The Free Motion Quilting Project: Learning this mistake at a time

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Learning this mistake at a time

Well, I shouldn't say "mistake." That implies that I've actually messed something up permanently, and as I'm learning every day, nothing is ever totally broken. Maybe I should title this post "learning this experiment at a time"

The fact of the matter is, and I'm being totally honest here, I really didn't know what I was doing when I started this project.

While I thought it might be popular and interesting for some quilters, I never anticipated so much interest or response so quickly. And I never expected anyone to want books or DVDs because all the designs are posted for free.

So it's no exaggeration to say that I've been clinging to the back of this freight train as it took off way too fast for me to find my seat. I've been struggling to keep up and stay focused, and that has been very difficult in the midst of so much family and personal turmoil.

I've been thinking back to the start of the project, where Josh and I were then, how old James was, and what was going on in my head at the time.

I know that so many of my decisions then were governed by just the sheer stupid joy of being liked. People like me??? Really??? I must do everything they want!

It's only now, after two years of intensely working through my low self esteem that I can see why I felt this way. I'd been raised to think I was so worthless, I should be paying YOU to be interested in me. The fact that someone liked me and wanted me enough to pay me to do something, how dare I turn that offer down?

Had I had the ability to say "no" then, I might have made better choices, but I think that is something you can learn only when you really need to, when you feel confident enough to take a stand for yourself. I just couldn't do that then.

So if you want an explanation for why I created two DVDs and two books (volume 1 and volume 2) at the beginning of this project, only to discontinue them in less than a year, you have your answer. It was a great idea on paper, to have every single design from the project available on DVD, but practically, it was never going to work. It would have been 18 DVDs and books! That's just excessive.

It took nearly a full year for me to come to my senses and stop agreeing to do everything, every idea that was emailed to me, every offer for travel, every teaching or lecturing gig.

I can remember the first time I turned someone down, I agonized over the decision. It made me feel awful to say "no" and for a few weeks after, I lived in terror of my business collapsing because of it.

I truly believed at the time that if I turned down anything, it was tantamount to shutting down my site for a day. It was the same as turning my back on the project, even if that thing being offered had nothing to do with the site or project directly.

Eventually I came to realize that I could, and had to say "no." For the sake of my sanity and my health, I had to slow down, and I had to stop beating myself up for not being able to do everything.

But even this year I struggled with too many projects, too many focuses, and an overwhelming feeling that I couldn't finish anything.

Recently I've realized my problem is still agreeing to do too much, only now it's not someone else asking me to do something, it's all the ideas in my brain I've got to say "no" to!

Basically every time I think of a good idea, I drop everything and run to go start working on it. I don't stop and think. I don't give myself time to cool down. The urge to start something new is so electric, so wonderful feeling, it's very hard to turn down.

But starting so many different projects eventually wears me out. I get tired and stretched too thin and then feel terrible. My self worth plummets and I end up falling into a deep hole that takes weeks to dig out of.

The last time this happened just a few weeks ago, I finally put my foot down with myself. No more new projects!

And then I found myself in my studio cutting out a new quilt that evening! What is wrong with me!? Don't I know better!?

Case in point of this cycle of starting projects is the "How Do I Quilt This?!" series which I started last August, but never finished. I've been so extremely embarrassed by this failure, I haven't wanted to talk about it at all.

But looking at it now, I know it's nothing to be ashamed of. It was a good idea, but executed at the wrong time, right as I was launching a new book and DVD. I also didn't plan that project well and didn't account for just how much time and energy it would take.

Going back to this project today, I'm working through all these emotions. I'm going to get these videos set up permanently on the website with better links so you can easily find them. I might never finish the videos on making a show quilt because, well, I never finished the show quilt.

But that doesn't mean the whole project should be scrapped just because I never finished the final set of videos. It's still a very good series on using the designs in real quilts, and it should be better linked so you can actually find it!

As embarrassing as it is to admit all this, I'd rather just be honest. I'm not Superwoman!

