The Free Motion Quilting Project: The Paradox of Choice

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Paradox of Choice

Ah, yes, the The Paradox of Choice ! I've been listening to this audiobook today as I turn the edges and glue together the giant pieces of the Dream Goddess:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

She will be together completely by this time tomorrow! It's really exciting to be getting back to my goddess series and moving quickly from design to construction.

Which brings me back to The Paradox of Choice - how many choices have gone into this quilt already? Allow me to list them all:

How will the goddess look?
What color will each piece be?
How big will the quilt finish?
Will it be a bed quilt, art quilt, or a mix of the two?
Will I compete with this quilt?
What type of fabric should I use? Print, batik, hand dyed, hand painted?
What thread will I use?
What colors of thread will piece the quilt and quilt it?
What quilting designs will I use on the surface?

I could go on, but I think you get my point. Making a quilt requires a LOT of decisions and there are literally millions of choices. Just the choices between fabrics and threads is mind boggling!

Which is why reading this book is particularly fascinating to me while I work on it. Unlike all previous quilts, for Dream Goddess I have deliberately limited my choices. Or rather, I have declared one master rule for this project:  

Once a decision is made, it cannot be changed.

I tend to be super annoyingly wishy washy when it comes to quilt construction. Should I applique or piece? I don't know... On Monday I'm dead set on applique, then on Tuesday morning I change my mind and decided to piece it instead. Then on Tuesday afternoon I flip back to applique. ARGH!

I'm really tired of this habit and I'm determined to break it with this quilt. Make up your mind and STICK WITH IT! The more I change my mind, the slower I make every decision and the more unsure I feel about it.

According to the book I'm reading, this is very typical. We like to have some choice, but the more choices and decisions you have to make, the more stressful the experience becomes. Just consider all the different colors of Isacord thread - there are over 300 different color. Which is the RIGHT one?

When faced with an endless variety of options, the easier path is not to make a decision but to stare indecisively at the thread rack and drool on the floor. Which I have done in various quilt shops for more time than I care to admit.

I now believe that this is a core reason why I didn't feel very happy with my last few goddess quilts - I had too many options and didn't feel capable of making the BEST decision. I got bogged down mostly in the construction of these quilts and choose complicated, fiddly ways of putting them together.

I also easily get stuck when picking filler designs. Pretty easy to do when we have over 400 to choose from! I get so nitpicky because the designs can really alter the appearance of a quilt from a distance depending on the thread color you use. The only way to know what you will get is to stitch it out on scrap fabric, hang it on a wall, step back and see if you like it.

But testing like this gets boring quick and I'm tired of feeding what is behind it all - the monster that constantly quests for perfection and is never, ever satisfied because this thing or that thing could always have been BETTER.

I want to love my quilts and love the process of creating them. As I read this book, I see now that limiting my choices will likely lead to more satisfaction when the quilt is finished. Rather searching through the entire catalog of thread colors, I'm going to just pick what I already have on hand. Rather than testing 100 different filler designs, I'm going to pick the 10 that jump in my head first.

Rather than vacillating between 10 different ways to construct this quilt, I choose the easiest, fastest method - No Sewing Until You Quilt It - and this top will be finished in just 2 days.

Ultimately I've found this process exhilarating! It's wonderful to be able to move this quickly on a project, and liberating to free myself from constant questioning. Whenever I want to change my mind or question a decision all I've had to do is remind myself of the rule - once a decision is made, it's made. Move on.

I now think that limiting choices is a good thing and am planning to reduce my fabric stash considerably. Just the limitation with this quilt to only use hand dyed fabric forced me to use fabric more creatively and quickly than I have in the past. No, the colors didn't always turn out the way I wanted, but ultimately I think this quilt is going to be far more beautiful because it hasn't been micro-managed to death.

So how about you? When faced with your entire stash of fabric can you easily pull colors and start on a new project? Have you ever set yourself a rule like not changing decisions? What aspects of quilting to you love or hate the most because of the decisions you have to make?

Let's go quilt!



  1. Omg. This is sooo like me! I need an intervention! Making decisions when confronted with MANY options is VERY HARD! Have you ever had the same problem when at the drug store picking up cough/cold meds?
    Anyway, I'm going to look up the book. Thanks for being honest.

    1. You should see me try to pick out hair spray! I tend to be VERY brand specific for this reason. Once I know something works, I never change brands / types until I absolutely can't find it anywhere. Call it OCD, but I hate shopping and I really hate having to pick between 100 different nearly identical products!

  2. Oh Leah, thank you! I go through this storm of questions in my head when I think about having to quilt this dragon T shirt quilt for my nephew. I started FMQ for practice on a quilt I started 10 years ago ( purple, teach yourself how to quilt from a book project). I am still fiddling with it. It's where I audition and practice one of your designs. Then there's the Build a Block, where I practice what you teach. Then there's the T shirt quilt I am working on for a friend that is just being done in a diamond pattern with a walking foot because I have never done a whole queen sized quilt before and i am scared to death of messing it up. So I have worked on everything but FMQ the dragon because of fear over not being able to decide which of your many patterns to put where. So I am avoiding it and doing all these other things while the dragon sits in the UFO pile all pieced, batted and basted.....just waiting. It's all of the choices. It's mind boggling. It's terrifying. Maybe I will put a few in a hat and pick one. It's so good to know that you go through the same thing! Some people have such an artistic eye. Do they evolve their projects , or do they start with a vision that is complete? Maybe a little of both? I will follow your lead and just pick a pattern and go for it! No looking back. :)

    1. Here's my advice (cause I've been stuck like this too!) - pick the top 5 designs that come to mind that you can stitch nicely. They don't have to be perfect, but it will help if you have some experience quilting them. Make the list on a piece of paper and keep it next to your sewing machine. Now when you sit down to quilt the dragons you have only 5 choices. If that is still too many, roll a die or do ennie minnie miney mo.

      I now think the key to knowing what goes well is volume. The more you quilt, the more experience you have with designs, and the better you can see where things will fit nicely. I'm aiming to knock out 100 little art quilts - nothing huge or spectacular, but they are already changing my perspectives about color and design placement just from the experience of quilting two so far.

  3. Sometimes a choice of few is so much better. As I get older the more I am unable to reach any sort of decision so well done on the mantra once the decision is made it's made. All your quilts look wonderful. Believe in yourself!

  4. Everybody is different, and that's okay. I have an enormous fabric stash and have no problems choosing fabric from it for different projects. I would be enormously frustrated to the point of not being able to proceed if my choices were limited. I swim in a sea of choices and use my creativity to create beauty out of anarchy. I allow myself to make design changes at all stages of the process. Yes I have ripped apart many quilts to just replace a few pieces of fabric that weren't working for me.For me it is not a race, or a contest, it is a creative journey of self expression. As long as I am learning, and growing, and sharing, I am happy.

    I totally get that this process is different for everyone. Quilting should be fun. Do what makes you happy.

  5. For years I've done exactly what you're talking about fact I vacillate and second-guess myself so much that I can literally feel my energy ebbing, sometimes to the point that my stomach gets upset. It's so ridiculous, and you are so right--too many choices only make things more difficult (which is why I deplore huge grocery stores). But one thing you said really struck me: "Rather than testing 100 different filler designs, I'm going to pick the 10 that jump in my head first." Recently I realized that what 'jumps in to our heads first' is actually our Creator-given INTUITION...and that if we just go with our intuition, life will be a lot simpler!! It was there all along; I just wasn't paying attention to it...or if it did get my attention, I doubted it. We really can be our worst enemies. So glad you are figuring out all these life lessons 30 years earlier than I did!!


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