A Sad and Happy Story About Quilter Healing

This story's been floating around in my melon for a few weeks - kinda haunting me. 

Let me set the scene for you....

A darling little quilt shop in a darling little town in SE Indiana. I was doing my usual trunk show spiel - talking for an hour about the ideas behind and the process of writing and getting Modern Designs For Classic Quilts published. I really love doing this talk as it's such a fun story to tell and the quilts are yummy and I get to show them off and who doesn't like talking about themselves for an hour?!

I can't tell you everything that's covered in this talk - you gotta either come see my one-woman show or buy the book - but I can tell you I do confess these nuggets:

I'm a lazy quilter. 
I'm not a perfectionist. 
I don't mind unmatched seams in the majority of my projects.
My goal when making most of the projects I make is for function - not for show.

So, yada yada yada I'm rattling on about myself and the projects I made in the book and talking about how Kelly and I are quilting rule breakers....and I see a very quiet woman sitting in the back row, who has been hanging on my every word, start to roll her eyes at some of the stuff I'm saying. Then at one point she literally rolled her eyes, looked up at the gorgeous tin ceiling and just froze there. I'm thinking - WTF? - is she annoyed with me? Is she ill? Does she think I'm one of those "dumb modern quilters?" Am I gonna have a fist-to-cuffs with this gal?

It was a little unnerving, I gotta say. I've had audiences who were thoroughly bored with what I was saying or just didn't get my jokes (i'm hilarious, so whatevs) or maybe took sedatives before they came, but I had never experienced this physical show of...I don't even know what it was...something. It rattled me for a hot sec.

So after I was done talking, I let everyone pet my quilts, which is really just a time for me to soak in the praise and the fan girls and sign my book and get my pic taken so it can be posted on social media. I'm shallow like that.

This gal, who I later find out is named Rhonda, approached me. She says to me:

"Andie...thank you...for saying you're a lazy quilter.  Thank you for talking about embracing imperfection in your projects."

She closed her eyes and hung her head. 
And stood stone still for a good minute.

I'm a hugger. I like hugging. Hugging's my favorite. So I asked her if it was ok to hug her and she nodded yes. I wrapped my arms around her and she stood there, shaking and silent, until she picked up her head and looked me in the eyes and said:

"I'm frozen with fear. Frozen. I can't even pick out fabric anymore for my projects. I want to make my new granddaughter a quilt but I can't even buy the fabric for it because I'm frozen."

And then....she started to verbally vomit what got her to this point.....

She tells the story of being surrounded by hyper-critical quilters who have absolutely torn her projects apart because of imperfect piecing and finishing. Her quilting group is full of perfectionist women who have to have everything matchy-matchy, perfect seams and follow all the "rules" of quilting. She also tells the story of the owner of a large quilt shop in SE Indiana, where Rhonda was a customer, telling her a Jacob's Ladder quilt she made was....wait for it...terrible. (I can completely relate to this as this very thing has happened to me a few times. Not fun.) She was worn down and stuck in a place where the joy and fun of her hobby had become a source of stress and self-doubt. 

I tell ya, my heart broke for this woman.

So, the de-programming started immediately for her. I told her to find new quilting friends. I told her to tell that shop owner to shove it up her rear and never shop there again. I told her it's important to want to do good, skilled work but not at the expense of sucking the joy out of something we love to do. I told her that a quilt made with love that is given with love is the most important and precious act we do as quilters. 

As we talked, her face went from sullen to relieved to smiling. She was on her way to quilting healing. It was truly a joy to facilitate some healing with this woman and I'm so thankful that my quilting story may, in some way, help her write her new quilting story. 

So what's the moral of this tale?
Well, there are several...

For cripes sake, you hateful, sour hags who own quilt shops - stop. being. so MEAN!!!

And you quilters who think that a "perfect" quilt is paramount to the joy the process brings?
 Honey, please. You ain't all that. 

And to all of you quilters who have been beaten down with criticism and rules and expectations and competition and blah blah blah....
stop owning that shit. That's someone else's issue - not yours.

Do this instead:
Buy the fabric you like.
Cut it up and sew it back together however you like.
Tell mean girls to suck it.
Surround yourself with quilters who do these things, too.

Share this story with quilters who are suffering.
And share the gospel of tolerant, loving, embracing, supportive, hold-your-tongue-if-you-think-it's-fugly quilting fellowship.

Love to all of my quilty peeps. 
And I hope you nasty shop owners and mean girls stub your toes.

A scrappy, messy, imperfect quilt I made for one of my closest friends. Love it so.


  1. This made me teary. Thank you for taking the time to share. I am a perfectionist and I've been trying to not let that get me all crazy when it comes to quilting and to just enjoy the process. How sad this poor woman lost that joy in quilting because of nasty people. Thankfully I haven't experienced this, but I do get annoyed when I'm basically ignored in a traditional quilt shop because I'm younger. I know what I'm doing!

  2. This story was me about 5 years ago, I all but gave up quilting because of the nasty, negative and insulting quilters I had met throughout the years. What changed? I retired from work, quit the local quilting group and guild I belonged to and immersed myself into quilting on my own at home. Five years on and I am a better quilter, take on new and exciting challenges, have held 2 exhibitions of my work and about to exhibit 20-30 of my selvedge quilts early next year. I don't listen to what anyone tells me to do or what they say about my quilts. Go Rhonda, I hope you continue on your quilting journey for many, many years to come.

