Something to Think About

Flame-out? or Creative Spark?

If you are anything like me, there are multiple ideas in your head, lurking in the fabric you’ve purchased, or photos on your phone of projects to make. And if you are really really like me, there are some old magazines piling up — perhaps dragged home from your Guild, or pages ripped out, or maybe even a filer drawer somewhere with the label “Future Projects.” You like to browse your favorite on-line shop web-pages, you happily accept emails from your favorite designers and your Saved to Quilts tab on Instagram is ever-expanding. All of this doesn’t even begin to address the folders on Pinterest, or the patterns you’ve acquired, or the drawers stuffed with new tools, new rulers, or quilting notions.

The term flame-out has multiple meanings, but the one I’m referring to is “lose power through the extinction of the flame in the combustion chamber.” My sewing room is my combustion chamber, so to speak. I bring lots of fuel there (see first paragraph), but somehow things can flame-out. I’ve noticed a healthy amount of January blahs in Instagram, but maybe it’s just that the projects your Past Self wanted to do are not the projects your Present Self thinks are worth tackling.

Laura Entis wrote an interesting article about the getting back the “flame in the combustion chamber,” or turning that creative spark into something that can help you fly. She lists several components: 1) paying attention (done…see first paragraph), 2) write it down (see first paragraph), but it was her third idea that caught my attention: 3) put a stake in the ground. She interprets that to mean going public, and many of us do (see our Instagram accounts), but I think for quilters there is a further aspect. It might mean washing/drying/pressing the fabric and putting it with its pattern in a drawer or a box. It might even mean cutting out some of the basic units before even one stitch takes place, like we do when we have a Mystery Quilt we’re making; they always want us to prep with this step. But any way you do it, putting a stake in the ground can mean committing to sparking that project into life.

I also liked her Step 6: Map it Out. At the end of last year, I became immersed in a project that overwhelmed me. It didn’t help during this time, Mom was dying in a state far away, or that I got really sick in December, and January has me battling a painful sciatica (can hardly wait to see what February brings…not!), but the project felt overwhelming. I should have mapped it out, so I could envision the flow, the places it was going. She got that idea from Kelli Anderson:

When Anderson embarks on something new, whether it’s for a client or a self-directed project, she sets a final deadline, and then breaks down the project into stages. “I draw it out visually,” she says, sketching out each phase in proportion to how long it should take. Next, she maps the visual sketch onto an actual calendar, translating periods of time into numerical blocks. Even the best laid plans can go awry, however. “The schedule is just a suggestion,” Anderson says, one she regularly refines. “If you are indulgent and you spend too much time on one part you can oftentimes make it up later at another stage.” (from here)

So, here are some of my “stakes in the ground”:

My latest quilt is back from the quilter, who did a wonderful job; now I need to trim it and get it bound. The thing that bogged me down was writing the pattern, but I ended up selling a different version of this to a magazine, so come fall, I’ll let you know where and when. (The pattern for the above quilt will come a year after that publication.)

Chris’ quilt. I made a quilt for my grandson when he came to my son’s family (he was a boy) and within about 20 minutes he out-grew it. I’ve promised him one forever and decided a large format quilt would be fun to make. It has been.

I’ve even mapped it out, as Entis suggested, in a book that helps me break down all the steps. I’m so pathetic I’ve even listed <wait> while it’s at the quilter. I’ve made you a PDF of this format so you can map out your projects, too. Click on the DOWNLOAD button below to get your copy.

Last, and okay-I-know-how-I’m-spending-my-February:

My house is nearing fifty years old. We’ve done some cosmetic updates to the kitchen, and bigger updates to the house, but it’s time to really get serious and update the kitchen. So we’re fridge-counters-cooktop-stove-vent-hardware-sink-etc. shopping. We feel pretty fortunate to be able to do this at this time, and keep wondering if we are too old for all of this. I was encouraged by all the comments left on my Help-Me-I’m-Remodeling post on Instagram. If you have any tips, let me know. I’m really leaning heavily towards an induction cooktop as I think it’s the way of the future. And double ovens? Yes? No? Who Cooks This Much? Leave me your ideas in the comments!

PS: Yes, I was able to attend a bit of Road to California, and saw my quilt, Eris, hanging there (happy dance!):

10 thoughts on “Flame-out? or Creative Spark?

