Tag Archives: quilts

The Benefits of Practice

I have spent the past three days working at our community’s biennial Quilt Fiesta. This is my second Quilt Fiesta. In 2012 I was in charge of the gift shop. This year I worked for the local sewing machine shop. Last year I spent the entire week before and all three days of the event (and several after) stressed out of my mind. This year I enjoyed every minute. What was different? Practice.

Yes, it did help that I’d done it before, but that’s not the type of practice I am talking about here. I’m using practice in the spiritual sense of the word.

At the gift shop, I was running the show–making sure everything was well stocked, managing volunteers staffing the booth, adjusting prices, helping customers. I felt torn in a million different directions. This year I also had to restock, help customers, and generally help keep the booth running smoothly, but my most important job was to demonstrate one of our sewing machines–a sit-down long arm for free-motion quilting.

For those of you unfamiliar with free-motion quilting, it’s basically like doodling with thread. Except that instead of a pen you have a very large machine, and instead of moving that machine you move the fabric. I took my first real free-motion class less than two months ago which means I am a beginner. But I wanted to learn, so I sat my butt down on that chair and started to sew.

As a result, two things happened:

  1. I started to get better–a lot better. And that getting better made me feel good. And that feeling good gave me more energy. And that extra energy made me more optimistic and more confident. And that helped me get better.
  2. Free-motion quilting, like doodling, has a very meditative quality to it, and like meditation, offers a number of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and reducing depression–and not just during these meditative events. A regular mediation or other spiritual practice (including art-making and crafting) can help build psychological, emotional, and even physical resilience.

A daily meditation or art/craft-based practice of even 15 minutes a day can help you cope in even the most stressful of circumstances. And as for that other type of practice–imagine how much more confident and optimistic you’d be about your prepping plans with regular test-runs. Run through anything enough times, and it becomes muscle memory. You don’t even have to think. You just do.

Hobbyists as Heroes

Today I read an interesting article on Homestead Dreamer that posed the question: Can Your Hobbies Help You Survive?

As the author noted, with some hobbies the survival value is obvious. Backpacking, fishing, parkour, marksmanship, rock climbing, gardening… anything that improves your strength and fitness, or your ability to defend yourself, feed yourself,  find or build shelter, or survive in inclement circumstances.

Other’s are less obvious. Take quilting for example. Yes, a quilt can keep you warm when the heat goes out, but that’s not all quilting teaches. I can sew a seam and appliqué one piece of fabric on top of another. that means I can hem pants, and patch holes in clothes. I can make a bag to carry things. I have fabric that can be used to bind a wound. And because I so often work with reclaimed fabrics, I can use whatever scraps are available and not only transform them into something function, I can turn them into something beautiful, too. And if the power goes out, and I no longer have my machine? I am a passably good hand stitcher, but I could be better. That skill is on my list to improve.

But what about other, less craft-driven artists? Visual artists–painters, photographers, sculptors may have a distinct advantage in the way they look at the world, the details they see that others don’t. Just as musicians may be more attuned to sounds–the startled flapping of birds, unusual silence, water in the distance. And what about poets, memoirists, novelists, essayists? Personally, I consider writing a visual art. Writers see and remember details, they just represent them with words instead of pixels or paint. They are also recordists, verbal mapmakers, the keepers of stories. They… we… remind us who we are.

And what about hobbies that have nothing to do with surviving, fixing, making, or recording? What about people whose favorite things are to read books or watch movies? What about people who live in front of their computer screens? What about people who spend long years in “ivory towers” studying King Arthur? What might I have gleaned during hours have spent watching and re-watching Blade Runner or reading and re-reading Fahrenheit 451 or The Little Prince? What can Sir Gawain teach me about the apocalypse? According to a study by New York City’s The New School, reading (and I’m going to infer, watching) fiction  “improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.” Which could mean, avoiding conflict, building community, intuiting when someone nearby has less than above-board intentions.

But there’s also the benefit that having a lot of different kinds of experiences, even if they’re virtual, can give you: a flexible mind and a storehouse of remembered potential solutions. Sure, watching someone getting chased by androids, police, an encroaching medieval army, or a pack of wild animals over and over again may not make you faster, but it may make you smarter about how to get away.

What are your hobbies and how might they help you survive?

Stitching Resilience

These days, the big buzz word when talking about disaster preparedness seems to be resilience. It used to be more about strength regardless of whether we were talking about a building, an organization, an ecosystem, or a person’s physical or mental health. But as anyone who has ever been through an earthquake knows, when it comes to structural soundness of a building it’s the combination of fortitude and flexibility that gives you your best chance.

The same is true for people. Being able to lift a lot of weight doesn’t mean you can run fast, or dodge obstacles, or swim. The same goes for our brains. Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to develop your psychological resilience:

  • Cultivate strong relationships: Have someone to talk to that you feel comfortable with and can trust. It can be even better to have an assortment of people with different interests and expertise so you can get different perspectives.
  • Learn to roll with change: Change is constant. Learning to recognize what you can control and what you can’t in any given situation can help minimize stress and wasted energy.
  • Develop flexible thinking: This is one of my favorites to practice. Planning a road trip? Map several alternate routes to see which might be more fun. Working on a story, craft, or art project? Try making lists of all possible options to see how many you can come up with.
  • Practice optimism: When something goes wrong, especially really wrong, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even just remembering it’s there, can help make reaching it that much easier.
  • Take care of yourself: If you’re tired, hungry, hung-over, in pain, or physically compromised in some other way, you’re not going to be able to think as clearly or quickly as if you’ve had a full night’s sleep and a healthy meal. Likewise, if you’re over-stressed.

And this advice isn’t just good in disasters. For example, over the weekend I was working on a quilt. I had a design but hadn’t started making it until Saturday morning and it was due on Sunday. Because it was small, it didn’t take that long to make, but once I had, I realized  that the design didn’t work. The thread was too close to the color of the fabric so the accents didn’t show up and without that, the whole thing just looked like big blobs of unrelated color. At first I panicked, knowing that there was not enough time to start over, but when I turned the quilt over I realized that the thread that was invisible on the front, stood out like mad on the black back. By making the back the front, the project and my sanity were saved.

Dig Deep, Burn Bright (back)
Dig Deep, Burn Bright