18 November 2009

Solitude and creativity

I've been reading about the quilt makers who each won a major prize at the IQA show in Houston this year. I was struck that it was important for many of them to work in solitude. I'd really encourage you to comment on this.

I'm referring to the short profiles of the winning quilters in International Quilt Festival Quilt Scene magazine. Caryl Bryer Fallert (Best of Show winner) said: "While I love the whole quilting subculture and all of the great friends it brings into my life, the actual making of a quilt is, for me, a solitary activity."

Fusako Takido (The Founders Award winner) said: "Quilting is a solitary activity for me, although I do attend Keiko Miyauchi's lectures."

Liz Jones (The World of Beauty Award winner) said: "Quilt making is not a social occupation for me as I find I have to concentrate fully when doing machine applique or quilting."

Denise Havlan (The Fairfield Award for Contemporary Artistry winner) said: "...my creative spirit is most alive when I am alone, with no distractions other than the sounds of the lake, fresh air, and sometimes music."

Hollis Chatelain (Superior Threads Master Award for Thread Artistry winner) said: "Quilt making itself is more private, but once the quilts are out there, it's a very social thing."

I relate strongly to these comments. Thinking, designing, drawing and more thinking - these are very private parts of my process. I can't bear distractions, like music or other noise. Once I start cutting and sewing, I can lose myself in the activity. After I have prepared pieces for sewing, I can become social, but until that happens, it's a private process. It's only after I feel that my idea or project is fairly developed in my mind that I can let it become public.

Writing is the same for me. The process can sometimes be easy and free-flowing. Other times, it can be laborious and every word is wrung out of my mind. For me, creating is an intensely personal and precious activity and it requires focus.

If you're still reading, thanks! I find the creative process endlessly fascinating. I'd love to know more about yours, so I invite you to leave a comment.


  1. I'm a fence sitter on this one.
    I like the social aspect of like minded people talking, sharing, suggesting - laughing!! - but am just as happy to design and sew by myself. There are benifits to both practises, and I don't think you can work entirely alone or only with others around. Cutting is another story! If you are doing 1 5/16" for eg, do it with no distractions!! Chain piecing previously cut peices and other "boring" sewing - do it with friends!!

  2. I am a solitary quilter. I discovered there were other quilters in Tasmania only after I'd finished my first quilt! I tend to get lost in what I'm working on and conversation can go on around me and I just don't hear it! That sometimes gets me into trouble when I miss something I should be taking note of. I quilt the way I study - usually with the radio on (only one distraction to block out - not a whole gaggle of incidental noises, which can be very distracting).

  3. I love the social side of quilting, but as to actually doing much at GTGs, it is only the binding or similar things that I seem to be able to do.
    The actual planning, cuttig and sewing of the quilt is a very solitary thing for me. I like to be able to get in the "zone" by myself - it's like meditative space. That's when real creativity, and it's life spark, really happen.

  4. Anonymous12:46 pm

    Designing and machine work are solitary pursuits.
    However, the best cure for getting out of a mental block is time spent doing some boring, repetitve job like binding the last project, with creative, positive and, most of all, fun fellow quilters.
    Judy B

  5. What an interesting observation, Erica. I've never previously considered this, but given the inordinate number of hours I've spent at the sewing machine, free-motion quilting, I'd have to agree. Lots of alone time leads to lots of social time. They both belong to quiltmaking, and I cherish both of them.

  6. !!!! Am I the only person on the planet who still doesn't have a copy of this mag?? Glad to hear it's so good.
    I am a solitary piecer, but a group quilter and appliquer. It's much more fun to hand quilt is there are friends to chat with.
    If I'm hand or machine sewing there has to be background noise - TV or music, but machine sewing or designing I don't like to have people around or I start sewing pieces together back to front and upside down.....

  7. Yes, a quiet atmosphere works best for me when I'm in the very early stages of designing, as a lot of thinking & auditioning & 'what if's" are going on inside my head, so I don't need or want distractions.
    Quilting meetings are for the important social aspect, laughter & sharing.

  8. Hi Erica

    This is absolutely why I love quilting, because it appeals to both needs in me, to have a social structure for a shared interest, and to provide a totally absorbing activity I can do on my own. And I love both parts.

    When I don't have to go to the 'workhouse' the next day I love working late at night, when it is quiet and interuption free. Time feels suspended at night and I can get a lot done. Need the day off the next day to catch up on the sleep though. I'm not sure if this makes me an 'artist' in the same league as thos you mention in your post though :-)


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