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:

Sometimes the jukebox gets more courtesy. . .

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.







26 thoughts on “Creativity”

  1. Sally, your quilt is lovely. My mother pieces quilt “tops” but she doesn’t try to quilt them. I’ve never been bitten by the quilting bug but I did make a wood quilt block for the side of one of the sheds at my folks’ place a few years ago. Sort of a tribute to her craft.

    I’m not very creative even though I once thought I was. That’s what being young and wishful does. It lets you dream big even if you know it’s an impossible dream.

    I appreciate you sharing your life with us and I can’t wait to see you f2f someday.


  2. Show your quilts for goodness sake! They are beautiful, so are you! I was going to post tomorrow, but I’m here now. Happy Mother’s Day! I enjoy your blog and talents!


  3. My grandmother was a quilter, she never entered shows either. I think the quilts she created are beautiful. And I’m so glad that even though she’s been gone for a decade I still have some of those quilts. She put tags on them and handwrote “from grandma with love”. Those quilts mean more to me than ribbons. I hope she realizes that.

    And musicians. It’s something I will never understand. It’s my second oldest son’s life. He spends hours and hours and hours writing and rehearsing with his band. Sometimes I want to hit my head against the wall because I don’t get it. But then I go to his shows and I see the crowd and they get it. And this kid, well man, gets up there and spills his guts out and he’s so happy. So I’m happy for him, even though I’ll never understand.

    I’m just not creative. It’s not in me. That’s okay, maybe someday when I’m not busy being a mom I’ll find my passion. I’m glad though for the passions of those around me and that they are willing to share their creativity. And that includes you Sally, your writing inspires me to think and even do sometimes. Thanks. And thanks for stirring up memories of my grandma and those quilts that I swear still smell faintly of her.


  4. This post reminds me of the speech by Anton Ego near the end of the film, Ratatouille.

    “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

    This one is different. For this quilt, I decided to design it myself (I had quilting design software so I could play with shapes)

    My mother has quilting pattern blocks that she inherited from her grandmother and we played with them as kids. Now her grandchildren play with them.

    They are literally blocks with different designs on each of the six sides. Solid colors and diagonals. Next time we visit I’ll take photos and send them to you. They’re not fancy but it’s neat to think that my great-grandmother used them to help her visualize what she was going to make next.


  5. Sally, you’ve described the soul of people driven to create, no matter the medium. Musicians, artists, crafters, writers, do what they must. Recognition is appreciated but not necessary, the passion and joy is in the doing, no matter what.
    It seems your son knew to be true to himself, and you learned that freedom from him. That’s a beautiful gift.


  6. From one mother to another
    Your son’s creativity was amazing. The music is beautiful on so many levels. Thank you for letting us know him through his talents.
    The words are from his heart.
    Reading this precious tribute to your son and his creativity brings tears to my eyes and to my heart.
    Mother’s Day is hard.


  7. Mother’s Day is hard.

    To be very honest, I just now realized it’s this weekend.

    We ignore it.


  8. I made a quilt for my fiance for Christmas. Designed it myself. A wolf in a forest howling at the moon. It was applique and hand embroidered. Every block that didn’t have an applique was full of cross stitches. The appliques were sewn on by hand and then embellished with blanket stitch. I was so proud of that quilt. My fiance folded it up and put it in his office chair for a cushion. He sat on it. Never put it on the bed. Which was pretty indicative of how much he appreciated me. We never got married.


  9. I always enjoy reading your blogs. They are always very informative.

    I really got wrapped up in everything you blogged about this week. It gave me something to read while I’ve been laid up in bed for week with a sinus infection. Never had this issue with sinus infections until we moved to Kentucky in 2011. So thank you for the awesome blogs this week.


  10. You’re so correct about granddaughters keeping a quilt till it’s in tatters. My grandmother’s neighbor pieced a double wedding ring topper. When she passed, my grandmother quilted it and gave it to me. I’d spent a lot of time at her neighbors. I still have the quilt. It’s over 35 years old. I’m doing my best to keep it in good shape. I’d say it’s one of the very few material possessions that I’ve attached great sentimental value too.


  11. We never got married.

    Oh gee. I shouldn’t have laughed, but I did. I’ve had that sort of experience a time or two.


  12. If I had a nickel for every time someone said “why don’t you write about …” You are a great writer. Keep on. I really enjoy everything you write.