To help me balance my work load, maintain mental sanity, and stop starting projects I can't finish, Josh has been stepping up to the plate. We've started having a business lunch every Friday. I type up a page (or pages) of all the stuff running through my head, and we go through it line by line.

It's so nice to see everything clearly typed out, to go through it all line by line, and then make a plan for the next week that won't end with me feeling worthless and ineffective because I couldn't muscle my way through three months worth of work in one week.

It's amazing how much this has helped in the four weeks since we started doing them, and already Fridays are my favorite day of the week. Written out and clearly listed, it's easier to see and account for ALL the projects that are in progress and how long they will take to finish.

I'm not saying that I'm not starting anything new anymore, but I am being a lot more careful about what I take on. One thing is for sure - I'll never want for a new project or idea to try!

Now speaking of projects, I happen to have 5 quilts in progress downstairs, and two could easily be finished today. It's time to go quilt!



  1. I love your honesty, your growth as a business person and artist, your writing, and that you tackle life with all of your weight. I love seeing what you do, and I'm inspired to step out of my safe zone. I love that you are learning to say no, and I love that you are still starting multiple projects.

    All these things I love in you are the same things I love about the path I'm on. I think we're lucky to learn and grow from our experiences. And we're very very lucky to have supportive family!

    Keep on keeping on, Little Sister Quilter Friend!

  2. Leah...I hear yah...sounds like you need to take a break. I know the feeling I do not have a business I just make quilts for fun. You have been wonderful and its because of you I gave FMQ'ing a try. Thank-you!!!! I love all of your videos, blogs. Don't feel like your letting us down for taking a break or slowing down...its OK...take time to do other things to that you enjoy...your husband, son, family, gardening...or even shopping! I will say are wonderful!!!!! Take time to enjoy life.

  3. And congratulations on the success of your business. I know it is hard work and the weight of being the owner of a small business is a heavy load.

    All the best - Chris

  4. Well, lets try this but blogger has been a bugger about letting me comment, then I loose my comment, get booted off my blogs.

    I think your Friday lunch for business with aggenda is great. After all you are doing this for a business and part of business is the planning. Sure hope you date and keep all the lists in a box to be reviewed at the end of the quarter, or year or what ever..... you will be surprised how much you have forgotten that you DID. I too like to start or try something as soon as I think of it.... usually does not go as planned before the third block is finished or it is time for bed, ha ha. I have now given myself permission to put "experiments" in the scrap basked under the table. The real jest of this is: it is OK to just do something in a small way... to see.... sort of like eating octopuse.... try it and can say "I did it" and depending on the audiance can also say NEVER AGAIN.... and I sure don't have to eat the WHOLE thing....

    On we go to sew.

  5. Leah, you're learning as you go like we all do. Long ago I learned that I have to pace myself, as I've been dealing with arthritis since I was a teenager (40+ years). And we're all not Supergirl, but we are WONDERFUL WOMEN. Keep moving forward, as we can't change yesterday. Thank God for family and friends. Have an awesome week. Looking forward to your next ah ah moment.

  6. Super post Leah!!

    I see myself in so many of your posts. With age, I have learned you can't please everyone. I, too, have learned how to say "no", tough at first, but not so hard now. I'm working on loving myself and doing things that please me.

    Because of YOU, I have finally started to try my hand at FMQing.

    So a big thank you and hugs to you!

  7. Believe me, you are not alone! I am in the midst of trying to finish a quilt made with neck-ties. I wonder over and over as I struggle with this thing why I ever said "Yes" to this project.

    Putting your ideas in writing and going over them together is an excellent idea, I may have to try something like this myself.

    Thanks for being honest with yourself and us as you go through this process - it's so encouraging!

  8. I just want you to know I appreciate all the work you've put in to this project. And also--I have an unfinished quiltalong tutorial on my blog. I still feel badly that it's not done....

  9. Love your honesty and what you have been through- it will help others not to make the same mistakes.

    I hear you on self-esteem- that is still a big issue for me and a hurdle I struggle with, and I think many women can relate.

