Quilt "You": What's Your Spark?

As I quilt, I think. Without even realizing it, even with Netflix on in the background (I'm the tiniest bit ashamed/not ashamed at all to tell you that I've been binging on Dawson's Creek for the past couple of weeks), my brain is constantly cycling through ideas. Ideas about this quilt, future quilts, other projects, my family, my kids, friendships, real life, plans for the future, Dawson and Joey's on-again-off-again drama (ha). I've heard runners say that running gives them time to think; for me, quilting is the time when the noisy world goes quiet and I can focus only on what's in front of me: colour, pattern, lines, matching (or not matching) corners, and let my mind drift off to wherever it wants or needs to go.

My first line in this post should have read that as I quilt, I drink. And watch Dawson's Creek. What?

One of the ideas that has been swirling lately is the concept of why I quilt, and what it is that draws me in and keeps me engaged in a creative project. Is it just to have a beautiful warm blanket to wrap up in at the end of the day? For some people, maybe, but for most of us it's about a lot more than that. It's art, it's how we express ourselves, and how the quilt we end up with is the culmination of a thousand little decisions that we make over the course of its making (that colour there? which block? improv or planned? is that too wonky? is that blue too blue? not blue enough? is that value ok beside this one? stop now or make it bigger?...). And the beautiful thing is that each of us would answer those questions differently, which is what really makes our quilts our own.

Is that blue too blue?

While I don't want to get too "Deep Thoughts" on y'all, I do believe that it's a good idea to reflect on our own creative processes once in awhile. By reflecting and "listening" to what excites us the most, and by following those sparks, we allow ourselves to develop a style that is uniquely our own and therefore make things that are truly a reflection of our creative selves. And, really, aren't the most beautiful things made when you can tell that somebody is really just doing what they love?

I feel like this process of creative reflection is especially relevant in the age of Pinterest and Instagram, through which we're constantly bombarded by images of incredible, beautiful things on a daily basis. So how can we be inspired by our quilty community while maintaining and developing a unique personal style?

With that in mind, I've tried to make a point lately of being conscious of what parts of quilting make me the most excited. My thinking is that if I can identify my "sparks", and let them lead my creative process, I will follow them down a path that is not only fun but also uniquely mine. I want to quilt "me".

While this is an ongoing and evolving process, and one that I intend to continue, so far I've noticed the following to be true for me:
  • I like not knowing exactly what my quilt will look like before I start. Carefully planned and executed quilts don't excite me. I have the most fun when I get to play with layout and placement, and make decisions constantly throughout the process.
One of the most fun quilts I've made - semi-planned, scrappy goodness.
  • In a similar vein, I don't especially like following a pattern. I recently bought my first quilt pattern. Don't get me wrong: I love the quilt - it's stunning, and I know I will love the finished product. But it just doesn't feel like "me". For me, quilting is more often about the process than necessarily the finished product. I've found the repetitive process of precision piecing to be, honestly, kind of boring. I started making the blocks a bit scrappy just to liven things up a bit. I think that tells me something important about my style.
  • I prefer using scraps. Scraps feel liberating to me; I feel pressure or a need for some sort of perfection when cutting into brand new beautiful fabric! Of course it's a Catch 22 - you can't have scraps without starting with new fabric. So I'll have to force myself to buy new fabric once in awhile, I suppose. (Oh woe is me!)
Scraps, glorious scraps
  • While I consider myself a "modern" quilter, I am drawn to many traditional blocks, especially stars and flying geese. I love me some flying geese! Note to self: more geese. 
While there's definitely something to be said about trying things outside your comfort zone (and thereby possibly extending it), with limited time to sew I think I'm going to notice with the things that excite me right now and just go with it. Upon reflection, it seems I need to try more improv quilting, non? (Improv geese, perhaps?)

Some random piecing up on the design wall. Note to self: more improv!

Listen to your creative voice while you work. If you find something tedious, take note: why? is there a different way of doing it that would be more exciting? If your heart skips a beat, take note! A colour combo you love? A cool new technique? Curved piecing? Low volume? What is it that makes you excited? Do more of that! 

What are your sparks? What excites you the most about the creative process of quilting? How can you quilt "you"?

Now I just have to learn to take my own advice.

Tiny Projects: Custom Epi-Pen Zipper Pouch

I've been busy sewing up some small - but useful - projects over the past week or so. First up, a friend asked me if I could make a little pouch that her son could wear to carry his Epi-Pen under his clothing while he's at school (her sweet boy has a severe egg allergy). They are moving to a different city this week, and hence a new school, and while he's settling in to his new Kindergarten class the safest place for his Epi-Pen is right with him at all times.

Epi-Pen Allerject Case Pouch Belt from Twelve Bees

I'd heard of anaphylaxis before, but I'd never known anyone who suffered from it until my friend's son was diagnosed as a toddler. And, man oh man, has it been a difficult road for them. On top of the terrifying physical realities of a severe allergy (in his case, being exposed to eggs - raw or cooked - causes a life-threatening reaction), there are all kinds of day-to-day challenges, such as figuring out how he can attend school and eat lunch safely each day, and dealing with the acceptance of his needs (and, sadly, sometimes lack of acceptance) from the school, other kids and parents.

One of the major social challenges for kids who live with life-threatening allergies is coping with the feeling of being "different", whether it's due to perception or actual exclusion from fun events (i.e. food-sharing or classroom celebrations involving food). Imagine: you're 6-years old, and it's Valentine's Day. Your teacher hands out delicious heart-shaped suckers to every kid in the class, except you. You're left wondering why your teacher likes all the other kids more than you, why you're different from all the other kids, or what you did wrong to warrant being left out. Ugh.

All of this is a long way of saying that even though he needs to carry and Epi-Pen, he doesn't want to stand out any more than he has to. My friend's request for the case was that it be as small and discreet as possible, buckle around his waist so that he can wear it under his shirt, and be blue (his favourite colour). She also gave me a "trainer" Epi-Pen (the brand name is actually Allerject) to make sure it fit.

I absolutely love the challenge of figuring something out that I've never made before! Especially when it's for such a wonderful kid.

So, I started with a standard lined zipper pouch. I used this free Craftsy zip pouch tutorial, and adjusted the dimensions to fit the Allerject pen. The finished pouch measures just 4.5" x 3". I added a double layer sleeve to the back of the pouch for the belt to slide through. I used 3/4" nylon webbing, and plastic buckle and slide to make the belt adjustable. The only thing I'd do differently next time is to make the sleeve a little wider so that the buckle can slide through it (I made it so that it's only wide enough for the strap to feed through, so the pouch can't be taken off the belt if need be, which I think would make it more versatile).

Since the pouch is going to be worn against the skin, I used the softest organic cotton I could find, which ended up being Cloud9's Cirrus Solids. This fabric is yarn-dyed, which gives it a great look. Honestly, I loved working with this fabric! I'll definitely be buying it again. And those cute little fishies inside add just the perfect hint of cuteness, non?

The end result turned out as well as I'd hoped. And I loved doing all the math and figuring out how to get the perfect fit. Once I refine the pattern, I think I'll add it as a "Made to Order" item in my Etsy shop. Not because it'll be a huge seller, but because the best part of being a maker is having the opportunity to create things that make somebody else's life a little easier and a bit more beautiful.
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