digging into those deep areas where the seeds of destructive ideas were sown, I've finally found that soft voice, that voice of infinite peace and acceptance.

It is a voice of compassion and understanding. It is the voice of the best friend in the whole world who will never leave you, never betray you, never discourage or criticize you. It is the voice of love for yourself.

I've found this voice finally and on the days when things are too much, when I feel sad and broken, this is the voice that tells me to go to bed, to rest, to cry. It is the voice that faces all my guilt, shame, anger, sadness, and spite, and hugs me anyway.

It is a presence that has always been there, but couldn't reach me through the INV. So filled with self loathing, I couldn't believe in the presence of a positive voice in my head.

But I can now.

A few weeks ago I watched a documentary on the Shakers, a religious group who once had communities throughout the eastern coast. They were a celibate group who believed that they could connect with God through work: weaving, building furniture, sewing, gardening. There is an endless list of daily tasks, that if preformed mindfully and with intention can lead you to grace.

My personal opinion after creating Hot Cast is this: if you sit to work with a dedication to understand yourself better, you will. If you seek grace, you will find it.

I have sought peace in this quilt. A peace from the constant gnawing of my mind, a peace from my anger and hot rage at the injustices of my life, a peace from the daily push and pull of stress that can make me crazy.

I have found this peace and miles more in this quilt.

As I finished the quilting of Hot Cast, I felt like I've turned a corner, a huge weight has been lifted off my mind, and I'm finally letting some light in.

But even still I feel my seeking change. I want to change the way I work.

free motion quilting | Leah DayAs I finished the quilting, I blocked Hot Cast and left her flat on the floor for a full week. I need to bind this quilt, to finish the edges, but for once in my life I'm not pushing myself to act until I want to.

So this week I've played and experimented with other projects. I've done the work I've felt like doing, when I felt like doing it.

It might seem like a simple lesson, but this is very hard for me to do! I'm constantly running around like a chicken with its head cut off, nagging, reminding, bullying myself to finish everything right now.

But by this point of working on Hot Cast, I have decided that this has got to stop.

And amazing things have happened. While logically you might think that without forcing myself to work, I just won't work, the opposite has been true.

I've actually accomplished more: written half of my new book, designed a new quilt, experimented with new techniques, made a fun pincushion, and kept this blog and email updated perfectly.

I've actually finished MORE work because I did these things when I WANTED to, so they were easier and faster to accomplish than if I'd forced it.

Doesn't that just fly in the face of all logic?

Current work mentality dictates that if a task needs to be done, get it done right NOW, not tomorrow, not the next day. Logic doesn't take into account how we FEEL.

And as I'm finding, how I feel about a particular task is extremely important. It determines how much thought and concentration I put into it. If I'm writing with only half my mind engaged, will I write as fast or as fluidly as I could if I really wanted to write?

So even now Hot Cast is sitting on my tables and I still haven't bound her. I've decided to paint her first. That is what I want to do because that's what I feel like doing today.

I think the best word for this new way of living and working is kindness.

Be kind to yourself, listen to yourself. If your body is tired and exhausted, go to bed. If your mind is wired and crazy busy with ideas, go write or draw, even if it's in the middle of the night!

free motion quilting | Leah DayUnderstanding, compassion, and kindness. I knew there was some reason I wanted to put three steps in this quilt...

I certainly knew these three words and their meaning before Hot Cast, but it is only now that I'm actually feeling them for myself. Those are my thoughts on self love.

Off to paint,



  1. You go girl! What a fantastic journey you are on - thanks for sharing!

  2. I am in constant amazement at how you relate your life to your art. I am a quilter (obviously), musician, and teacher, and I find myself doing the same thing. Maybe thats a sign, that it really is what we are supposed to be doing.
    I was studying your quilting in some of the close up pictures and I have some question. You used a foundational design in the sky. For instance in the arch, around the star, did you go through and lay the entire foundation out first, or put it in chunks that butt up against one another? Either way it looks good:)

  3. I had an impending expiration date on my life, too. From childhood. I had to be convinced to apply for college because I didn't believe I was worth it or would be alive for it.

    My wrist is still recovering, still needs rest, and when I wasn't getting enough of it I came down with strep. No bigger sign right? If I had just babied my wrist from the first sign of injury, I'd probably be quilting right now!

