29 March 2008

On Patience

Patience is a virtue. And one that most people believe quilters possess in abundance. They ask, "How'd you find the patience to sew all these little pieces of fabric together?" To the uninitiated, we quilters are blessed with inordinate, almost saint-like, patience.

But this isn't true at all. I have been a terribly impatient quilter. Oh, not always. I began as a very patient quilter, realizing that quilting was about the journey, not the destination. That has changed over time.

While I began as a patient quilter, I have always been an inconsistent finisher. Teetering stacks of UFOs began covering my workspace from the moment I took my first quilting class. (To be charitable, maybe it's not so much inconsistent finishing as it is over-enthusiastic beginning. It's hard to resist new projects.)

But regardless, eventually those stacks of UFOs conquered me. I vowed not to begin any new projects unless I could finish them in a day or two. Quick and dirty became my motto and fusible web my new best friend. And so began my impatient quilting.

Patience may be a virtue, but impatience became my favorite vice. When faced with a rare, spare day off, I would race to my studio to start a teeny-little project that I would be sure to finish before the day was over. Improvisational and spontaneous designs became my forte, using raw-edge applique, free-motion embroidery and quilting, couching, and other embellishing techniques.

Because my free time was so sporadic, many times I would head to my studio and accomplish nothing. Knowing I only had four hours to start and finish a project, I put immense pressure on myself to perform. If I had no great ideas within the first hour or so, I'd feel frustrated, abandoned by my muse, and leave a messy studio strewn about with fabric.

These little projects were like potato chips: tasty and addictive, but ultimately neither nurturing nor satisfying. That's not to say I gained nothing from them--I'm still proud of many of the pieces and I learned a number of new techniques--but to make the next leap into quilt art, I would have to rediscover my patience.

Since the beginning of 2008, I have managed to do so, by returning to the basics. I have slowly, diligently, and most importantly, patiently attacked my pile of UFOs, completing 10 projects since January. Now I walk into my studio expecting not to finish a project, but to give it just a few more minutes or a couple more hours.

That's how large projects get done. Not by a whirlwind of frenetic activity until collapse, but by the steady accretion of progress over time. Paradoxically, it's only by slowing down that I have been able to get more done.

But more importantly, with every UFO I conquer, I begin to hear my muse a little louder. She's calling to me. Sometimes whispering. Sometimes singing. Each chorus I hear helps me see my vision a little bit clearly.

I'm going to keep chipping away at my UFOs. Even now I can hear her calling for me and oh, how tempting would it be to drop what I am doing and answer her siren song. But I trust the journey I am on now. Finishing old projects is like closing the door on my former impatient style and making room for a new deliberate, mindful, and patient method of work.

It's a journey of a thousand steps and I have only just begun.

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