The Free Motion Quilting Project: UFO Sunday #5 - Quilt for YOU

Sunday, September 23, 2012

UFO Sunday #5 - Quilt for YOU

It's time for UFO Sunday, and I'll start off by saying that we've been through the ringer this week, but managed to come out alright.  James has been in school for around 4 weeks now and suddenly last week my sweet boy transformed.  And it all came to a head over a quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

I've had this UFO on the floor of my sewing room for 6 months.  I created the pattern, I printed the large scale drawings out, then proceeded to dump them on the floor and leave them there for months.

And yes, I consider this a UFO!  I had intended to make it and I did not.  Tripping over something for months on end definitely counts as a project needing to be completed!

I also really, really want this done by the time James is 6.  I felt an enormous amount of guilt that he hadn't had a new quilt in years and really wanted one that would capture all the things he loved and obsessed about as a little kid - robots, dinosaurs, and aliens. 

So this week full of determination, expectation, tons of super mom power, I plowed through this quilt.  I even took a terrific Craftsy course from Carol Ann Waugh to learn a super fast stitch and slash technique for making each block and they came out AWESOME:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The blocks were complete, the middle panel complete, and the border fabric sliced when I showed it to James with a super excited "Don't you like it?!"

Woe to the mother who asks this question with her heart on her sleeve.

James took one look at it and said "I don't like it.  I don't want that quilt. I don't want it to look that way."

These words cut me up and shredded my expectations.  I'd had so much riding on him loving this quilt, being super excited and happy about it.  My guilt over not making it sooner needed relief from knowing he would love it when he finally got it.

But that didn't happen.

Instead this quilt was a catalyst for a huge family melt down.  As I said, James has been in school for around 4 weeks now and the teachers are really pushing him in all areas.  It's a lot of work for a free spirited kid to sit still, listen, draw, color, sing, and follow directions for a full day, and I had been continuing that process at home with more coloring and skill building activities right off the bus.

Basically, he was getting worked all day with no down time.  Overstimulated, overworked, my kid lashed out with a temper and meanness I'd never seen before.

And it was all directed at me and the quilt I was creating for him.  Yes, honesty is important, but I could tell from the look on James's face that he knew he was being intentionally hurtful.

But that's the thing about kids.  He couldn't tell me: "Mom, I'm fried!  Stop asking me to work so hard after school!  Let me be a kid and run around and play, okay?!"  He doesn't have that kind of communication ability or personal insight yet.

Instead, he found an obvious emotional trigger and he pushed it. It was that response, in addition to a few days of constant belligerence and frustrated tantrums that finally woke Josh and I up to the mistakes we were making.  But the damage was done where this quilt was concerned.

And that's the major pitfall about quilting gifts.  You never really know how someone, especially a child, will react.

If you have too much riding on a wonderful reaction, chances are you will be disappointed.  It's probably not intentional, but think about it - how much time and energy does a quilt take to make?  How much did you think about the person it was intended for during all those long hours of cutting, piecing, quilting and binding?

To give a gift like that, and then have it shrugged at, or worse openly snubbed, is like being cut with dull scissors and having salt and whiskey rubbed in the wound.  It hurts really bad.

What's worse is it also feels like a huge waste of time.  All that time and energy you could have been putting into some other project for yourself or someone who might actually appreciate it.

So are quilts really good to give as gifts?  

I think they are, but with a few special rules:

#1. No secrecy - The best way to get a disappointing response is to keep the project a secret.  You can really throw some people off with a special handmade gift, and truthfully you can't get more special or more handmade than a quilt.  I've had people react with everything from excessive tears to shrugs and entirely because they didn't know HOW to react to such a gift.

The best way to get a great response is to let the person know they are getting a quilt far in advance, and keep them updated about the progress throughout so they know how much time and energy it's taking.  No, they are not allowed to provide input or change your design (this is a GIFT, not a commission).  They just need to know what is coming, and they need to clue in to the best way to react.

