To be entirely honest, it’s been a rough pat six weeks.

Ever since I returned from QuiltCon the HKPP management protocol has gone to hell; discussion of hospital trips are a weekly occurrence. This, of course, has put me physically right on the edge, feeling like I am just barely holding on. Add into the mix the quilt world emotional roller coaster that I’ve been on since QuiltCon—some you may have read about in earlier posts and some that have to remain private—and I just feel like I am falling apart.

I hate that I’ve kinda been radio silent here for the past week or so, but I keep hoping to find something optimistic to write about, some new development or whatnot, but I just can’t seem to get past the blunt and basic realities of chronic illness + industry struggles + the realizations that come from doing the business taxes, and that just doesn’t make good blogging, or so I’ve been told by the powers and authorities…

And then, obviously, all the self-doubt kicks in, profoundly.

You know what? I want so much more, not in terms of my life, which is pretty awesome at the big picture level, but from quilting. I really do want all of this to matter, for quilting to be big, not in terms of popularity, but in scope. It feels like a somehow essential human activity—anyone who knows me and my disdain for statements like that must realize now that me saying that is kinda big. As a form it participates in so many social, cultural, political, economic, aesthetic, and conceptual dialogues. It seems to me profound, but so often it seems so small, and that drives me nuts.

We speak of this remarkable tradition; we glorify its history. When we talk about the history of quilts it is almost universally in terms of the meaning and significance of quilts and quilting, its connections to the frontier, women’s rights, the civil rights movement, the value of the human in the face of industrialization; we admire innovative patterns and materials. In the light of all of that, look around, no not at the individual makers, but the larger quilting world.

I may be egomaniacal, but for a while I thought I could in some way add something, make a difference. Right now I doubt it. Right now I just feel small. I still think it all matters, but that just doesn’t seem to sell. But then again maybe I’m just not very good at this…

Yep, you can see I’m feeling rough. I should probably just delete all of this…

But I’m not going to.


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27 Responses to Rough…

  1. 1
    Yorkpeppermintpatty says:

    Together we make a difference. As individuals we are all small, but together we are mighty. One person’s work would be nothing without the community to respond to it. And you are making a difference by challenging me and others to value their own work and push the boundaries. Feel better. Hugs.

  2. 2
    April says:

    I’ve just recently started following your blog. Before Spring Break my Mom bought me a magazine with one of your quilt patterns in it, ‘Reticulum’. I’m making a slight smaller version for a Charity on a blog that I follow. It is a beautiful design and I’ve chosen purples for the net. As I am making it, I think of the person it will hopefully comfort. Even though I don’t know him/her, my hope is they will feel comfort because sometimes there just isn’t a concrete answer or magic formula to ‘make it through’. Life is beautiful and part of the beauty comes from finding comfort in scary situations (a place of refuge); comfort, like a quilt.

  3. 3

    You do matter. You make, therefore you matter. People adore your fabrics, they create with them, they comfort with them. Your kids snuggle with you literally and figuratively every day.
    I don’t think quilting is going to change the world, but it has clearly changed you (says a reader and friend who has followed you for a few years now). That is indeed, enough. Wrap yourself in that. And breathe.

  4. 4
    Deborah says:

    Thomas, It is that never ending and throughly annoying discussion about fitting in to art or craft or crafts. We constantly try to find the right box for ourselves. For some of us it is an impossible task. Make your own path. You have been doing that all along and you have invited us on your amazing journey. Thank you.

  5. 5
    Kristin L says:

    Maybe the bigness is in the small. It could be that the sum is greater than the parts, and while you and I don’t matter, we are part of the collective that is the DIY movement, or a respect for history, or a breaking down of class and gender barriers. Or maybe the big is in the small in that within our supposedly mundane bed coverings and boo-boo healers, we can, and do, make larger statements that speak volumes in their subtlety. Well, maybe that’s wishful thinking, but I’m still waiting for the larger world to recognize the big stick barely covered by my quiet quilts and other textiles.

