“What can I help you with?” A woman with kind eyes asked me as I wandered the fabric and sewing aisles of JoAnn Fabrics with sheer adoration.
“I’m looking for a big pizza cutter for fabric,” I replied with a smile.
Polite confusion washed over her face.
“What now?” She said sweetly with a bit of concern.
“It’s like a circular blade that cuts fabric like a pizza,” as I proceeded to create the motion of cutting an imaginary pizza. Suddenly, recollection developed on her face.
“Oh, honey you mean a rotary cutter.” She grinned and led me to an aisle plastered with cutting mats, massive rulers, and rotary cutters of all shapes and sizes.
“Yes! This is perfect, thank you!” I respond.
“Well you made my day, I’ve never heard anyone refer to a rotary cutter as a pizza cutter before,” she laughed. “That’s a first.”
Without a formal education in sewing, everything about my quilting journey has been a “first.” I emerged into the quilting world rather unconventionally compared to most. Although my great grandmother was a brilliant hand quilter, I am a self-taught machine quilter (emphasis on self-taught).
Words such as appliqué (pronounced ap-li-KAY) and batiks (pronounced buh-TEEK) were so foreign, fancy, and fun to me. It felt adventurous to try these styles of quilting (and to say them). Like most of my knitting career, I just jumped into the new techniques head first.
Because of my immense curiosity and passion for creating with my hands, it never occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t ready to try something new. I didn’t know the proper name for a beloved quilting tool, but that didn’t keep me from trying (and loving) a rotary cutter.
Did I accidentally mis-cut fabric with it? Absolutely. Did I care? Not a bit. Because I was enjoying the pure fun it all. Of course, I broke sewing machine needles, and of course, I’ve accidentally sewed the wrong sides together numerous times (hence why I love my seam ripper).
Without the freedom to make mistakes, I wouldn’t have enjoyed quilting or learned so much in this craft without the mishaps and “firsts” of learning how to quilt.
Three months into my quilting journey, and I requested to join a quilting guild (a club that sounds like it’s from the medieval times, cool right?) to gain a community of creatives who also loved this craft. I wanted to be around others who could talk quilting with me, and have a place where I could have guidance fixing my quilting flubs.
Honored and elated to receive a membership invitation, I drove over an hour to the closest guild branch for a monthly meeting. Walking into the conference room beaming like five-year-old in Toys R Us, I was met with suspicion instead of support.
A handful of older women evaluated me up and down, and I felt like I had walked onto a catwalk in a Vogue fashion show naked with the glances I received. Despite my immediate discomfort, I smiled and introduced myself.
I was expecting replies along the lines of “Nice to meet you Abby, I’m …” or “Welcome Abby, my name is …” instead, the immediate response that was shoved at me was: “Are you even a quilter?”
Although I couldn’t see my reaction, I imagine I appeared as though she had physically slapped me across my face.
“Umm, yes, yes I am …” I said, still stunned with the interrogation I was exposed to within the first twenty seconds of my arrival.
“How long have you been quilting seriously?” Another woman asked on my right.
“I have been quilting for three months.” Laughter erupted, and my heart plunged into my shoes. Shame gripped my breathing, and I stood there, motionless and flushed from embarrassed.
“Oh, honey, you aren’t a quilter, you don’t know what you are doing yet.” The first woman stated.
Shaken from being bullied by women who resembled grandmother-ly figures, I moved to the back of the room, as far away from them as I could. I spend the rest of the meeting in disappointment and residual hurt.
During the fussy cutting lesson, women took my quilting supplies away from me without asking or returning my things. At the end of the meeting, I had to scour the room to collect my fabric scissors, hand needles, and thimbles again.
Scurrying to the safety of my car, I couldn’t help but cry. My experience was anything but what I imagined this group to be. Of course I know not all quilters are like that, but the intrusiveness I was shown threatened to break my quilting spirit.
Once I was home and sitting in front of Matilda (my sewing machine), I realized I had two options:
1. I could believe what those women said about me.
I could become timid to admit that I had made those quilts. I could stop sharing my passion for quilting on social media and learn my craft in private, careful never to reveal my mistakes. I could wait until I had been practicing this craft in secret for years before I would venture to call myself … a “quilter” … again.
