Go with the Flow

I’ve been thinking about what it takes to keep me interested in what I’m doing, and better yet, to find that creative task, that, when I check the time, I realize I’ve been absorbed in this task for hours, not minutes. When I used to manage the black-and-white photo lab at my local university, students could stay in there for hours, developing their prints, discussing them, claiming they were in the “zone” and didn’t want to leave it.

I’ve been on a pretty intense creative output flow, and I can feel myself wanting to wind down, and take a breath.  So I thought I’d look into this idea–of being in the “zone” or “flow” and see how it would apply to us quilters.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book,  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience has much to say about the idea of “flow” or “being in the zone.”  He stipulates certain conditions present during flow:

(1) engagement in an activity that is both challenging and attainable

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If you ask me to make simple HST quilts forever, I’ll be incredibly bored, as my skill levels have gone beyond that.  It was fun for a day, though, in Jenny Doan’s class at Road to California this past January.

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On the other hand, if you ask me to talk at QuiltCon 2018 in front of a crowd of eighty quilters with a big screen behind me, I’ll be incredibly anxious. I made it through, thanks to kind quilters.Flow chart.png

The left to upper left shows what happens if your skill level is low, but the challenges are too high.  The bottom to lower right is when the abilities are high,  and the challenges are too easy.  Of course, we should all try to shoot on a diagonal path from low to high, to get to the flow, but often we are stuck with patterns that don’t work, or run out of fabric, or can’t figure something out, or feel frozen in our progress.

(2) the ability to keep concentration focused on the activity, and
(3) sense of control over your own actions

I lumped these two together, although they really are separate ideas.  For me, these can sometimes be hard to attain, especially if you have young children, or fighting health issues, or don’t have the right physical set-up that allows easy access to your tools/fabric/machine.  I also love seeing blank calendar days, without the distraction of appointments or errands.  I can stay in the zone for hours on those days.

(4) clearly defined goals that are within the individual’s control

Writing down a goal that says something like winning “Best of Show at Paducah” is not something within our control, because we can’t award that ribbon.  Perhaps that why we see a proliferation of techniques Finish-A-Longs, or goal-setting posts, to help us identify our goals.  I’ve found this helpful, but more often than not, it leads to a list of tasks — which we call UFOs — rather than list of goals.

(5) immediate feedback

According to the book, our psychic energy tends to atrophy without some verification we’re on the right track.  I think that’s also why Guilds and Quilt Groups are so valuable, but often we resort to snapping a photo and texting it to a friend.  However, I might argue that too much immediate feedback, such as our faces glued to our tiny screens checking our Instagram likes, being fixated on the number of likes can pull us out of the flow.

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(6) deep, effortless involvement in the activity which removes from our awareness the worries/frustrations of everyday life.

I love it when I can forget what’s going on out in the world, listen to a book, and just sew and sew.  Or it’s like when we have to glue fabric on 500 one-inch hexies for our quilting booth at an upcoming Heritage Day Festival, and I took this task to my quilt group and we had a great time eating fresh strawberries, chocolate treats, and solving all the world’s problems. (We did get a little goofy, I must say.)

(7) non-self-conscious individualism, or you lose yourself in what you are doing and eliminate all self-criticism. His book states that “loss of self-consciousness does not involve a loss of the self, and certainly not a loss of consciousness, but rather, only a loss of consciousness OF the self.”

Maybe it’s not best to continually evaluate ourselves as we work, given the rhythm of this chart:

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Finally, (8) some alteration of time (either “hours feel like minutes” or vice versa)

Being IN the flow, is definitely not the same ask GOING WITH the flow.  But to be truthful, I mostly feel like Sarah Cannell, when she said: “I’m either hurtling down the track not noticing the passing countryside, or standing on the platform having missed the train… The two extremes seem to smoothly flow into each other.”

Giveaway Thanks

Thank you for all your comments on the Giveaway for the Northern Star curated stack of fabrics.

I used two different Random Number Generators (actually, three, if you count when I asked my husband to pick two numbers randomly, and interestingly, one of his was nearly the same as one of these) to pick our two winners:

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Jamie was #7: “I have not seen the Northern Lights. However if I win, I could make your quilt (you’re writing a pattern for us to buy right?) and then have my husband hold it above me so I can see it in the night sky. Pretty clever eh? hahahaha”

(I laughed out loud)

and Joan was #71: “Oh, yes, I have seen them and should do so more often, but I’m usually asleep in the middle of the winter nights when they are most visible, and I just can’t drag myself out of my nice warm bed to stand in the frigid nighttime air to watch! Summertime viewing would be perfect, but it’s just too light outside to see the aurora even at 2:00am!”

