Moving outside the comfort zone

The comfort zone is the great enemy to creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears. – Dan Stevens


This October will mark the 14th anniversary of the first time I ever attended the Houston International Quilt Festival. It was the same year that my ex-husband and I decided that divorce was the best option, and I was looking for a way to move forward in life. I attended that first show with my mom and a friend of hers, and it opened up to me a whole new world that I never knew existed – a world where I was intrigued with fabric, color and the visual stimulus that would take my mind off other things going on in my life. The quilts that interested me the most were NOT my great-grandmother’s style of quilting. They were beautiful picture type quilts, and I was stunned by the work, time and effort it must have taken to produce them.

It wasn’t too long after that I decided to learn to quilt – something I’d always had an interest in, in the abstract, but which I’d never thought I would actually do. I walked into the local quilt shop, The Painted Pony, and told them that I wanted to learn to quilt. The lady who was helping me said, “Sure, we can sign you up for a class!” I told her I didn’t have time for a class – I was a single mom with two small children, a full time job and I attended school in the evenings. I just wanted a book. She kept insisting that I would never learn to quilt on my own, but she did eventually sell me a book and the fabric to make a quilt, but as I was walking out of the shop, she said to me, “We’ll still be here when you fail at that, and you can sign up for classes!” A week later, I took my first completed quilt back to the shop to show her that I could indeed learn to quilt without their class. It was far from perfect, but it was mine, and I had done it alone. It may sound silly to say, but that first quilt changed my life.

For the next eight years or so, my life would revolve around my children, my job, school and quilting. I made time for quilting even when I was taking a full load at school, while continuing my demanding full time job. It was my sanity, my escape, and it changed my life for the better. I took a break where I quilted only intermittently over a period of about four years, and then picked it back up again in earnest a couple of years ago. A four year break can kill the skill set, so I’ve spent the time since I picked up again to rebuild those skills. Most of those quilts I designed myself, or bastardized a design I saw elsewhere. They were skill builders in many ways – bringing me back to the quilting art, teaching me how to implement my own ideas, and exposing me to the various ways that others approach quilting. But I’ve grown somewhat complacent in my quilting. I’m firmly stuck in a comfort zone I’ve had no intention of moving out of, until now.

The last few weeks I’ve been working on improving my garment-making skills. I’ve always had basic skills; I made the kids some shorts when they were little, I’d make myself pants with elastic in the waist. My garment projects were always really simple, very basic, and not too exciting. In a word, they were boring. When I recently decided I wanted to make myself some clothes, I went back to – you guessed it – pants with elastic in the waist. Then I thought, you know, this isn’t really what I want to do. I want to learn to make t-shirts, and items with buttons and zippers, and collars and waistbands. So I went to Hancock Fabrics and bought a pattern to make a shirt with a collar, collar band and buttons. I’m not a fast sewist, so it’s taken me about three weeks to get to where I am with that shirt, but it’s close to being completed. It needs buttons (the buttonholes are already done) and to be hemmed. I am really hoping to get it completed today. After that, I have a knit cardigan cut out that I’ll be putting together. I made myself a t-shirt a few weeks ago; I need to tweak it and learn how to do a better neck, so that project will come after the cardigan. I was really nervous about working with knits, because the internet will have you believe that they are really difficult to work with and make sewing a chore. But I’ve really enjoyed it, and I plan to do a lot more of it. I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone and I’ve really enjoyed making clothing, much more than I ever thought possible.

Last night while I was working on my shirt, I started to think that maybe the reason why I’m not all that interested in picking up another quilt to do is that I’m stuck in my quilting comfort zone, only I’m not so comfortable with it. I do the quilts that are easy for me, and I’m not challenged enough. Maybe my reality is that I need a certain amount of “challenge” to keep myself moving forward. When I started thinking about it, I realized that nearly every time I’ve taken a break from quilting, it’s come after a particularly long period of being stuck in whatever comfort zone I was in, but instead of turning to other fabric arts, I would pick up my camera, or find another hobby. I get easily bored when I’m not being challenged, and that’s why I look for other hobbies to take up when I get bored with quilting. It isn’t necessarily I want a break from sewing itself, as evidenced by my recent garment construction, but rather, I want a break from the monotony I’m creating for myself. This led me to realize that my second greatest barrier to moving forward in quilting is my own fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of … something I cannot name, perhaps?

