The Free Motion Quilting Project: Tale of Two Goddess Quilts - Part 1

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tale of Two Goddess Quilts - Part 1

With Torrent of Fear finished, I'm 1 down, 11 to go on my goal to make 12 goddess quilts this year. While I'm not moving as fast with this goal as I'd like, it still feels great to be working on these quilts a bit each week.

But which goddess should I make next?! I have several goddesses designed, several in my head, and a few even fully designed and one already printed and prepared for construction. Any one of those one would definitely be the fastest and easiest to work on, but it just didn't feel like the right one to work on right now.

So what feels right, right now? Allow me to digress for a day into one of my more personal posts. These posts always come with a disclaimer: only read this if you want to.

I will not share amazing quilting tips or teach cool techniques in this post. Instead I'm going to take a day to write about some personal stuff that you may, or may not find entertaining or interesting.

So if you'd rather not learn some things you'd rather not know, feel free to click here and catch up on all the quilt along posts shared so far this year.

Don't say I didn't warn you!

Now for the next goddess: I'd like to design a quilt that perfectly captures the moment of James's birth.

James just turned 5 years old on Saturday. Where exactly did those 5 years go?! It's hard to believe time has moved this quickly and that my little boy will be starting his first year of real school (pre-kindergarten) this fall.

His birthday always brings to me a strange mix of memories as that day is still branded in my memory as clearly as if it happened last month. I'm not sure if all women remember their childbirth experiences as clearly, or if it's down to the fact that I journaled and recorded the experience while it was happening.

I just didn't want to forget any part of that day, and this was a good idea because you really can't forget something when you can always refer back to notes!

So James's birth is always a special time, largely because he is such an awesome, loving child and also because that day marked a massive turning point in my life. It is not an exaggeration to say that James and I were both born that day.

Or more accurately, that an important piece of myself finally woke up after 20 years of hibernation!

Of course, it's very difficult to explain this event without getting into the sticky details of James's actual birth. After several tries of writing this, I've finally decided to condense this down to the most important details, again, only read this if you really want to:

The day James was born, I labored for 14 hours. Really the first four hours were quite pleasant, but the last 10 were very intense. Only after having James did I realize he was turned sideways, which meant his shoulders changed the way my body contracted around his body, causing intense back labor.

The last four hours are condensed into a blur of pain and intensity in my mind. I remember at some points the contractions coming so fast, and the pain so intense, I felt like I was being split in two. Towards the end I was wishing for a gun to shoot myself, not because I was suicidal, but because I just wanted the intensity to STOP!

That's when I started pushing like a madwoman, gripping my husband's arms and forcing every cell of my body to push that THING that was inside me OUT into the world.

Then a head emerged and the strangest thing happened: for the first time in my pregnancy I understood that this wobbly thing that had been inside me for months was a REAL PERSON. A separate entity! Another human being!

This might sound crazy, but I never really GOT that idea until that truly magical moment when James's head was out of my body. I reached down and cradled his head and another weird thing happened - everything stopped.

I'd worked all day at this task, consumed with the swirling energy of this natural act, and entirely possessed with the mental and physical effort of dealing with so much intensity. When I touched my child for the first time, all the pain of the last few hours vanished, and I went to a place in my mind I'd never been to before.

It was a place of utter, absolute peace. I felt absolutely no pain, no sadness, no fear, and for the first time in my life, I could not hear my terrible inner negative voice (INV). It was pure peace and stillness and quiet.

It is this moment that I speak about as the moment that changed my life. At this moment, I didn't know if my child was a boy or a girl, I didn't know if he had 10 fingers or 10 toes, I didn't know what his name would be or if the diapers I'd bought the week before would fit.

All of the feeling and emotion of the last several hours suddenly paused, like taking a deep breath and holding it, for a magical moment as my brain shifted suddenly to understand these two monumental ideas: that this child still inside me was a new human being, and that this feeling of peace was actually possible.

It was the moment of peace that seemed to be the bigger surprise because I'd never experienced my brain do anything other than think, criticize, or worry for so many years. That moment planted a seed within my consciousness.

It was a seed of truth: this peace is attainable all the time.

This seed grew as James grew and has led me to make quilts, read books, make connections, and work tirelessly to overcome my destructive thought patterns. Without that moment of peace, I might never have found the strength to pursue show quilting, which would never have lead me to start this project, form this business, or support my family.

So to put it simply: that moment is everything to me.

And this is the way I've decided to illustrate it within a goddess quilt:

free motion quilting | Leah DayTo me this design symbolizes everything that was going on in that moment: my child emerging, his body separate from mine, despite the fact that he was still within me, my mind shifting around these new ideas and awakening to this new awareness, and both of us suspended and held over a hand that protected us and kept us safe as we both emerged from this moment.

To some people, this goddess design might be a bit controversial. It's pushing the line of sexuality and of showing birth, something that is seen a lot in art, but not a lot in traditional quilts.

