The Free Motion Quilting Project: The Quilting Habit

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Quilting Habit

Is quilting a habit for you?  This week I downloaded an excellent book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg which is about how powerful habits - things we do every single day - can be for our lives.

What was interesting to learn is how easily habits form.  Way back in high school, I began eating a lot of fast food.  Usually I would be out with friends at night, we'd be in town and get hungry so we began always grabbing burgers and fries.  It was only after a few times that this routine became a habit.

Growing up, I ate fast food maybe 1 time a month.  By the time I went to college, I was eating fast food almost every single day.  It had become a habit that was so ingrained, I didn't really think about it or the consequences until my heath began to suffer, and by then it was a very hard habit to break.

Listening to this book, I'm finding that not all habits are bad, some are actually very good and helpful.  Things like brushing your teeth - you don't even have to think about it, you just do it.

In fact, the centers of your brain that actively think about doing something - like trying a new applique technique - are very active the first couple times you do that activity because it's a new experience.  Once the activity becomes a habit, however, your brain stops activity in those learning / thinking areas.  You literally stop thinking!

I think this is enormously powerful evidence for why quilting seems so easy for some people, and so tricky for others.  If it feels easy, to the point you don't have to think about it, chances are you've turned those steps of quilting into a habit.  You literally don't have to think about every little step anymore because your body can move through those processes automatically.

If quilting still feels very difficult for you, chances are you haven't yet turned these motions, steps, ideas, and techniques into habits.

What's neat is it's not just the techniques - like piecing an exact 1/4" seam allowance, or free motion quilting stippling, but it's also the time you choose to quilt every day.

During the normal part of the year, I always try to get downstairs to quilt first thing in the morning because the house is quiet and I'm not likely to be disturbed.

During the summer, however, James is out of school and my normal sewing time is constantly interrupted.  It wasn't long into the month of May that I saw a serious decline in the amount of time I spent quilting.  I found this very frustrating, but didn't really understand what was happening until I read The Power of Habit and realized that my habits had shifted because of the change in our schedule.

Here's another thing I realized was a habit: negative thoughts.

When things aren't going right, does it feel like a CD gets started in your brain, playing the same old nasty thoughts?  That's a habit too.  The trick is to find the trigger that starts the CD playing.

This summer I have a lot on my mind and many projects occupying my attention.  A year ago, I probably wouldn't be handling all this very well because my habit when things got stressful was to make things worse - pile more work, more projects, more ideas, and more craziness on my shoulders.

This year, however, I've consciously formed new habits around my turbulent emotions.  When I feel tired, I stop pushing myself.  When I get stressed, I make a cup of tea and journal about it.  When I get a headache, I go upstairs and hand stitch binding until the pain goes away.

I began forming these new habits this spring because I was just so sick of being a slave to stress, and only now after reading this book do I understand how these simple habits have helped me become a more balanced person.

I now believe true change happens by making new habits that break or overlap old habits.

So is quilting your habit?  Do you do it every day, at the same time, or just when time and energy allows?  Are certain techniques a habit for you, to the point that you don't really think about the process anymore?

Is it a habit to talk down to yourself when things don't look perfect?  

Think about it today and consider all those unconscious, unthinking reactions that happen every single day.  All those habits we have that we don't even think about anymore, but with a little time and attention can be turned into new positive habits for growth and change.

Let's go quilt,



  1. I love this post, thank you for sharing! Ever feel like the Universe put something out there JUST for you! LOL* I sort of feel like I needed to see this today. :) Quilting is definitely a habit for me and I share your struggles with schedule disruption...I have three children, two of them school age, and I stay up late into the night during the summer if I want to get any sewing done. The rest of the year, when school is in session, I am able to sew my heart out from 8 to 3! Lol* I VERY MUCH relate to those negative thoughts. I really need and WANT to change that. I let things bother me - especially people. I'm getting to that age where I just want to learn to let things lay. Let things roll off my back, let the dishes pile up if they must, and just live my life with a little less stress. :) So I really needed to hear this...I will make it a HABIT to chill out a bit! ;)

  2. Ha! When my boys were little, I measured my sewing progress one small seam at a time. Kids sure are a lesson in flexibility aren't they!? I wouldn't call my sewing/quilting a habit, but do seem to go into withdrawal if I don't sew on a regular basis, at least a few times a week.

  3. Interesting insights, Leah. I think I needed this today. Thanks.

  4. I've noticed lately how often I say to myself, 'Well, that was dumb' when I do something wrong--although that statement is actually a big step up from what my mother always said to me after every mistake I made. Still, I have got to find words to replace these, until they no longer occur to me automatically. A habit, indeed, and one that needs to change. Thanks for being so honest with us. It helps me realize that it's not only ok to be honest, it's healthy, as long as it moves us forward and doesn't mire us down. You are very good at moving forward with each breakthrough. Blessings,

  5. Great food for thought, and makes total sense. Thanks for sharing this. I need to break my habit of spending so much time on the computer reading about quilting and actually get down to business DOING quilting!

  6. That is one awesome post!!! It's stuff I already know BUT do I always practice it????? Of course not.....thanks heaps for the reminder! Blessings and hugs, Doreen

  7. Perfect! You gave the problem AND A SOLUTION to actually practice! Love it!

  8. Off topic, but I just bought your 365 Free Motion Designs book from Amazon! I know I'll love it and it is the least I can do to support your tireless efforts to educate and inspire your readers.

    Thank you, Leah. And to everyone, the book is on sale at a great price at Amazon, so get yourself a copy or buy one as a gift for someone you love.

    Off to my studio. (My habit in action.)

  9. Thanks for posting as this was very timely. The comment about the negative thoughts hit home. I agree with quilting Babcia about spending too much time on the computer. Time waster in a big way!

  10. Hi Leah,
    As always wonderful post. I feel you must have been a saint to your previous life. Your wisdom is amazing.

    I'm a type A personality when it comes to my work quality but I have always tried to be a laid back person when it comes to stress. I have noticed that I don't perform well if I get tensed. That doesn't mean that I don't work well under stress. Actually I love multitasking and always have been a multi-tasker.

    But sometimes people around me have got ticked off because they don't see me nervous during important moment in my life. Probably I'm nervous at that moment by I try to be calm and enjoy it.

    I feel lately motherhood has taken away some of my habits and I need to come back to it. If I can't get my planned stuff done, I should try it take it easy.

    So, coming to quilting. Its definitely an habit for me now. Everyday I do something related to quilting.

  11. I have sure formed the habit of quilting regularly quickly. If I am not quilting, I am thinking about it, new techniques I want to try, new patterns I want to create it seems the list is endless. Sometimes I feel a little obsessed by it!

  12. Oh Leah, I am so glad! Such wisdom. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Thanks, Leah. Great Post!!! Very insightful.

  14. oh dear dear dear, I sit here in sack cloth and ashes! I can make all the excuses I like, but I have no good reason why I don't do what I love every day ... patchwork quilting! Amazing how when I worked full time, had husband and 3 kids to organise I still made time for sewing. Now I'm retired and an empty nester I've become an even worse procrastinator. Won't make promises (they're so easily broken) but will give myself a loving little talking to! lol. Love your posts Leah.


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