Happy Fri-YAY, Friends!
Did you have a good week? I've been a busy little bee with tshirt quilt orders, Quilts for Cure, and getting ready for next Fri-YAY. Today, I'm taking the boys to the Hudgens for Toddler Friday. It's our first one, and I'm so excited!
Today, I'm thrilled to bring you this interview with Leah Day of the Free Motion Quilting Project. Leah has created over a thousand free motion quilting patterns, she teaches quilting online, and she has a quilting podcast called "Hello My Quilting Friends," which is actually how I learned about her work. When I realized that Leah is a pretty young quilter, too, I knew I had to ask her to come on the blog! Enjoy!
1. Tell us about yourself-- your family, creative background, other interests, etc. Hello my quilting friends! Hehe! I always start my videos that way so it's become a habit to start any conversation that way. And I guess that sums me up in the simplest way: I make videos and teach quilting online.
I love teaching online because I can stay home with my family, but still teach people how to make beautiful quilts. I really don't like to travel so this is really the best of both worlds.
I live in NC with my husband, Josh, and we run our quilting business together. Josh packs orders and handles all customer support for the business which allows me the freedom to design, write, quilt, and shoot videos. We have a 9 year old son, James, who might one day be a quilter too. He recently tried quilting on my new machine and seemed to enjoy it.
As far as my creative background goes, I've always been making things and in a way, this has always lead me towards running a business. When I was a little girl I learned how to make origami boxes and began selling them to kids at my school. I can remember the day I had enough nickles and dimes to buy hot lunch and ice cream - I felt rich!
In middle school I got into beadwork, crochet, knitting, and sewing and I can remember always having three or four projects going at any given time. Looking back this seemed normal because my dad was always working on something. He was a blacksmith and woodworker and always seemed to have ten projects going at once.
Some of my earliest memories are sitting in his wood shop and watching Dad carve and my grandpa turn wooden bowls. I was the youngest of three girls and somehow I figured out early that if I sat quietly and didn't make a fuss then I would get to sit and watch as long as I wanted. Even now the smell of freshly cut wood or the oil / coal smell of a blacksmith shop takes me straight back to my childhood.
I got into turning wood and acrylic on a lathe a few years ago and I find it really relaxing. I also make costumes with Josh and we dress up for comic book conventions. I love the challenge of using multiple creative skills to create a fantastic costume and this has lead me to get into leather work and stilt walking too!
2) Can we talk about your age? You turn 32 this year-- about half the age of the average quilter in the US today. I'm even younger than you, so I know the feeling of sticking out like a sore thumb. What are the greatest advantages and disadvantages of your age in the quilting industry? Well, I have to say the age thing has definitely changed over the years. When I first got into quilting in 2005, I was 21 years old and I looked around 16. I remember feeling slightly left out of a lot of things at quilt guild meetings because the older ladies just didn't try very hard to get to know me. Looking back I know I also wasn't great at bridging that gap either because I was so intimidated by them.
It didn't really help that I've only met a handful of people my age that like to make things and be creative. When talking with someone my age I'm usually left feeling like a total freak. Well...boring and freakish. That was what girls in high school said at least.
But somewhere over the last three years I've made peace with it. In the movie The Family Stone Luke Wilson says to Sarah Jessica Parker, "You have a freak flag, you just don't fly it." I love that quote and now I make it a point to show off my freakiness!
3) Tell us about the Goddess Quilts. What do they look like, and what are they about? How have they impacted you, and how do you hope they will speak to other women, other quilters, other people? Thank you so much for asking about my goddess quilts! This is a quilt series I started in 2005 a few months before my son was born and I've created new quilts in the series every 1-2 years since. Basically each quilt features a powerful woman figure and a lot of symbolism for whatever I'm going through at the time.
Now I call these goddess quilts, but they are not religious in any way. The simplest way to look at them is as a self portrait. I usually design the quilt based on whatever I'm going through, or an issue I want to overcome, and then by working on it I usually find the way to release that issue.
A great example of this is my favorite goddess quilt Release Your Light. This quilt began under a different name - Light in Me - and it was all about tapping into the source of creativity I had within. I really wanted to release my creativity, but I had a lot of trouble believing in myself, believing I was worthy, or that I was good enough / smart enough / strong enough to run a quilting business.
