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.