Masterpiece Syndrome: Overcoming Your Hesitations and Getting to Work

Do you hesitate to cut into your beautiful quilt fabric because you are waiting for the “ah-hah” moment – for years? Me too! Do you collect great patterns and photos of eye catching quilts you would like to make – but never do? Me too! Do you freeze up at the thought of free motion quilting or bobbin work for fear of making an absolute mess of your project? Me too!

Corduroy, velveteen, and poly-blend quilt.

Reviewing quilts from our past can help us realize how far we have come. This quilt was made of corduroy, velveteen, and poly-blends. It was hand-quilted, six stitches to the inch, with a double strand of sewing thread. I tied it with pink ribbons to hide the holes in the center of each star.

In our minds eye we are comparing our future quilts to the quilts of those artists we revere, to those beautiful quilts we see on home pages and in the winner circles of quilt shows. Of course we don’t measure up. Those quilts are the best of the best. Although unconscious, but no less true – we have set a very high benchmark for ourselves.

We are mistaken if we believe that everything our mentors touch magically turned into wonderful art. No different than the rest of us, their efforts vacillate between moments of productivity and moments of block. They have made many quilts that didn’t measure up to the high standards of the few quilts that made national and international recognition.

young and happy recipients of a quilt

This photo of my first quilt reminds me that the recipients of our quilts will love it regardless of their flaws.

When I am unable to accept my limitations, I procrastinate. I go for another cup of coffee and when my caffeine levels are at an all-time high, I will resort to clearing the dust bunnies from under the bed. When I avoid facing the task that is bugging me at the moment, my shortcoming remains to haunt me. When I face the task and accept the work as the best I can do at this time, the shortcoming loses its power over me and I gain confidence and am willing to try again.

As we fine-tune our skills, we also fine-tune our inner critic. We no longer accept what we deemed acceptable in the past. We are never satisfied. We want to continue to improve, but at the same time we need to be gentle with ourselves and appreciate how we have grown.

“My Irish Rose” quilt was made for my very Irish mother-in-law. A shamrock vine was hand appliquéd over a machine-pieced double Irish Chain and hand quilted. It received Viewer’s Choice and Teachers Choice Awards at the 1991 Minnesota Quilt Show. Although it would not meet the judging standards of today, my mother-in-law loves it as much today as when she first received it.

Here are some things you can do to overcome those hesitations and mental blocks:

  • • Set realistic goals
  • • Break projects into manageable steps
  • • Ask for guidance
  • • Have the right tools – this can make a big difference in carrying out a task
  • • Learn to live with it
  • • Enjoy your work
  • • Play – not everything we do is meant for show

You can apply these principles to your quilting work or to any aspect of your life that needs some motivating. If you are experiencing a “quilter’s block,” just know that you are not alone. Practice these principles, and just jump in. Remember, we’re all here to have fun.

Now, go forth and quilt!

Related Video: Time Management: How to Start Quilting Projects

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4 Responses to “Masterpiece Syndrome: Overcoming Your Hesitations and Getting to Work”

  1. Julia Burnham

    I wanted the pattern for the Irish Chain. Am I doing something wrong? Julia

  2. Lisa

    This article comes at the right time for me. I've been putting things off for years, all the while collecting patterns and fabric. I used to quilt all the time then life took over and I I lost a good deal of my confidence. I used to be unafraud to try any pattern and now I second guess my way through every decision and can't move forward. But now that I know I'm not alone I'm going to break it down and get one started and then done.

  3. mary

    You are so right. I too have had so many blocks. My worst is the darn fabric. Here in Mexico its hard to find American cotton for quilting at a reasonable price. You pay $12-15 per yard not meter. I see all those beautiful quilts and can't imagine mine being one of them. I am new to quilting but do enjoy it so. I am working on doing my own free motioning quilting and as you say a mortified to ruin my project. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Trina

    WOW!!! It's like you were wriing about me!! I fight with myself all the time about the quilts I'm going to make! Thank you for writing this, it makes me feel better knowing im not the only one that goes through this. Thank you for the tips also. Love this, Trina