    I have loved everything you have done so far- your free tutorials have inspired me greatly and are such great teaching tools for a beginner. I watch them over and over with my pen and paper in hand, and I'm starting to see them come out in my quilting. I am so much further along because you took the time to share with us.

    Thank you!!!

  10. What you're going through is all part of maturing as a healthy person. If you read through the comments that some of your followers have left for you -- you will notice that most of them say that part of the process includes taking a step back and looking at the whole picture. That is where you are right now -- and it is a good place to be -- you are moving forward and learning where your limits are -- everyone has them -- they help us retain a sense of balance. Take a deep breath and enjoy what you are doing today...and every day!

  11. Oh it's so good to see that I'm not the only one who pretty much starts new projects and gets lost in the process - what you do Leah is fantastic, your generosity in sharing your talent and quilting experiences (good and bad) - to me it's invaluable
    These new projects you keep wanting to start - I hope you have a journal of each of the ideas and when the time is right, and your flicking though the journal 'that' particular project will come to the fore - please pace yourself and trust your instinct - it's taken you so far already - and remember you are only human

  12. You are doing a GREAT JOB !!!! Just do what you can, when you can, and we will keep following you and we treasure all the great information you provide.
    Thanks so much !!!
    Claudia in ND

  13. I was just going to say the same thing before I read Donna's comment. I love your honesty! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  14. Oh my dear, your ARE the closest to Superwoman as I have ever seen. How you do what you has amazed me as I have watched you day after day. Please take care of yourself first so you can be with us for the long haul. You have much to offer us all.

  15. Thank you for your honesty. What a glimpse into you, and a glimpse into many of us. Thank you for all you share.

  16. Unfortunately as women, we find it hard to say no to anything... we need to make sure everyone is cared for and comfortable before we are.

    Your talent is appreciated and your willingness to share is inspiring.

    You're human.... now let yourself 'be'.


  17. Bravo to you, Leah! Do you know how many women never figure this out? Never learn to say No, never refuse a request, never stop and care for themselves?
    You've passed a major milestone in healthy maturation and you've learned a TON! Just think what you can do with all of and being fully present. Again, Bravo to you!

  18. One thing Leah - as you're learning - is that just because you're in your 20's - have a family and responsibilities - doesn't mean you're all done growing and learning. Its a process - every lady here has gone through - still going through it. This is just another life lesson - the good news is you've learned so much - the bad news is that it won't be the last time!

    Remember the rule - just because you can - doesn't mean you should or have to. Also - life if not a sprint race - its a marathon - pace yourself - you got plenty of time!! Blessings!!!

  19. Oh, Jeepers! Even Superwoman has her kryptonite :)
    You've done amazing work. Although I already knew how to free motion quilt I have friends at work who are afraid to try. I bought your book and DVD so I could lend them out, so that these women could feel supported and have the courage to give it a try.
    I recently broke (like REALLY broke, not broke to fix it), and I need to get a new one. I was going to head to my local sewing machine shop (which isn't so local) and get a new name brand one, but I'm going to order a generic one from you instead. I think its worth a try. See, I admire your courage to try new things, to educate us (and yourself) and to make a go of all kinds of things. Yes, you may have more things to learn about running a business, but you have already learned so much already. You rock!

  20. Thanks for your honesty. It's comforting to know that we all go through this process of learning how to have balance in our lives. I have had trouble turning things down and saying no but I've gotten much better over the last few years. I think you sort of have to hit a breaking point before you realize that it's time to slow down and reconsider your commitments (and that it's okay to let some of them go).

  21. Leah--You're doing a great job! It's hard to say "no", but your health and family come first. I understand about starting new projects when they're on your mind. I do the same thing. Hope your husband has a Happy Father's Day :)

  22. Starting a business is fraught with danger! You jumped in wholeheartedly with your passion and then reality hit with overwhelming loads of work! Good that you finally learned to say, "No, I'm sorry, I can't".