I’ve always admired landscape quilts; that’s what I first fell in love with at the Houston quilt festival in 2000, and I’ve always wanted to do one but I’ve had a million excuses why I can’t or shouldn’t do it. I can’t draw. I’m not an artist. I’m not familiar with some of the techniques used in those quilts. I’m not talented enough to do it. There are a million excuses why I can’t do it, but there’s one good reason why I should try – because I want to do it. If I had let those excuses deter me from learning how to quilt in the first place, I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things I’ve already done. And even though I’m not an artist and I cannot draw, why does that also mean that I can’t make a landscape quilt? It doesn’t, quite frankly. My landscape quilt doesn’t even have to be realistic – if it doesn’t turn out so good, I can call it an abstract! So what’s holding me back now?

Nothing. There is absolutely nothing holding me back now. And so, in tandem with finishing my shirt already in progress and putting together the cardigan I’ve already cut out, I’m also going to start work on my first landscape quilt. It may not turn out great, and it might not look much like a landscape when I’m done, but I’m going to give it a shot. And if it isn’t that great when it’s done but I’ve enjoyed the process, I’m going to try again. And again. And again. Because you know what? It doesn’t matter to me what others think about the quilts, it will get me out of my comfort zone, and that’s exactly what I need.


My Personal Challenge

As I posted last time, one of my goals is to get better at making clothing. I still don’t have the revised pattern piece, but I did email them again this morning to ask about it and to point out that there is also not a notch for one side of the sleeve. I’m about to pack it all up and take it to my Mom’s to see if she can help me get it finished. I’m not happy about this because I was really hoping to have it finished by now!

Anyway, back to my original reason for posting. My goal is to get better at making clothing, both for myself and my husband. So I’m setting myself a challenge – one new garment completed each month from September until the end of 2015. I hope to complete more than one a month, but right now, that’s my goal. One garment each month. It doesn’t have to be for me, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. But it does need to be completed by the last day of the month. 

My garment for September will be a semi-fitted t-shirt for myself. I made the fitted version of Butterick B5215 back in the spring, and at first thought it didn’t fit well and that there were problems with the neck line (there ARE problems with the neck line, but I’ll save that story for another time). Well, it does fit very well, it’s really comfortable and I can conquer the issues with the neck line. In fact, once I put the shirt on the right way, the neck was perfectly fine. I’m going to try the semi-fitted version of the same pattern, and I’ll be starting it this weekend (and hopefully finishing it, too, which means my challenge will start in August, not September). I have plans to make either four or five of these shirts for myself, so it might be a couple months of t-shirt sewing in various colors. I will do a post on the fitted version as soon as I can get a photo of myself wearing it, and share my struggles with the neck at that time. 

Another thing I’m seriously considering doing is to take a fitting class with Craftsy, because I want to learn how to draft my own patterns, and I think proper fit is the first step in that process, not to mention that even when my measurements are the same as the information on the pattern envelopes, I don’t always get a good fit. I have found that in some cases, I could have made at least a full size smaller than the envelope indicated. I think learning how to get a good fit is also important when one starts to branch off into independent the pattern maker’s offerings, not because they aren’t as good as the Big 4 (Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick and Vogue), but because I can pick up the Big 4 on sale sometimes for as little as $1 each, and the independents cost about $16 on average for a pattern. I’ve been a little wary of indie patterns because a lot of them are downloads, where you print them out on regular paper and then tape them all together. I’m not interested in yet another step in trying to make a garment – I want to pull the pattern out of an envelope, trace it off and GO. I would never use a pattern that I taped together to make a garment, so that would mean I would have to print it out, tape it together and then trace it. No thanks … I’m not that interested in anything an indie has come out with to go through all those steps. Heck, for that, I can learn to draft or modify patterns myself, which is why I’m considering the Craftsy class.

