The Free Motion Quilting Project: Happiness and Show Quilting

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Happiness and Show Quilting

Yesterday I received the wonderful news that my quilt 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs has won a first place ribbon at Road to California!
 I'm very pleased with this award and how well this quilt is doing in shows so far. It's an odd quilt because it doesn't really have a true pattern or design other than all the different filler designs, which you have to get pretty close to the quilt to see.

Winning this ribbon this week made me stop and reflect on how competition quilting has changed for me over the years.

When I first began show quilting, I NEEDED a ribbon. I needed the validation and confirmation that I was good enough. I just didn't have the self esteem to believe it on my own. Most of my thoughts ran in circles around feeling inadequate, but always with the hope that another quilt, another ribbon, another prize would make me feel better about myself.

Then as I won more ribbons, I began to feel like my quilts were being hijacked. Was I designing them for me, or to make a judge happy? Judge's opinions can vary so greatly from show to show. Once a quilt won an honorable mention at one show, then turned right around and won Best Machine Quilting at another. I couldn't deal with this inconsistency, and when I "lost" I was always absolutely devastated.

When making the quilts, my thoughts were a swirl of negativity. It has to be PERFECT! Why did you make that STUPID mistake? WHY are you even trying this technique? You're not good enough.

Eventually I got so frustrated with myself and my unrealistic need for perfection, I had to stop making show quilts. I just burned out and stopped competing in 2011. I just couldn't take the negativity it was generating in my life.

It took me a few years and reading several good books to finally pull out of that funk. The Power of Habit was one of the most helpful books for identifying the negative thought patterns that were causing me so much trouble.

I realized that winning couldn't make me happy in a sustainable way. It's a brief surge of pleasure and excitement, then back to the regular pattern of thoughts and feelings from before.

If I'm feeling depressed and sad, winning might bring out a smile for a day, but more than likely I'd be right back to thinking sad, depressed thoughts again. The most important thing I've learned in the last three years is that happiness, security, and contentment are a choice. 

I can choose to be kind to myself and accepting of my abilities, or I can choose to be my own worst enemy. I used to expect to feel elated for WEEKS after a big win, but it just doesn't work like that. More quilts, more ribbons, more awards - none of it matters if I don't feel good about myself to start with.

So now it's 2015 and I'm competing again, but this time, winning isn't my goal. I can't explain how I turned the corner except to say that my new goal is far more important and achievable than just winning.

Instead I show this quilt out of a desire for her just to be seen and appreciated.

I show now just to share. I want to show up and put my work out there and for everyone to see what I can do, but I could care less what a one or two judges have to say about it!

I don't travel much and quilters rarely get to see my quilts in person. By entering shows, many more people will get the chance to see my quilts and appreciate them close up and personal. I much prefer to keep this quilt moving from show to show rather than rolled up in the closet.

This transformation of attitude has been such an amazing relief! I can truly say that winning a ribbon is just the icing on the cake. It's not my purpose to enter, but a nice side benefit. I much prefer to receive emails and comments from quilters who have attended the show and loved seeing the quilt I entered. That is the whole point!

So if you're going to Road to California this weekend, make sure to keep your eyes out for 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs. I'm not sure where she's headed next, but I know for sure she's not done yet!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Congratulations on your ribbon! And what an amazing quilt, I think this every time I see it.

    I like your attitude towards showing. I like to put quilts in shows as a goal for myself- I'm not to the ability where I'd think I could even win a ribbon, so I don't worry about that.

    Does Road to California offer judges critiques?
    I had a quilt (actually, your Winter Wonderland) in an AQS show, and it felt great to see it there, and to overhear what a few people said about it- but I felt like there was no benefit to being in the show (and paying a lot of money in entry and shipping). I'm now seeking out shows where you get judges comments. I know some of those comments might be infuriating and personal preference based, but it still gives me an opportunity to grow.

    1. The only AQS show that offers comments is Paducah. The rest don't. Road emails their comments and they are nice about it :-)

    2. Awesome- good to know about Road to California.

      I don't know if I could get a quilt into Paducah, like Houston- they seem to be WAY higher standard, you almost have to be a professional quilter.

  2. I so agree with you Leah. I enter my quilts for them to be seen and the ribbon is just an extra pat on the back. Entering in local shows, county and state fairs are fun as people that you know can see your quilts when they have no opportunity otherwise. Also shows can spark an idea for someone else too.

  3. Congrats Leah - that is so awesome! I totally echo your sentiments about entering shows. It's so much more fun to enter for the sake of sharing rather than for the sake of winning!!
    Yay! Hopefully I'll get to see it in person some day.

  4. Congratulations!! I love Your Quilts and classes :)

  5. Despite the transitory nature (as you point out) of winning, it is still a very nice external validation (more than most of us get). You should be very proud and enjoy it while it lasts.

  6. Congratulations on the ribbon and recognition. It is an amazing quilt in many ways. Thanks for sharing your designs and talent.

  7. I saw this quilt today! It's amazing. I didn't realize it was yours (read the signs Sue). I'll be back at the show tomorrow for a closer look. Congrats!

  8. Leah as always thanks for your honesty and bravery. All is us have those feelings. Few will share. Thank you for being the one to share.

  9. I got to see your 365 quilt at Road to Ca this weekend. It is even more beautiful and interesting in person! That was a real treat for me. Thanks!

  10. Congratulations Leah. I understand, respect and agree with your perspective on winning. I know there can be big prize money at shows, but it sometimes just doesn't seem fun or inspirational when I meet a quilter who is so focused on winning that they lose sight of all the sharing and inspiration that comes with a quilt show. As Road 2 CA is juried, it is even an honor to get a quilt into this show.

    But even better than winning.....I was delighted to see your quilt at this show, take pictures, chat with fellow admirers. Many knew who you are and appreciated all your teaching and expertise, while some had not heard of you but went away very eager to learn from you. Very special in deed. Old and new admires all enjoyed seeing your quilt and they were I was too! It is a beautiful quilt and even more beautiful up close.



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