Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Feeling Humble

Do you ever feel humble when you see a beautiful, perfect quilt? Made perhaps by someone with more talent than you possess? I've been studying antique quilts lately and to be honest I haven't felt very talented. I think many of us feel this way at times.  (I hope I'm not the only one!) Seeing antique Baltimore Album quilts or quilts with a lot of applique do this to me. But - when I do feel this way, I always try to put it into perspective. This quilter probably had many more years of sewing experience than I do and started quilting early as many women did in the 19th century.
 
 
(Courtesy: American Folk Art Museum. Artist unknown. Found in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 1845–1850. Cotton with wool embroidery)
 
I know I will never be able to make a quilt as intricate or beautiful as that one if I live to be 90.  Despite my excuses, I guess I still have a difficult time reconciling THAT talent with MY talent. But it makes me wonder - did the maker of this quilt have a humble beginning too? What was her story?
 
Looking at my own early quilts always humbles me. But it's a rewarding kind of humility. I don't feel humbled in a bad way or ashamed that my early quilts leave a lot to be desired artistically. This little quilt below was probably the second or third quilt I ever made. (Will I show you the first one? Nah, don't think so. THAT would truly be a humbling experience . . . .)
 
 
I look at this quilt and I feel okay with my humble beginnings because I know I am a better quilter now than I was then. Like a child, all I could do then was make four patches. Putting them on point was a huge challenge for me I remember. I wasn't born a quilter. It wasn't a gift or a skill that was passed down to me either. I learned the hard way, all by myself, making the most of what I was able to do when I was able to do it. At first, I didn't really know how to use a rotary cutter or understand that you should not cut off block points, LOL. Early on, I was often too proud or embarrassed to ask for help, feeling humbled when I went into quilt shops or attended shows where I viewed perfect quilts. But I sure didn't let it stop me from going forward. I am always amazed that I persevered, considering how lacking in talent I felt. Here's what I found: quilting made my heart sing. And because of that I was humbled into trying to do better.
 
Although I've made some nice quilts, pretty even, they're hardly spectacular in any way. I often wonder . . . . what would it feel like to make a spectacular quilt like that Baltimore Album quilt? Despite all my negative ramblings on perfection, sometimes I think I really want to make a spectacular quilt one of these days. Just to see if I can.

 
When I teach, I often get asked by students how I come up with designs and color combinations for my quilts. How am I able to put fabrics together so that the pieces turn out pleasing? How can they learn to design their own quilts? Here's what I tell them: Study quilts. A lot. For me it was antique quilts. (I'm still studying.) Find quilts you like and try to figure out what it is about them that makes your heart sing. Is it the colors, or a certain color? Is it the complexity of the design? Or the simplicity? Is it how the blocks dance or flow throughout the quilt? Then, incorporate those qualities into YOUR quilts (but don't copy). I happen to love simple antique quilts and I think what I love about them most is their inherent humility. Or maybe it's that simple quilts are more in line with my talents right now. But, who knows, I may make spectacular quilts someday. I just made a promise that I will still be humble if I ever do  : )

 
I feel humbled when my quilts are on display at a show. (Apparently, I feel annoyed too, judging from the look I was giving my husband while he took photos . . . .) How on earth did I get here from that little four-patch doll quilt?
  
Sometimes I feel like it's a race. With myself, to make spectacular quilts, like so many others. I have to stop myself from going too fast, pushing too hard.  It will come in time. Remember: Quilters, it's a journey, your journey, and each one of us is trotting along at a different pace. If you dream of making spectacular quilts, well then, persevere and never give up. Remember and honor your beginnings and be gentle with yourself. Don't rush the process and don't compare. And stay humble when you get there.
 

 

23 comments:

Colleen said...

Wow!!! You've summed up everything that I've ever thought and felt about my own quilting journey over the last 14+ years.

I guess no matter how long we've been quilting, we all want to make something that "speaks" to ourselves and possibly to others. It's a learning process that never ends :)

Kathleen C said...

I identify with so much of what you wrote today. Sometimes I wonder, "How did that quilter make something so intricate or beautiful, how did she think of that creative design?". At the same time, I'm pleased with what I make (usually :), and I continue to learn from doing, seeing and reading.
I always enjoy your posts and your photos; thank you for sharing with us.

Sharyn Mallow Woerz said...

My guess is, whatever her station in life, lady of leisure or ladies maid, she did not have 8 or 88 or 880 projects going. She didn't have the computer/TV/phone to distract her, needlework WAS her distraction.

And I'm guessing she started with a sampler and built her skills from there. In our instant gratification society we have a tendency to forget the most simple rule of all, practice makes perfect.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Well said, Sharyn. Thanks for the reminder.

Heartsdesire said...

Did you forget about your Dear Jane quilt? It's going to be a wonderfully spectacular quilt. And you've persevered and, so far, not given up.

audrey said...

Love this post! You've articulated perfectly what many of us feel and here you are essentially at the top of your game. I guess we never quit learning do we?

quiltgrannie said...

