My Sewing Thoughts

How to Take Back Your Love for Quilting

How To Take Back YourHave you ever had something happen that just stole your love for quilting? Maybe you overheard someone say something really harsh about a quilt that you worked really hard to make. Maybe it was an overly critical comment on a quilt you put into a juried show. Maybe it wasn’t one thing; maybe it was just the continual lack of time to actually do it, and slowly but surely, you just stopped making them. You didn’t stop wanting to make them, you just were afraid to make them; too worried it wouldn’t be good enough, or the stress of trying to carve out the time to quilt became too much.

I have been at this place. To be honest, a part of me still is at this place. I hadn’t lost the desire to create; I hadn’t run out of ideas. I still bought patterns and fabric; I still sketched ideas and I still sat down at my machine sometimes, but the love, the joy, had been replaced by fear and self-consciousness of what others will think of my work.

And then one day, I decided I wanted the joy back. I wish I could sit here and tell you that like an Olympic athlete, I turned those negative thoughts and comments that people had made about my work into positive fuel to get me back on my feet, but I didn’t. No, those thoughts and comments still haunt me sometimes. What I don’t let them do anymore is stop me.

These are some steps that I took to get my love for quilting back and some advice on how to not take someone’s love for quilting away from them. I am telling you this because I have a feeling I am not the only one who has been here. I am probably not the only person who has felt sadness because they just want to make something, but feel paralyzed to do so. I am pretty sure I am not the only one that has said to themselves, “I just want to sew and have it be fun. Even if it’s not perfect.”

So here are my steps and I hope it helps someone who has been in this place too:

  1. Make something small that is just for you. When you have gone many months without making anything, the best way to get back started is to make something small and simple that is just for you. Something that you don’t have to show anyone if you don’t want to. My something small was a self-lining bag, similar to this one here. The one I made was smaller to hold shoes when traveling and I didn’t do any embroidery on it. I just made the bag. It got me behind my machine and in the end, I came out with a completed project. I didn’t show anyone, I just took it to my closet and used it the next time traveled. It was a great first step. I made something and it was useful! I felt good about it. A little love came back into my heart.
  2. Go through your UFO’s (UnFinished Objects) and find one that is almost done and finish it. I had a landscape quilt that I had started when I was learning how to do landscape quilts. It wasn’t very good at all which is why it wasn’t finished. It only needed to be trimmed up, one border added and the binding. So I finished that little landscape. Yay! Finished! I got to sit in my sewing studio and enjoy the victory of a completed project. I hung it on my sewing studio wall and admired it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was finished and that made me love it.
  3. Do all the utility sewing that you have been putting off. I know this sounds strange, but when I decided to tackle that pile of pants that needed hemming, skirts that needed to be taken in and pillows with holes that needed mending, I started to say to myself, “Oh yeah, this is why I quilt! This kind of sewing isn’t fun!” But I also got that satisfaction of getting something done and I was beginning to lose the anxiety that I had previously felt every time I sat behind my sewing machine. That negative voice that had been in my head telling me that my work wasn’t good enough was starting to fade. My hemming of those pants was good enough! I patched the holes in those pillows like a boss! I started to believe in myself again…just a little bit.
  4. Make a quilt that needs to be made. You know the saying, “The Lord works in mysterious ways?” That is certainly true for what really gave me my love for quilting back. I have friend who was very, very sick and I needed to make her a quilt. She was going to be in the hospital for another surgery and I just knew that a quilt full of blocks that had been signed by her friends would give her strength. I didn’t have a choice. This quilt had to be made no matter how I felt. So I picked a very simple pattern (rail fence) and I put together the top. I took the extra steps, like squaring up the blocks, and quilted it. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t fit for a juried show or even a blog post, but it was perfect for my friend. She loved it and I loved making it. I truly loved every stitch, even the not-so-perfect ones. That is when I came to my final step:
  5. Fire the Quilt Police that are hanging out in your head. I decided that I know longer cared what people thought of my work, and more importantly, I decided to stop being so hyper-critical of it myself. All too often, the negative voice is my very own. I was not going to let the comments of others, or my own negative comments about my work, steal the love I have for quilting. I made a conscious decision to start making things that I like to make, to the best of my ability and continue to get better at my own pace. The beautiful thing is: I now LOVE quilting again! I have started working on new quilts and thinking up new projects to make. I am back behind my sewing machine with joy instead of anxiety. I am currently working on 2 new quilts and one past-project that I had been avoiding. Quilting is once again my stress relief, instead of something that was causing me stress, and I am so happy about that! Dealing with stress is never easy for anyone, so I see why many people take up quilting, take herbal remedies or even look for the best mattress to buy, in the hopes of improving comfort while sleeping and potentially relieve stress.

This wouldn’t be a complete post if I didn’t offer one piece of advice on how to not cause someone quilting anxiety. For most of us, sewing and quilting is more than just a hobby; it is an extension of who we are as people. It is our artistic expression and in some ways, a revealing of our soul. Be kind to your fellow quilter. When you see her (or his) work, find something nice to say about it, and only offer a critique if it is appropriate and you know them well enough to know how to tell them something that will help them be a better quilter. Telling them you just don’t like it, or that those colors are awful, isn’t helpful.