    I hope your plans on paper continue to bring you the satisfaction and success you desire. Keep at it! You have great ideas.

  23. beautiful written, your very honest..and like us all just human..
    Take your time, to take a breath of air once in a while... I still like you and your work :-)))))
    greetings Judith

  24. Leah, I think you are doing a wonderful job! I started 'following' you a year ago and I'm still amazed at your skill and creativity. You are so generous with your knowledge and I get something from every one of my visits to your blog - last night my darning foot broke and (after a quick panic) I knew that it wasn't the end of the (quilting) world as I'd seen something right here on your blog to help me out - I've fitted my elastic band and it's even better than good as new (the bar broke off!) You're wonderfully talented and wonderfully down to earth and I'm very grateful that you have chosen to share that with us. I'm glad that you're getting to grips with that pesky inner voice - I didn't feel I knew who I was until I turned 40, so please keep on doing what you do and yes, absolutely, give yourself a break from time to time - you deserve it! All the best xxxx

  25. Good on you...

    (short and sweet so as not to take up too much of your time :p )

  26. Thank You so much for your brutal honesty - as a mother of 2 small boys (3,2) and the owner of a quilt shop (which I opened when the youngest was still breastfeeding!!!) I too tear myself apart everyday as I try to do everything and seemingly fail. I LOVE your Friday lunch idea - I might have to try the same thing with my long suffering hubby - perhaps over breakfast.

    Keep On Quilting!


  27. Don't be down on yourself for not tying up more loose ends! I think that blogs are particularly well-suited to "serial projects." (At least that's what I tell myself, since I have 30+ WIPs in various stages of completion.) I think it's awesome that you and Josh are having weekly check-ins to talk about what's feasible for your family and your business. Persevere on! As always, I'm excited to see what you work on this week!

  28. You're awfully smart for being young!

    "Been there, done that" trivializes what you said but ... I sure don't know why we have to go through life wanting every one to "like" us. 8-)) THAT wears a person down. 8-)))

  29. Hi Leah
    Not everything needs to be finished. And saying no gets easier with age and practice. You need to enjoy what you're doing.

  30. Great post! Balancing all that you do isn't easy. I just found your blog, but I've really enjoyed your creativity and your willingness to share what you are learning/creating. That's a gift. I think most creative people have many projects that they are working on at once. If I'm breathing, I want to be creating :-) Keep on being the creative person that you are!

  31. There are just so many good ideas out there and in our own heads. But jiust because they're good ideas doesn't mean we need to do them, or at least do them now. I think that's a big struggle for creative types.

    It certainly is for me anyway. Thanks for being transparent and open about your struggles with balance. There are so many internet supermoms out there it can be aggravating!

  32. Love your article on Isacord thread. I have the Janome 6600P and the thread cutter broke. The gal who repaired it told me to NEVER use thread with cotton over polyester like Coats and Clark. That tread creates so much fuzz and will destroy your machine. I use the Isacord for free motion, but had been using Coats and Clark for piecing. Now I use Isacord for everything and there is very little fuzz as a result. No more jams. Isamiracle!!

  33. I would completely agree about the agenda. In fact, you are now doing what I would have advised: write it down. No matter how wonderful the idea is, don't start on it immediately. Write it down, figure out what would be necessary to do it, then decide if you want to do it or not, if you can do it or not, or if maybe you want to do it later -- or not. In the Getting things done method of task management, one of the things he includes in his list of things to do is the Someday/maybe list. And it has been a wonderful thing to have for me, as instead of suffering from extreme startitis and many unfinished projects, I get an idea of something I'd like to do, and then put it on the list. I do not allow myself to start something new from that list until something else of equivalent size is finished. And I prevent that overwhelmed feeling from paralyzing me into getting nothing done.

  34. BRAVO Leah
    Well done for recognising and accepting the truth that we cannot do everything we want to.

    Big Hugz

    Helen from Hobart

  35. Hang in there. It's very difficult to reconcile creativity and business, especially when you're responsible for both.


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