2. I could give myself permission to call myself a quilter.
No matter what you do, or how old you are, there are going to be people who want to convince you that you do not have permission to be or do something. Whether it’s crafts, athletics, photography, woodworking, advocacy, cooking, or parenting, there will be people who will threaten to harm your self-confidence and identity.
That is why you must give yourself permission to be who you want to be.
Yes, those women have been quilting longer than I have, but does that make me any less of a quilter? No. Is someone being a parent to a newborn less of a parent than someone who has twelve kids? Absolutely not.
By definition, a quilter is someone who makes quilts or quilted work. I make quilts; hence, I am a quilter, regardless of how long I’ve been making quilts.
You cannot give others the power of labels over you. By taking back the power those women took from me that day, I am a stronger individual and artist because of it. I am a woman, knitter, quilter, spinner, crocheter, Etsy seller, writer, wife, and Christian, and no one can take those things away from me.
Dear reader, are YOU giving yourself permission to be who you want to be? Are you empowering yourself, and not letting others rob your joy?
I urge you to give yourself permission to be a runner, poet, artist, baker, photographer, seamstress, painter, business owner, advocate … YOU. Whatever ignites your soul, give yourself permission to pursue and be that identity.
I’m thankful I didn’t let those women define me. The sewing machine has not ceased, and neither will my passion for my craft. You are beautiful and unique; there is only one of you, so please don’t keep those talents and gifts to yourself.
Share your passions and identity with the world, because there is no one else like you. You are your own original beauty, and I implore you to embrace yourself.
You must give yourself permission to be who you want to be.
(P.S.) Even if that means you want to call a rotary cutter a pizza cutter for fabric. ;)
Quilts were something magical and rare to me. I thought that only grandmas possessed the magic to turn stiff fabric into snuggly blankets. It's like when you become a grandmother you inherently gain magical powers over fabric and needles to create amazing gifts for everyone in your family. (That DOES happen, right?)
When I was a baby, toddler, and child, my favorite blanket was a blue and pink Noah’s Ark quilt. It had blue striped ruffle edging that was piped with a soft pink fabric. The main body of the quilt showed an adorable Noah’s Ark scene with the quilting outlining each person and animal.
Just thinking about my childhood blanket invokes an almost muscle memory of touch. I can remember how the fabric felt between my fingers and thumb as I rubbed it before falling asleep. The faint scent of Dreft and Snuggle still lingers in my baby quilt from its numerous washes throughout my life.
The batting has thinned significantly from the years of cuddles. There is a crudely sewn line on the left side of the quilt where it had ripped from rough play and my Grandpa Tony had mended it for me, and I love it. I would pretend that my blankie had surgery to remove its appendix like my favorite literary character Madeline had in one of my books.
This prized quilt is still with me today, resting on a quilt rack in our bedroom for me to see right before I go to sleep. This little bundle of worn fabric stitched together planted the seed of quilting in my soul.
First, it was a fondness. I loved the look of them, and how they differed from any other blanket I had ever seen or felt. Since my blankie was a quilt, I liked quilts!
Second, it was a preference. I wanted all of my bed spreads in my room, and yes even in my dorm room, to be a quilt. Nothing comforted me like a quilt. Every morning I would awake to a heap of sheets that appeared to have wrestled each other to the floor, and I would be clutching my bed spread--a quilt--as my lifeline to sweet sleep.
Third, it was a curiosity. At this time, I had been knitting and starting to crochet. My mind was beginning to learn how stitches wove together created a fabric. Inspecting my beloved quilts, I could see how they had been stitched and pieced together. It fascinated me, but I never thought, “hey, I could do this!” (remember at this time my subconscious was still convinced only grandmothers possessed quilty magic).
It wasn’t until I opened a gorgeous, new Singer Confidence sewing machine for the Christmas of 2016 from my thoughtful parents-in-law, that me … ME using a scary needle-equipped mechanical machine occurred to me. Honestly … it terrified me at first.
