Tuesday, February 26, 2013

how to Define Your Style

In going to QuiltCon, what I anticipated most was the quilts.  I'd never been to a quilt show, but I imagined that getting to absorb a collection of gorgeous quilts in person would be fantastic.  Today, back from QuiltCon, I'll confess that the quilt show prompted a cauldron of emotion:  awe, inspiration, confusion, discouragement, overwhelm, delight.  If you were there or have seen pictures, I'll wager your reactions were varied as well.

 my Oodalolly

Add to that the fact that 2 of my quilts were in the show:  Oodalolly and Modern Medallion.  What an honor!  But, gosh, they're so different.  SO different.  After a lecture defining "modern quilting" I felt completely adrift from my sense of self as quilter.  What do I like?  How do I fit into this movement?  Maybe I don't.  So how does that feel?  And back to the beginning... what is my style?

the QuiltCon quilt show

Thank goodness for the return journey!  As soon as I found a quiet moment, I put pencil to paper to work through some of these questions.  On a flight from Dallas to Columbia, SC it all fell into place.

Do you also find yourself grasping for a sense of personal style or reeling from inspiration-overload?  Well, pull out a sheet of blank paper and join me.  I hope you find clarity on the other side!

Exercise no. 1 {Word Dump}

Make two headings at the top of your page "I like" and "Not for me".  Think about all the quilts you've seen at quilts shows, on blogs, Flickr, etc.  Maybe review your Flickr favorites or Pinterest boards.  What do you like about them?  Jot down anything that comes to mind, even if you don't think it applies to style or design.  These words probably do actually relate to your style, but it's hard to see how at first.  My "I like" list starts with:  colorful, lush, saturated, floral, geometric....

Dump all the words, even if they seem repetitive.  If your thoughts are general like "Japanese Fabric" ask yourself what you like about these fabrics.  Maybe you can add "quirky", "text" and/or "cute" to your list.  As you clarify your likes, the "not for me" ideas will start to surface.  Jot it all down.  It's ok to "not like" someting. The point is to discover what speaks to you, what you want to make or what satisfies you the most.  An idea that's "not for me" is not thereby being judged as bad or unworthy.

Discovering what you're not into is actually really helpful.  It can give help you ward off a QAL rage that might turn into a frustrating UFO (unfinished object).  Even better, it can also help you discover how to re-imagine a current project for fresh momentum!

If you need more material, try surfing a flickr group like Fresh Modern Quilts.  Take time to digest a full range of quilts, not just your favorites.  

Exercise no. 2 {Self-Judge}

Now, think about the quilts you've made.  What are your favorite finishes?  Don't worry too much about hierarchy, but put on paper the names of a few quilts that stand out to you as personally satisfying, both in process and end product.  These are the ones you're really proud of.

Why?  Take what comes to mind and put it down without a lot of fuss.  What do you like most about each quilt?  You probably can't commit to just one thing you like, so right down 2-3 as the case may be.  Some of these words are probably on your "I like" list, but maybe they're new.  Don't forget to think about the process, not just the end product.  Enjoying the process is important!

In the same way, write down the names of a few quilts you've made that aren't your best work.  Maybe something about the design bothers you or the process was too fussy.  Or your points didn't match up.  Or it just looks "blah" from far away.  Maybe you liked it at first but it quickly got old.  Write down why these quilts aren't satisfying.  Just a few words.  Light touch here.  Reflect and move on.

Add any new words to the "I like" list and the "Not for me" list that emerge from this reflection on your own work.

Exercise no. 3 {Word Map}

The last 2 exercises generated ideas.  But how the heck does all this relate?  If you like "cute" and you like "scraps" and you like "color", what does that say about your style?  The word map exercise is about making connections.

Exercises: How to Define Your Style

Take a word from your "I like" list that seems important to you, given your experience with your own quilts. Starting in a big blank section of the paper, write that important word and surround it with a box.  I started with the word "unexpected".  Now, look for another word from the "I like" list that may be related.  I added "improv" thinking of my Oodalolly quilt.  Then, I drew a line from improv to unexpected since those words are related.  My line has an arrow pointing to "unexpected" because improv piecing creates unexpected results.   These lines show relation and causality.

