Start Somewhere

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As part of my challenge to myself to face my own fear of failure, I’ve encouraged myself to try new things. I emphasize crafts in this pursuit because if I’m bad at it, there’s not a whole lot of fallout. There’s definitely a belief amongst people my age and my generation that hobbies can and should be money making. Time spent on hobbies shouldn’t feel wasted. So many people I know start a hobby and then feel the need to make a YouTube channel about it or open a shop. While that extra cash is nice, it puts pressure on what should be a relaxing side project. Rather than coming home and reading for fun or making a sweater for their cat, there’s a pressure to make profitable projects or create content surrounding that effort. Sometimes I find myself feeling guilty that I haven’t posted twice a week or I missed a month’s worth of posts, but at the end of the day, I’d hope that my hobbies (including this blog) are more about flexing that creative (or physical) muscle rather than about getting attention and/or making money.

So I’m telling myself that not only can I try new things without the fear of failure, but I can be bad at them and not have to give up or expect more from myself.

Example #1: Quilting. Over the last year, I started making scrap quilts using my mother’s massive pile of scrap fabric. There’s a few things I like about scrap quilting. One, it’s using scraps and crumbs from other projects – if I mess up, it isn’t a big deal because the fabric is already scrap pieces. Second, I can practice skills I first learned almost two decades ago without fear. Third, because I’m borrowing my mom’s fabric and thread and machine, I only really get to quilt on the weekends; this means that I rest during the week and can spend my weekends enjoying my new hobby or I can skip a weekend without feeling guilt about wasted opportunity. Could I finish a quilt in a weekend? Probably. Do I have to? No.

For me, quilting is nice because I can use it as an opportunity to chat with my mom about our weeks or our favorite fabrics. Each scrap came from a finished quilt and we enjoy rediscovering certain bits and reflecting on what quilt they came from and whether they were donated or not. Starting a skill is a lot less daunting if you have a friend with the skills (or the same interest to learn the skills). Hobbies don’t have to always be solitary activities.

Example #2: Watercolor. When I was in college, one of my jobs was working the front desk of the residence hall I lived in. Because the desk was open all weekend, I often found myself awake at weird times. 4 a.m. wasn’t the best time to follow along with a convoluted tv show or to try and write that paper. Instead, I found a cheap set of watercolor paints at CVS and a thing of watercolor paper. During my shifts, I would listen to music and watercolor. I hadn’t taken a painting class since middle school and I can tell you honestly that despite my best efforts, I’m pretty bad at it. I don’t have the patience or the technique or really interest in trying to be better. I found the flow of a paintbrush on paper to be calming. Rather than stress about getting better, I accepted that I am bad at it, but I enjoy it regardless of that fact. I enjoy the fact that I’m a beginner and I may never get past that point – it doesn’t make the relaxation effect any less useful.

Because I’ve accepted my beginner status, I haven’t spent much money on this particular hobby. I’ve acknowledged that no amount of fancy watercolors or nice brushes is going to change what I enjoy about watercoloring and they definitely aren’t going to suddenly make me into Monet. Instead, I’ve avoided that dreaded mistake of over-shopping on supplies for a hobby. I’d rather save my money than overspend on something I might not participate in all that often.

Example #3: Cross stitch. During my Master’s program, I had a bit of free time and went down the Instagram rabbit hole of quirky embroidery and cross stitch patterns. It looked fun and relatively simple. So I hopped on Etsy and found a beginner’s kit for a cross stitch pattern. The kit came with just the essentials and a little video explaining how to cross stitch. It seemed simple enough and I got a cute little cross stitch out of it. When I came back home, I mentioned it to my mother, who of course went through a cross stitch phase and had all the supplies tucked away in the basement. So I made more, trying harder patterns as I grew more confident. I had to remind myself to start with the easy patterns and stitch types. I knew I was just a beginner and I knew I needed to start small and grow.