#2. Stockpile Baby Quilts - Making individual baby quilts every time you meet a pregnant person really is the pits, mostly because babies come so erratically.  You might end up in the terrible situation of needing 10 baby quilts for all your many grandbabies and great grandbabies and not enough time to make them all.

So the solution?  Stockpile.  Don't make quilts specifically for that one mother and baby in mind, just make them whenever you feel like.  Bind and stick em' on a shelf and one day they will be given away.

Yes, it might feel soulless to make baby quilts for whoever-as-yet-unnamed person, but honestly this is a great way to divorce your emotions from the giving experience.  That way whether you get a shrug or super hug, there shouldn't be any resentment.

#3. No Deadlines - Staying up until 3 am every day for a week is awful.  Staying up that late and wearing yourself out for a gift that might be badly received is even worse. 

Don't put any deadlines on your quilted gifts.  Deadlines will just make you crazy, irritable, and feel even more that the quilt is not yours or for you, and make it that much more mired in emotional "stuff" when you get around to giving it.

Quilt for YOU.  Quilted gifts are great, the act of giving quilts is great, but make sure the quilt is ultimately for YOU and fulfilling something YOU want and need as well.

Otherwise what is the point?

I spent a lot of time thinking about James's reaction to his quilt.  Yes, it made me cry.  Yes, I almost dumped the project. Yes, it was hard to return to it after having my excitement and enthusiasm crushed.

But I'm set on my goal to finish ALL my UFOs by the time I turn 30.  I'm very serious about this goal and it's very important to me to fulfill it, to the point that the idea of dumping this quilt is too painful. Finally I realized:

I WANT to finish it for ME.

When I realized that, I suddenly stopped feeling so hurt and upset about James's reaction.  This isn't his quilt, it's my quilt. I'm making it, I'm enjoying it, so it's my quilt.

So today I put the finishing touches on the border and I have to say, this is one of my most favorite quilt designs ever!  It's fun, cheerful, bright, and funky all at the same time!

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Fun, cheerful, and bright, I'm definitely planning on publishing a pattern of this quilt!
And while James might have said he didn't want it in a fit of temper and frustration, I know one day he will want this quilt.  He will want to sleep under it and cuddle with it.  I know that one day it will end up on his bed, where it is intended to go.

But I no longer need his validation of this quilt to want to make it.  I don't need his excitement or approval.  I don't need his appreciation or good response.  I love it, I want it, so I will make it. Simple as that.

So that is the ultimate lesson: Quilt for YOU.  Whatever you make, however you make it, wherever it's going in the end, make sure you're getting something out of it and enjoying the process with every stitch.

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  1. You are so right Leah, and it is so great that you are so perceptive. I used to do paintings for people, and either I didn't see it in their home, or one actually gave it back to me a few years later! Now, if, when, I paint with my children or grandchildren in mind, I hang them up at home and wait until I hear a positive comment and ask if they would like it. (That last part hasn't happened yet! LOL) I know your little boy will come to cherish his is BEAUTIFUL :-) congrats!

  2. Leah,
    You have made some very good and important points.
    I am a painter and I always paint for me. What ever happens after that happens.
    You have reminded me that making other things like quilts is the same.
    I am making a quilt for my first granddaughter and I want it to be beautiful, but my daughter really doesn't love quilts, she is a fashion designer and has a keen eye for design. It puts pressure on me to design something she will also love to have and use for her baby. Which is fine, as it makes you think in a different way, and explore other ways of designing.
    I asked her to pick out the fabric. I am making a One block wonder and have finally sewn all the blocks so I can put them up on the design wall. I know she will like it more if the blocks I use are simple and more edge less.
    So Im trying to do that.
    I really like your the idea of stock piling (especially baby quilts) now that my children's generation, your generation are having babies. Thanks
    Very wise.