  6. 6

    I am struggling to find a way to express how this post makes me feel. I don’t want to say happy because I am not happy that you are going through this, but I am happy that someone of your caliber has these thoughts that I also struggle with regarding my quilts and why I put in all the effort. Your talks at QuiltCon were really inspiring (I even wrote about it in my last blog post: I know if I was inspired that others were as well. The quilt world is better with you in it:)

  7. 7
    patrick burkhartzmeyer says:

    Hang in there, Thomas. You are doing a great job. I enjoyed, on many levels, your interview regarding the quilt “In Defense of Handmade”. It pumped me up and brought me back to many of your fine lectures at Drake. I even showed my girlfriend, Holly, because it captures the teacher and artist you are. Thank you. Even though there have been many low points (from your perspective), you are doing a great job and making relevant statements through your quilting. You are influential.

  8. 8
    Emily says:

    Oh my, Thomas, reading this makes me sulk, and feel like i need to write something to you. I don’t often comment because you are always so articulate and i struggle with the written word but in this case it is worth it to let you know that you are not alone in your struggle with your doubts. But OF COURSE YOU MATTER! Just sharing your thoughts is so valuable to me as an individual and I am sure to many others. Please don’t stop contributing to the community, your voice is valued, needed, IMPORTANT!

  9. 9
    Emily says:

    Please don’t just delete it all!
    First off, I’m sending you some hugs. Chronic illness sucks. There’s nothing else to it, it sucks. I have my days where I get really down about things — and my issues are limited to sinuses (hardly debilitating). But it has a way of eating away at you little by little. I’m sure yours does so in a much bigger way.

    You are making a difference, and making your mark. You are facilitating conversations across the community. You are encouraging an increased thought process, and a deeper understanding of how it is to be a maker. You’re changing lives even if you can’t see it. Please don’t stop what you’re doing. There will be better days. I hope those better days come soon.

  10. 10

    Bravery is speaking our truth even if the powers that be tell us lie and smile. From exhaustion can come simple answers to our questions. You are enough. You do enough. You have enough. Enough is a feast. Hang in there.

  11. 11
    Lindsay says:

    I agree very much with Cheryl and the others above! Maybe we all matter very much, and yet, we feel small. I am sorry to hear what these last few weeks have brought you, but I am also encouraged that you strive so much to make an impact on society through your quilts and writing. Thanks for this reminder to keep on working toward something meaningful.

  12. 12
    Peggy says:

    The health issues can overplay into your other issues of you making a difference. Business taxes can be depressing. The reality of both is you personally can only control so much and the rest you must just let go of until it becomes something you can control.

    I have noticed many very traditional quilt artist are now doing more modern styles. Is this because of what you are doing in the quilt world? Maybe yes, maybe no. The thing that you need to remember is the fact that you are a part of a movement. You are not in charge of a college classroom that does what you say to please you for the grade.

    Things move much slower in the quilting world. I notice items that were new to me 15 years ago are still being taught as new today.

    Keep working at doing what makes you happy. It will also make others happy.

  13. 13
    Jane B says:

    Hang in there because you really do have an impact and make a huge difference just by being who you are. I can only imagine how hard it is to deal with your illness on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis. Don’t let it keep you from knowing that what you are doing and who you are truly matter.

  14. 14
    jill says:

    Yes, but you just started at this gig. You can’t tell if what you’re dong matters until 10 or 15 years have gone by and people have had time to think and change – not just early adaptors but everyone. What makes a flash in the pan now might not be what matters in 10 years, and balls that slowly start rolling now might be what is seen as revolutionary in the future. Surely your art history background tells you this, even when your self doubt doesn’t?

    Hang in there. Only time and perserverence will tell.

  15. 15
    Dara McLaughlin says:

    I walked around in a daze after your first lecture at QuiltCon. My head was blown. By the end of the weekend, with your second lecture echoed by so many other lecturers, I felt my focus shifting. Why do I make quilts? A neat pattern or a luscious fabric pulled me in. You presented me with a very different idea, that meaning could be explored instead. By the time my plane touched down in LA I had found a meaning to focus on, and a design to try. Since then I have completed one top and started another in the series. I have also signed up for a class on art composition.

