Monday, January 4, 2010

One home, 5 communities: a quilter's story

WARNING: Long Post Ahead. Refresh your tea/coffee/wine.

Recent reading has left me feeling the need to share some thoughts on community...and in particular the creative communities I have become a part of since I fell in love with (ahem, became obsessed with) quilting. First, Jacquie blogged at Tallgrass Prairie Studio about her four neighbourhood quilts that she made in response to visiting a gated community, then Sew Mama Sew blogged a list of 10 things that have positively influenced home-sewing in the past decade. Both of those posts got me thinking. So naturally, I need to write some stuff down. Perhaps by sharing my thoughts & experiences, I can generate more discussion on creative community and encourage others to become a part of something a little bigger than their own sewing room if they are not already. Please leave a comment, share your thoughts, tell me what you love about your creative community!

I started quilting because I couldn't do woodwork at home. Really. After my son T was born 13 years ago I felt very isolated at home since none of our friends had babies yet. To bust up the full-on mothering schedule, I decided to take a night class at the local high school wood shop. I loved it! The 'class' really consisted of a retired shop teacher who seemed to be there only to ensure no one lost a limb on the table saw. Left to my own devices, I managed to design and build this pine bookcase:


In the second class, out of maple, I made this Dutch tabletop shuffleboard game popular in Holland. The game is called Sjoelbak (we pronounce it shule-buck). It gets a major workout over the holidays when there is lots of company over for after-dinner tournaments.


Thoughts of becoming a cabinet-maker's apprentice briefly occupied my mind. Lack of a basement or garage space for tools lead me to consider my collection of unused fabric, instead. I had been buying it for years, not really knowing why. My mom had taken up quilting after I left for university and there was a shop close to my new house in North Vancouver that looked very inviting. So, I checked out their newsletter and signed up for a beginner class. After that first course, I was hooked (sound familiar?). I had found Creative Community #1: local quilt shop, or LQS. There I made friends with the staff and other women in the numerous classes I took. I visited when I needed help or advice. As I was reminded the other day, you just can't find that kind of community at a discount fabric warehouse!

Eventually my first quilting teacher, a longarm quilter named Jackee, invited me to be a part of a small stitch group. There were five of us. We met monthly for a day-long home stitch-in that included lunch by the hostess. Creative Community #2! I know of small stitch groups that have been together for more than 10 years. Some do challenges together, some create blocks for everyone's birthday each year, some go away for a long weekend retreat every spring or make charity quilts. I am no longer a part of that first group, but now I stitch with a group on fairly regular Friday mornings. We went without a name for a long time, but have settled on The Gathered Threads. I've posted about us here and here. Small groups can be a wonderful source of community (and quilting magazines!). We have lively discussions, are compassionate friends, and share food, creative advice and fabric regularly. Our age range is about 30 years and it suits our group just fine. In fact, it's something I really love about us. That, and the fact that we are a no-pressure gang. Sometimes we go out for lunch after stitching for a couple hours, other times we head out for errands on our own. Occassionally we share a meal to celebrate a holiday or birthdays. Perfect!

After joining that first stitch group, I got up the nerve to attend a meeting of my local quilt guild. I had resisted for quite a while, thinking I wasn't really a quilter. That my work wasn't good enough. That everyone would have gray hair and think I was a no-talent young whippersnapper. Well, self-confidence issues aside, I was wrong on all accounts. I am now Vice President of that guild (and have a few gray hairs myself!). Eureka, Creative Community #3. By this time, I had left my career, was now a part-time employee at my LQS and getting to know a lot more women through guild workshops and committees. I discovered that I really loved hanging out with wise, relatively older women who had wonderful life/parenting/quilting experiences to share. Plus, my own mom lives 4000km away, so it was really comforting to have these women in my life. Quilting had taken over all my free time (and some cooking, cleaning & laundry time, too) and I seemed to be on a personal mission to spread the gospel of fabric and thread. I am prone to cheerleading and enthusiatic encouragement (and, truth be told, occassional unsolicited advice) when I believe in something!

The number of young professionals returning to home-sewing was growing and soon more and more peers of mine (we're talkin' late-ish-30's at this point) were shopping at the store. Conversation often turned to the fact that quilting for them was a solitary activity and all of their friends who were clubbing on the weekends thought they were batty for staying home to sew. I saw an opportunity to start a Friday night drop-in club of sorts, for quilters not yet confident enough to join the guild (I'd been there myself!), but who were yearning for community. This was the first time I had taken it upon myself to actually create a community. It felt great to share my passion with others. Once a month about 8 of us would gather in the store classroom, work on our own projects and share some snacks. If people needed help, I was there to provide it. Sometimes I did a demonstration of a new product or technique I had learned. An unexpected result of this group was the number of close friendships that formed amongst the regular participants, and I can proudly say that almost all of the approximately 20 regulars have now joined the guild.