  3. Oh, man kids can be brutally honest. How smart of you to have the insight of an underlying problem. I recently made a friendship quilt wall hanging for my friend. Before I gave it to her, negative thoughts creeped into my head like what if she doesn't like it? I mean, it is made to hang on her wall. I would hate it if she didn't tell me she didn't like it and hung it on her wall anyway just to NOT hurt my feelings. At least with a kid, you get the truth, un-edited! It could be that you are correct and he is just lashing out at you, or he could truly just not like it. It could be a color thing, or he could have just moved on to bigger and better things. To find out here's what you can do. Ask James who HE thinks would like the quilt. A neighbor, cousin, or best friend of a similar age. If he gets jealous or declares ownership of the quilt, you know he was just lashing out. If he goes along with giving it away, you know he truly doesn't like it. In that case, you can make him a part of designing a quilt for him. I have seen some really cool ideas of using kids artwork in quilts. Sounds to me like James prefers to be at home with MOM instead of going to school, and that is a HUGE complement to you, even if he didn't like the quilt;)

  4. I SO understand the emotion behind your post today Leah. I have a quilt that I feel was treated carelessly and I have a lot of mixed emotions about making another one. When I gave it to my grandson, he barely acknowledged it. Then only to have my step-daughter ruin it. But then, in his reaction to the quilt being ruined, I knew he really loved it. Funny thing about kids (and adults).

  5. Ach Leah you have had a bad week. I think you are spot on about the reasons behind his outburst and that you have positive steps to deal with him having downtime. In fact what a blessing the quilt is because it helped him express his feelings.

    I don't think the quilt is ruined for him. He is probably feeling bad in the way kids so when they know they've hurt someone else and don't know how to rectify it so seeing it might make him feel negative because it reminds him of being "bad".

    I know you said you don't like being interrupted while in the flow, but I suggest (and as such can be tossed aside) that when he comes home from school you let him have his decompression time and then maybe find something he likes to and bring it into your sewing room and let him do it while you quilt on it, just for 15 minutes and be cheery and chatty about stuff, maybe around aliens (who is the scariest, who is the funniest) and so on without commenting on the quilt. It might mean painfully slow progress and not your best quilting (laughing here to myself as your worst quilting would still be stunning), so that gradually he associates the quilt with fun with you and good times and he isn't being made to feel guilty and would gradually get over feeling strange around it.

    This is a totally perfect quilt (love the wobbly alien on the top right hand side) and he will love it and it will eventually remind him of that fact that he can express himself around you and is allowed to have those feelings and is still loved and accepted and that will make the quilt more then a great design and super quilting. How precious is that?

  6. Loved your lesson. You hit the nail on the head for many different reasons. Do it for you and that's where the creativity flows. Thanks, Kathy

  7. I agree and disagree. I agree in that it's a huge disappointment if they don't like it, but I made my son (who was 5 at the time) this quilt and he knew I was making it, and would even say "Mom you should go down to your room and work on my quilt" and then I gave it to him, and you know he says he likes it, but he doesn't love it. And it sits on his bed and the cheap blanket he had from before is his favourite. So that doesn't always work. Right now I am sitting under the quilt I made for my daughter as a baby, but while she knows it is hers (she is 3 now) she also couldn't care less. But I find when I make quilts out of scraps I have less emotional attachment to it. I'm more proud of being able to pull together something beautiful with what I have on hand, and then don't get too upset if the recipient doesn't love it as much. Oh and by the way, it's a cute quilt!! :)

  8. I love the quilt! I love your advice! And just in time too...what with Christmas just around the corner. I truly appreciate your heart on the subject of giving. You are wise beyond your years!

  9. Loved your story. Good for you for finishing the quilt. I had a similar experience. I made a quilt for my mother's 80th birthday. It was a surprise. I went all the way to Paducah, (where she was born), and bought all the 30's fabrics at Hancocks I could find. She was born in 1930, so I thought she would really love the sentiment. When she saw it, she said she didn't like it because it had too much white in it. I had the same hurt feelings you did. Well, I finished the quilt and put it in a show. I won first place and Best Traditional quilt. I will always charish the quilt for why I made it - as a rememberance of my Mom.

