Back in 1999, I took a quilting class with Ruth B. McDowell to learn how to design pictorial pieced quilts. At the time, I was struggling to find a way to make representational quilts without using applique. While I learned what I hoped to in her class, making the quilt I designed taught me some unexpected lessons about avoiding creative stumbling blocks.
It’s easy to stall out on a project when you discover that something is wrong or your ideas aren’t working at all. While making Violets Are Red, I hit several points where I could have gotten stuck. Instead, my eagerness to finish this quilt helped me over the bumps, and I learned three things to remember whenever I create something.
Mistakes happen. While McDowell covered ways to keep the sewing simple, I still wound up with some inside corners. This made piecing my quilt more challenging than I had intended. While I wasn’t happy to have these difficult seams to deal with, I didn’t let that keep me from making my quilt.
Your original idea isn’t always the best one. When I auditioned fabrics in class for this quilt, something was wrong. I put up lots of rich, lucious red fabrics, but I didn’t like the way the quilt was looking. It didn’t feel right, even though the rose in my photo was red. When I got home, I stuck the pattern on the wall and pondered. Instead of trying red again, I went with turquoise blue. As soon as I did, I went from hating the quilt to loving it. When I stopped trying to force things, creating got easier.
Sometimes your effort doesn’t show. I quilted this piece by hand, putting wild and intricate patterns into the background sections. Because the fabrics were already full of pattern, my stitches don’t show up well at all. As soon as I realized this, I paused, wondering if I should continue. I decided that I was enjoying improvising the hand-quilted patterns, so I went ahead and finished it, putting in a lot of work that you really cannot see.
McDowell certainly taught me a lot, but I learned even bigger lessons about creativity making the piece I designed in her class. Realizing that I can make a piece I love despite making mistakes, changing my mind, and working in vain was a big insight. I try to remember these lessons whenever I make something new, so that I finish instead of stalling out.