Friday, April 10, 2020

Quilt Finish 2018: Mini Diabolical Jane

Final Stats
Name: Mini Diabolical Jane
Dimensions: About 40" x 40" (I think)
Pieces: Front - 201, Back - 2
Pattern: Diabolical Jane by Jessie Aller
Technique: Patchwork
Materials: 100% quilting cottons
Quilting: Machine quilted on my Juki

This story begins as many of my stories do, with an expectant mother of a little boy. I asked my usual question: theme and/or color of the nursery and she told me they were planning to decorate the nursery in blue and orange, with a Finding Nemo theme. I went back and forth with design ideas, including ones with fish and anything else nautical I could find. But after making my mother-in-law's sea life quilt years ago, I really didn't want to do anything like that again. And then I remembered that I'd been meaning to try out the Diabolical Jane pattern that a former guild mate of mine had posted on her blog. And the blue and orange would be great for that.

Plus with the layout of the colors fading to white on the edges it looked like a bubble to me. But first I had to adjust the king sized quilt pattern down to a baby quilt size, and I decide to cut my strips 2.5" wide and my diamonds 2.5" square. As you almost have to do with this quilt, I played with the layout of the strips quite a bit, before I was truly satisfied. I was not happy with those too dark blues at the outer edges, for example, so they got replaced or rearranged. A lot of the fabrics also brought in the nautical/fish theme, though I used anything and everything blue and orange I had in my stash, despite what was on them. Next I started sewing together the sections. The more I sewed, the smaller the quilt got. Which I know is kind of to be expected, but because of the number of pieces, it rather surprised me on this one more than on most.

For the back I had bought a fish print fabric and added a strip of a seashell fabric to one side to make it larger and that was it. Nothing fancy since the front is already quite busy. After basting it, it sat and sat and sat some more. The problem: my two commission quilts that I was bound and determined to finish before going back to any gift or personal quilts. And so it sat some more, basted, ready to be quilted, for almost a year. When I finally did get around to it, after quilting the African Commission #1 quilt, I chose to play up the bubble idea and did an all-over free-motion pebble design. I love quilting those, it's almost soothing, and on such a small quilt it takes hardly any time at all, nor is it very hard to manipulate through the machine. I quilted them fairly large as well and tried to stay fairly round with them, though I didn't succeed with that completely. I'd say it still turned out really nice. 

When I trimmed the quilt square, I was surprised by how much it shrank, but at that point it was way too late to add borders or anything else. The binding was a dark blue with a faint linear bubble pattern that I found while shopping for some of the other fabrics. It does a good job of framing the quilt so the edges don't fade out completely and still maintains the theme, which I liked. A quick embroidery to add my initials and the date onto the quilt, and I had another quilt ready to send back to Washington, DC. By then that baby was almost or maybe even over a year old. Whoops!

African Commission #2

Name: African Commission #2
Dimensions: About 60" x 60"
Pieces: Front - 281, Back - 4
Pattern: Chinese Lanterns
Technique: Patchwork, Applique
Materials: Hand-dyed batiks from Africa and Asia, Kona White
Quilting: hand-tied in two different colors of yarn

Same story as African Commission #1, which you can read about here. I convinced her that she should give me free reign on design for the second quilt. It was inspired by the center panel that she had purchased in Asia (I think China, but I don't recall exactly). The lanterns are based off of several Chinese lantern patterns I've seen online over the years. I put the rough dimensions I wanted into EQ7 and adjusted until I was happy with the overall effect. For the corner applique blocks, I was inspired by the center of the panel and created templates for the petals. I sorted out all the blue and white fabrics and used only those from what she had sent me. The lanterns are paper pieced, and I did roughly 2-3 from each of the fabrics. The fabrics that had some variety in the design were great, because they allowed me to use different parts of the fabric to create different lantern designs.

The corner blocks are rough-edge applique with thin iron-on interfacing and a straight-stitch to tack them down. I used paper templates to trace onto the iron-on interfacing, and then used that to cut my pieces out of the fabrics. The center is just a center that I cut to the size I wanted, framed it in a plain white border and then my lantern and corner blocks. I was really happy with how the top came out, I have to say. The back was just four pieces of leftover fabric, the tighter weaves, that I pieced together into something resembling a flat, squarish piece. The client and I had talked about doing a yarn-tied quilt for this one, because I was having a lot of trouble wrapping my brain around how to machine quilt this, especially with the big center panel. I didn't want to do anything that would detract from that stitching, and I usually quilt in white, so it would have shown very clearly on the dark blue background.

I ended up buying a doll needle, which is super long and when I asked the sales clerk, she just looked at me funny for a minute, until we went over where the needles are and there was in fact one called just that. My first attempt was to do the hidden stitching, but between the thickness of the appliqued blocks, the thickness of the yarn I was using, and several other issues, which all boiled down to it being supremely difficult to get the needle through the quilt sandwich, I finally gave up on that. So I did the double-loop with a knot on the back of the quilt, so the front would be flat and the quilting would be nearly hidden. To that end, I also used black and white yarn very strategically so it wouldn't show quite so much. I really liked the overall effect, but it was sooooo time consuming and really hard on my fingers even with bandages and all sorts of other things that I tried to make it easier to pull the needle through.