  10. It is a darling quilt. And with three boys, I think I could have saved you some heartache. When one of mine reacts that way, I say, coolly, "Okay, I'll give it to [x]." Then they want it so bad they can't stand it. :-)

  11. I love the quilt! I love your advice! And just in time too...what with Christmas just around the corner. I truly appreciate your heart on the subject of giving. You are wise beyond your years!

  12. Wonderful post Leah very open and honest. Very perceptive about your son and how he reacted. Love the quilt - how colorful and fun it is. I've had a lot of those same feelings and no longer make quilts for gifts that often and if I do I do not put timelines on my self. Sometimes the gifts have changes in route and do not want expectations on them. Recently my sister saw a printed panel of flowers and how much she loved the poppies and sunflowers. When I bought it I didn't know what I was going to do with it. I bought it because I liked it. So that was the thought behind making it for her and I'm pretty sure she will like it and I'm having fun making it for her.

  13. I have finished so many UFO's since this started. Just haven't posted because I would rather sew then spend time creating a blog. But Leah, know this. I'm sure there are many many more people like me who are working along with your projects, but are quiet about it. For years, I think of unfinished projects like my neglected, orphan children. It is so satisfying to give them the attention they deserve.
    I love stochpilin baby quilts. They are the perfect way to use up leftover of an old project, or to test new patterns & see how they work.

  14. Leah,
    You are such an intelligent, lovely young woman. You recognized things in your son that it took me years to understand. It really made me cry - but in a good way. My mother made me quilts that I thought were old-fashioned an not very pretty, but now I wouldn't trade them for anything!
    Thank you for for all you do for others.
    You are a special person.
    Donna H.

  15. Leah, how your reaction to your son's "meltdown" - your rational, kind, and supportive reaction - warmed my heart. Loving your child means remembering he is just a child and giving him what he needs and not demanding more than he can give. He will love you forever. He will be a kind man because you show him kindness.

  16. Ah....this topic hit home! I just finished a quilt for my son-in-law for Christmas....sure hopes he likes it....and am just finishing the binding on a baby quilt for a future (hopefully not that distant future) grandchild. I started thinking at the rate things were going - I might not be able to make a quilt for a grandbaby....and I had better do it while I can. I also have a stockpile of baby blankets (crocheted) simply because I like making them...and knowing someday I will have opportunity to give them to someone who will appreciate them.

  17. I'm glad you finished the quilt anyway. Were it me, I would put this finished quilt away and bring it out sometime in the future to show again to your son. My feeling is with more maturity and perspective, he will value and treasure it! And perhaps instead of him getting to use it, he will give it to his own son someday. It could become quite a lovely legacy from you to him to his own son. Perhaps . . .

  18. I didn't read all the other posts, but finishing the quilt because it reminds you of the things he loves (loved) which can't be taken away by his varying tastes. I've been through this heartache. If you don't invest too much emotionally, you won't get hurt as bad. I love the quilt my self!


  19. I love your blog and how you show not just the how but the why too. I am just getting back into quilting after a 3 year hiatus and am so glad to be able to join in the UFO Sunday fun! I have tons of UFOs to finish and hope I can get a handle on why I leave so much undone and stop feeling so guilty about it. Learning how to FMQ is also on my short list - so can't wait. Thanks!

  20. Aw... That's the thing about making quilts... they take so much gosh darn time!! It's hard to not get emotionally attached to them. You're right that maybe they just don't really make good gifts. I have a few folks in my family who really appreciate them, a few who don't, and guess who gets more quilts made for them... I also have a very cherished quilt that my mom made. It's not really the pattern or the quilting that I love, but the fact that she MADE it with her hands, and I know how much effort and time it took. That's very special to me. So few things are made by hand now...

