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.