Like many women who sew, I used to be a quilter. People who sew often end up quilting for several reasons.
Quilting is far easier than making clothing because quilts are typically flat. People are rounded and come in strange sizes.
Quilting is also kind of mindless. There’s a zen thing about it. You can do it (if you quilt by hand) while watching movies or listening to audio books.
That’s me with Dave in Alaska. But see the quilt behind us?
I made that quilt. In fact, it is sitting behind me as I type this, rolled up, awaiting the wall where it will be hung to become bare.
It’s a beautiful quilt. You can see the moose right between our heads. There is a fisherman near Dave’s ear, and caribou beside my head. And there are flowers unique to the north, and mountains and snow.
But it’s not really very creative.
At least, I wasn’t very creative. I bought a kit to make that quilt. I just thought it was lovely, and I wanted one, and that was the only way to get one. Granted, I did all the cutting of the pieces (zillions of teensy pieces) and then I sewed all the pieces.
But I didn’t create it.
This one is different. For this quilt, I decided to design it myself (I had quilting design software so I could play with shapes), and I further decided that I would only use fabric that I already had stashed. Nothing purchased. In addition, the fabric I used was what we called “why in the hell did I buy that” fabric.
I called it my “ugly quilt.” Or my “use up the stash” quilt.
I created it.
And when it was finished, my friends and I were surprised. It really isn’t ugly at all. It’s not a stupendous creation, but considering that I was working with perfectly ugly fabrics, it turned out pretty good.
I have made gobs of quilts. They run from pieced quilts like the one above (little pieces all sewn together) to applique (like the Alaska quilt, cut out shapes sewn on top of backing fabric), machine made totally, and some I never put anywhere near a sewing machine.
But something I never did was enter a single quilt into a quilt show or contest. Ever. I never really thought about why I didn’t do it. I just didn’t.
And then one day I read an interesting little one-page article in a quilting magazine and I’ve never forgotten it.
The author was talking about quilt shows and why women don’t put quilts into them. Beautiful, gorgeous creative quilts are made all over the world, heirloom quality art, and they remain on the bed in the back bedroom, or sent off to college with the oldest daughter, or cherished by a grandchild until they become rags. And at the same time, perfectly awful quilts are made by people and proudly displayed at quilt shows.
Why is that?
It’s because of fear. There is a reticence that grips you when you think people are going to judge what you’ve done.
Nobody wants to be criticized. Nobody wants to think that something they created, something involving their very best effort, might be found to be not so hot by other people.
It’s much safer to just let the family and friends tell you how lovely that quilt is and put it on the bed in the back room. Or on the wall in the living room. You can imagine how it could have won a prize. It should have won a prize. Hell, it would have won a prize. . . if you’d entered.
This is true with everything, not just quilts, of course.
I blog. When I hit “publish,” I don’t know if people are going to like what I write, or shrug at what I write, or even read what I write. They might think it’s great. They might go over to another forum and talk about what a terrible nurse I was. Or accuse me of being mentally ill.
I’ve been at this for several years, and I’ve become used to the idea that everyone doesn’t love me. It doesn’t hurt my feelings any more. But I admit that it did in the beginning. I wanted people to like my writing. I wanted them to like my thoughts.
I took inspiration, not from quilts, but from my son Nathan. He wrote music. He created songs from nothing, from thin air, from his gut. And then he took these “children” that he had created and sent them out in to the big world. He had no way of knowing if people would like his music or hate it. Or worst of all, not give a shit about it and not listen.
That took courage. Just massive amounts of courage. He used to astonish me with his equanimity. He never appeared even slightly nervous, not even in those early days when nobody had ever heard of him and he had no fans and people weren’t even polite. They’d talk right over his music.
As he put it in a song:
But he just kept on creating.
He didn’t get angry with the people who insisted that instead of playing Fool Like Me (his song) he should play Brown-Eyed Girl or some familiar shit. He’d smile at them, banter with them a little bit, even go sit down at their table during his break. He never showed it if they irritated him. But he never played Brown-Eyed Girl.
He got ideas for his songs from his life and from observing the people around him.
The song Revolution Lane has two characters. A girl who is modeled on a stripper he knew, and a guy who was a sometime, part-time drug dealer. At the same time, he is the girl and he is the guy.
A similar thing happens to me.
I draw from stuff around me to write. The Naugler drama inspires me, but you’ll notice that I often start there and go careening off someplace else.
Sometimes people send me links to stuff. For instance, somebody sent me a link to an article about the Russian survivalist family. I thought it was fascinating and wrote about it. The same person has sent me links to other stuff that was interesting but not something I wanted to write about.
And I’ve had people, especially way back in the beginning, who wanted to tell me what to write and how to write it. “Be sure and say. . .” was a common refrain.
“Be sure and say. . .” will almost always result in me avoiding saying whatever they suggested. That’s probably a little childish, but nobody likes to be told what to create or how to create it.
And that’s something else I discovered by watching Nate. I asked him once why he didn’t write happy songs. His reply was that his muse was very sad and he couldn’t change that.
He also didn’t like to write on command.
This photo of Nathan with my mother was taken in August 2001.
I know that because it was my mother’s 80th birthday. It was taken at her church on a Sunday morning.
Nathan had a gig the night before, came home about 3 a.m., grabbed a little sleep, got up around 8 a.m. and sat down and wrote a song. He then got in his car with his guitar and drove to church.
To say that this was a sacrifice is an understatement.
He then got up on the stage during the church service and performed that song for his grandmother.
Other than singing it for me over the phone, that song never saw the light of day again. I begged him to record it, just roughly, so I could have it, but he politely refused.
I thought it was lovely. He thought it was shitty. So it died.
He just didn’t like creating when he felt like he had to do so or when he felt forced or when he felt like somebody was pushing him, or expecting it.
I understand the feeling.
What I have learned, though, at least to some extent, is how to deal with suggestions or demands that I write about a certain thing, and how to deal with rejection (every creative person experiences it) without feeling terribly sorry for myself or quitting.
I’ve also learned that I’m not really very good at some things. I tried doing videos, and even made a few. But I’m not good at it. I don’t have eye for it or something. So I ceased bothering. I also cannot for the life of me lay brick and make it come out straight. I don’t do that anymore either.
But I still don’t want to put any quilts in a quilt show.