(I’m going to visit you, Joan, and really soon.  Joan?  That okay?)

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I did love these reminiscences:

The first one is from Barb: “I grew up in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada and my parents home backed onto a field so there was no obstruction of view. We could watch the Northern Lights dance across the sky many nights from our kitchen window. I didn’t realize what a special experience that was until we moved to a large city where the only thing I can see in the sky is the Moon and a few bright stars and planets!”

Another one from Edith: “I used to be able to see the Northern Lights in my hometown of Medicine Hat, Alberta when I was a young girl. I used to sit on the park swing and be able to see them over the hill in front of me, but since the city grew and more lights were added, I must say I have’t seen them in a long time.”

And last one, from Holley: “I have seen the Northern Lights many times starting as a child growing up in Iowa. We didn’t see them often but we did see them from time to time. I lived in northern Minnesota after college. This was at the time of missel silos and ICBMs so when the northern lights looked like rockets shooting across the sky it was unnerving. When I lived in Wisconsin near Chippewa reservations I was told the lights were the old people dancing and that was the way they looked. I’ve seen lights in Alaska was I was babysitting grandchildren and in the Scottish Highlands when we lived near Glasgow. I have a quilt started that I call Northern lights that I hope to finish one day soon. The colors and patterns vary depending on location and weather but they are all wonderful. Thanks for sharing yours.”

Ladies, you are living our dream.  Thank you all, again.  Guess what?  Another giveaway is coming on Wednesday, when I show you some secret sewing I’ve been doing for Simone.  See you then!

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Spring Mini Quilt-on-a-Frame

ACK!!  It was 93 degrees today!!

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My snow-covered Orangeman (or Snowman, made of oranges) has his arms thrown up in amazement/horror.  While Rachel and Carol show snow days on their IG feeds, we are already burning up out here.  My newly planted zucchini and spaghetti squash plants are wilting, and it’s only April.

The origin of this mini quilt (tutorial is here) started when I first moved here, and commuted an hour to the Orange County Quilt Guild.  We had a block swap, and the theme was snowman, and since I was a newbie, I think I got all the rejects.  Except this one…which was my own (I made one for myself).  One snowman block was a zig-zagged stitched pair of stacked circles, with two hot-glue-gunned twigs for the arms, and dots of makeup for the coal and eyes.  Yes, I threw that one away.  But in looking for another project in my Orphan Blocks Box, I found this one, and turned it into a Mini-on-a-Frame quilt.

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I bordered it with those fabulous swirls, quilted it and trimmed it up).

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I backed it, and slipped it on its stand.  Now I’m up to four of these mini-quilts-on-a-frame.  Given the success of this one, I may turn other orphan blocks into bits of art to be displayed!

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PS: Swirl fabric is by Valori Wells, “Marks,” design #16354–by Robert Kaufman.  A young mother in church yesterday asked me if I bought fabric for a single project, or if I bought it when I feel like it.  This purchase was obviously the latter.

Northern Star Quilt, in process

Northern Star Medallion

Well, this was supposed to be a real quilt, not just a mock-up in my quilt software.  But when I got to the geese, I ran out of fabric.  All of this, as you know, was inspired by the contest held by Paintbrush Studios.  They sent us a bundle of half-yards, and maybe if I’d chosen a simpler quilt — like squares, or something — I would have had enough.  But oh yeah, go for the glory.

HOWEVER…because of all your fine voting, I find myself in the Championship Round (little happy noise), and I promised you borders on a quilt.  If you feel like voting for the last time, here’s the info:

Vote for “Northern Lights” on the following:

•  Paintbrush Studios Blog
•  Paintbrush Studios on Instagram
•  Paintbrush Studios on Facebook

Thank you for letting me clutter your inbox one more time. And thanks for voting!

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Frivols 3 Finished, and Frivols 4, and (oh, boy!): Mad for Solids 2018 Final Four

 

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Thank you to all who are participating in the Mad for Solids 2018 game, and thank you very much for your votes.  I’m happy to announce that I’ve made it into the Final Four of this quilty March Madness.  The penultimate vote in this process is today at 6 p.m. CDT, and if you wish to vote for my bundle, or vote for the bundle of your choice, please head here to cast your votes:

•  Paintbrush Studios Blog
•  Paintbrush Studios on Instagram
•  Paintbrush Studios on Facebook

The Championship Game (love these terms) will begin Sunday night 6 p.m. CDT, and according to the Paintbrush Studio website:

We’re now down to just four color palettes, and the voting won’t get any easier! We’ve also raised the stakes! Everyone who votes in the Championship Game (starts Sunday at 6 pm CDT) will have a chance to win a fat quarter bundle of the winning palette. But even if you don’t win, you can still play with these colorful combinations!

