On procrastination, or why my first quilt still isn’t finished

I’m really good at not doing what I should be doing. It’s a trait I’ve been developing over the years. Sometimes, I get it: I hate calling strangers, so I still haven’t called my bank about an issue that sprang up last spring. But sometimes, it’s silly. When I started quilting, I decided that I didn’t want to knock out a simple quilt that was row after row of basic square patchwork; I wanted to keep learning new techniques. I was strategic about it: I designed my own quilt. I cut out the wrong-sized triangles twice. I sewed everything by hand, pulling out stitches when necessary to rework odd areas. And I learned a lot. The entire quilt, which is shy of being a twin-size, is pieced, backed, and quilted. The only thing left is to bind it…and I’ve been putting it off for weeks.

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Binding doesn’t seem hard. In fact, a lot of quilting bloggers I’ve read seem to actually enjoy it. And yet, I just don’t want to. So, I ask myself, why?

Psychotherapists tell us that we procrastinate for one reason: We fear that doing whatever it is that we’re avoiding will cause us some amount of pain. I’m pretty sure my quilt isn’t going to strangle me as I bind it, and my fingers are already numb from the number of times I’ve stabbed myself while quilting. Physical pain is out.

But emotional pain is something different. I have a feeling that I’m afraid of the project ending. I’ve really enjoyed myself working on this quilt, and it’s been completed entirely by hand. That last bit is something special, something I’m particularly proud of. I’ve gone through nearly two spools of thread, and I’ve done it purely with my fingers. Now that I have a sewing machine—a shiny Husqvarna that I really do like—I fear that the enjoyment I get from sewing by hand is going to be lost. With a machine on standby, sewing by hand is inefficient. So, I could tell myself the next time I look at a hand needle, why bother with that old thing at all?

It’s the same argument you can make for typing on a computer, as I’m doing right now, instead of writing with a pen on paper. I am a fast, accurate typer and a slow, messy writer, so putting my thoughts down digitally is, on the surface, a far more productive way to spend my writing time.

Sometimes, though, the words don’t flow when I’m staring at any empty Word document. Sometimes, I need a fine-point RSVP pen in my hand to get my brain waves moving. Often, I switch fairly seamlessly between the two, preferring to brainstorm by hand and my speedy writing on my laptop.

The same will, I think, be true of my hand sewing in the future. The machine is a wonder—the way it whizzes through seams that would take me hours by hand! But I don’t like listening to the whir. I don’t like pressing the pedal. And I don’t enjoy digging through stitch settings or troubleshooting bobbin hang-ups or fiddling with tension. I adore the silence and focus it takes to sew by hand. My hope for the future is that I remember that I have a choice; just because the machine is there doesn’t mean that I have to use it. And if I choose not to—or choose to use it, for that matter—the only person attaching guilt or fear or negativity to the situation is me.

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Do you procrastinate on activities you actually enjoy, just like I do? Tell me why you think you did it in the comments!

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On creating space in your brain

Since the week before Easter, my brain has been knocked off its orbit. Who would have known inheriting four musty old quilts could have packed such a punch?

Left: My great grandmother's quilt. Right: My first quilt, from cutting the blocks to quilted.
Left: My great grandmother’s quilt. Right: My first quilt, from cutting the blocks to quilted.

Since the week before Easter, my brain has been knocked off its orbit. Who would have known inheriting four musty old quilts could have packed such a punch?

I certainly didn’t. Neither did my aunt, who loaded her grandmother’s legacy—minus a dresser-full of crocheted doilies—into my arms. Nor did my mother, though she did look at me askance when I loaded the pile of bedding into her car. Where was I going to put my haul? In my closet, of course…and three of them made it up to the tippy top shelf. One stayed on my chair. For the last two and a half months, I’ve napped under it, fingered the still-tight stitches, marveled at the fabric that used to be my dad’s shirt or my grandpa’s shorts. And I decided I was going to make my own.

I did it, too, mostly (the binding isn’t done yet, but I designed, cut, pieced, sewed, sandwiched, and quilted it all by hand, by myself). It’s been an obsessive project, which suits my obsessive personality. I don’t think anyone in my family thought it would last. One of my great talents is picking up a craft, getting to the midpoint, and stashing it on my art cart. The cart is ready to mutiny, me thinks, least of all because the one project that stuck isn’t the easy sunglasses case or the multistrand bracelet or the sachet. It’s the six foot-long quilt.

When I look at what I’ve done, I am…honestly, kind of amazed. That I did it by hand astonishes me. That I persevered through cutting things wrong and sewing pieces wrong and measuring wrong and being imprecise humbles me. That it took my more than two months? And I’m still working on it—and happy to work on it? That’s unbelievable.

What’s more unbelievable, though, is how this quilt and the four heirlooms I inherited before starting it cracked open my psyche. Some activities (like baking and yoga) are things that I like to do. Others, like writing and sewing, are things that I feel are calling my name. I keep wanting to return to them. And, increasingly over the last few weeks, I’ve wanted to spend all my time sewing and none of it writing.

As a professional writer, that’s problematic. As a professional writer who has, ‘til the last few weeks, really, assumed her calling was writing and that was all she did and all she would do, that’s mind boggling. So, with my mind thoroughly boggled, I woke up Thursday, answered as much email as I needed to get through the weekend, pushed back a few deadlines, and declared a four-day weekend.

It was glorious. Every time I started worrying about this shift in my brain, I pushed those thoughts away. I did what I wanted—sewing machine hunting, fabric hunting, finished a pattern for a new quilt, sewing up blocks for another new quilt—and then, as I sewed, I started listening to a new podcast. Elise Gets Crafty has been running for about a year now. It’s the brainchild of Elise Blaha Cripe, a creative person, longtime blogger, and big-time motivational small business owner. I stepped back to 2014, back to her first episode. And I found someone giving advice to me.

By the time I hit publish on this post, it’ll have been about 24 hours since I started listening to the podcast. This morning, I had a meeting with myself and I was honest about what I love to do and what I don’t love to do and where I was want to be today and tomorrow and three months from now and six months from now. I think I’ve found a way to spend time nurturing all of my love sand making them all work for me, as well. I am in such a good headspace. I am mellow and calm. I’m not worried. I’m not stressed about deadlines. I’m not thinking about what I should have done when I was frolicking over the last four days. I’m moving forward.

So, what can you expect here, as I do? I’ll be talking more about my projects (writing and making) and what my brain is up to while I’m working on them. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite finds from around the Web. And I want to start a new series that’s all about people like me who enjoy making things, especially those based in traditional arts and crafts forms. I’m thinking about interviews, link-ups, history—all sorts of things. If and when that happens, you’ll be the first to know.

And if you really want to see lots of pictures of mostly my quilts and fabrics and sewing process, then please follow me on Instagram @missbrittinlove.