  21. Of course I always imagine a gift quilt will be loved and appreciated. But I've always learned something---a new technique, or even something about myself, in making every single quilt. Soooo, whether or not the gift is loved does not matter. It was worth it either way because of everything I got out of the experience of making it.

  22. You are truly intelligent in so many ways Leah. Love your words of wisdom. You couldn't possibly know this, but those words came at the exact time I needed them. Thank you for that. I will most certainly heed your sage advice.

  23. At the risk of the being the odd one out - I too hate this quilt; can't put my finger on the blah factor, but it just doesn't work for me.

  24. It's a great quilt and he will love it ... eventually. :D

  25. Great lessons Leah. You're going to run into that over and over as a parent. Glad you finished the quilt. Lane

  26. One hundred years from now,
    It won't matter what car I drove,
    What kind of house I lived in,
    How much I had in my bank account,
    Nor what my clothes looked like,
    But, the world may be a little better
    Because I was important in the life of a child.
    - Unknown
    My guess is that is wouldn't have mattered if the quilt was purple with pink polka dots, or black and white and orange. James is probably trying to tell you that he needs YOU, and not a quilt. When he is a grown up, he will not make you feel guilty for not making him a quilt by the time he is six. But he will always remember the day you chucked everything just for him and went to the park and played frisbee. The quilt to him is just one more thing that Mom has to finish up before he can talk to her, and he is already having a bad week. Leah, you are a terrific parent, and your love for James shows in every post. Yes, quilting is your passion, your work and your livelihood, but James is your Life. We will still all love and respect your work even if your UFO's are not done by the time you are 30. (Since I didn't start quilting until 38, do I get a pass on all the UFO's I've created since then?) Give James what he needs...your time. I know, you already spend loads of time with him every week, but sometimes a child needs all the time there is. And the quilt is really darling, and someday, it will be a special quilt for someone.

  27. I recently completed a beautiful quilt for my son and daughter in law for their bed. My son loved it and thanked me for it. I have yet to hear from my daughter in law. And I spent a large sum on this quilt as I wanted it to be the best for them. Just do not understand people and yes, it hurts.

  28. This post was very poignant. I felt your pain so much that I cried, too. But part of the reason was remembering how nervous I was when I made a quilt for MY son this past April--however, he is 26 years old! The reason I was so nervous is that it was a 'portrait quilt' of his best friend--and his best friend had just died just two months before that. I felt, on the one hand, that it would help my son in the grieving process, but I feared that, on the other hand, he would not want that reminder hanging on his wall. I decided to let it go either way--if he wanted to hang it, that would be fine; if he wanted to put it away, out of sight, that would be ok, too--because the truth is, I needed to make it for ME as much as for my son. It was tremendously helpful to me in my own grieving process. Well, the day came when the portrait quilt was finished and my husband and I presented it to our son with nervous anticipation and stifled emotions. My son literally fell to his knees when he saw it. He cried, I cried (as I am crying now), and I think my husband got teary-eyed, too. Fortunately, my son wanted to hang it on his bedroom wall right away; he absolutely loved it. The interesting thing is, he moved to his first apartment about 3 weeks ago, and went I went over to see it, I don't remember seeing the quilt on the wall. I'm not sure whether it's there or not, but if it's not, I'm totally ok with it. I know he'll treasure it forever. My point is, if I hadn't made this quilt partly for my own satisfaction, I would indeed have had too much expectation invested in it. So Leah, you are right on with that advice. I suspect James will want this quilt someday, whether sooner or later. Either way, I'm so glad you finished it for yourself. Blessings for all you do and share.


  29. Leah: I have so been there with my son. (My daughter was the oldest and would have never lashed out at anyone, but that is another story.) I explained to my son's preschool teacher how he just explodes at me when I get him home after a day at school and she said "He must be a really secure child. He knows he can give you his worst after being a really good boy all day long at school. He knows that you'll still love him." I didn't worry so much when he unleashed at home after that. He has grown into a lovely, sweet, giving and caring young man. I think James will be the same.

