In December 2019, a few young friends had wanted to learn to quilt, so we met together in a group we called First Monday Sew-days. It was a short-lived enterprise, collapsing into covid in March 2020, but I did make a series of handouts for these beginners, and taught a mini-tutorial about that technique. Above is Square in a Square for April 2020.
The free monthly handouts in downloadable PDF form can be found under the First Monday Sew-days post in the drop-down menu of Past Endeavors (I hide all a lot of my stuff in drop-down menus). I got out these blocks because of this post by ailish on Instagram, where she puts up two wonderful quilts of birds (seen below) and acknowledges that she is stuck. Stuck? Oh, boy, do I know stuck.
She had many great comments, if you want to see what they were. And her feed has many great quilts, but it was the specificity of these quilts at this time that caught my eye.
I’d been browsing Creative Block, a compilation of artist interviews, and found Jessica Bell’s observation: “When I can’t make progress, it is often because I am mentally scattered; this happens when I am overcommitted or have a schedule without any breathing room in it. I have to have a lot of space and quiet in my head to think my best thoughts. An artist I admire told me a few years ago that ‘you can’t make art in the cracks.’ ” from Danielle Krysa’s book of artist compilations, Creative Block
So, I read through all my First Monday Sew-day tipsheets, and then went through my Orphan Blocks bin, looking for all my samples that I’d used in teaching those beginning quilters. When I didn’t find particular blocks in the fabrics above, I made more.
Every block in blue and yellow from my Orphan Bin, plus the ones I made today. The golden yellow with the little suns on it was a once-in-a-lifetime perfect color and print from Sherri and Chelsi, from their fabric line Clover Hollow some months ago. I bought three yards, and have gone through one already. The other blues are a collected bunch, and I use the yardstick of “does it look like blue painters tape?” to gauge the color.
Collection, culled. I have more to make and more to arrange, but I’ll keep trying. Now, back to stuck.
In a special section, Poets and Writers collected new poets giving advice to each other. I read through a lot of what they had to say, and copied it down into a little repeated calendar entry on my iPhone and I like looking at what they have to say, even though the medium in which they create is different. However, we both strive to create. I don’t know if you’ll find this interesting, but I’ve selected a few of their quotes, about dealing with the creative rut:
Tiana Clark: Trust your imagination. Be on your own timetable. Some advice from David Baker: “There is no hurry.” Some advice from my therapist: “Everything you want is not upstream.” Redefine what success means to you.
Jenny Xie: Since I don’t have the inclination to [create] in small bursts, I need to be intentional about setting aside at least a few hours or half a day. This means if I mark off time to write, I can’t go off to run small errands, agree to coffee with friends or acquaintances, sit in front of my phone answering text messages and e-mails, or distract myself by chipping away at random tasks.
Emily Skillings: The painter Jane Freilicher put it best, I think, when she said, “To strain after innovation, to worry about being on ‘the cutting edge’, reflects a concern for a place in history or one’s career rather than the authenticity of one’s painting.” There’s also, I think, a quieter quote somewhere about her letting go of the pressure to be innovative, and that she felt she could really paint after that, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere.
Anthony Cody: [If I am stuck,] I walk away. The internet, the algorithm, and capitalism want us to go as hard as we can until we are spent, only to start over again. If I can’t push a project any further, I change mediums or do something else entirely. I write inside a phone book. I break down cardboard and sketch and build. [Creating] is often more about listening than it is about the act of [creating], so if [it] ceases, I know it is time I stop what I am attempting, listen more, and reimagine the path.
Fatimah Asghar: Writer’s block remedy: I take a break. I think that if you bang your head against the wall trying to create, you’re going to resent the process of creation. Usually when you reach an impasse it’s a signal to move on to another thing. Maybe you haven’t slept in a while. Maybe you need some time to ponder, to just stare at the wall. Maybe you need to live, truly be alive for a little and not near a computer. Maybe you need to read, see, watch—to refill your well.
Recently we had a chance to escape for a couple of days to a beach not far from our house, and I took this project with me. The surprise gift of this hotel was they had a rooftop deck with glass railings, so when we weren’t walking near the ocean, I could see it as I sat and stitched. I’ve been working on this for some time, but like so many of the poets, I’m content to let it come along at its own pace.
I began this almost exactly two years ago, and wrote at the bottom of the post: “see you in two years!”
Now I’m thinking, it might be three, or even four years, and at this point I’m still not sure I like it, but I drag it out every once in a while and add a row or a few red centers. It’s good for taking on car trips and for sitting out on fourth-floor sun decks as I listen to the ocean and feel the cool air. It’s good for reminding me that not everything goes according to plan. But taking some advice from the poet Tiana Clark, above, I remind myself: I’m on my own timetable.
12 thoughts on “First Monday Quilt”
Thanks for the pointer to your handouts and for the reference to the Creative Block book. A get away near water – sigh.
I’m glad you had a few days away at the beach to recharge, and being able to hear and see the ocean while stitching on the roof sounds like a big treat. And the feeling of being stuck because of being mentally scattered really resonates with me. Thanks for getting me thinking this morning!
I think you wrote this just for me. I’ve been staring at the pieces on my design wall – but I feel the pressure of limited time, my paid work projects that are due, home tasks needing attention. I realize that I need to give this particular quilt – and myself – some space to percolate. Thank you for these thoughts.
Thank you for a wonderful post. We need the occasional reminder that we are not machines capable of churning out mass amounts of creativity. We do need to find that flow and nurture it. Now, I’m dreaming of sewing on that roof top while listening to and smelling the ocean.
So many wonderful insights here – thank you!
“Blue like painter’s tape” kind of cracked me up. Right before the pandemic, I was going to teach three of my friends to sew. I had had them each get Shea Henderson’s book and we were going to work our way through it. *sigh* Your First Monday blocks will also be a great resource if we are finally able to get the group together. I’m so glad you and Dave were able to get away to the ocean. It is such a balm for my soul to just sit and watch waves. They remind me, like nothing else, that no matter what else is going in the world, the tide still goes out and comes back in each and every day.
I needed this thoughtful reminder that we all get stuck at times.
It’s always nice to see an old UFO coming along. I read near the beginning of the COVID pandemic that the 1918 flu pandemic lasted about 2 years, and that seemed like a long time! Now it seems to be a likely time for this one, too, despite vaccine. And I agree that being stuck can be from too much pressure to “get done”. Good luck with all of it!
Lovely that you could get away and stitch by the ocean. I think we all need that sometime. Especially with a project that doesn’t have the pressure of a timeline!
I’m so happy you were able to getaway- the ocean and its associated sights and smells never fails to renew the spirit! I think its really important to have one’s own definition of success. (For me its sharing my quilts and even my humble little tutorials.) Doing other crafts certainly helps me with my creativity flow too. Thanks again for another thoughtful post, Elizabeth.
Your posts always give me something to think about. Thankfully I rarely get stuck creatively but when I do I know I need to step away and do something else. The solution comes later if I give it time. In the mean time I work on another project so progress is made. Glad you got some time away.
This is tremendous – I love your orphan blocks rescue sampler (as it appears). I swear by the #finishalong to move things along quarterly, and a design board. And rearranging the furniture. And stashbusting QALs like Jo Avery’s next month.