The most frequent question that people ask me about my work is some variation of "why". Why quilting? Why do you do this full time? Why is this your medium?
As Kate Toney, the host of the Creative Women's League Podcast, said: once you find your why, the rest will fall into place. Or something like that. So, for all of you that have asked WHY I am a quilter and why I've chosen to make this my career, here's a long answer for you. Even longer than last week's explanation, I guess a more in-depth version to some of the aspects I mentioned before. I originally wrote this piece for a magazine and it ultimately didn't make the cut. Like all true whys, it's deeply personal and rooted in experience. Whatever, deal with it. Not every story is peachy.
Also in this post: A preview of the pattern I'm testing for the lovely Suzy Quilts, that releases TOMORROW! And I've also scoured the web for some crafty deals for you.
Quilting is a way to overcome geography and tell cultural stories, about where we’ve been and where we are going. It’s an outlet to soothe wanderlust and provide inner stability.
I moved around a lot as a kid. Not in the cool, hip, nomadic as choice way that you see families doing now, renovating a bus and traveling across the country, chronicling their adventures on social media, for a profit. Our relocation, every year or so, was more out of desperately searching for a place we belonged. Where I belonged. You see, I was an unplanned kid of teenage parents. It’s not that I wasn’t loved, it was just difficult to fit me into the family. We’ve since worked it out. It helps that I’m grown, married, and have a family of my own. Anyways. I lived with my grandparents for awhile, and then with my mom, then with my dad. And they moved a lot too. Maybe this is a relic from how both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were raised, with fathers in the military: between them, they’ve lived on four continents and continued moving around frequently in their adult lives.
I suppose there’s other factors that influenced this lack of a stable home base. Like when you’re under the poverty line, stability isn’t an option. If you want any hope of getting into the middle class, you have to move to where the jobs are, again and again. You have to chase opportunity as if you’re a child chasing their parent that is leaving, like that scene in I, Tonya where little Tonya Harding is trying to keep her dad from separating from the family. Being in the lower class is like that. I have no idea how many different homes I’ve occupied in my twenty-five years, but I estimate it’s around the same number as my age.
I come from a restless family, a fact of which, when stated alone, is not necessarily noteworthy. I think a lot of people come from restless families. What’s particular about my family is that relocation seemed to be the solution to any malaise in our lives. It’s a habit I picked up. I spent my 18th year around the sun couch-surfing at friend’s homes and at an awful boyfriend’s house while finishing high school. I applied to a university at the very opposite side of the state and moved as soon as I could muster the funds, only a month after graduating high school, and three months before the first quarter of college began. During my first year of college I moved six times. I can’t remember what I was searching for. Comfort? Family? Belonging? Safety? All of those, probably, when I should have just toughed it out in one place and focused on my education. In the six years since then, I’ve moved four times. I spend a lot of time browsing Zillow and Craigslist looking for… I don’t know what. Something cheaper? Something larger? Something more convenient? Something with stellar arched entryways and funky exterior paint? Something inherently better, as if physically being in another place will improve who I am, how I feel about myself, and how I feel about my life. I’m trying to talk my husband into moving to the American Southwest, a place I’ve obviously never been to but feel drawn to. I have this notion that if I live in Santa Fe, I can finally be who I was always meant to be. I know what you’re thinking. Some stability would probably do me some good. You’re right. I married a man who lived in one house his entire life before moving out of his parent’s home, and his parents have lived there for more than 40 years. I like to think we balance each other out in that way.