I have heard that quilts with certain amounts of nudity or sexual imagery often get kicked out of quilt shows, or displayed in separate rooms from the main event as if there's something wrong with them. I always find this funny because...well...quilts go on beds, right? What do you think happens under those quilts?! lol

Still, I've said it more than once that show quilting isn't my main interest anymore, so why should this matter?

And this is the reason why I think this quilt is so important to make right now, right after Torrent of Fear because by creating it I will be overcoming this fear of creating a controversial quilt. I will be teasing that line of acceptability, and it will be interesting to see what happens as this project develops.

Honestly, I don't want to offend anyone, but I do need to create this quilt, to acknowledge this moment as the super important, life changing moment it was.

Recently I've started working to understand this moment and where I "went" when everything stopped.

It turns out that I didn't "go" anywhere new, I was just finally pulled firmly into the present moment and for the first time, my mind stopped chewing on the past, or worrying about the future.

For that moment, I was only focused on the NOW, the present moment, and for that precious time, there were no problems, no pain, no anger, no sadness, no depression, no abuse. All that was left was a deep sense of peace and stillness.

For a long time, I couldn't understand this feeling. It honestly scared me for awhile because it felt so alien to how I normally felt.

This is kind of funny to think about now because it illustrates just what a toxic place my mind used to be. Just like the guy who ate meatloaf thinking it was cake, my mind was tasting a new flavor - joy - but it couldn't quite understand what it was eating.

To understand this better, I've started working through a wonderful book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

The basic premise is the only time we have is right now, this moment, but we are rarely HERE to experience it fully because our mind is either chewing on the past or grinding away on the future.

The basic lesson within this book is to BE PRESENT. Be here, where you are right now. Not with your mind in the future, or your mind in the past. Just be here, in the now.

When I say "working through" this book that is definitely true. I read a few paragraphs each night and try to practice being present as I fall asleep and throughout the day. It's not a quick or easy read, and it's important to go back and re-read chapters as needed.

Only after working through this book slowly over the past few weeks did I have a sudden "Ah ha!" moment in yoga class. In the middle of a pose I suddenly thought "Being present means NOT THINKING."

I know anyone more versed in meditation or yoga has probably realized this long ago, but for me this was a big deal. I've never really understood that thinking can STOP, and that this was the key to that moment of peace when James was born. My mind stopped completely for that moment and for the first time, I was completely 100% present in that moment. No wonder it was so amazing!

Thanks to this book and thanks to my deepening desire to live in the present, I've started practicing yoga every morning. I roll out my mat and spend 30 minutes stretching, breathing, and bringing my mind back to that peaceful no-mind place.

At no other point in my life have I been able to give myself this gift of a daily practice. Usually I'm in such a hurry to get to work, to quilt that quilt, to write that post that it overwhelms my desire to do anything else.

Lately I've found that by practicing yoga in the morning, I'm far more calm, peaceful, and focused on the tasks waiting for me in the office, which means they're usually completed far faster than if I skipped practice and went straight to work.

But the great thing about the power of now is that you don't need to give birth to find this place of peace! You don't need to do anything amazing or life changing, you just need to start paying attention to your thoughts and returning your focus regularly to the present.

How many times while reading this post has your mind wandered? You might have updated your grocery list, made a mental note to get your car washed, thought about what happened last week, worried about what will happen next week, or considered fabric for your next quilt?

Planning certainly does have it's place, but it becomes a problem when you plan so constantly that it never stops. Why plan and think constantly about a vacation, only to be in the hotel on your vacation and be thinking only about the drive home?

I find this is especially true when quilting. While cutting fabric, am I really THERE focused on moving the rotary cutter and holding the ruler, or am I bouncing around in the future of how I will quilt the finished quilt?

How many times have I cut fabric wrong for this exact reason? If your mind is not present, it's not really paying much attention to what is going on NOW, is it?

So to illustrate this lesson, I've also designed a second goddess:

free motion quilting | Leah DayI already know the background of this goddess will change. While I like the circles, I've decided to introduce a traditional quilting element by piecing a giant dahlia quilt in the background. Should be interesting!

This is truly the first goddess I've designed with a full face: eyes, nose, mouth. I've been so afraid of designing a quilt with a face because the risk of getting an element wrong and always seeing it every time I looked at the goddess's face.

But to be present is to face this fear eye to eye. To be truly present is to be truly awake and aware of what is going on around you.

I plan to work on both quilts at the same time, mostly because I need to work a bit faster on these goddesses, but also because the theme for both is so intertwined.

I already know that working in the now is a continual practice. It's not something that you wake up one morning just able to stay present all the time. It's a habit you have to cultivate, and it's a tricky one to work on because our minds are so used to living either in the past or the future.

Now if I lost you way back in the Power of Now, don't worry. It has taken me weeks to work through even the first few chapters of this book. It's tough, and it's not for everyone. I respect that and will always start the posts about these two goddess quilts with fair warning for those that are not interested in this subject.

So now that I have two girls designed, it's high time I shut up and got started on them!