At any rate, my sewing plans this weekend are to maybe finish my button down shirt, if revised pattern pieces come from Butterick, and if not, I’ll start work on a t-shirt. I’d like to make a tee that I then put some embroidery on, but I’m going to make this first one to check for proper fit first. Then, if it works out like I think it will, I will make another one to embroider on. 🙂

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Frustration Abounds!

One of my goals is to improve my garment sewing capabilities. I would probably rate myself as an intermediate quilter, but my sewing skills can best be described as … intermediate beginner? Is that even a term? I can sew a set in sleeve, but I’ve never done buttonholes till recently. I’ve never done a zipper. But I can make a pair of pants or shorts with elastic in the waist in about 30 minutes. Then again, who wants nothing but elastic waisted garments?

So, in an effort to step up my game, I’m making a serious effort to make myself some clothing. And in that spirit, I went to Hancock Fabrics with my mom and I chose Butterick B6070. It’s a very cute, allegedly simple button down shirt. See?

Butterick B6070

Butterick B6070

Now, I’m not exactly a small girl – that’s one of the reasons why I want to improve my sewing skills. Clothing for plus size often looks like a tent – it’s shapeless and the fabrics are more often than not just terrible. But that’s a post for another day. I chose this pattern because it was graded – or scaled to size – for plus size and I thought it could be a good basic top. It has a hidden placket, which I thought would further expand my skills, a collar with a collar band, and buttons. It’s really cute, isn’t it?

Things were going along swimmingly, and I was really enjoying the process of making the top. I traced off my pattern in my size, cut it out, pinned it to fabric that I got from my mom (I’m not sure if it’s considered “vintage” but it was bought before I graduated high school in 1986!), and cut it out. I was careful to mark all the notches and dots and everything. It was going great – until I got to the collar and collar band. I called my mom for advice, because I’ve never done one before, and she walked me through how to do it. And I got started on it, but I never got any further than sewing the collar pieces to each other and turning them right side out. You see, there are no NOTCHES on the collar to match to the collar band. The instruction sheet very clearly says to match the notches and other markings, but they don’t exist. 

So I got on the internet (the trusty internet, where I can find almost anything) and I sent an email to Butterick and explained the problem. I did neglect to mention I was using the plus size pattern, so when the reply came back that the notches were definitely on the pattern and I must have just missed them, I went up to my studio and took photos of the pattern pieces in question and emailed them back. The girl apologized and said she would have the pattern piece regraded and sent to me. That was yesterday. It’s been more than 24 hours and I’ve not heard back from them. But I figured, you know, they’re probably busy, and I don’t HAVE to put the collar in before I do the sleeves, because I wasn’t really following the instructions anyway. When it comes to sleeves and side seams, I never do them like the pattern says, because I think it’s a stupid way to do set-in sleeves. I did learn SOMETHING from my mom, after all. LOL

So today, after work, I went back up to my studio and started to inset the sleeve. Only guess what’s missing … a NOTCH!! Now I’m a little perturbed, because they have missed at least two notches that I know of … though, hopefully, there aren’t any more missing, because there really aren’t many pattern pieces left. But seriously, TWO sets of notches missing on a single pattern?? You can bet I’m not happy. I can set a sleeve, no problem, but with no notches? Well … Maybe I can do it, but it won’t be easy. 

And so, that’s why my frustration is out of control tonight. I am SO CLOSE to having this shirt done. I’ve got to put in the collar, put in the sleeves and put on the buttons. Hem it, and it’s done. But I can’t do any of that right now because the NOTCHES ARE MISSING!!

Sorry for yelling, but seriously … what does Butterick have against transferring all of the notches to the plus size patterns?