At the start of this year, I still considered myself a novice.
The general agreement for the "novice" label in quilting is that it's the first two years of practice. Funnily enough, it's the same with running. I can see why. It's been the last month or two really that I've stopped thinking of myself as a novice, and thinking of myself as just a "quilter". Certainly not artisan or "experienced" status, but I've definitely thrown off my novice's cloak and I guess in old fashioned terms I'd be considered a journeyman. A P plater? ;)
Part of that progression has been this piece: the Building Blocks Quilt Along (BBQA) run by the wonderful Leah Day. I started this with great excitement and anticipation at the start of the year, and I've been running with it on and off since January. At times I've run ahead with it, more often than not I've run behind. Part of this was due to the nature of the time differences in Australia: Leah posted the videos on Sunday/Monday there, which meant they went up on Tuesday here.
What I discovered in this is that my motivation is a fragile little beastie. I'd look at other people's updates and photos while I struggled with my long workdays (8am to 6pm on Tuesdays) and generally be way too tired to do anything until the weekend, when by then I'd missed the boat for posting with everyone else. A shared quilt-along, it seems, relies on you being able to really join in. It felt like I couldn't.*
So I didn't. I fell right behind. Way behind.
One of the best things about this quilt-along is that Leah has been sharing a lot of herself in this - her own learning experience, her struggles, her doubts. I stop so many times and shake my head at her courage in opening up and making herself vulnerable, in order to share her learning as a quilter and as a person. Another thing I discovered along the way is that when I'm thwarted, and my (cognitive and emotional) resources are low, I become buried in a deep sense of personal failure.
I don't work like other people. I have some issues around intensity and focus - a tendency to get obsessed with something for a while and then move on to the next thing, huge amounts of energy at times, sometimes stupidly focused to the exclusion of all else, difficulty doing what I "should" when I want to be doing what I "want", high levels of frustration when thwarted. I had to learn frustration tolerance early, and I *can* do it - but it's often a fight. And when I'm tired, sometimes I lose that fight. Something I've discovered this year, with the BBQA, is that I just don't suit regular, spaced out workloads. I have to run with the energy when it comes, so that when it's *not* there, I don't feel guilty, or like a failure.
Sound weird? Maybe. But it works. And, like I've been encouraging others to do, I'm not punishing myself for who and what I am any more - I'm making the decision to work to my strengths. My strength, it seems, is working in short intense bursts, followed by rest (which may include the mental workload of planning and designing the next project, so isn't necessarily unproductive either, but is definitely low key, relaxed, unforced and restful).
Last weekend I went all out, got out my big pile of mouldering fabric, and decided to go for broke. I completed the squares and the piecing in a matter of (several very frantic and intense) days. I quilted like a maniac. Some of it is good, some of it's not so good.
This isn't how the quilt was meant to be done, but this was the only way I could do it that didn't involve guilt, misery and frustration. I'm sure Leah would agree that this isn't the point of quilting!
The other thing I discovered was a technical discovery about myself and my work. I have a very very VERY different style of quilting to Leah. I've been working on a few designs - the phoenix quilt, the Tula Pink Moxie quilt (aka the peacock feather quilt), and it seems my style (for the moment at least) is all about sweeping lines, open designs, mostly unstructured and improvised. Even the peacock feather has only part of it marked, the curls and small curves down the main feather shaft are all just made up on the spot. Not much in the way of circles, pebbling, echoing, or other classic quilting designs/patterns. I found that the squares which I slavishly copied in design were stilted, wobbly and uncertain. The squares which I just ran round with the machine and made up myself (designed or improvised) were smoother, better quality work.
I'm guessing I know what Leah's input here would be: "Great! that's exactly what I want you to do - find your own way of doing this!" (am I close, Leah? hehe) So even though I ended up doing much of the later squares completely differently, I was still learning. Take the plunge. Find your own style. Find your own way. Fly! :D
Finally, I have decided that quilt as you go (QAYG) is just way too wasteful. Today I've been trimming the squares back to their 8 inch ready-to-assemble size, and my heart sinks every time I look at my waste bin and the staggering volume of wasted fabric and batting. I know this is the nature of QAYG as a technique, and I knew it was coming, but it's still hard to process. Considering the ease with which I baste and quilt a full sized king or queen, I have no doubt that this will be a one-off for me.
So this one's almost in the bag. I still have to do the putting-together of all the squares, and the binding. I don't like it much at the moment. It might be that it's too traditional for my tastes, which isn't a criticism of anything here (not the pattern nor traditional quilts), so I'm thinking I might auction it and give the dollars to Beyond Blue.
My sincerest thanks go to Leah for the countless hours she puts into her teaching. I would never have progressed in the craft the way I have if not for her inspiring talks about loving and accepting your imperfections, and just diving in and going for it.
* I want to point out here that this post might come across as negative in places. It's not! This is a whole lotta learning right here, and that is HUGELY valuable to me. This isn't a criticism of Leah Day, who I admire and respect greatly, nor of the Building Blocks quilt pattern. These are judgement free observations, and I'm sharing them with you as part of my own learning journey. I approached this in the spirit of curiosity and openness, and I learned SO MUCH. I'm hugely grateful in particular to Leah Day, whose generosity and warmth has given me enjoyment of an experience which could easily have turned into a chore.