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How to Beat Quilter’s Block

How to Beat Quilter’s Block

By Janelle Cahoon, Quiltcentric

It’s happened to all of us at some point: even though we like to quilt, and want to quilt, and maybe even need to make a quilt, for some reason we just can’t seem to sit in that sewing chair and actually work on something.  It can go on for days, weeks or even months and the frustration can just keep mounting as the desire to quilt fights with the inability to actually do it.

So what to do about it?  There are a number of different tactics to try, depending on whether the quilter’s block is caused more by external factors, internal factors, or a general category I’ll call “life gets in the way.”  Sometimes identifying the cause can make all the difference.

External Factors:

Sometimes when we want to quilt but can’t, a change in something around us can help rediscover the joy of quilting.  Some things to try if you suspect your environment might be the problem:

  • Purge the old fabrics or UFOs – they may be holding you back from trying something new.
  • Improve your lighting – an extra light or a change to full-spectrum lighting (like Ott Lights) can make a huge difference in your energy level.
  • Clean and organize your sewing space – most of us work better in a clean space where we can find what we’re looking for.  And maybe you’ll come across a fabric or pattern that will inspire you.
  • Check your equipment – is your chair comfortable and at the right height?  Is your machine at the right height and working properly?  These factors can make a difference at a subconscious level even if consciously they’re “not too bad.”
  • Try getting out of the house — taking a class, joining a guild, or signing up for a quilt retreat.  Being around other enthusiastic quilters may fire up your own creative juices.

Internal Factors:

Sometimes when we can’t quilt even though we want to, it’s due to our own feelings.  Some things to try if you’re just not feeling that old enthusiasm and inspiration:

  • Buy a new quilting book or pattern.
  • Try a class or a quilt retreat.
  • Join a guild – it can help refresh your enthusiasm.
  • Give yourself permission to take a short break from quilting.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to remind us how much we love and miss it.  And when the break ends, try sitting in that sewing chair and trying again.
  • Try making a small charity quilt or a gift for an upcoming occasion.
  • Just sew – even if you’re not feeling inspired, sit at your machine and try just one block or just start sewing scrap strips together; sometimes that will kick-start your project.
  • Know when to fold ‘em – sometimes we get overwhelmed by a commitment to a project we really don’t want to do, or by the sheer number of our UFOs.  Sometimes it’s best to pass these projects on to another quilter to finish up – another volunteer, a paid quilter or a charity that can lighten your load and at the same time help someone who needs a quilty hug.

When Life Gets in the Way:

Sometimes it feels like our lives are so full with work and family obligations that we just can’t fit in another thing, even something like quilting or other hobbies we love.  If you feel you’re just too busy to quilt, try some of the following:

  • Avoid excessive “quilting-related activities.” Online or in person shopping, blog-reading, fabric fondling, quilt magazines etc., while enjoyable themselves, can eat up large amounts of time that could actually be spent quilting.  When I was very ill a few years ago, I pretty much replaced quilting with these sorts of activities, which led to a great fabric stash, but very little actual quilting.
  • If feeling discouraged think about why.  Have you been put off by a quilt gift poorly received or a negative comment you overheard?  It happens.  Put it behind you and move on.  Problems with a new technique?  Set it aside for now and do more of what you’re already good at, and then come back to the problem area later with a fresh perspective.
  • Find a cause – either a quilt-related charity you want to support with a regular quilt donation or an upcoming gift occasion where a quilt would be suitable.  Then choose fabric and a pattern and get to work on it.
  • Find 15 minutes a day.  Break your quilting into small bits and do as much as you can in 15 minutes even if that has to be in 5 minute windows of opportunity.  If you do hand-sewing or appliqué have a small sewing kit in your bag and you can accomplish a lot in a doctor’s waiting room or on a lunch break.
  • Set a deadline.  We all know if we’re people who work best under pressure.  If you’re one of those people, set yourself a firm deadline for one current project. Next, tell someone else about your deadline; this will make it a public commitment.  Now work on it, ignoring other quilt projects, and stick to meeting your deadline with this one.

And finally, a tip that cuts across categories:

  • Beware of the urge for perfection.  Too much fear of minor mistakes can inhibit you from moving forward at all.  Face it – we’re not perfect and neither are our quilts. Do the very best you can with your skills at the moment.  That’s all you can do.  Sure you can take classes, and sure you’ll improve with practice, but the quilts you make now are a visual record of who you are now and where you are now.  Do we value our foremothers’ quilts less because they aren’t “perfect?”  No!  We admire them for the work and creativity and love they represent.  Your quilts, no matter their level of expertise, say the same.

Now, go get quilting!

Do you want to share any thoughts or experiences related to quilting?  Send your articles to me through the Contact link above.


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