Add most words from your "I like" list, discarding any you find unimportant, and place them in the word map so that you can draw lines connecting thoughts and directions of movement.  In my map, the word "scraps" also points to "unexpected", as does "vary neutrals".  Try to connect everything.  If some ideas seem to be alone, not effecting others, include them if you still feel loyal or discard them if it's not so important after all.

It's exciting to see your word map emerge!   At the end you'll find that some concepts have a lot of words pointing to them.  These central concepts are key for the last step...

Excercise no. 4 {Define Your Style}

Any concept that has 2 or more words pointing to it is a central tenant of your style.  Make a short list of these key elements.  (I don't want to list mine because it's important not to be suggestive.)  You might put the "I like" ideas that feed into each central tenant in parenthesis to remind you of how to create the desired effect.  You can also make a bucket list central tenant called "feels good" and throw in any style ideas that have minimal support or relations in your word map.  Hey, if it "feels good" that's good enough when it comes to style.

During this process you might find out "why" you like some things that are questioned in our community.  For example, I realized that I like how quilt borders add another layer of interest.  When you understand the "why" about something, it's empowering. 

Application

I hope you really do write all this down!   A written record is a wonderful grounding tool and source of future inspiration.  Of course, your style is changing all the time, so you might also enjoy looking back at this years later.

Before setting it aside, see if you can apply these thoughts to a current design or work in progress.  If you're stuck, bored or unsure of something, check to see if your central style tenants are at work.  If not, can't you change things to incorporate more of what you love?  I bet you can!  If it doesn't come to you right away, sleep on it.  Let your project marinate in thoughts of your personal style.  Wait for it.  You'll be really, really excited when the new ideas start flowing... and best of all you'll feel confident that they come from within and reflect your personality.  Plus, you'll be much more motivated to finish anything that expresses the real you. 

At the end of my flight, I began to re-sketch a complex quilt I've been plotting.  This quilt is to become the basis of my next class.  I am so, SO thankful to have a firmer grasp on my own style because the quilt has been absolutely transformed in the process.  I am even more eager to start sewing and even more confident about sharing it with you.

Wishing you confidence and clarity in your creative process!

xo, Rachel Hauser

63 comments:

  1. Thanks Rachel for the thought-provoking questions. Six of us from the NW Ohio MQG arrived home from Quiltcon and like you - are overwhelmed, inspired and awed by all the quilty goodness.

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  2. I liked the wide range of quilts that were in the show. Some were more traditional and others were minimalist. I felt like somewhere in that spectrum I could fit in. Doing the exercise sounds like a great idea. I need to get more of a sense of what I love.

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  3. I didn't get to go to Quiltcon but I've seen tons of pictures around. I agree with you that is is very inspiring while at the same time being overwhelming and very thought provoking.

    I've always considered myself a traditional quilter, but seeing the quilts that I've seen so far from Quiltcon I think now that maybe I'm somewhere in the middle between traditional and modern.

    Love your two quilts and your post has me thinking which is always a good thing. :D

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  4. Oh gosh Im feeling the same!
    I had to scroll down to comment straight away.
    I never understood the difference between quilt styles.
    On the whole I think I am a traditional quilter and I am a eppiecer.
    I havent read your post yet, what conclusion did you make??

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    1. I don't want to publicly post "my style" right now because I feel like it would influence some readers as they search for their style, which is the point of the exercise. But, I did produce a tight list of central design tenants. As per the specifications of the Modern Quilt Guild, my style is "modern quilting" and sometimes "modern traditionalist". I have made both kinds of quilts in the past. I wasn't so much looking for a label as trying to understand, specifically, what kind of quilts I want to make. For me, the process of journaling it out was really helpful!

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  5. Thanks so much for sharing this! I'll be using this to consider my own style...

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  6. First of all..your quilts are beautiful. I hope to attend the nest QuiltCon and experience it as you did.

    I can assure you those feelings, confusion and just being "overwhelmed" happen to each of us that attend quilt show. My first quilt show I thought....why am I even doing this? BUT I do it because I love it!

