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Quilting by the Surfer Code

Quilting by the Surfer Code

By Janelle Cahoon, Quiltcentric

I happened across an interesting WikiHow article the other day called “How to Live the Surfer Code” and I’ve been thinking about how the life lessons in the Surfer Code can also apply to quilting.

Be positive.  For a surfer, this might involve trying waves that may not seem optimal but may turn out to be exciting once tried.  Quilters need to keep a positive attitude and try new patterns, techniques or tools from time to time; they may lead to a new quilting passion.

Be patient.  Some days the ocean is stingy with the good waves, and some days the surfer just isn’t in tune with the ocean.  The same is true of quilting.  Sometimes we go through a flat spell where our quilting doesn’t feel creative or our quilt doesn’t inspire us.  Keep working.  These times will pass.

Learn to read the moods of the world and the people around you.  A surfer pays attention to the ocean, wind, weather, sandbanks and any other surfers out near him.  A quilter should keep aware of changes in the quilting world – new techniques or designers, the latest color trends or tools.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to follow the crowd, but just be aware of the trends and the opportunities they may present.

Embrace challenges.  Challenge is an everyday part of a surfer’s life.  Every wave is different; every ride is unique.  Quilters may find after several years that they’re making similar quilts in similar combinations over and over again.  Challenge yourself.  Try something new.  Maybe you’ll like it and maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll incorporate it into your quilts and maybe you won’t.  But try it.  And then try something more.  Embrace the challenges and grow as a quilter.

Face your fears.  If a surfer goes out with an attitude of fear and negativity, they’re likely to wipe out.  Fear holds you back from trying new things, and from being as successful as you can be.  For a quilter, facing your fears can mean many things – it could be taking the risk of entering a quilt in a judged show, it could be going to a guild meeting for the first time, it could be trying needle-turn appliqué.  Face your fears.  Try it.

Don’t fight the riptide.  For surfers, riptide is a real danger, since a surfer who fights against the flow can be dragged under.  But, by respecting the current and learning how to deal with it, surfers can actually use it to help them get out to the furthest breaking waves.  While quilting rarely involves life-and-death risk, the lesson of awareness of the flow of our quilting life is still valuable.  Be aware of the currents and move into them and out of them as necessary to get where you want to go.  Are you finding that so many people want a quilt from you that you no longer have time to quilt for yourself?  Are you leaving so many UFO’s in your wake that they’re dragging you down?  Do you want to make some charity quilts but haven’t yet started?  Be aware of the flow; go with it as long as it’s headed where you want to go, but slip out of it when it starts to carry you in the wrong direction.

Lower your expectations.  Not all the waves will be big ones, but a lot of fun can still be had from the smaller waves, too.  The same is true of quilting.  Not all our quilts have to be heirlooms or show-stoppers.  Not all our work has to be perfect.  Relaxing and lowering expectations can allow you to enjoy your quilting more – even if it’s just for a quilt or two.

Be prepared so you can be relaxed.  Preparation for a surfer would mean their board was properly waxed, leg-rope attached, wet-suit fitting properly, etc.  Knowing everything is prepared right, the surfer can relax and enjoy the experience.  Quilters’ preparation would be preparing their fabrics, maintaining their machine, having spare needles and putting in a fresh rotary-cutter blade before starting a new project.  Getting these things done in advance will decrease the chance of things going wrong, or seeing minor frustrations mount.  Prepare, relax, enjoy.

Live in the now.  Surfers don’t know where the next wave will take them.  They don’t worry about the way they wiped out this morning or what the waves will be like next week.  They just surf the wave they’ve got now.  For quilters, this means enjoying the process, taking pleasure in the way your colors work together, enjoying good straight seams, being proud of the blocks as you finish them and the quilting as you stitch.  Don’t worry about the seam you had to rip this morning or how far you sewed with an empty bobbin. That’s past.  Enjoy the now.

Live with passion.  A surfer with passion surfs as often as possible, always eager for the next good wave.  A quilter with passion would show it by practicing and improving her craft and by learning new techniques and sharing them with others.  Have you ever been so wrapped up in your quilting that dinnertime arrived and you had nothing cooked?  Have you stayed up quilting long after everyone else is in bed?  That shows passion for quilting.

Expect to be your own best cheerleader.  There is often no witness to a surfer’s greatest accomplishments, but that doesn’t lessen the exhilaration he feels.  Quilters fare a bit better here, since a finished quilt itself is evidence of a big accomplishment.  But it’s also important to take pride in your smaller quilting feats, like smoother machine quilting, conquering a difficult bit of appliqué or completing a complicated block.  No one else will notice them, but take pride in your small victories.

Choose your path and be unique.  Every surfer has strengths, weaknesses, preferences and habits that affect his ride.  Every wave is different and must be surfed differently.  Individuality is both necessary and encouraged in surfing.  It should be the same for you as a quilter.  Use your own strengths, weaknesses, preferences and habits to develop a style that’s all your own.

Pass it on.  Surfers support and aid one another, whether that’s giving tips to a beginner, helping someone who’s been injured in a wipe-out, or just observing another surfer’s right-of-way.  Quilters also need to “pass it on.”  Participate in quilt shows, teach a technique at a guild meeting, quilt for charity or support other quilters by praising their accomplishments.  Do what feels right to you, but “pass it on.”


Do you have any quilting  philosophy you’d like to share?  Tips, techniques or ideas?  Write an article and send it to me through the Contact link at the top of the page.

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