I just joined quiltuniversity.com, thanks to my friend Amy Feldman, who’s taken several classes there. But what struck me this month was the article by Quilt U’s dean, Carol Miller, who wrote about her feelings in relationship to quilting and how they've changed over the years. The article really resonated with me—I, too, have bounded from all-out enthusiasm, to bafflement, awe, and feelings of inadequacy, and finally to acceptance of where I am on my own creative journey.
Anyway, I thought you would enjoy it, too, and Carol graciously gave me her permission to reprint it, so here it is…
Quilt University March 2009 Newsletter
by Carol Miller, Dean
Marking 30 years as a quilter is a lot like celebrating a 30th wedding anniversary. You are still in the same relationship and yet, it is not the same at all.
Looking back, I think there are five stages to my relationship with quilting. The first stage was Discovery. Quilts had always been there but I hadn't really noticed them. There was no magic between us. One day, we just clicked and suddenly, I was seeing quilts everywhere: flea markets, magazines, the backgrounds on TV shows and movies. Each new sighting raised my interest level.
That led to stage two, Exploration. Now it wasn't enough to run into quilts by accident, I began to seek them out on purpose. I searched the library, often being forced to wade through general craft books to find one article on quilts. (I know it's hard to believe, but there was no Internet way back then and no personal computers at home, either.) I haunted the local drugstore with the best newsstand, waiting for new issues of the three available quilting magazines, even though the pictures were in black and white!
Soon, just looking was not enough. I had to touch and own the object of my desire. Stage three was Obsession and Acquisition. Magazines began to pile up. There were only a few books in the late 70's and 80's and not all the bookstores carried them. I had to range further afield on my hunt. I heard rumors about a needlework shop that carried quilting fabrics in a town 50 miles away. Off I went. I stopped in their bookstore as well. The hunt was half the fun.One of those early books had 501 block patterns and I pored over those avidly, marking dozens of blocks I wanted to try. I began accumulating patterns, too. There was always a line of quilts waiting to be made, shouting "me next!." Quilting had become all-consuming. I joined a guild and found others who were as obsessed as I was.
When I had been quilting 10 years, the Mancuso brothers started the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival. The first year, I was so overwhelmed by all the riches before me, I came away with a marking pencil, a stencil and a book. Those were the days when I only bought fabric for the quilt I was making. (insert maniacal laughter here) I was permanently cured of that mindset two years later when I took my first class at Mid-Atlantic. It was a two day seminar with Doreen Speckmann.We were supposed to design a quilt using many different fabrics. I took one look at the suitcases the other students had brought with them and went down to the merchant mall. You guessed it. I went a little wild that weekend and bought 200 different fabrics. In my defense, they were nearly all fat quarters or half yards and fabric was a lot less expensive then. Thrilled with my wonderful new choices, I cut a swatch from each one and made a notebook so I would know what I had. The idea was to carry that with me in the future so I wouldn't buy the same fabric again.In practice, it was a silly idea. Can you imagine leafing through a big notebook, looking to see if the fabric in front of you is already in the book? And doing this while hundreds of people are pushing around you trying to get to the fabric? Just the thought of carrying anything extra with me to quilt shows was enough to make me abandon my catalog idea. Eventually, I realized that if I bought the same fabric again, that must mean I really liked it, so it was okay to have another piece.(Sadly, Doreen isn't with us anymore, but I am glad to say that I got a chance to see her many more times and to tell her that she had changed the way I looked at quilting.)
Still in stage three, I continued to gobble up books and classes, sewing like a demon when I got home from work and sometimes telling my family I was on vacation for a whole weekend, so I could hide in the sewing room. I was getting better at piecing. A class with Marsha McCloskey introduced me to the concept of squaring up and now my quilt blocks went together smoothly. I devoured the color books by Jinny Beyer, Joen Wolfrom and Mary Coyne Penders. Friends and family heaped compliments on my quilts. Regional quilt shows still fired me up and sent me steaming back to my sewing machine.
And then a funny thing happened. I went to International Quilt Festival. It was mind-bending. The level of excellence was staggering and I entered stage four: Awe and Unworthiness. I looked at work by people like Caryl Bryer Fallert and knew that I would never make anything that came even remotely close. Should I stop quilting and find something else to do?I thought about it on the way home. Instead of being inspired and eager to get back in my sewing room, I was feeling overwhelmed by inadequacy. And then I realized I was being an idiot. Who said I was in competition with anyone? When I ate a great meal in a restaurant, did it make me give up cooking? Of course not.
I had arrived at stage five: Contentment. For me, quilting is a process. I love all the parts: dreaming about the design, choosing the fabrics, watching the pieces come together as I work, seeing the final top take shape on the wall, putting that last stitch in the binding and feeling a deep sense of achievement when the quilt is ready to use. Continuing to try new things keeps it fresh and exciting for me.
Wherever you are on this continuum, I hope you are finding joy and satisfaction in your quilting.