    My style of quilting (both making and admiring) have changed over the 20 plus years I have been involved in my fabric obsession.

    Define a style for today but enjoy the journeys of tomorrow. And always KWILT ON!

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    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Kathy. I think it will be so interesting to look back someday and see how my style has changed. As of now, I feel like I'm just getting started and so defining my style today is very relevant.

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  7. So glad you got a good grasp on this I think quiltcon is what we needed to really help us analyze all of this! Great post!

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  8. I myself have not put myself in a box. I like all kinds of quilts. I like all sorts of fabrics.I would say I am addicted to fabrics, and some of the new/modern fabrics are reproduced to look like older fabrics. so I do not see where it is so modern.just that it is made today and not 1960. as for quilts,some are traditional blocks with clean crisp solids,or "modern" fabrics. some are free/improv. the only thing I have noticed about my fabric tastes are how I want to make quilts in so many color combos or solids. I do not think I could try to put a label on myself. either way we all love sewing,quilting. And love buying/hoarding/using beautiful fabrics.

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  9. I think I can go on without defining my work in any way. I don't feel that me nor my work need it. I do what I like, sometimes the inspiration just come from nowehere, colour I like change, styles also. Once I'll make a geometrical quilt, the second time art quilt. I think sticking with what we find 'right' is enough. I don't like to be closed in any kind of 'box' as I think that would limit my perspective.

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    1. Thanks so much for speaking up, Joanna. I love exposure to fresh perspectives and admire your sense of peace with your work. For me, personally, I sometimes feel paralyzed with too many good ideas and not knowing what I really want to make most. Defining my style helps me get in touch with what truly feels "right" to me, beyond what I admire in everyone else.

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  10. This is a good exercise for any type of art, not just quilting. I could probably stand to do this exercise relating to sewing children's clothing - I don't use pinterest, I just bookmark things in my browser. I currently have over 300 different projects and styles on file but very little has been done with any of it. It's overwhelming just to look at the list. Maybe if I narrow things down a bit, I can cull the list and actually make some of these things!

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    1. That's a great idea! You could hopefully learn from your bookmark history and proceed forward enriched but not encumbered by looking back at images that cloud moving forward creatively.

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  11. Thank you Rachel for a great post! First I thought, oh how this can work, but your idea is very good - I'm sure you are a fantastic techer! I'm so looking forward to see your next project! Both your quilts at the show are amazing! x Teje

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    1. Thanks for your message, Teje. I hope the exercises end up being helpful for many. It worked for me, but you never know if the process will translate. Be well!

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  12. This is something that has been bothering me for some time and this exercise may just help me with the questions I have been asking myself. Thank you for such a great post that will help me and many others with evolving and growing artistically!!

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  13. You may have just written my favorite blog post ever. I struggle with this so much. I recenlty started a blog and realize how all over the place I am and not in a good way. It is uncomfortable. I can't wait to do your exercises. I am at work now so I can't (I am taking a cookie break) but I will tonight or tomorrow. Thank you so much.

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  14. I've just done all of your exercises. Before starting, I thought I had a pretty good handle on what my style was although I do extend beyond my comfort zone regularly. The four exercises really confirmed for me that I do know myself well. I'll save my findings from the exercises for a bit not to influence anyone else, but might use this as a starting point when I talk about the new fabrics that I bought on my holiday. Thinking about it, most of them fit within my style descriptors. Great exercise.

    Speaking of exercises, I picked up The Creative Habit on my trip. I believe you mentioned it last year. I haven't dug in yet, but I think it will be good for self-exploration. Thank you for sharing it.

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  16. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! We all struggle to find our voice at some point in time.
    Stefanie

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  17. Ooooh! Thanks for giving words to my thoughts and a purposeful direction to take.