  1. I’m going induction as well. If you have the space I HIGHLY recommend the Breville oven in lieu of double ovens. I’ve had two ovens for the last 10 or 15 years, but since I got the Breville, I don’t feel like I need them anymore. Preheats super fast too. Interested to hear what you go with for a vent fan. The one in my previous kitchen sounded like a 747 taking off so I’m looking for something a bit quieter. I am in project disarray, hopping from here to there. Our baby starts kindergarten next week, so we will see what that free time brings.

  2. I hope you have fun with the kitchen remodel. I often think of doing home work like that ass another way to be creative. I definitely resonate with the map it out idea. I love a good list and being able to cross things off a list is such a great feeling. Speaking of feeling, I hope you are feeling better and February has kinder, gentler things in store.

  3. Hi, go induction if you can. We did about 12 years ago and haven’t looked back since. Age has nothing to do with it. I’ll be 69 in March, and I hope to carry on cooking and eating and enjoying my kitchen for at least another 20 years !! It might even be a good excuse for throwing your old saucepans away and buying some new ones 😉
    Anne (lost in France )

  4. How nice to your quilt at Road to California! After all the events of the recent months, I think you have a reason to expect February to be better. And good luck with the remodel. We built during COVID and it took months to get appliances delivered, so plan ahead “just in case” the supply chain isn’t fixed yet. As if.

  5. I read an interesting thread on Twitter today about people, feeling a sort of malaise, and relating to the inability or lack of opportunity to grieve over the losses of the last three years. Can you think of any national tragedy, particularly in the age of social media, that has not been memorialized, publicized, celebrated, etc. From Pearl Harbor to 9/11, Sandy Hook, JFK, Boston marathon bombing. Three years ago in March life irrevocably changed and we’re all like “back to normal “. And it’s anything but normal. It was comforting to hear others express a similar experience- sort of free floating anxiety. Anyhoo- it was certainly thought provoking.



  6. I loved the line about present self not wanting to do projects thought important by past self; I know I’ve repurposed several items. Many more to consider!

  7. It made me happier than I could have imagined to donate sets of blocks to our church quilting group that I originally LOVED! It was very freeing not to have them hanging over my head and freed up space to think about other projects I wanted to work on. How cool you are going to be in another magazine! And your blue HST quilt is lovely.

    Knowing how you love to cook, I’m sure you are looking forward to an updated place to create.

  8. A great post, a thoughtful deep dive on how to break down a project into component parts. Your big blog HST is going to be fabulous for your grand son. I find it freeing to throw out a lot of kindling that is just laying around or hidden in boxes (I’m talking about stash, and UFOs).

    Ahhh kitchens. When we renovated a kitchen a number of years ago (our circa 1750 home whose kitchen hadn’t been properly renovated since the 1950’s) we went with induction. We LOVED it. Currently we have an electric range. I can’t wait to replace it with induction. It requires an electrician to put more power to the outlet. You can use cast iron, Le Creuset, etc. with induction. It brings a pot of water to boil so fast, it is precise, you can get down to a tiny simmer, etc. You can lay paper towels on the stovetop and cook on TOP of the paper towels, like if you are frying something. Double oven? I’ve never had one. I always wish for one, once a year on Thanksgiving. Not worth it in a small kitchen.

  9. Oh Elizabeth, I’m really, really like you! I have visions of quilts constantly dancing in my head, magazines piling up, and Pinterest and Instagram beckoning. I love your term “combustion chamber” for our sewing rooms!😊. So far “flaming out” hasn’t been a problem for me, but I like the idea of “putting a stake in the ground” to get going if I’m wavering, e.g. doing a fabric pull or making a sample block. I hope your sciatica is improving and good luck with your renovation. We’re thinking about an induction stove top; pull out lower shelves are a must. Your quilt for your grandson looks perfect!

  10. I’ve been sitting on leaving a comment to this post because it really struck home. Last year was not productive when it came to finishing quilts. I started several including the one with your poppy block, but only managed one finish. One!!! How can that be? Way too many ideas in the combustion chamber. This year I’m trying a different approach by designating a little time each day in 3 different areas where I want to make progress on projects. Only one area is quilt related. It’s kind of working. I have a tendency to get absorbed in one thing and let everything else slide which often leaves me frustrated. With this new approach, things move along more slowly, but at least I see progress in all areas and that is good for me. Wishing you luck with your remodel.

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