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Inside the Quilt Bubble

I love to teach. I enjoy traveling to quilt shows outside my region, meeting new people and reconnecting with quilting friends. When I’m teaching away from home, I refer to this as being in the Quilt Bubble. Everywhere I look, I see quilt-related things, hear quilt-related discussions, engage in quilt-related activities. I love being in this bubble.

Happy Paper Piecing Class at the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo, MN

When I go away, I try to keep up with day-to-day things like my email, my deadlines, and world events. It’s hard to find the time and energy after a full day of teaching (sometimes three classes in one day!) to reach out to discover what’s going on outside my quilt bubble.

As I write this, I’m flying back home from Minneapolis, where I taught inside the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo quilt bubble. Before this show, I spent an amazing week at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in another quilt bubble. Over these two weeks, I gave one lecture and taught eleven classes involving machine quilting, foundation paper piecing, and surface design. These quilt bubbles were lovely, calm, and friendly places to be. However, while I was busy inside my quilt bubble, the world was not so lovely, calm, and friendly. And so, I have two lessons to report from this experience.

  1. Treasure those moments when you can spend time with your tribe, pursuing your passions and sharing your interests with others of like minds. These times can be scarce and fleeting. Live in these moments and honor them.
  2. Be gentle with yourself upon re-entry into the real world. Contents of the overhead bins may have shifted during your flight.

And so, thank you to everyone who has been part of any of my quilt bubbles this year — both at home and on the road. I value our time together and thank you for sharing your time and energy with me. Let’s do it again soon!

I was working on a class sample a little while ago and I was at that must-get-it-quilted stage. In a post in March, I included a picture of a beginning paper piecing sample in *gulp* pink. When it came time to quilt it, I searched my thread stash for pink thread. I had low expectations when I began rooting through boxes and the thread racks on the wall. Pink. PINK. I don’t mean to slam pink. It’s a great color, but it doesn’t generally appeal to me. I’m guessing you have similar relationships with a color or two…orange, perhaps? For the record, I have LOTS of orange, but that’s for another day…PinkPaperPiecing

For this quiltlet, I wanted pink thread to match the four different values of pink, so that the quilting would blend rather than stand out. So, I wasn’t just looking for pink; I was looking for FOUR specific pinks.

Imagine my shock when I found exactly what I needed right there in my existing thread stash! Pink Thread from my Stash I have a budding collection of rayon and poly thread for the tiny bit of machine embroidery I do on my BERNINA 730QE. This is where I found the pink. It was all purchased for specific embroidery projects, but it worked nicely for this quilting. As I pulled the thread, the quilting designs for these flying geese came fully formed into my brain. Look for the arrows. It should always be that simple.

If I ever wondered why I’ve given up shelf space for thread that I don’t use on a regular basis, this was it. You are welcome in my studio, spools of cotton, rayon, poly, and monofilament! Someday, you each may be a key player in one of my projects.

Here’s the finished class sample! Do I have more pink in my future? You’ll just have to wait and see! At least I have the thread for it.

SouderPaperPiecingforBeginners

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ThreadDrawerDividers

Thread in wall-mounted drawer dividers. No, this isn’t all of it.

To buy or not to buy…
To keep or not to keep…
To use or not to use…

These are pretty existential questions to apply to my humble thread stash, but this is what’s on my mind this week.

To buy or not to buy: yes, by all means, buy. But also choose carefully. I don’t have a huge thread stash, but it’s filled with quality threads. I’m partial to Aurifil, Superior, and Isacord, but there are other brands that I like and that work well. I also buy cones of threads I use all of the time, like Aurifil cotton 50wt in black and an incredibly useful neutral khaki #2370.

To keep or not to keep: keep the thread that’s good quality and not so old that it breaks easily. Don’t give away colors just because you don’t think you’ll use them. You’ll want them when you least expect it. I’ll admit that I have a haphazardly curated collection of old thread from my mom and my sister that I will never use. It may be time to purge that.

To use or not to use: the answer is “use.” Why do we buy yummy hand dyed and variegated threads and then save them for something special?! Your work is special! Use the thread; they’ll make more. Do you need to justify using your “good” thread? Here’s how: if you don’t use your thread, it will eventually age out of its usefulness and then you’ve paid for decorations rather than useful spools of thread.