  13. Thank you for expressing what I feel. I paint. For myself. Or a gift to a loved one. My preference, from my heart. I used to do commissioned work but the anxiety of someone not loving my work and criticizing because they paid for it stopped me. Now it’s just mine again to share how I wish. I love that.


  14. I think maybe there is a perspective you have not explored. Most creative people are by nature control freaks. Maybe, just maybe, controlling the people around them is part of the process, for some anyway.
    Maybe its not a fear factor but a control factor.

    After all to create something is the ultimate form of control. It seems like Nathan had a firm grasp on that.


  15. My sister quilts. I have a flannel quilt she did years ago that I have carefully put away because it was getting too loved 🙂
    Your quilts are lovely.


  16. I’m not able to draw or paint. My musical talent is sadly nil but I used to write. However one day I had a neurological event which robbed me of part of my then extensive vocabulary and ability to write with a clear flow. I took up knitting and ocassionally quilting instead. I cook more elaborate meals and still love gardening.
    However now the urge to write is almost gone. Any poem, story or article I write is only ever read by me and deleted. The desire to create, to make rather than just consume thankfully stays with me. Creativity in any form is an essential part of life.
    Nathan created beautiful music that many have and will continue to enjoy. His legacy is a beautiful one.


  17. I want to be a quilter, but can’t seem to get things cut and stitched as nicely as I would like. I have a nearly completely numb right hand and a somewhat numb couple of fingers on my left hand. It leads to some really frustrating moments for me and I really miss being able to sew like I used to. I did finish a small toddler sized biscuit quilt for my youngest before the numbness really set in.
    I have almost started a quilt a few times since then but end up turning it into pillow cases, or cushions for the elementary school library. The kids aren’t ever picky about my crooked lines ?.
    I guess you could say I have plans to make a beautiful quilt. ?
    However, you do make beautiful quilts, Sally, and you write beautiful blogs too!

    Here’s to hoping everyone has had a nice weekend doing things they enjoy with people they enjoy.???


  18. My husband’s grandmother made quilts for each of her grandkids. We had it on our bed for years, but my daughter took it with her when she moved to Chicago. She wanted something special from home. It was tattered and needed to be resown but it’s on her bed.

    I made easy quilts for both my kids before they were born. My sons was a Disney babies design and he still has it though it’s been through hell and back. My daughters was a Pooh and it’s in one of her boxes in the garage.

    Our church used to have a group of ladies that sewed blankets and quilts to give to the newborn and ICU unit at our county hospital, so each baby had something of it’s own. They made over 1000 over the years.

    Your Alaskan quilt is wonderful. So many talents, you have.


  19. When I was in school, My grandmother gave me a beautiful hand stitched quilt in pink and green. She told me she made it to keep me warm and that I was to use and to throw it in the washing machine when it got dirty…
    So being the obedient grand daughter I wrapped it around me when ever I was cold, for years. It was so soft and had a miraculous warmth to it.
    It slowly died, and became quite raggedy… I finally, with much sadness, gave up my “bankie” after I inherited another of her quilts, magnificent hand stitched quilting with rose with vines appliqué.
    I don’t think my grandmother realized how talented she was. She expected her quilts to be treated like any blanket.
    Not this second one… sorry Grandmother, I want to keep it pretty for as long as I can, on display as a bedspread.
    Maybe I will wrap myself up in it when I get a little older, in case I have to do some splaining to my grandmother on the other side…

    Sally, your quilts are beautiful. You’ve made something useful and beautiful. Not just a useless nicknack.


  20. That Alaska quilt looks far more complicated than you make it out to be! Any chance you can post a pic of the whole thing? From what little I can see, I like your color choices.


  21. From what little I can see, I like your color choices.

    That’s just the thing. I didn’t choose the colors. The fabric came as swatches in a kit. All I did was cut out the pieces and sew it all together.

    When I get it hung on the wall, I’ll take a photo of it.


  22. Makes me gag every time I see a kid stick his filthy hands in his mouth.

    Dirt contains a lot of stuff that you really don’t want to ingest. Toxoplasmosis oocysts and round worm eggs just to name a couple. Lets do some thinking, Nicole! Where do bugs use the toilet? Dirt. Where do rabbits and birds and possums and raccoons use the toilet? Dirt. Where do all their parasite’s eggs end up? Dirt.

    What happens when a child puts dirt encrusted fingernails in their mouth? They ingest dirt…and shit….and parasite eggs.