When I’ve lived in one place longer than a year I start to really feel itchy. Restless. Stagnant. I start forming grandiose daydreams about what life would be like and who I could be if only I lived somewhere else. I get fixated on the idea that I am STUCK and I forget that I am strong, I am capable, and I have no reason not to bloom where I am planted. On the other hand, I do think that each time I shuffle everything in my life, I’m closer to being who I want to be. In the most recent iteration of this cycle, I’ve become a mother, and a full-time textile + fiber artist. At one point, a few months in to living in this place that’s actually quite nice, probably the nicest place I’ve ever lived, I started to feel stuck. My feet were in mud that was quickly turning into cement. I saw myself staying in this town forever, a place that’s great but not perfect. I had a newborn daughter, I had just lost a job I loved after I had asked for a maternity leave longer than my hospital stay, and I was trying to finish a master’s thesis in a field I was no longer passionate about. I was falling into the deep dark scary pit of postpartum depression. My husband was just finishing his degree in Ecology and I saw it as an opportunity, I told him, we could move anywhere. Again, I thought moving would solve my woes and uncertainty. We searched and searched for job opportunities in the promising elsewhere but as it turned out, we stayed (and we’re still here a year later).
I had to do something. Anything. I was at home with a baby, and my life had turned upside down in a way it never had before. The usual shuffling by moving place to place had become a comforting choice, a way to shake it up. I had gotten efficient at moving. I enjoyed the process. Now my life had changed into the glorious, beautiful, thankless role of being a mother. I had to do something, I had to do something, I had to do something. I had to simulate the feeling of moving and changing without changing my geographic location. I had to change something within myself, I had to make my internal compass point the right way. I had to do it without moving. I pushed that aside and kept doing my best to keep my head above water, sought help for depression and did all the things you’re supposed to do to as a new mom. It wasn’t enough.
Out of boredom, out of restlessness, I got out my old sewing machine. I made a quilt for my cousin’s baby on the way. Through the process of cutting up fabric then sewing it back together again, I was able to create the new landscapes that I craved. I fed fabric through the sewing machine, watching my stitches emulate the new-to-me valleys and rivers and property lines that I desperately longed for.
Once I figured out what I was doing, that I was using my hands to make these objects that will outlast me and my wanderlust, I crafted a series of quilts to reflect that sentiment. That collection was hung in a weird bar in Seattle. It was my first artist showcase, and I learned a lot from it, and I've come a long way as a textile designer or artist or whatever since then.
Where I’ve been and where I may or may not be going inspires me and informs my medlies of color, texture, and shape. I try to channel my inner restlessness into something creative.
For example, the West to East Quilt was inspired by the idea of moving from the rainy Pacific Northwest to drier climates. I chose hand-dyed fabrics, batiks and improv-piecing methods to construct the original design. I used the process to analyze my need to move. Improv-piecing, or sewing fabric together without an initial plan and without following a pattern, fulfilled my need to switch things up in my life. I balanced the improv-piecing with a partial traditional block that framed the improv-pieced section, and chose rigid straight line topstitching to represent stability; to represent moving forward without changing direction.
My quilting style, now, mostly reminds me of topography. I seek to create movement and emotion through modern folk statement pieces. I look at quilts as a metaphor for both stability and movement. These quilts that I make while thinking about being anywhere else have traveled to parts of the country that I have never been and probably won’t ever visit. These quilts will outlast my life and my family’s legacy of being uncool nomads. These quilts will become heirlooms. Kids in the next generation will trace the seams and stitches with their tiny curious fingers.
I found a way to chill out, a way to ease my habit of constantly looking forward to what may be next. Quilting allows me to slow down and enjoy the moment. Quilting allows me to realize that life is pretty good right where I’m at. Quilting gives me the rest that my frantic brain needs so that I can put my energy into the things that matter in my life.
I still want to move to Santa Fe, though. Or at least visit.
OKAY so TOMORROW, JUNE 27, Suzy Quilts is releasing a new pattern: The Glitter + Glow Quilt. It's a phenomenal pattern, and I had the honor of joining Suzy's team of badass pattern testers. I will be writing more about this pattern in a future blog post. In the meantime, you can find Suzy's new pattern here TOMORROW.
Read about the quilt here on Suzy's blog.
OKAY so here's some deals. A few of you really loved the link for the free trial of Craftsy Unlimited, so I'm going to try every week to find some more rad deals for y'all. It's so important to me to inspire other people to create amazing things that they're proud of. Making is good for the soul! So here's some deals I found:
50% off a Quickbooks Self-Employed subscription... I use this weekly!
Another tool that I use weekly...
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