Based on experience, there are brands I will not buy, will not keep, and will not use. Once a thread proves itself inconsistent, fragile, excessively lint-producing, or harmful to my machine, I kick it out of my studio. And I can’t say this forcefully enough: if you bought thread 5 spools for $1, you got exactly what you paid for.  I get that thread can be expensive. Balance that against the time you spend ripping, restitching, rethreading your machine, troubleshooting when your machine rebels, and possible sewing machine repair bills. Finally, thread from a grocery store is meant for emergencies, not for use on your sewing machine. Possible exceptions might be those general stores in rural areas that cater to fabric and sewing needs as well as groceries.

My thread stash is not huge, but it serves me well. I tend to buy thread for specific projects and I keep threads that are given to me regardless of the color as long as they are new enough to be in good shape. I store much of it in clear boxes, sealing out the dust. In a perfect world, your thread should be protected from dust and from direct sun. Do the best you can. And please, please, have fun using your thread.

In the interest of full disclosure, these pictures represent only some of the thread in my studio. I also have more in my storage room (aka The Black Hole of Quilting Supplies), but there’s no way I’m showing you that! So, you may use your imagination. ContainersOnShelf

checkmarkAll of the planning and all of the lists in the world will not actually get the work done. Writing won’t make it so. To obtain the almighty checkmark, you have to DO the work. That sounds so easy, but what if your body and mind are rebels, refusing to keep your butt in the chair or wandering off in search of more interesting pursuits?

This may be the most important thought I can offer you on productivity, so pay close attention. You will be more productive if you are working on the kind of activity that your mind and body want to do.

  • If you are sitting at the computer and feeling really antsy, then look at your list and find something you need to do that will keep you physically moving.
  • If you’re washing fabric or cutting kits and you are really……really…..tired, stop. Go find something ON YOUR LIST that is less physically active and do that.

In both cases, you’ll accomplish something on your list, but you won’t struggle against what your body and mind actually want to do. (Unless you really just want to sit down with a book and eat cookies. In that case, give yourself a 15-minute break and then get back to work.)

Deadlines are the obvious exceptions to this approach to productivity. If you have a hard deadline, then you are obligated to do specific things to meet that deadline. Unless…you chose that deadline. If the deadline was arbitrary, designed to give yourself milestone accomplishments, then you have the power to change it.

PinkPaperPiecingThis quiltlet is a mostly-done sample for a new class I’m rolling out on paper foundation piecing at the Original Sewing & Quilt Expo in Cleveland. (Yes, I’m working in pink. Get over it. And don’t expect any more of it.)  It’s pieced, it’s sandwiched, and the ditchwork is done. I have planned most of the freemotion quilting designs I’ll do, but I know the quilting will be better if I wait until this afternoon, when I often want to work on the sewing machine. This morning, I’m all about the keyboard.

So, what do you feel like doing today? Can you afford to put off other tasks and do what you feel like doing? Is what you feel like doing on your list? Then stop reading my post and get to work! I wish you a productive day!

OrgTools

These are some of the tools I use to organize and prioritize my tasks.

Let me start by saying I’m a list girl. I have lists for personal and household stuff and I have lists for my professional life. In fact, I’ve broken down the professional tasks into separate lists by topic: shows, teaching, lectures, webwork, business development, development of new lectures and projects (my favorite), and more lists that would bore you silly. The number of things I am juggling can be daunting – in fact, the mass of stuff I have on my lists can be downright paralyzing.

To keep things in perspective and to stay focused (my word for the year), I do three things that keep me sane and help me prioritize:

  • I write down ALL tasks. Tiny and massive, commitments and wannado-projects, I write them all down on the appropriate list. Benefit: Once it’s on paper, I can use that brainspace for other things.
  • I date every task. I include the date for when I added it to the list and if there’s a hard deadline, I add that to the list AND to my calendar. Benefit: Once I see a task that’s been lurking on the list for a while without any action, I either delete it as not important enough to do or I make it a priority to get it done.
  • I create a daily list by pulling the top priority items. I try to create this list at the end of the day when my brain is full of what didn’t get done and what’s looming on the horizon. I sometimes do this in the morning, but it’s overwhelming and counter-productive to sift through the multiple lists early, when I need to set the tone for the day. I start with that didn’t get done the previous day and then take a look at the master lists to see what is next. Benefit: Throughout my work day, I’m looking at that day’s tasks. It’s a manageable list and I don’t lose track of what I must get done.

Once I started making these lists and using them on a daily basis, I realized that I had to learn to say no. There’s this huge pool of what I must do and precious little discretionary time for things that I want to do but haven’t made the list. Recently, I was invited to make a small quilt for a Quilts of Valor fundraising auction to be held at the America Quilts Expo in Des Moines, IA, in May 2016. Do I have time? No. Is it a priority in my business? No. But I’m doing it anyway. I want to do it and I feel it’s right to do it. Something else will have to wait or come off the list entirely. I will shuffle priorities. It’s important to be realistic, but reserve a few “yesses” so that you can do a few things that really feed your soul.