    Some of those parasite eggs can cause problems. The very common round worm that can be found in soil all over the US, (spread by cats, dogs, raccoons, etc)…can hatch and migrate through your child’s body causing damage to eyes and blindness, and potentially fatal brain inflammation.

    Here’s a picture of a child with a roundworm in his eye. Migrating larva can cause blindness.

    These are reasons you don’t put dirt in your mouth: It’s rare…but it can blind you or kill you with brain inflammation.

    Mothers the world over don’t tell their children to wash their hands before they eat, and tell them to keep dirty hands out of their mouths to be mean, or to nag needlessly….they do it because it poses an illness risk. Parasites, bacteria, viruses, mold and fungus….pathogens that sicken you….should NOT be put in your mouth!

    Of course Nicole doesn’t give two shits about this, or about the flies that buzz around her kid’s food covered face, or the gross little crusts around their noses…or…. fuck, they are just GROSS! It’s not the children’s fault, but that’s really and sincerely disgusting. And it’s negligent fucking parenting to let your kid eat dirt and take delight in watching them do it.

    Every time I see a video of Nicole’s littler ones I’d give a hundred dollars to have a nice warm soapy washcloth and five minutes to clean them up. Where the hell is their pride? Their sense of protection? Who lets someone they love walk around with shit on their face?

    Where is the consideration for the eldest son? You know his “inlaws” are watching that and cringing…wanting to protect their new grand baby from ever experiencing that kind of filth.

    I let my kids play in creeks and lakes, we did messy things like fingerpainting and making mudpies and playing with clay, they did a lot of adventuring outside. When they were little, they got food messy at meal times…like any little kids. But I cleaned that shit off of them. I didn’t let flies land on them. My kids were supervised at reasonable intervals. I applied soap and water to little hands regularly that I knew would go in the mouth. In a pinch, I had wet wipes. I fucking CARED if my kids ingested worm eggs and had them bathe after muddy play. We checked to make sure nails weren’t caked with dirt before eating. We looked for bug bites and ticks and rashes. We impressed the importance of cleaning hands after the restroom. We applied sunscreen, and called them inside when the mosquitoes were bad.

    Who the hell DOESN’T do this?

    The Nauglers. That’s who. And they wonder why CPS won’t close the case?


  23. I have a prayer quilt made for me by complete strangers. I am not particularly religious in a Christian sense, as I follow my Native traditions, but oh how I value that quilt because of all the love and faith behind it! It has traveled across the country with me as I flew to the Mayo for treatment. It has been in the hospital with me. And it will travel with me next month to the big city of Anchorage for eye surgery.


  24. My Grandmother was a prolific quilter, using a frame that hung from the ceiling, she supplemented the family farm income by quilting at home for the local “Quilt Factory”from the early 1940’s to the 1960’s. They were beautiful quilts I often wonder where they ended up. She also made “Comforts” that consisted of rejected quilt tops or pieced 4″squares of all the scraps, batting was worn blankets and quilts, backing a sheet, she always hand tied the “Comforts” with bright red yarn,these were for daily use.

    I have quilted and thought I was getting good at 12 stitches per inch by hand, but nothing like my Grandmother. I enjoyed creating gifts for friends and relatives, or donating to charity auctions until requests for specific patterns and colors or materials made it a chore.

    I have other creative hobbies I enjoy now, I don’t take requests, I don’t do shows, if you like my creations fine, if not, who cares it was created to please me.

    Sally your quilts are beautiful, your writing enlightening, don’t stop being you.


  25. That photograph of your son and mother – how strange! You see, Nathan looks exactly like my boyfriend of 8 years, right down to the optical size! Funny. Well okay, perhaps Nathan is taller… So, all the more handsome!

    In any case, I enjoyed this particular post. It stands out, for its subtlety.

    …If only more people could learn to accept criticism, – nay, responsibility – for the material, good and bad, that they voluntarily put out there!

    Nicole, for instance, volunteers her personal material and ideas to 45k followers, and others volunteer their feedback and ideas – a free exchange! It’s how social-media works. But it seems Nicole is only a voluntaryist when it suits her.


  26. Anytime I see those kids eat anything grown on that property I cringe. I imagine after the shit on the ground situation that the land is probably contaminated and anything they “foliage” or garden (haha!) can’t possibly be food safe. I really cringe when I see very little ones do it…

    Am I wrong? Or is this something they should worry about?


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