  4. You have created an absolutely beautiful piece of art and have finally found the beautiful in yourself.

  5. Be kind to yourself, listen to yourself. If your body is tired and exhausted, go to bed. If your mind is wired and crazy busy with ideas, go write or draw, even if it's in the middle of the night!

    Just what I needed to read today.

    What does INV stand for? I Googled it and got no answers. I sense it should be obvious, but I'm not following it, and I want to know.

  6. Thank you. I really enjoyed reading your post. I have recently gone through some counselling and have made some connections, but I know I still have a lot of personal processing of that to do. It was lovely to hear that that process is indeed possible, even maybe for me who has, like you, been told and read so many times to "love myself" and not having a clue how to do that. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. Sorry Nina - INV is my own abbreviation for Inner Negative Voice. It just seemed easier than writing it out each time.

    Thank you all for your supportive comments!


  8. Thanks for sharing your journey. Go Leah, go.

  9. What an amazingly beautiful quilt, and more amazing; the absolutely wondrous transformation you are feeling as well. It's incredible.

  10. This quilt is fabulous! I admit I only really see it on the direct visual level - while I am impressed by what you are able to achieve internally through your quilts, I don't really 'get' it.

    Do you know, I almost cringed when I read you were going to paint this quilt; it looks so perfect as it is. The I realised you know what you're doing, and it will probably look even better, so I'm looking forward to seeing what you do!

  11. I love the glimpses of Hot Cast and I'm glad you're finding it easier to reign in your INV...I'd like to recommend a book for you - "The Compassionate Mind" by Paul Gilbert - I think it may help you on your journey towards being compassionate and kind to yourself.

  12. This is absolutely terrific. It is so sad how the wrong concept "God takes the good ones first" should have had such a huge impact on you. It makes me especailly mad because it totally misrepresents God too. I have also learned to love myself and in doing so have undone years of negativity taught first by my school friends and later by my ex husband. Amazingly, I am going back to being the creative person I always was. So glad to read of your journey too. cherrie

  13. Once again your post has struck a chord with me. I too had the time deadline.... mine was 25. Actually to wake up that morning wasn't a relief or joy at all - it felt like some cruel joke had been played on me, and left me feeling more lost and lonely.
    I have had to learn how to turn down the volume on the INV (particularly when outside forces reinforce that voice) - it does speak louder than a room full of good words. But with practise I can get it down to a whisper, if not eradicated.
    Btw I'm not a quilter at all (embroider/stitch on paper) but read the blog every day for all the solid practical info. Thank you.

  14. A fabulous and touching post. It inspires a person to look inside themself, seek out and find that INV and expell it. It won't be easy, but your post reinforces the idea that it is possible. I thank you.

  15. Thank you Leah for continuing to post your personal thoughts and process while working on this quilt. Justine

  16. There is so much I could say, but for now I'll just say...
    Maybe it's time to give the female figure in your quilts a new color instead of black. :o) Blessings

  17. That's lovely, good luck on your journey.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing your journey to healing. There's so many of us out there are the walking wounded and you are showing us how to heal. We all owe you many thanks :)

  19. Awesome, Leah!
    So awesome.

    I'm so happy for you.

  20. Back in my divorce days, my counselor, Chris, gave me this homework - while looking in the mirror, say this poem and truly, sincerely and lovingly say it - fall in love with yourself. I pay this forward:

    How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
    by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

    How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
    I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
    My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
    For the ends of being and ideal grace.
    I love thee to the level of every day's
    Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
    I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
    I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
    I love thee with the passion put to use
    In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
    I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
    With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
    Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
    I shall but love thee better after death.

  21. I really enjoy the personal touches to your posts because I've always thought of quilting as therapy - therefore many quilters can relate to your stories.
    I was also in a similar predicament until a friend recommended, "You can heal your life", by Louise Hayes. It was a very powerful mover towards my healing, and it has been very effective for the people I in turn recommended it to.
    The quilt is gorgeous, by the way.

  22. I really enjoyed reading "Thoughts on Self Love". What a beautiful person you are inside and out. Thank you so much for sharing. You have touched many of us who suffer from INV. You have a love and a passion for what you do as you do for others. Do you sell your art work? You are amazing. Take care and enjoy your beautiful life.


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