Next week: Productivity through Biorhythms

Some people think that productivity is all about planning. Yes…and no. Planning is vitally important, but it will only get you so far. Sooner or later, you’ll actually have to do the work. As we said in the middle school where I taught: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

 

Red Fabric Ready to Sew into Bags

Planning can save time: I grouped these gift bag fabrics together to avoid changing thread color.

The Road Map
Planning can help you create a road map. Planning can help you determine where you need to go (long range goals) and how you will get there (interim tasks). Planning is safe. Planning is easy. For some of us, planning can scratch that organizational itch, putting all of our tasks and ideas in a nice list where they belong.

 

I use lists when I plan. I have master lists of goals and tasks. To keep from being overwhelmed, I break down big tasks into steps. Every morning, I start with a short list of things that really have to happen that day. In a perfect world, I end the day by assessing what I accomplished and creating the short list for the next day.

BentTreeColorPalette

Not all planning results in a to-do list. This project color palette resulted from careful planning.

I know I need to work on planning when:

  • My work surface is covered with sticky notes and scrap paper covered with mini to-do lists.
  • I’m lost or running in circles. That’s my signal to sit down and plan my day/hour/next ten minutes.
  • I can feel the whoosh of deadlines passing me. Seriously. Being behind and missing deadlines is a signal that I need to plan more effectively. I’m still working on this lesson.

Quicksand
The dark side of planning is like quicksand. We can get so bogged down in planning that we lose track of what we actually have to do. The more we struggle in the planning phase, the harder it seems to get out. Getting stuck in the planning phase can lull us into complacency and render us ineffective.

I know I have to focus on work when:

  • Deadlines are looming.
  • I realize I logged onto Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram just to check in…an hour ago.
  • I want to do something fun or work on a personal project. I earn the time with check marks.

Once you have your plan in place, how do you decide what to do first? Next week: Prioritizing!

 

I think a lot about productivity. I’d like to be more productive. I plan to be more productive. Amazingly, some people actually think I’m productive. So, why don’t I feel productive?

The answers are so simple that I’ve decided to share them with you over the next four weeks. We’ll talk about perfection, planning, prioritizing, and productivity through biorhythms. Ready? Let’s get started!

Perfect vs. Done
When I was working in the corporate world, I had a very wise boss who seemed to have my number from day one. I am a perfectionist. There. I said it. But it’s important to know when you need perfection (math, taxes, brain surgery) and when good is good enough. My boss used to say, “Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Translation: “Please give me your work product – I’m sure it’s fine.” In some cases, he was right.

Tree quilt for client

Perfection (or as close as I could get) was the goal for this client quilt.

If you, too, are a perfectionist, consider why you work beyond the demands of the task. My reasons generally fall into two categories: either I enjoy the process and I get lost in it, or I lose track of how exactly how well this task must be completed. It helps me if I can look — really look — at the task. Will it be published? Will others see it? Is this the first step in a longer process where long-term success depends on high quality work in the beginning? If not, then I can probably find a way to streamline a process and save some time.

If you could spend one hour doing two tasks well enough or one task perfectly, which would you choose? Well, you do get to choose. Now consider what you could do with that saved time if only you could stop working on a task as soon as it is done enough. You simply need to figure out which tasks require perfection (or near perfection) and which tasks just need to be done.

There will be times when your inner perfectionist demands to be heard. If you can afford the time and it will give you satisfaction, give in to that demand (but not every time). It will make you happy…and a happy quilter is a productive quilter.

Picture of my featherweight

Molly, my 1935 Singer Featherweight

My Story: I was recently given an amazing, unexpected gift by a long-time friend and I want to savor every minute of my time with it. (Thank you again, Linda Cooper!) I am now the proud owner of a 1935 Singer Featherweight 221, which I have named Molly. I want to learn all about it, clean and care for it, and take it on the road with me when I might have a little time to sew. I could have sent it out for service, but no. I sent out for the parts and (with my husband’s help) cleaned and serviced it myself. I am documenting Molly’s journey in a notebook. If you know me in real life, this is no surprise. My inner perfectionist wants to document Molly’s history and keep records for when she moves on to her next owner (since I know she will outlast me), and so I gave myself permission. I didn’t have to do it; I wanted to do it. This has made me a very happy quilter.

Next week: Planning — A Road Map or Quicksand?