    Please don’t think you don’t make a difference. You do. I just wish Craftsy had taped your lectures so I could view them again.

  16. 16
    Dr. S says:

    Take one step, and then take another step, and then take another step. Things are happening, and you are making them happen. Focus on what is right there in the moment with you. Take another step. Take another step. Rest as necessary. Kiss your family. The big things will happen as they’re meant to; some of them might even happen better if you let them flourish in their own time.

    I believe in you!

  17. 17
    Joanne Jones says:

    I agree with Dr. S. Life is sometimes takes a different turn for a while, but relish the positives in your life, your lovely family, a lovely home and career still full of promise. I can’t pretend to understand how difficult it is when your HKPP is really bad, but you have those you love around you and that’s the most important thing. You can do anything then.

  18. 18
    Lisa says:

    On a personal note, I must say that you really do have an impact. I’m a newbie quilter (about a year) living in the UK. You are one of the initial people I came across, and you stood out to me as someone I wanted to listen to. You sometimes confuse the hell of me, with your words, but I love that I’m reading something that stretches me and is making me learn. I like that you challenge and question, it really has made me think about what and why I do what I do.

    I’m also slowly learning the history because of things you’ve said and its made me think. I maybe wouldn’t have done otherwise, I’d have just sewed on regardless.

    I’ve joined in one of your requests, and attempted another (I failed miserably) and loved feeling part of a bigger community helping out. Your enthusiasm is infectious.

    Please don’t delete, sorry that doubt, taxes and illness have got in the way, but sure you will come out the other side. I’m not so good with words, but we are listening.

    I could have probably said all that a bit more eloquently, but there it is.

  19. 19
    Suzie says:

    Hang in there. You matter to me and all your readers. I look forward to reading your insightful and intelligent commentaries.

  20. 20
    Stephanie says:

    I probably won’t do justice to my thought with words but I think out would be more unusual if you didn’t suffer any self doubt. Don’t we all find ourselves wondering if we’re going in the right direction partway through our projects? But you as an artist have been on my mind lately, first from discovering your blog after Quiltcon, then when my guild just finished up a challenge to use your Asbury line in a project of our choosing. The results were all gorgeous and so creative! Your fabrics inspired me to try different things to express the joy of the collection. Your creativity fuelled so much more expression from all of us and I hope that helps you to see that you are definitely needed in the quilt world! 🙂

  21. 21
    Joanna says:

    I read your post last night, and after thinking over it for a good while I wanted to come back and thank you for posting it.

    You frequently ask us why we quilt. Sometimes, it’s exasperating. It seems so exhausting to have to think about why I do something. And yet, ever since I discovered your blog and encountered the question, I keep going back over it and asking myself why I quilt.

    One of the reasons that I quilt is because life is rough. The process of designing and making a quilt offers me control over one small little piece of my life. I must smile and regulate my emotions at work, but I can do whatever I want with my quilting. I struggle to find a way to balance my mother’s need remain independent while still ensuring that she receives proper care for her many health problems; but I find solace in every stitch I place in a quilt. I work endlessly to meet the needs of my family and the chaos that seems to swirl around young children, while designing and making a quilt gives me the opportunity to organize my thoughts and control a little space in the whirlwind of my life.

    While I am sorry that things are rough for you, I also find it a relief to hear that I’m not the only one going through a rough patch in life. The endless push for everyone to be shiny, happy people shoves all of us who are not shiny happy people into a false isolation. Your post made me feel a little less isolated. It’s one of the big reasons I keep coming back to your blog, but it’s only one of many reasons.

  22. 22

    Thomas you are an incredible thinker and motivator. Take care of you and continue to be that individual. I did not see your Quiltcon lecture because, well I wasn’t at Quiltcon but I know through other people’s blog posts that it was profound and meaningful for them. You are
    Making us all think! I love reading all of your posts. If you feel you need to say it… I’ll read it.