Leah Day


  1. Hi!
    I think the way you are blurring the limits of traditional quilting is brilliant. As a new quilter, I have often become frustrated with the "rules" and such, and due to that, have taken a small break from creating. But I LOVE reading your quilts, and this goddess series you are journeying on is exciting to see. Thank you for sharing your thought process on the developement of your truly are remarkable and a definite inspiration!
    Also, I am completely with you regarding your ideas of staying "present" in the moment. As a mother to two small boys, I often find myself getting too wrapped up in the plans, organizing and running of the household, so I forget to enjoy the NOW...thanks for reminding me!

  2. I'm currently in my 38th week of my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy ended in an unnecessary cesarean section, which caused a lot of emotional trauma. To release some of those emotions, I quilted it: Now as I approach this new baby's birth, I find my mind drawn to creating another quilt, one based around my body opening up like a flower and the baby coming into the world the way it is supposed to. Your post could not be better timed, as I'm hoping to start quilting it on Thursday! Your quilts/quilting continue to amaze, delight and inspire me. I look forward to watching these quilts develop!

  3. Serendipity: a few days ago, a friend said she had been "prescribed" to read The Power of Now.

    It's funny that you asked how many times our minds had wandered: I was indeed thinking of my yoga (non)-practice, the fabric I am washing and what I'm going to do with it, etc.

    I'm looking forward to seeing Torrent of Fear finished, up close.

    Since it is so close to the end of the second month of the year, I wonder if you are driving yourself too hard by setting a goal of 12 quilts this year. Do you need goals to feel that you've accomplished what you need to? Will you feel you "failed" if you complete 10 or 11?

  4. The story of your birth reminds me so much of the birth of my own son two years ago. I related perfectly to what you said about realizing this was a separate person, even though I didn't know yet if he was a boy or girl.

    And most vividly I remember that moment I reached down and felt his face and all that miserable agony of labor was like a memory that happened to someone else.

  5. Wow Leah, Thank you so much for sharing this. Definitely brought tears to my eyes! All the best to you on your journey.

  6. The goddess touches us when she will. Your work is beautiful--not just in design, but in intention. Blessed Be! )0(

  7. I enjoy the little peeks into the psyche of your quilts. Fascinating. I am thinking a lot about your journey to NOW and I will probably read the Eckhart Tolle book you suggested.

  8. Leah, love your designs. the birth one is amazing. I am over fifty and i have in the last few years been more intentional about where my mind goes. I will be visiting my amazing grandchildren who live across the country from and be thinking about something i want to do when i get home!!! Not that it is bad in itself but if we "miss" stuff that is happening in the now because of it...well i just dont want to do that. Even if where the presence has us is hard it always has its blessings and i don want to miss them. I think it is amazing that you are figuring this stuff out while you are still so young. Even if your life isnt always easy it will be rich and full and you will meet each stage with the joy that it brings. Cant wait to see your designs take shape in fabric. Happy B-day to the little man.
    As always you continue to be inspirational!!! In more ways than one.

  9. Dear Leah, Thank you or sharing your soul w us. I, too, had only back labor when birthing my children. (My husband & I had never even read about/heard of it prior to the moment it began). And like you, all was right with the universe the moment I first touched & saw my precious ones.
    Sewing and knitting helped nourish my creative soul throughout my pregnancies. Today, my children are teenagers and sewing continues to sustain me in this way. It has been a lifelong lifeline for me and for that, I am grateful.

  10. GREAT story and reminder of living in the moment. I fall into the planning trap too often. Sewing brings me back- allows me to focus only on what's in front of me. You should check out work by Kathy Nida, if you are worried about stepping over a line. Her images are powerful, disturbing and wonderful!

  11. Beautiful!
    The entire post; Absolutely Beautiful!

    I'm so happy for you Leah. =-)
    And "Brava!" on the Yoga every day too. =-) I LOVE my daily practice as well. =-)

  12. The story of your James's birth was very touchy.

    And you're goddess quilt is absolutely beautiful.
    Enjoy making it.

  13. I think birth is an important event, so it's a fit subject for a quilt. Artist Judy Chicago did a gigantic collaborative work, "The Birth Project", that explored many aspects of women's experiences of birth. It's a big theme, and I think that there is a lot that one could say about it. In primitive art along with scenes of men hunting, there is a recurring motif of a woman giving birth, because it is so important.

  14. I admire your courage in sharing a part of your very intimate self. The mind is a powerful tool and as you are discovering needs to be taken care of, like the rest of our body.
    Keep up the wonderful posts, and keep on quilting.

  15. Leah, have you thought about making (or having them made)fine art prints of your quilts? I can't even tell you how deeply reading these goddess quilt posts has affected me. I would love to own them all, as reminders of what I have learned. But limited (1) quantity and budget constraints make owning even one a literal impossibility. Your art has helped me grow as an artist, wife and mother in ways I cannot adequately express. Please consider it. I want the messages of your art in my home. Badly. :)


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