This brings me to Creative Community #4. Sadly our LQS closed up shop several years ago. We Friday nighters were bummed. Many worked full time, had small children at home or had no other venue to sew in, or friends to sew with. Our gatherings had become a cherished event each month. What to do? On the urging of my friend and regular attendee Marsha, I planned an entire day of quilting in her community's village hall. I was nervous. Would enough people sign up to make it worthwhile? Could I pull off the catering? Could I gather some prizes to make it fun? Yes, yes and yes!! Now known as Quilt By the Bay (or QBTB), I've been holding these 13-hour-long-day retreats about 5 times a year ever since. The hall can fit 25 quilters and the days sell out in a matter of 12 hours by email. Amazing! The wonderful part of creating community is that you can surround yourself with like-minded people who all have fun together! Luckily for me, QBTB has become a successful small business that (a) I LOVE and (b) supports my fabric obsession. We all enjoy each other's company so much that every November we go away for 3 nights/4 days to quilt, quilt, quilt together!

Last, but not least is YOU. Yes, you are Creative Community #5. You already know everything fantastic about blogland and Flickr groups: the sharing, support, free tutorials, beautiful photos, inspiring fabric and designs, swaps and giveaways. For me, being part of a global community has been SEW exciting and invigorating to my creative work. Just yesterday I received the nicest email from Pennsylvania with photos of two beautiful Crop Circle Table Runners made by Kathy. I can't tell you the feeling of joy and validation it gave me to know someone liked a project that I designed enough to make it twice! Very zingy, indeed.

Big breath. That was a long post. Thanks for hanging in there. Each and every one of my creative communities and all of my quilting friends are dear to me. When I left university with a geology degree and headed north to study landslides 20 years ago, I had no idea that one day I'd find quilting. I am so happy to have an early start on this journey that too many people 'save' for retirement. Honestly, I can't imagine my life without stitching and I know you feel the same.

I'd love to hear about your creative community and what it means to you.....


Dianne said...

Thanks for this post Krista! I feel blessed every day to be part of my guild and my small stitch groups and am constantly amazed by the wonderful talented women in my life. How lucky am I!!!!!

Micki said...

You are talented in many things, I see. Your woodwork is wonderful too. I am a member of a guild and love it. The quilting bees are such fun, and it really helped me become a part of the community.

Angie said...

I am a member of an online quilting bee and read a lot of blogs. Last year, I was part of a shawl ministry, which was me and a lot of crocheters(?is that what they are called?)For now, that is my quilting community. I would like to get involved in a guild, but just haven't made it to a meeting.

What Comes Next? said...

Great post! You are indeed a multi-talented lady - your woodworking skills are as fabulous as your quilting! I'm a member of 2 guilds and the commraderie and inspiration they provide is amazing. The blogging community, which I just discovered this summer, has been an incredible source of inspiration, ideas and motivation. So many options and so little time!

Bobbi said...

what an inspiring post! i have just started sewing in the past few years. discovered this past few months that yes, i can actually make a quilt! my fav quilting buddy Heidi lives in phx, so we started our fri night sew-in together via our cell phones. shared projects, tips etc. we long to live in the same city, but i dont see it happening for years to come. you have now given me the confidence to join a class or sew-in at my LQS and find some other local people who love to do what we do...create something fabulous with fabric!

Anonymous said...

Hi Krista
I loved your post but it made me a bit homesick. I miss the Guild, The Gathered Threads and QBTB while I spend winters in the sunny south. It was neat to read your journey from a community perspective. I love your blog and it keeps me connected. I will be home before you know it


jacquie said...

first, i'm so glad we were able to connect through the cyber quilting community. for me that was my first community. i feel isolated so many times because none of my friends sew, more less quilt. my blog has provided a venue for me to talk about my work, to share with and learn from others. it has been an amazing adventure and i have been able to connect with folks all across the world. i'm so looking forward to the start of the modern quilt guild. i hope it will be the kind of community that i've been imagining in my head. i live far from the city, but it'll be worth the time and drive to connect with some like minded folks in person. thanks for your post and here's to our community!

Anonymous said...

Krista I lok the creatice community. I joined a guild as I found it hard to meet like-minded people when my hobbies, and my work kept me isolated from adults that might share commonalities. I am thankful for all my guild friends!
Jo Ann

Andrea C said...

A number of years ago I crossed the threshold of a lovely little LQS with my mum for our very first quilt class. Just months before the two of us would have said that we had very little in common. But we had independently passed by that lovely little LQS and had been drawn in by the beautiful quilts in the window. When we discovered a shared curiosity Mum promptly enrolled us in our first class. We had found something that both of us would become passionate about. Amazing!

Little did I know that my life would change so dramatically. I had no idea that what was going to be a hobby that I would share with Mum would turn into so much more. How could I have predicted that by taking that one class I would enter into a whole new world, that I would find myself quilting until all hours on Friday nights, that I might schedule my weekends around spending 13 hours at QBTB on any given Saturday, that I would be the first person in my office to book those precious vacations days in November a year in advance to attend a very special quilting retreat and, most importantly, that I would meet such fabulously creative women many of whom are now wonderful friends.

How thankful am I that one day on one of my trips to that lovely little LQS that you were working?

Enuf said...I think I'll go make some hot chocolate, do some stitching and watch Pride & Prejudice.