“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. ;)
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.