Let’s not steal each other’s joy for this amazing art. Let’s build each other up.

Be Kind To Your Fellow QuilterHappy Sewing!

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  • Sharon Wardlaw

    Thank you so much for this post. I too have been in this funk. I had a really close friend that quilted with me each day and we really turned out the work and I was really feeling good Then several years ago she suddenly died. Since then I have had what I call analysis paralysis and haven’t done much of anything. I think your article may just be the boost I need. Anyway, I am going to put this plan into motion. Thanks again

    • Kelly Nagel

      Sharon, I am so sorry for your loss. It is very hard when you have lost your quilting buddy. I hope you will start quilting again and that through it, you will also find peace and joy.

    • Katforever18

      Hello Sharon, I’m sorry for your loss too. I lost my biggest fan, supporter, cheerleader & BEST FRIEND 2 yrs ago this past April. She was my mom & she loved everything I did no matter how awful or how many flaws. I miss her TREMENDOUSLY!!!!! I wish you & I lived near each other, I live outside of Montgomery AL. & I’ve wanted someone to sew with for years. My mom was to sick to sew with me when I got my first machine & got so interested in making quilts. If you live anywhere near me, I’m sure I could never take the place of your friend, I’d love to have a sewing buddy! You’re in my prayers!! May God send you a new sewing friend where ever you are!! ?

  • Judy

    I don’t usually respond to these, but my timing of reading this-perfect, needed, necessary and very helpful. our worst opponent is often the face in the mirror….returning to that simple joy, not over thinking my project, and being vested in the moment. great article. Thank you!

  • Sandi Cunningham

    THIS is what happened to me. One of my kids, whom I had worked especially hard on kitchen towels and an apron, had said not long after, “Stop making me hand-made things.” I was devastated. I’ve done hardly anything sewing/embroidery since. I worried that maybe my gifts of time and especially made for that person gifts were not appreciated or valued or loved.
    It’s been close to 2 years since I had a sewing bender, but THIS article gives me hope that I can carry on and get back to making things…even if they are only for me! Thank you for trying to help renew my 5 decades of sewing and making.

    • nanreflections

      Someday your children will wish they still had you around to make them those “hand-made things”. Maybe you could make certain things for them now to fulfill your wish of making things, be it quilts, kitchen towels, aprons, clothing, baby clothes, etc, and just know in your heart that they WILL be appreciated at some point in time.

      • Katforever18

        Sandi I totally agree with Nan. Keep making things for them just box them up & put their names on them then after you’re gone & they go through your stuff they’ll find the gifts you made for them & they WILL be treasured forever!!! I think they’ll be grateful that you thought of them & loved them enough to do that for them!!! Quilt & Sew on & God Bless!!!

  • Nadine Donovan

    This post hits home. I am glad to know I am not the only one. Life can get in the way and steal our quilting passion. These are great ideas to carry us over the hump. And you are also right- get rid of the quilting police and be kind to fellow quilters!!!

  • patricia `G Hayes

    i am so in need for this. Not that I want to be perfect in what I make but just to make something that I am excited about and to be excited about quilting again.

    • Kelly Nagel

      I understand Patricia. I have been there. Start small and make something. Anything. You don’t have to show anyone. Just make it. And be proud of it. You can do it! I believe in you.

  • Whiskers

    Your post resonates here. The first time was when my mother passed away. It was 6 months before I had any creative feelings at all, but that passed. I proudly hung up a wacky Halloween quilt at Christmas time. The second time was PAYING for judges’ comments on an entry into a national contest. Six words–three positive, three negative. I simmered over them for years. They only see the finished project–which has probably been squashed in a box to get to the competition–not the process that made the project. I never asked for judges’ comments again. Thirdly is that voice in my head. I finally realized that “good enough” is good enough at times. I was parented by two perfectionists and they still critique in my head, and there have been times I’ve told them, “shut up an go away”.

    As for not wanting “hand made things”, gift your efforts to some one else that appreciates “hand made things” and let them spend THEIR money on “made in China”. Even donating your efforts to a charity you support in your heart and never see the recipient is more satisfying.

  • LaVerne

    Thank you for this. I’ve been stuck and avoiding sewing because I don’t meet my own expectations, I appreciate these ideas for jump starting me,

  • Dee

    Plus, sewing, quilting, crafting of all kinds is therapeutic if we let it be-Blood pressure lowers and our sense of well-being increases as long as we don’t stress over the projects. If we work alone with pleasant music, so much the better, but working with others and enjoying laughter is so beneficial. I have recently moved to another state, so have not yet met new group with whom to sew. I have challenged myself to work through my UFO’s as a break from unpacking those endless boxes.

  • Dottie

    Thank you for your article Kelly. Your great ideas encourage me to start sewing again. I am new to quilting, and love being creative. But find myself to critical, and avoid my sewing machine too. It is heart warming and affirming to know other quilters and crafters feel this way at times.

  • Katherine Cronn

    Agree that we are often too hard on ourselves. We shouldn’t compare what we do with others, but rather with earlier things that we ourselves have made, It should be about our personal growth first.