For all of these hobbies, I had to start at the beginning and remind myself that I was not an expert and may never be one. There’s something nice about focusing less on whether I can one day make a living off my hobby and focusing more on the intentionality of stretching my creative muscles and doing something that relaxes me and brings me joy.

Quilter Quilting Quilts

quilting

A little over a year ago, the four day weekend encompassing Thanksgiving 2019 was the beginning of a year long journey. After a few days off work, I got a little bored. My mom happened to mention (/complain about) the piles upon piles of scraps that come with making a ton of quilts each year (this year, my mother’s production levels included 750 masks, 100 scrub caps, 50 quilts, and more). My mom is a quilter and has been my whole life, so she’s accumulated quite a lot of fabric. Additionally, she and I share hoarding tendencies that mean we would rather hold on to that little bit of fabric left over at the end of a project than toss it. After listening to her complain, I decided I would aid her in the downsizing of her scrap bins.

The process started with a search for yellows and blues. Fortunately, these were colors found in the scraps box(es and bags) in abundance. My endlessly patient mother spent Thanksgiving break pressing my scraps while I created my first quilt.

I’ve been helping my mom with her quilts since I was itty bitty. I spent many years as a second pair of eyes telling her when she’d placed fabrics too close or when the green went with the rest of the quilt better than the blue. As I got older, many of the pictures of my mom’s quilts featured my toes as I stood on the couch to hold up her projects. Around this time, my mom started to make quilts for an organization called Project Linus. Project Linus donates homemade quilts and afghans to children in the hospital or otherwise in need. I won’t even pretend to count how many quilts my mom has made for Project Linus, but there’s been a lot over the years.

My skillset was expanded in middle school when Project Linus hosted Blanket Days where volunteers got together to make blankets and share skills. I attended a few with my mom, bringing the average age down by 15 years at least. I would often assist with the unloading of the car and then find a back corner to sit down and power through Chinese coins. Occasionally, I would be the runner in charge of bringing strips from a quilter to an iron and back. One year, I even learned how to knit, which I promptly forgot as soon as we got home.

Despite the hours put into helping my mom and various blanket days, I had never finished a quilt entirely on my own. In the past, I always passed the quilt off to my mom when it got complicated.

So, when I started my blue and yellow scrap quilt I was determined to do it myself and actually complete it, quilting and all. I worked most of Thanksgiving 2019 and then over my days off throughout December. Unfortunately, scrap quilts require a little of tiny pieces being sewn together over and over. As my mom informed me, the bigger the pieces, the quicker the quilt. As I don’t live with my parents, nor do I have a sewing machine at my apartment, I did all my sewing on weekend visits. This meant that I completed my first ever quilt in June 2020.

The quilting was expedited by using my mom’s retirement toy: a longarm quilting machine that currently takes up my parents’ basement. It makes quilting the quilt a much faster (and much less frustrating) process. With her guidance, my blue and yellow scrap quilt was finished and sent off to Project Linus to comfort a kid.

And just like my mother, I immediately started plotting my next quilt. I knew I wanted to continue on my scrap quilt journey and I knew I wanted to go outside the blue and yellow that I used before. So I went for a rainbow pattern, inspired by a Pinterest post. After another visit to the scrap boxes and a sorting extravaganza, I got started on Quilt #2.

Quilt number 2 again took a decent amount of time to complete. Starting with 8 1/2 inch squares and then building from there. Both quilts were expedited by my assistant (sometimes known as my mother) ironing and rethreading the machine for me. There are some skills I still haven’t mastered yet. Like the first quilt, work was done on weekends and holidays. It took a little longer due to family watches of The Crown, The Mandalorian, Luther, and a variety of films. But after slight difficulties with the binding, we got it finished!

My rainbow scrap quilt is finished and will soon be properly photographed and then donated to Project Linus. And of course, I’m already plotting Quilt #3. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of scraps to be used up.