I really hope the quilting stands up to multiple washing, although the client indicated that she might use it as a wall hanging. In which case, it really doesn't matter. After trimming it to size, I just did an all white binding, so it would blend and let the rest of the quilt design shine. Usually I like darker bindings to put a frame around the finished quilt, but I really like the effect of invisible edges on this one. Some embroidery finished it off, and after my usual photo shoot, it went in a box and was sent to Washington, DC over a year later than anticipated. Luckily the client loved both quilts and seemed fine with the delay. I was pretty proud of myself for finishing it up as well, finally! Though I did promise myself no more commissions for a while, because it seriously depressed my sewing mojo for a long time. Having projects you have to complete that you're not incredibly passionate about is hard. Made harder when you guilt yourself into only working on that project until it's totally done. The result: nothing gets done. Lesson learned (maybe).

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

ADHD and Crafting

So this post is a way to get this out in the open and think through it and also to help others who might have the same experience. I am a 35-year-old, white, pansexual, cis-gender female, first-generation immigrant from Germany, living in the Midwest. I am also a wife, working mother, crafter, friend, daughter, sister, agnostic, and so much more, all labels I use proudly. Some present challenges, others give me privilege, some of them do both, but they are all mine, and I own them. A couple months ago I started seeing a therapist. Not for any one reason, but mainly to figure out why my brain works the way it does. I'd never seen one, ever. I got good grades in school, I have a job I love, my relationship with my husband and kids is good even if there are hiccups now and then, but I'd had this theory about having at least a mild case of OCD that I wanted to talk over with a professional to get their opinion.

Much to my surprise the first thing she diagnosed me with was not OCD, although that came later, but with ADHD. I was 34 years old! I had never even thought of that as a possibility. So I listened to her, and I did some research on my own, and so many things just made sense finally. Apparently girls are much more likely than boys to go undiagnosed, especially if their lack of focus takes on more of a dreamy state than a bouncing off walls type of reaction. People with their nose constantly in a book (guilty as charged) are the most likely to be missed, because teachers and parents may not even realize that the lack of focus exists. Speaking of privilege: white kids are much more likely to be diagnosed than kids of color, and the drugs out there for ADHD are tested mainly on white males and are therefore most effective for that population.

So here are some of the symptoms and how they've manifested in my life:

1) An inability to focus on boring or routine tasks: for a lot of kids this means an inability to focus on what their teachers are saying, but in my case that was less of a problem. However, I have always had a really big issue staying on task and completing household chores, paying bills on time, and completing those tasks at work that don't have a deadline. This was a constant source of frustration for my mother in particular, because she would ask me to do something, like set the table, and if I actually remembered about it, it took many reminders or a deadline to get me to do it.

2) Procrastination: deadline driven tasks and chores helped, because I had the emotional response of a deadline that I didn't want to miss to get it done. According to this website I found, I'm what is known as a functional procrastinator. I was able to get my work done, get good grades, and not stress about the procrastination even though it meant many late nights. That's just what my life was, and I accepted it. It's still easier in my professional life to tackle tasks with deadlines.

3) Hyperfocus: this is especially true of things that I enjoy, like learning (which is why I rarely had trouble focusing in school, I was almost endlessly fascinated by the new things the teacher was telling me, but heaven help me if I wasn't, then wandering mind took over and only forcing myself to take handwritten notes helped), reading, and crafting. This is my ability to focus on something to the exclusion of all else. Another area of frustration for my mother, having to tell me multiple times to put down my book and come to the table for dinner. I've also had a boss comment that I always seemed to scowl when he interrupted me in the middle of a task. 

4) Uncontrolled activity: this is less of an issue for me physically, but I have noticed that I'm almost constantly shifting my back or arms a little though my behind stays firmly rooted in my chair. Typing, hand writing, clicking my pens, shifting my eyes and head around, fiddling with stuff on my desk, biting my nails, all are things I do all the time, often without even realizing it. However, for me the bigger problem is the uncontrolled mental activity. My brain just goes and goes and goes. It jumps from one subject to another. I sometimes lose my husband mid conversation because my brain has taken a massive leap from the current subject to something totally different and instead of explaining the relationship, I'll just say, "speaking of Topic A, here's Topic L" and then get a confused look, like "how are those things even sort of related?"

5) Staying up late: when I try to go to bed before I'm exhausted (which for me usually happens between 2-6 AM, though 2 AM is much more common these days), my brain just goes over and over everything from that day or goes over a conversation I had years ago and the things I could have said differently or my plan for the next day. This is especially bad when I know I need to get a good amount of sleep the night before a big exam or my first day of work or a big presentation. I'll sometimes even manage to get to bed at a reasonable hour (which for me is about midnight, I usually stay up until 2 AM routinely) on those nights, and then I'll just lay there, unable to turn off my brain and sleep. 

