Something to Think About

Breaking up the Quilting Work: A Few Thoughts on Refueling While Working


In a recent article about taking restful breaks in 99U, written by Christian Jarrett, he talks about the need for “truly restful breaks” when working hard on a project–which are different that just taking a break.  He uses a modern analogy when he writes “Just as you need to refuel your car and recharge the batteries in your cell phone, it’s important to give yourself the chance to recoup your energy levels throughout the workday. In fact, the more demanding your day, and the less time you feel like you have to take any breaks, the more crucial it is that you make sure you do take regular breaks to prevent yourself from becoming exhausted.”

Finally stepping away from the quilt late one night
celebrating Lisa’s birthday with our quilting group: The Good Heart Quilters

Jarrett notes that  “[N]ot just any kind of break will do. Psychologists and business scholars have recently started studying the most effective ways to relax during a workday – they call them ‘micro breaks’ – and their latest findings point to some simple rules of thumb to sustain and optimize your energy levels” which the article breaks down into a “three-step process.”

One is to “get out of the office.”  For me, the office is my home, so I interpret that to mean to get out of the quilting room upstairs and away from those kinds of tasks.  So getting together with my long-time quilt group works for me, as well as entertaining my grandsons (above) when the come for a long Sunday afternoon.


The article relates that “Countless studies have shown how a green environment gives us a mental recharge, and what’s really encouraging is that recent work has shown that this doesn’t have to be a tropical rainforest. A modest urban park is all it takes.”

Taking short breaks early and often is one of the ideas.  He quotes a study from Baylor University, highlighting this interesting detail: “[I]f you take frequent breaks, then they don’t need to be as long to be beneficial – a couple of minutes might be enough. On the other hand, if you deprive yourself of many breaks, then when you do take one, it’s going to be need to be longer to have any beneficial effect.”shine-block_sashing-tryout

I noticed all of this when I was working on my Shine quilt.  I started with the backgrounds: close quilting in the “white” areas with white thread, but then what?  Coming back to the quilt after a long break from my shoulder injury, I started with outlining the circle blocks.  Another break helped me see that more detail work was needed on each circle, with sometimes as many as four thread changes for different colors.

The next conundrum was how to quilt the small “sashing” in between each block.  I drew out many ideas, but ended up choosing what you see here: some modified geometrics.  Since I try to take frequent breaks to rest my arms/shoulders while I’m doing this project, I feel like I’ve avoided some of the burnout that can occur when we see the looming deadline and quilt our brains out late into the night.

If this is your Modus Operandi, or the way you work,  you might want to be aware of Jarrett’s final thoughts about taking breaks: “[Y]ou might have the view that you’ll push yourself relentlessly during the day, squeezing every minute for what it’s worth, and then completely flake out after dark. This strategy of extremes might work for a robot, but not a human. Psychology research from the University of Konstanz in German and Portland State University shows that over-exhaustion at the end of the day makes it even more difficult to recuperate after work hours. In other words allowing yourself proper breaks during the day will make your out-of-hours recovery more effective, ultimately boosting your productivity and creativity in the weeks and months ahead.”

I’m not talking to young mothers, who find that nighttime is the only time they have to work without little helpers (although that does explain why when the baby is sick and the toddler is a pest and you fall exhausted into bed at night, that the night’s sleep doesn’t seem to provide the needed rest).  I’m talking to myself, I guess, pushing to finish off a task, always reluctant to let go of a day’s work, hoping to get “one more thing done.”  I found Jarrett’s advice helpful as well, in allowing me to understand why sometimes I just have to push back from the machine — or the computer — and take a break.

I just need to make sure it’s the right kind.


The quilt shown is Shine: The Circles Quilt.  Free EPP patterns can be found by clicking on the link in the header of my blog.

13 thoughts on “Breaking up the Quilting Work: A Few Thoughts on Refueling While Working

  1. Through the years I’ve always taken breaks not only from my job on the computer but also taking short breaks from rotary cutting and sewing. It is very important and sometimes you can alleviate carpal tunnel by just shaking your hands. I have heard it really helps when you are using a sit down quilter because of all the stress on your shoulders too. Sometimes you just can’t win. Your quilting Elizabeth is beautiful and your quilt will be amazing when you are finished.

  2. My workday is so scheduled that I have always been reluctant to schedule sewing time, but I have found that by blocking out time for specific projects I get more accomplished. I’m not overwhelmed by “what should I do first”. And since I don’t have big blocks of time to sew, my sewing time IS the break! I love the 2 days a week I work at home because I can sew for a few minutes over the lunch hour! Love this quilt and those grands!

  3. All this could be applied to teaching too Elizabeth, and not just for the students! I will ponder this today as I plod my way through 27 parent conferences from 4pm to 8.15pm!! BTW your quilt is going to be amazing!

  4. That does sound like good advice. Too many times I have fallen into bed over tired and not felt rested for days! Your quilt is stunning by the way ; )

  5. I’m great at taking breaks . . . it’s the working part I to improve so I can actually get something done.

  6. Your quilting is beautifully enhancing this gorgeous quilt. I’m certain that pacing yourself, taking thoughtful and refreshing breaks, contributes to your creativity and accuracy! Thanks for sharing this bit of wisdom.

  7. It all makes perfect sense. I love the quilting you are doing on Shine. It is going to be a real winner when you are finished. Those little guys are pretty cute too!!!

  8. I always enjoy you writings, musings, and instructions as you do all so well. I intend to share this article with my granddaughter. She recently accepted a position in upper management with a major car dealer in our area. Her days are stressful as she is in charge of human resources for several car dealerships and their employees. She is handling training, disputes, concerns, firings, plus computer glitches as well. Her days are full and her nights are fuller with her two young daughters. I have noticed she works extremely well under pressure (as does her mother). probably one reason she is thriving in this position. My concern is how long can a person work under continual pressure every day? I do remember being sleep deprived for about 18 months when both of my children were very young, but there was a limit! I did have a few trusted resources when it became unbearable. I fill the needed break for her daughters in the evenings, but at work- no one. Hopefully she will take this article in the spirit with which it is being offered. Have a great autumn!

  9. Maybe I’ll have to set a timer. When I take a break, I get interested is something and the break goes on and on.
    Love the quilting you are doing on Shine. I find if I start with the bit of quilting I know I want to do, then let a project sit a bit (a break?), I come back with an idea for the rest.

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