Great post Kathy, It's nice to be reminded that we don't have to be perfect. If your so stressed about wanting to quilt like a professional than you certainty are not enjoying the game!

paulette said...

Loved your post...SEW true!! Loved seeing your progression!!
P

Anonymous said...

I haven't made a small quilt yet that didn't have a cut off point or a seam that didn't quite line up but I keep trying and I learn something new with each one.
And more important it is something that makes me feel happy from the inside out.

Jans said...

And Always enjoy the making of your quilt and be proud of what you do.
And I love your quilts.
Greetings from Janny Schoneveld

pandchintz said...

Here, here - well said and thank you for saying it!

Donna said...

I love your post today. Quilting truly is a journey. One that I've enjoyed immensely and continue to enjoy and learn about every day. I can't wait to get home from work so I can play on my sewing machine! Thank you for saying out loud what I've been thinking to myself.

Debra W said...

I completely understand how you feel. For many years I felt very timid about joining our local quilt guild. When I finally did, I was further intimidated by the talent that I was exposed to. Beautiful and original quilts that bore no resemblance to my own simple, hand-quilted creations. Over time, I learned to appreciate the work of others, without feeling inadequate. This past year, I finally worked up the nerve to exhibit one of my own quilts, and to my delight, it received very favorable comments!

Rosa said...

Estoy de acuerdo contigo y has reflejado lo que siento cuando veo algunos quilts y más las aplicaciones ya que se me.dan fatal.
Me encanta visitar blogs para ver los proyectos y me encanta como varían al usar telas diferentes en el mismo proyecto.
Debo decir que disfruto mucho viendo quilts y proyectos con telas.

Kellie from Indiana said...

I do know that since I began quilting fourteen years ago, I started simple and immediately jumped to advanced. I became frustrated and walked away for a couple years. I still reach obstacles. I get confused, or cannot afford the bells and whistles that can make things great. It is like that in every craft I learned. I want to do it all or nothing type thinking. I ignore it now, and focus on what I can do, and I found I can applique, and well, when I never thought I could. Or quilt my own quilts (when I dont break the darning foot- theres a reason its called "darning" foot). I try to put an advisory on myself when checking out others work because theres always THAT quilt or quilter that brings envy and feelings of being inadequate so I simply say good for them, thanks for sharing, and turn off the internet so I can recapture why I do it anyway. I do it to feel good, no bad feelings allowed ;). I dont know if this makes sense. If not, I blame my coffee which is real strong this morning!

Kathleen Tracy said...

Kellie - I think you speak for many quilters out there. Thanks for sharing.

Kathy

Kurt Schindler said...

Last Tuesday morning, I finished a paper pieced feathered star with a flying geese border. It measured about 17 inches square. I loved how it looked and was pleased that I persevered since paper piecing is not my favorite technique. Then I went to my guild meeting that evening. The guest speaker specialized in paper piecing mariner compass and similar type blocks - only she made some huge quilts and lots of them. To be honest, I felt a little deflated and humbled. However, the next morning I checked out my feathered star mini again and I still felt proud of my accomplishment even though I was not in the same league as the guest speaker.

Charlotte

V.E. (Wales) said...

I do so agree with Sharyn (above) in that 150++ yrs ago life was not filled with 'techno' distractions nor the pressures we are under today. The quilt may also have been a group project, but whatever its origin it is an inspiration. I have just turned my hands and mind to quilting after years of crochet, craftwork and garment making, so I feel humbled when I see YOUR work - and that of other gifted quilters. I hope that I will, eventually, learn to love the dreaded 1/4" (accurate) seams !!
Val E (Wales, UK)

agullainquieta said...

Tots els treballs fets amb amor són bonics, no cal que siguin perfectes!
Una abraçada

deb @ frugal little bungalow said...

I had to chuckle when I started to read this post as I ALWAYS feel humble when seeing other's quilts...yet that is exactly what inspires me to try to do better and to learn more :)

Jennifer M said...

Kathy this is a beautiful post. All of us feel like this at times. Your quilts are beautiful and always remember you are a huge inspiration to many...not to mention you are also an author of wonderful quilt books, owned and admired by many:)Thanks for all you do always!

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tawa said...

Thanks, you have just summed up very eloquently my fears and doubts over my new hobby of quilting. I love the finished product i see, but don't know how to achieve it quite yet. Being one of those driven, highly educated PhD types, I have a tendency to aim high, but forget that even in these sort of arts, a long period of apprenticeship was likely the norm, up until modern times. Now of course we jump straight into it, and start churning out quilts.
I am struggling with this, and am trying to find a way of learning that involves slowing down, learning the basics well, emphasising learning a technique rather than churning out a quilt. At my quilt shop many women turn out project after project, but I would happily complete one quilt a year if it were beautiful and well made. Is there a branch of quilting that is less about the latest fabric line, and more about capturing other social aspects of quilting, the meaning of the design, community, history.

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