    Love your idea of stockpiling baby quilts! I can experiment and then give away something wonderful on a whim.

  30. Your quilt for your son is beautiful. I am sure one day he will love it as much as you do. Thanks for sharing your story. I was hoping for a happy ending. And I got one. You made it for you and you love it!! Works for me.

  31. I love the quilt, very cute! It is possible that after some time your son won't remember his reaction to the quilt. Good luck on your goal of finishing your UFO's. Maybe I should set that for my 50th which is in 1 year and 2 weeks!

  32. Leah
    I learnt much later in motherhood....the best thing a child could give you besides their love was trust ....they know what ever they through at you you will always love them ... I think this is the best thing ever. Your son did this when he lost his cool over the quilt .... I read a book on motherhood that really emphasised this.
    Melt downs in families are common, people don't talk about them But it's what you each learn from them a cuddle and love is the most important thing when we all cool down ...hate to tell you this will happen again ... Yep he will love the quilt and you will remember this weekend when you reach for that quilt ...don't hid the quilt ..use it will show how you both have grown as a parent and child
    Big hug

  33. Thanks so much for sharing this and for the good tips about avoiding hurt feelings when gifting a handmade gift. I posted a link on so others could benefit from your experience and insights.

  34. Wow, your post really stikes a cord with me as I am going through something similar right now - but not with a small child. I like what you have to say about giving quilts as gifts. I guess the bottom line is once the quilt is given, it is gone and no longer ours... it would probably help if we could cut the emotional cord to the quilt, also. It must have been difficult to share such a private story so publicly, but please know that you have really brightened my day today and given me new perspective on quilt and hand-made gift giving. I'm sure you've helped a lot of people. Thank you.

  35. Leah, I agree w/everything you said. I quilt FOR ME. Great tip about stockpiling baby quilts. Thank you so very much!!!

  36. I started quilting because I loved quilts and I 'wanted' one. I found out that I also liked making them, and I have given many many away. I realize though that many of the people I give them to have never thought about quilts or wanted one. I can only hope that the quilt will be appreciated and valued more than a blanket from Walmart. It is rather disappointing to spend hours and dollars on a quilt and to see it misused or have it unappreciated, even to the point of not even a perfunctory thank you, but as someone else mentioned, when we give them away they are no longer ours and we should cut the strings and realize that we have no control and don't deserve any control, they aren't ours anymore. Once I sent about 5 quilts to a relatives children and I didn't hear anything for weeks. Finally I got thank yous, and now I see them treasured, they always use them and even travel with them, but it took awhile for any acknowledgement. I'll bet your son will love his quilt one day and I think that you handled it with grace and wisdom.

  37. I just had to comment here. I made a 25th anniversary quilt for one of my sons and DIL. It was the first applique quilt I did with even an applique/vine and flower border. I SLAVED over it. For the backing I just sewed together all the 30s fabic I could find so I could get it out of the studio. When I sent it to them I asked for a picture of them with the quilt. The picture was of the back. She said she liked that side best. I was crushed. However, I remembered that my mantra has been "once a gift is given it is theirs to do with what they want." However, it makes a difference in what future gifts I make/send. ;-)

  38. Leah, I've looking at James' quilt and I can't see raw edges on it at all. Did you just use the technique and then satin stitch around it. I'm following Carol Ann's course now and love the technique but I think for bed quilts that will be washed a lot you can't leave raw edges - or is that another Quilting Police myth?

  39. B - I clipped some of the fabric really close to the stitching lines so it won't appear as wildly frayed in the photo.

    I also remember hearing we don't want excessive fraying for bed quilts because all the threads can clog your washer. But then what about rag quilts?

    I smell a Quilt Policy rule here and I plan to break it thoroughly. Stitch and slash was the best method to make James's quilt and I look forward to it getting as frayed and raggedy as possible!




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