After we announce the Champion on Monday, we’ll be selling fat quarter bundles of the four Painter’s Palette Solids color palettes that made it to the Final Four. Any of these Final Four palettes can be yours! Watch for more details Monday. 

I was happy to see that, as I really love a lot of the bundles that quilters have put together.  I promised another border, and it will come soon, but the fabric (I ordered more from Pineapple Fabrics) is on its way.

As fun as all this is, it’s time to go back to our regularly scheduled show, now in progress.

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And that regular show I’m working on is sewing my way through my series of Frivols tins.  I finished up what I started about a month ago, when sewing on Frivols #3, with fabrics from Betsy Chutchian’s line titled “Eliza’s Indigo.”

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What I did in between the last filled-up tin photo and the above quilt picture.

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I ditch-stiched in-between the squares, then quilted circles around the inner squares.  Really imaginative, but hey–I always remember that quote I printed at the top of all my syllabi when I taught college English to incoming freshman: The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good.  And in this case,  The Done.

The back is a tea towel from Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee that my son brought back to me from his trip to London.  The title is Betsy’s Quilt, borrowing not only from the name of the designer, but also from a childhood nickname of mine, and since I’m also named Elizabeth, I thought it was fitting.  I came in from photographing it and set in on the kitchen table, which is next to our family room.  Sometimes small quilts can hang around like this, adding a nice touch to the same old same old.

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This is the third Frivols I’ve finished, so that means I’m one-fourth of the way through my  year-long quest to Make the Frivols. So I don’t completely bore you with my attempt to clear out those tins of their fabrics and finish them up, I’m combining Finish #3 with Start #4.

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Tin #4 is a collection by Brenda Riddle, titled Windermere, and there on the end you see the definition of Frivol: a quilt packed into a fanciful limited edition tin.  Although you can still buy them on Amazon.  Maybe I should stop sewing these up and just re-sell them?  I suppose I could, but I follow Mary Poppins advice: “A job once begun is a job half done.”  I’m pressing forward.

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Yeah, it only took me three tins to realize that I should look at the bottom of the tin for relevant info, such as additional fabrics and how big the quilt will be.  I’m using Paintbrush Studio Solids in white from Pineapple Fabrics for my background.  I think I should buy bought a bolt of this stuff.  It’s really so great to sew with.

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The tins always have these things:

  1. roll of 7″ squares
  2. make-it card, with instructions
  3. cardboard “frame” for the stuff inside
  4. an extra…and this tin’s extra was two skeins of embroidery floss that accent the quilt’s colors.  Maybe I should take the hint and plan on some hand-stitching?  That is to be determined, as this quilt is bigger than the others, measuring about 50″ square when finished.

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All pieces cut.  Now to start sewing.  Thank you all!

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Triple Squares in “On Your Mark”

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My friend Simone recently launched her first line of fabric for Paintbrush Studios.  It’s called On Your Mark and has its origins in punctuation marks.

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Because I’m a pal, I get to sew with it.  I made her a baby quilt using her fabrics, perfect because the fabric has a lovely soft hand that the quilt won’t be scratchy at all.  I call this Triple Square.

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It’s basically a variation of a nine-patch, using 2-1/2″ squares with side pieces of 2-1/2″ by 6-1/2.” It goes together very quickly (like I started it Saturday afternoon, and delivered it, unbound, by Monday evening).  You may have seen this at QuiltCon, where she used it in her demo.

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Triple Square, 42″ square

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It finishes at 42″ square.  I quilted it in random angle lines, going around and over and above the brightly colored squares.  I threw in some random other background pieces, just to spice it up.  Then I channel quilted it around the outside edges, to create a type of border.

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The reverse of Triple Square

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This is Simone’s free downloadable pattern for her collection, titled Gumdrops, which you can find on the link at the top of this post.

Look for Simone’s fun and colorful collection coming soon to a quilt store near you!

The Calendar is my Friend. Repeat.