As I created it, began breaking down the barriers and limiting voices that kept holding me back. I started questioning those thoughts and dreaming of a new future. As I worked on it, I got the idea for the Free Motion Quilting Project, the blog which helped me start my business. Towards the end of that project I felt that the quilt meant so much more than Light in Me, but it could be a symbol for the creativity within everyone. All you have to do is Release Your Light.
The impact of these quilts has been pretty massive for me personally. I know I wouldn't have started the blog or my business without Release Your Light and that was such a powerful, positive experience I can still feel it resonating in my life.
I've made goddess quilts about fear, gratitude, limiting beliefs, self love, and emergence from depression and each one has been enormously helpful. Now I say helpful, but that doesn't mean it's always pleasant. I've learned that digging into your past can sometimes unearth things you didn't expect and then once it reaches the light of day, you've got to deal with those emotions and new insights in your life.
Eventually I reached a point where I just had to stop digging into the past. I can't change it. I can't go back and make anything different from how it is now. Just recently I've been working on a Dream Goddess quilt that asks the simple question - what life do you want to build? This has really helped me look forward rather than back.
As for the impact for other people, this is something that is beyond my control. I make these quilts first for me. So if they have a positive message for others I see that as a really happy bonus. I don't want to feel like I need to change a goddess to make her more meaningful to someone else. That said, I know there are a few designs that I haven't started yet because they might alienate some quilters. So I guess I'm treading a tightrope between what is acceptable for my craft and what I feel drawn to create.
4) How is creative community important to your work? That's been a really interesting addition over the last few years. When I first started the Free Motion Quilting Project it was just a blog and if quilters wanted to interact with me they would just post a comment. Then in 2014 we started two Facebook groups so we could have more interaction with quilters following along with a quilt along project we were sharing each week.
I can say in a way it's a double edge sword. I love the interaction and seeing quilter's work, but it's a LOT of work to maintain our groups and keep them free of spam. It can also be tough to read everyone's opinion of you or the project you've shared. We've just started a new Machine Quilting Block Party and right at the beginning several quilters posted messages like "I wasn't going to do this project this year, but..." So they were joining in, but they didn't really want to from the start - that's not what you want to hear as the teacher in charge!
In a way it's good because it keeps me very in tune with my work and how my videos are helping quilters. But I have had to develop a thick skin and learn how to accept negative comments as a single person's opinion, not as a valuation of my self worth.
5) What advice do you have for makers and artists on their creative journey? My best advice is to figure out what works best for you and build a system around it. So I work really well with sequential posts shared on the same day each week. It just works well for my brain to know what I'm doing every Monday or every Friday - I'm putting up a video and a blog post. The rest of my week naturally falls into an order around that schedule so the work gets done.
Another key is to keep your world as open as possible. Watch out for limits and rules creeping into your craft. If you start thinking that the only way you can create a quilt is by traditionally piecing it, or the only way it counts is if it's needle turned applique - that's placing restrictions on how you create.
You are allowed to play with ANY technique, ANY method, and ANY material at any time. Who says you can't use leather in a quilt? Who says you can't use fabric for knitting? You says you have to piece with a 1/4 inch seam allowance?
If you're feeling bored or frustrated or sick to death of quilting, there may be a reason - you're doing the same thing too much. Try something different. Use new materials. Explore new construction techniques. Keep trying new things.
I've had the experience of a favorite craft destroyed because I set so many limitations and rules on it, it stopped being fun. Then I started ripping everything I'd created apart. Then I stopped even wanting to try to make something new. Don't make that mistake. Keep it light and playful. This is just fun!
Thank you, Leah! I love your podcast, and I loved learning more about you today. Thank you especially for sharing about your Goddess Quilts-- I love personal projects, and I can't wait to see how you continue to work on them.
Y'all be sure to follow Leah on Instagram @leahdayquilting (source of all but one of these lovely photos), visit her website leahday.com (source of the Release Your Light Goddess photo), and subscribe to her podcast, "Hello My Quilting Friends" on iTunes! Also, don't forget to follow @stringandstory on Instagram, too. I love connecting with y'all there!
Have a wonderful day and wonderful weekend!