  23. 23
    Mona Keegan says:

    Dear Thomas, First, I understand because I am there where you are in many ways. Second, I am a white haired lady who was checking folks at the vendor hall entry on Saturday at QuiltCon. You spent some “time out” there chatting with me. You are in the right place. You speak and act what many of us are thinking and feeling about quilting but cannot articulate as well as you do. I often wonder why I care so much to push myself in this art/craft. I am “old”. But then you come along and clear it up. For a moment, I do understand. Being human and a grown-up is hard. Go hug your precious family and let them hug you. Take care and share the rough stuff. You are not alone and there are hills with wondrous views after these valleys of doubt and despair.

  24. 24
    Ivy says:

    Thomas, I only started reading your blog because of QuiltCon. I had seen some of your designs, like your URNH quilt and the quilt you did with the Girl Power (?) fabrics, and loved them, but hadn’t know you were such a prolific and well, amazing, writer. You draw me in every time, at every turn. Your writing is so poetic. You give to the world with your words, your art, your everything. I just wish you didn’t have such a debilitating illness. I’m sorry you’re going through such a rough time. Your readers and fans wish you the best.I hope you’re feeling better soon–at least about your contribution to the world.

    ~ Ivy

  25. 25
    Casey says:

    Hi Thomas.

    I’m so sorry to hear about the troubles you’re going through with your HKPP (I thought your first self-portrait quilt addressed your experience brilliantly, though).

    I’m just joining the chorus of people here letting you know that you do matter and are making a difference in the quilting and DIY communities. With your fabrics, you are giving people the materials and inspiration to express themselves. With your words and essays, you’re giving them the tools to think about their practices critically and articulate those thoughts. And I can personally attest to the value your encouragement has for those just starting out in this community and industry. The more doors you open for people, the more people will eventually walk through them–maybe not everyone, but enough to make a difference. I think, in hindsight, the critical reflection you are introducing into the quilting world will be seen as a cornerstone of the “modern” quilting movement.

    Hugs and best wishes,

  26. 26
    Leslie says:

    It feels strange to try to give you words of encouragement when you are so inspirational to many. As someone with a chronic illness (Lupus Nephritis, for me) I understand that aspect of life that is beyond our control and impossible to predict. How am I going to feel today? Will I even be able to get out of bed? When my son was an infant, there were times I could barely lift him. My life changed dramatically (as has yours) and there are things I just can’t do no matter how much I want to or think it’ll be okay…this time. I’ve learned the after-effects (the crash) isn’t worth it.

    The best thing I ever heard was “You are not your disease.” So, when you’re in the trenches of medical tests and doctor visits (seriously, how many vials of blood do they really need?) remember your HKPP doesn’t define you. Sure, it’s a part of you, but those of us on the outside? We see your creativity, your obvious passion for what you do and an amazing ability to convey your ideas in a way that makes us think and appreciate. You are definitely making a difference. Hang in there!

  27. 27
    Beth T. says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post since you wrote it, considering the ways in which quilting is meaningful and grand, and the ways in which it is beautiful and small, and how each quilter fits in. The fact that I’ve walked around the grocery store thinking about you and the words you wrote says something about the reach of what you do.

    I didn’t leave a note here because I didn’t feel as if I could express any of that in a coherent way. But today I felt as if I ought to try, and here’s why: My dear friend just married a man with many children. The boys are in a range of ages from grown to kindergarten, and they’ve known some disorder in their lives. As soon as I heard the news, I’ve been thinking of making each of them a quilt to welcome them into our circle and show them that to their new step-mom’s people, they are significant. I was unsure of what pattern to choose until I remembered your recent contribution to Quilty. Pulling it out again, it seems perfect. The weaving imagery, the different strands making a whole. The lack of fussiness, and room for individuality in color choices. You designed a quilt that allows room for metaphorical interpretation, is immediately pleasing in its design and will be more interesting as they consider it, and will do what the best art does, which is to convey a message and invite a response. All the while warming them and stamping an unfamiliar place as theirs.

    I hope you won’t diminish what you do as being “small”. What was it Mother Theresa said? About not being able to do great things, only small things with great love?

    with heartfelt thanks for all that you send out into the world–
    Beth T.

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