After our amazing Christmas Day filled to the brim with family, love, and food, my husband and I carried the gifts we had received into the house and collapsed into (a quilt-covered) bed happily exhausted. And the new Singer sat in that same spot … for two weeks.
A few days after the new year, my loving husband suggested I should put the laundry down and open my sewing machine. As much as I wanted to stop folding laundry, I was frightened.
Knitting needles, crochet hooks, cross-stitch needles--I loved all of them, but a machine-controlled needle with the power to pierce through my thumb … I knew with my clumsiness that it could be a real possibility here.
“I don’t know …” I began making excuses, and naturally he saw right through them.
“Why don’t you at least take it out the box? You don’t have to plug it in today.”
Giving in, I abandoned the laundry and cut into the box. Then, I literally and figuratively opened the Pandora’s box to what would become my sewing soul.
The machine FASCINATED me. Of course I had witnessed a sewing machine before, but this was different. This was MY sewing machine, mine to explore. Before I could help it, I had thread the machine. Then I had to plug the machine in and turn it on to wind the bobbin, and without hesitation … I did.
Hearing that purr of the motor winding the bobbin, something sparked in my heart through my hands, I HAD to sew. Using an old shirt (sorry sweet husband, I’ll make it up to you I promise!), I loaded the bobbin in the machine, set the presser foot down, selected straight stitch, and placed my foot on the pedal.
From spool to machine to needle to fabric, a seam started in my soul.
After a quick visit to the JoAnn Fabrics remnant bins that day, I sewed a little blue stuffed star, a pocket, and super elementary quilt block within four hours of taking the machine out of the box.
An excitement itched and poked me relentlessly that night laying in bed under the quilt bed spread. I must make a quilt. More than I wanted to make a project bag for my knitting … I wanted to make a quilt.
January 31, 2017 at 8:19 p.m. - My first quilt was finished.
A baby-sized quilt with a pink, green, white, and gray color palette with sheep and polka dot patterns and a gray minky backing, it was both soft and spunky. It was far from perfect, but it embodied every fear I had about sewing. It is evidence that I overcame those fears.
Five quilts, five bags, a new iron, twelve spools of thread, a seam ripper, numerous needles, two rotary cutters, handfuls of Clover Wonder Clips, and three works-in-progress later, I walk into my sewing studio beaming.
Surrounded by gorgeous fabric, vivid thread, massive rulers, and pure potential enthralls me. Before me is a blank canvas. Not even a physical canvas, but an entire platform I can create. Endless opportunities lay ahead. I can shape, cut, color, sew, bind, and add whatever I desire. The only limit is my imagination.
The canvas of a quilt ends when I decide. I can add, remove, or change anything. This ignites my voice. The fabric accommodates to my story. I have no character limits or edges of frame.
Using as much or little space and color as I chose, I create comfort from scraps. From scraps you can create a quilt, and from brokenness you can always create beauty.
No matter what mood or season of life I am in, that is why I always quilt. Although I still happily knit, quilting has become a more freeing experience for me. I don’t have to shape fabric to become a hat, mittens, or sweater; I move the fabric however my heart sees fit at the time. Without worrying about bust measurements or shoe size, I am free to create without restraint, and it’s glorious.
As a self-taught quilter, I will be the first to tell you how scared I was of a sewing machine, and how I never dreamt I could create what I am creating now. Fear is a powerful bully to keep you in your place, but you will never grow if you never face your fear.
What if I never opened that box? What if I had let fear win, and I returned the sewing machine? I would have missed out on immense happiness and creative potential. I would not have discovered one of my life’s callings.
It might not be as dramatic a change as I had experience with my sewing machine (lovingly named Matilda), but it is always worth it to try. You may still be fearful, and that’s okay, but don’t let that fear keep you from opening the box.
Today, I have invested in another sewing machine for some heavy-duty quilting, and I LOVE this machine! However, I will still sew with Matilda to always remind me to open the next box whatever it may be.
This blog is my open diary to anyone and everyone about my life and my crafts. Life can be difficult, but it's always beautiful, and I want to share that love of life and making.