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I read this cartoon, from Stephan Pastis, some time ago, and I’ve saved it as it seems like it hits a bit too close to home with that wasting time on social media thing.  But rather than harp on that tired subject again — social media is ruining our lives — I’d rather take it a different direction, and talk about the one thing that helped me manage my social media as it relates to quilting: I made friends with my paper calendar.

In blogging, I used to just write blog posts at random: if I had made a quilt, or ran across something cool to share, I did.  But once another blogger said she scheduled her blog posts, I realized that she thought about them, worked out when she wanted to them to show up. In other words, she used that old-fashioned tool of calendaring her posts.

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I use a small desktop calendar, and circle the date and pencil (not pen) in a code word, so I know what’s happening.  It helps me space out things (not always successful on this, but I’m working on it).

I came home from QuiltCon, vowing to work smarter, determined to change up how I used my favorite calendaring book, the Get To Work Book.  Too often I was using it as a journal — you know, writing down the things I did, or needed to do, and crossing them out in yellow marker when they were completed.  Yeah, even if I’d just written them down.

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These are the project pages at the back of each month.  Post QuiltCon, I dumped wrote everything that was in my head down on paper.  I then took time to break it down into tasks, slipping a few onto every week of the month. Has it helped?  Somewhat.  I know now what I have to work on. I  don’t know about you, but I tend retreat to social media when I am bored, or perhaps, overwhelmed.   I can also be easily distracted by the wonderful eye-candy on Instagram (but in some ways that’s another topic for another day.)

 

 

In his article, “Warren Buffett’s ‘2 List’ Strategy: How to Maximize Your Focus and Master Your Priorities,” James Clear makes the point that even though many things are good to do, if they are not your top priorities, they will distract you from what’s most important, and from what should be given your best and undivided attention.

He notes that “Every behavior has a cost. Even neutral behaviors aren’t really neutral. They take up time, energy, and space that could be put toward better behaviors or more important tasks.”

Some other tips:

  • Simplify your media.  If you do Facebook, get off of Twitter or Snapchat.  Leo Babuta writes: “You can be a part of a social network and not participate all day long…I’ve consciously decided that I’d prefer to be creating rather than always connected to the social stream.” (from Zen Habits)
  • Notifications (from FB, IG, etc.) are a huge time sink.  Bubata recommends turning them off: “Don’t be notified everytime people post things or reply to you or follow you or email you or comment on your blog.”
  • I also liked the tip from Elizabeth Grace Saunders in the article “Front Load Your Week,” when she says “To minimize stress, spend less time worrying about planning exactly how long every activity will take you to do and more time front-loading your calendar by putting your most important activities with deadlines early in the day and early in the week. For example, something due on Friday should start appearing in your schedule by Tuesday afternoon…Front-loading gives you the ability to stay on top of projects that take longer than expected without getting stressed or working into the wee hours of the night.”
  • To follow up with that, front load your day.  Know when your best energy level is, and stack up tasks for that time.
  • My favorite focusing device is to ask myself:  “What do I want to have completed at the end of this day?”  That question alone has propelled me through me many a foggy moment.
  • Humans come first.  My husband is El Numero Uno, then my family, then friends.  After my husband, the order is flexible.
  • I am also a human.  (Obviously I have several firsts, but it all works out.)  By saying that I am a human, I need to be aware of how I feel after sitting scrunched over, reading my small screen. I need to be aware of how good a walk feels, even if it’s in the middle of the day, and only around the block. I need to be aware of how I feel when I can’t get anything done, because I’ve spent too long reading on the web, instead of getting to my work.  I need to be aware of how good it feels to have my life ordered, and not frantic.

Some regular tasks help me order my month, such as:

 

Gridsters March 2018

Marsha’s block for the Gridster Bee, March 2018

Sewing Obligations, such as blocks for my mates in the Gridster Bee.  I like jumping on it and getting it done at the beginning of the month (see tip about front-loading, above–I like to front-load my months, too!).

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Turning the calendar to a new month.  I believe that with all my digital calendars, at times I lose sight of how time can be structured and used.  Bringing forward that new page reminds me to check my project lists, re-order priorities, bring on new tasks.

It’s not harmful to be involved in social media as many interesting and significant discoveries, as well as new friends, can be made this way.  Some nights, when I’m too tired for sewing tasks, I like to read blogs.  I use Feedly and Bloglovin’ to help keep my reading organized and to follow up with people on Instagram, and Facebook.  It’s enjoyable to see what everyone else is doing.

Do you have tips for staying focused?  If you care to share, please leave them below in a comment.