  3. Just made me love you that much more!!! My quilts are ALL organic. You know...they have their natural flaws!

  4. You get an "Amen" from me! Glad the two of you got the chance to meet and talk it through.

  5. I was the same as Rhonda. I finally thought I should join a quilt guild so I could sew with like minded people. This guild didn't have a formal setting, it was about the fun of sewing. For 5 hours I would sew my heart out, listening to all the babble around me, when suddenly I realized I was the only one sewing. At times there was support, at other times the rules of quilting came crashing in. Finally I decided that it wasn't fun anymore. I had to drive for forty minutes to get there only to realize that I had more fun in my own sewing room. As for the quilt shops, those that treated me as she-doesn't-know -anything type of shopper have lost my business. Unfortunately for me I live in an area where there is one within 50 miles. So, online shopping is for me. Yes, I can't see and pet the actual fabric, but the challenge of making something out of what you do have is so fun! Thanks for being so honest and being ornery for all of us. krbassoc57 at gmail dot com

  6. You just made my day. I just posted this to my Facebook page with this message...."A must read for everything in life not just quilting, and for all those that think they know how I should live "my life." Thanks andie johnson!!"

  7. Love it!!!!

    I absolutely hate when people do that. I have seen a few friends that won't finish a project because it was criticized so badly they lost their joy in ct!

    I am a longarmer and I NEVER tell someone how bad their quilt is. If they ask for suggestions to make it better I am all there but otherwise as long as they are happy that's all that counts!

  8. I have never experienced what this poor woman has, thankfully! I was in a car accident at the age of 15 and suffer severe brain damage in the memory section of my brain. At around the age of 35, I began to quilt after my father (who had to retire after triple bipass) made over 100 quilts without any patterns and they were beautiful. Each member of his immediate family and each one of his nieces and nephews have at least one. He really inspired me, so I began my quilting journey. I was very critical of myself seeing all of these spectacular beautiful perfect quilts everywhere on the internet and was crying a lot and so frustrated with myself and all of my brain problems. My husband made me stop and took me out into the woods and we really talked about beauty and imperfections. Since that time, over 10 years ago, I have so fallen in love with every aspect of quilting and it has helped my memory problems so much. I support every quilter who does not worry about anything but the rule of following their heart and having nothing but pure fun and delight with each stitch they take! Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us and encouraging everyone to just be themselves and create!

  9. Amen, sista! Quilting is supposed to be a relaxing, "Zen" hobby! So unless it's your "job", relax and have fun with quilters who lift you up!

  10. You have explained the reasons why I no longer attend quilt guild meetings. Why should I go only to be berated or have someone say, "I would have changed this...". I can use those hours to make more quilts!

    I used to own a quilt shop, but we always lavished praise on everyone's glorious quilt (and they were all glorious, because they were MADE).

    Thank you for sharing.

  11. You have a new fan here, Andie Johnson!

  12. AMEN!!!!!!! I want all my quilts to be perfect, but that has yet to happen and I'm ok with it. I'm not perfect so the chances of me making something perfect is pretty slim. I want to enjoy the process as much as the finished product and when I'm snuggled under a quilt I don't look for the faults. Yes I see them, but I don't look for them.

  13. This is awesome!
    Quilting is supposed to bring you joy!
    Thank you for a wonderful story. I love it!

  14. Boy can I relate! When I first started quilting in the 90s I was online with an email group. We didnt have pictures back then so life was good until I joined a guild and then felt so inadequate. I never could finish a large quilt. Just sewed a few small wall hangings. The rules police just really had me stuck. Im older wiser more confident and dont really give a a &^%$ what others think. Im just sewing for me. Whe I sew for others I kick it up a notch but working full time means I really only sew/quilt what I want. Thanks for this! And I cried a little.

  15. great post and great quilt. to Rhonda, definitely find yourself some fun quilting friends. Try the Liberated Quiltmaking books by Gwen Marston and just enjoy yourself.

    1. Tonya! I told her the same thing! Gwen is instrumental in shaping my attitude toward quilting - liberated quilting is the cure for what ails us.

  16. Oh what an incredibly fabulous post!!! There are so many things I haven't done in my life for fear I wouldn't do it right. I grew up with a very critical mother ~ she just about sucked the creativity out of me. I'm happy to say that there are a few crafty things I do very well today ~ all do to the women I hang out with and the encouragement I receive from them. Thank you for telling those old biddies and snarky shop owners to take a flying leap!

  17. You're right, Terri. Rules scmules! I quilt because I love to sew and give of myself to others. I have never had anyone give a quilt back to me! And Andie, you are so compassionate! And that's what quilters really are!
    Rhonda, give 'er 'ell! make it and love it

  18. Love the empowerment that is given to every quilter!

  19. Best post ever! Thank you for saying it's okay not to be perfect. My quilts are definitely no prize winners but I have fun sewing and that's good enough for me. Love, love, love everything you said!

  20. extra points for honesty! thank you for this great post. and just so you know, not ALL quilt shop owners are uppity and critical. the one at my fav LQS is a gem, and encourages everyone and never criticizes.

  21. Oh, Andie, I love this post! And yes you are hilarious, and generous, and awesome. And so is Rhonda.

  22. This post is EPIC! I applaud you for sharing this story! I'm a recovering perfectionist with quite a few OCD tendencies. I strive to be fearless, and make progress knowing that no one and no thing is perfect! I have recently been feeling inadequate because I don't have an expensive sewing machine, but you know what it gets the job done. The other thing that has been rolling around in my brain is that I buy my fabric from Joann Fabric or Wal-Mart and it's not designer because it's what I can afford. Your article renewed my faith in creating and giving and not concerning myself with those thoughts any longer. I can't thank you enough for "keeping it REAL"!!!


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