6) Inability to multitask: I just can't. Period. End of sentence. Most people can't, I've read now on multiple occasions, but I can't even pretend. I just get super stressed out if there are multiple competing things going on at once.

There are other symptoms, and I have issues with all of them to some extent or another. This site lists some of them.

So what I also realized is that I've kind of organically created coping strategies over the years without even knowing it.

1) Planners, bullet journals, lists, lists, lists: I make all the lists. I also get bored with my current system fairly quickly, though bullet journals have stuck around for longer than I thought possible. I still go through periods where I don't touch it at all though, like right now, in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.

2) Taking notes by hand: Not only was I interested in what the teacher was telling me, but the act of taking notes by hand (sustained activity), helped to keep me focused too. This does not work for everyone. But just the act of writing down what I was learning and having to process it into my own words, and then write it down, helped me a lot. In college I tried to take notes on my computer and not only was I not able to follow along with the lecture anymore, but I would just go down the internet rabbit hole. I gave that up pretty quickly.

3) Hiring others to do what I can't: I know I'm not good at keeping my room/house clean. I've accepted this aspect of myself, even though I didn't know why it was so hard for me. So when we can afford it, I now hire people to clean for me. 

4) Seeking out new things to learn or tasks to take on: I tend to jump from one job to another every 2-4 years because by then most tasks have become routine. I seek out new responsibilities or fun side projects to keep myself motivated at work too. 

5) Sustained activity followed by a reward or distraction: If I have the freedom to get into that hyperfocused state of mind, I can complete tasks extremely quickly, but I also have to let my brain rest in between these periods of hyperfocus. In the office, I usually get up and take a walk to grab the mail from the mail room, or grab the stuff I've sent to the printer, or have a quick chat with a coworker, just something to get me up and moving around. At home, I might play games on my phone, or watch an episode of something in between completed chores.

6) Routines: Having specific time frames things need to happen in is very important. I know that by the end of the weekend, all the laundry must be clean (even if it's not folded yet). Usually that means I'll stay up late on Sunday night to complete it, but at least our laundry is clean for the week. 

7) Doing things immediately: I have a tendency to forget about stuff, even when I have the best of intentions, even when I write it down in my bullet journal. If it's something small like sorting the mail or paying a bill, the best way to actually get it done is to do it immediately when it takes me five minutes, instead of when the pile has grown to epic proportions and seems totally overwhelming to tackle or when that bill is overdue and I go through the process of self-recriminations while paying the bill plus late fee.

So what does all this have to do with crafting?

Well, I tend to quilt in bursts. The best is having a deadline, like a birth or a visit to or from family and friends, or a medical or personal tragedy. I have a hard time staying focused on a project for more than two weeks, so quilts I don't finish in that time frame tend to sit and linger for years. That hexie quilt (left) took me about five years from start to finish. I worked in bursts during those years: cutting, then starting to sew rows, then finishing the rows, then finding a place to send it out for quilting (it's king sized), and then finally binding it. But in between bursts it just sat, often for months or years.

The next best thing for me is a quilting retreat. Because I limit myself to the projects I really want to get done (though I usually still overpack a bit, in case I get so bored of a project that I just stall out completely), I have to focus on those. And when I start focusing on one, it usually goes much better for me. It's one of the reasons why missing out on my sewing weekend in March right when all this social distancing thing started was so debilitating for me. Even home by myself, I just could not focus on sewing at all. There were a million other things that took precedence in my brain at home. Only when I allowed myself to do those things, did I have brain space to do a little sewing.

Lists help to a certain extent, in the sense that when I actually break down next steps for my existing projects, so they seem like more manageable chunks, it tends to help me a little bit. However, I get bored with making and consulting lists pretty quickly and if you don't reference your lists, then you might as well not waste the time making them in the first place. I do keep a list of finished projects though and a list of WIPs (Works in Progress), just to remind myself of how much I've accomplished and how much I have on my to do list.

I get bored very easily. I'm sure you can tell that from the number of times I've mentioned that word up above. I usually go through hobbies in bursts because of it. For several months I'll be totally focused on reading, or playing computer games, or cross-stitch, or quilting. Not necessarily to the exclusion of all else, but certainly as my primary focus. That's why having several long-term projects for myself is always good, because I don't feel as much guilt not getting them done "on time."

I've had some time to get used to this idea now. I've embraced my new label and everything that comes with it, because it explains so much and because it lets me explore new ideas and paths for self-improvement. But also some areas of self-absolution. It's ok to hire someone to do the stuff you can't get around to, it's ok to work in bursts, it's ok to jump around between hobbies, it's ok to get up and have a stretch/walk break. Do what you need to do to be productive and above all: happy.