Quilts · Something to Think About

Three Mini Quilts and a Few Thoughts on Deliberate Practice


The Road to a Friend’s House is Never Long, Quilt #159

I started this July 2015, and you know what happened to me shortly after that, so it was nice to get it fixed up and quilted, because I’d had a purpose in mind: a gift for a friend.


Leisa likes it!  Pattern coming soon.  I used the new Northcott labels I bought at QuiltCon.  I just cut them apart, backed them with freezer paper, and ran them through my printer; see the complete how to under the tab “Tutorials,” above.

Thread Doodles_front
Thread Doodles, Quilt #160

And then there’s this one, a mini quilt made as a class sample for the Free Motion Quilting Class I’m teaching in late summer at Quilter’s Cocoon.  I had to think of a way for the students to practice their stitches, yet display what they’d learned in a pleasing way.  As soon as they master one of these stitches, I’ll have them stitch it onto their own class sample.  They may want to finish it all up that day, or may want to add to it as they get better.  Thread Doodles_back

I’m big on naming my quilts.  Another Northcott label.  After they are printed, I cut a square of lightweight interfacing and fuse it to the back the “light” section of the label so I won’t see the fabric underneath.

Electra Magnetic_front
Electra Magnetic, Quilt #161

I seem to be finishing up quite a few things lately, a nice change from the months November to February, where I felt swamped all the time, unable to seemingly get to anything.  Do you have times like that–like you see everything around you and just can’t get to it at all?  Where you are climbing, climbing Mt. NeverFinish and wish you could find the summit?  That’s why these minis feel like a success story to me.  Electra Magnetic_back

So, with all my rainbow-type quilts this past year, I’ve about run out of names.  Combine that with the funny comment I got on one of my quilts that they thought it looked like Hal the computer from the Space Odyssey 2001.  This quilt might also suffer from that comparison, so I thought I’d go with it.  The electromagnetic spectrum is all the colors, from those that we can see to those that we can’t; they call it “wavelengths, both visible and invisible.”  Okey, dokey.  So I feminized that idea and came up with Electra Magnetic, mother of Hal.

I’m still working on these patterns, and should have them out shortly.  Well, maybe not this week;  I’ll let you know.

But let not’s stop there today.  I have Brain Pickings in my Bloglovin’ Feed, and occasionally they hit a streak of book reviews on topics that interest me, and recently they did a review of Ursula LeGuin’s latest revision of her masterpiece on creative writing, Steering the Craft.  Brain Pickings references her written piece “How do you make something good?” and notes that:

LeGuin Quote1

Isn’t that also what quilters deal with?  We can make a decent quilt from stuff from the garage sale or someone’s basement (with that embedded fusty smell), but why not go for better ingredients?  We are surrounded by loads of high quality quilt fabric.  Perhaps instead of focusing on accruing endless supplies of this good fabric, why not focus on being good?  That means getting in those oft-cited 10,000 hours of practice, but as Joshua Foer noted, sometimes just making and making doesn’t bring us to the place of making something good.  Foer Quote 1

According to Joshua Foer, this is called hitting what is called the “OK plateau.”  That’s when we are just going through the rote mechanics of quilting, making quilts of only rectangles, or traditional fixed patterns in a loop that’s known as thinking from “bottom-up,” where we are good-enough, automated, rote practices to get our work done.  Yes, even those modern improv quilts with their fluid patterns can get stale.  Daniel Goleman notes how we can get stuck here:

Goleman Quote1

Foer also emphasizes this point: our deliberate practicing must be hard for us in order to engage that higher focus of creativity.  I, like many of you, can cut and stitch until I’m so bored I can’t slice one more piece of fabric or sew one more HST.  I’m falling right in line with studies that indicate that about four hours of concentrated deliberate practice is about the most amount of time we can do anything well.  At that point, we have to take a break and do other things.  Perhaps that’s why we are sometimes distracted by a new quilt, or a new design, or a new piece of fabric, as we try to restore our ability to refocus.  Perhaps we just need a break, in order to deliberately practice well.   But what I learned from these authors is that when I do come back to my quilting, I must “counteract the brain’s urge to automatize” and actively concentrate on what I’m doing.

So take a break, read that magazine, scroll through your IG feed, and then get back to it with a determination to make it good, make it better, and to fully engage.

16 thoughts on “Three Mini Quilts and a Few Thoughts on Deliberate Practice

  1. Such an interesting read, as usual Elizabeth! I love that you find these articles, share them with us and give us something to think about!

  2. I love coming to your posts as I always leave with so much to consider.

    Your finishes are fantastic. LOVE that Friends House and the quilting on the solids looks awesome.

  3. I absolutely love my quilt, what a wonderful friend you are! I have my cute quilt hanging in my sewing room. Thank you Elizabeth.

  4. LOVE this post…..filled with so much to “chew on”!!!! I constantly pray that this awesome art-form (machine quilting) will never become something I do on “auto-pilot” but maintain its freshness! Thanks so much for this mental “fodder”!!!! Hugs……

  5. I read a lot of things on creativity and brain science, but I have not come across these ideas of “bottom up,” “top down,” and “OK plateau” before, so thank you for sharing them.
    Also, I love the multi-color stitch sampler for your class!

  6. I enjoyed reading your post this morning. Daniel Goldman’s bottom up versus top down piece really hit home with me. I’m going to print that out so I can refer to it and remind myself to improve my techniques and challenge myself to work from my top down place. Great post.

  7. Deliberate practice – a interesting vocalizaion of always learning. Very intriguing, Elizabeth. Now where does one find a seasoned coach? Lovely minis. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Very thoughtful piece and it certainly resonated with me as I have entered a bit of a lull with too many UFOs. Perhaps I better get back to the 365 Challenge which is certainly stretching everyone taking part! Beautiful finishes from you as always

  9. Love this post Elizabeth. So many things I need to do more in order to do better. Your Thread Doodles is wonderful. Wish I could take your class.

  10. I love this post. Yes, I like to name my quilts! Most often the name is really tied up with the idea of the quilt from the start. I totally get your comment about being swamped and I’m probably not alone in that sometimes it’s not even being swamped with other things to do but being swamped with inertia. Any bit of creativity is a triumph against that – and your minis are lovely! The idea of deliberate practice is interesting: it’s a bit like being mindful of the use of language, for me it involves trying to improve my skills until I can express myself clearly!

  11. Great thoughts. Four hours? The number of teaching hours in my school day? Interesting! I like the idea of intense “practicing” or concentration, then some time off.

  12. This is a great coincidence to read these thoughts today. I’ve been thinking about inspirations for how to create, as opposed to what to create. Visual and verbal inspirations for product are everywhere. It is harder to find sparks for working differently, working better. To me, the Goleman quote above is simply saying that we need to continue to challenge ourselves. Be curious, be engaged, try hard things, don’t go the easy way just because it’s easy. It’s very similar to some of the other things I’ve been chewing on, so yes, inspires. Thanks.

  13. Catching up on emails and ran across this post. This has been on my mind so much lately, as I look for more challenges. After almost 60 years, I am still trying to do better. Giving a lot of thought to your lollypop quilt…..

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