    Your quilts ae beautiful. It was good to meet you. :)

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  18. I have made similar lists a few times throughout the years trying to better understand how to make quilts I will love. It's a very thought provoking exercise and one that always helps clear out the clutter.:)

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  19. Well... I'm not inspiration-overload. I like what I sew and I actually didn't think about 'my style' so far (besides stating once that probably I'm modern quilter without any further thoughts). Inspiration which comes from Flickr, blogs etc. makes me only regret that I'm not staying at home, raising my daughter and sewing... For sure I don't feel like I need to define my style, but I'm not able to indicate the reason... (sorry for not being more helpful!)

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  20. I think I will try this when I sit the kids down with some pattern blocks and see how far I get.

    I admire your bravery of putting your quilts out there. I take a lot of inspiration from the stuff you put out. Congratulations on having quilts in the show. Odalolly is still my favourite of yours. My own Odalolly gets tons of compliments when people see it. Great design!

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  21. Great post! I have thought a lot about this over the years, and find that I need to re-evaluate myself at least once a year. As I grow, and evolve, my likes and dislikes change, and my interests shift. Keeping aware of all of that and what direction to go in, is very helpful.

    Your quilt at the top of the post is fabulous, by the way!

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  22. Hm. Interesting. I´m constantly over-analysing. Al-way-s. In my job and in my free time. But when I´m sewing I like to just follow my inspiration without much thinking (e.g. in which stylebox my quilts may fit). At least that´s what I believed. :) Considering that what I like best are exact geometric shapes and tesselations that require exact planning before - maybe I´m quilting like I do everything else. :)

    And you should think of your quilts not as different but as unique.

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  23. Yes, I felt this way after QuiltCon as well and I think this exercise will be very helpful. I think for me, I need to keep reminding myself why I quilt/sew. When I began quilting I decided that it needed to be for the purpose of showing love to God and others and that influences my style and what I choose to make. A big message I heard was "do what makes you happy" and I agree somewhat, but I find great joy in doing something that will make others happy. Anyway, thanks for letting me sit with you and your friend (and her cute baby) during that lecture. I'm excited to continue reading your well written blog and see where your creative process takes you!

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    1. Yes, Emily, it was good to finally meet you! I'm so glad you said "hi". I hope these exercises are helpful in some way for you and others =)

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  24. This is such a great post Rachel! I'll be bookmarking this post for a quieter moment to reflect on my style - fun!

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  25. Really great, much-needed post. I think it will help lots of people, myself included. Being new to the quilting game, it's easier to determine what I don't like than what I do like. So many beautiful fabrics! I don't have enough experience using them to see what works best for me yet.

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  26. So wonderful to see your beautiful quilts in person.

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  27. Thanks SO much for for thought-provoking post. For me the style also falls into two areas (the quilts that i like to make) and those I like to see/admire. Some of the more minimalist (or on the other hand more intricate quilts) I would LOVE to see on my walls or give to others would either bore me to death to make (the repetition) or make me crazy with the fiddlyness of making them (thinking of one all paper pieced quilt I attempted). But it is an adventure i love going on and trying new things whether they work out or not.

    Thanks for giving us food for thought.
    PS I LOVE Oodalolly.
    PPS It was great to meet you in person at Alyssa's meet-up.

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  28. Great post Rachel! I loved taking your curves class and am currently working on the wheel quilt. I have been thinking about these kind of issues. I really love following your blog and like to think that my style is somewhat similar to yours. Many of the curves class projects really spoke to me, especially rainbow road which I just adore! But working on the wheel quilt has been fun. I've followed your pattern but I am going crazy with the fmq and it made me realise that it's ok to follow a pattern (I much prefer improv) because I can still totally make the piece my own. I often wonder about whether the design and piecing or the quilting is more important to me and whether to act on my dream to save up for a long arm and maybe even try to quilt for others too. But one thing I am starting to realise (and your post is spot on) is that it is so important to figure out my style and what I love and don't so that I don't end up with a pile of ufos or even a very expensive long arm that I don't use because my style is equally about designing and piecing quilts as it is about quilting. Thanks again for a great post!

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    1. I think we're absolutely on the same page! It's not that we need to define a "style" to box us in, but to help us understand what are heart is really saying. I hope the exercises are helpful to you!

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  29. I love the pics Rachel, you look great and so do the quilts. I have been waiting with anticipation to hear about Quilt Con on your blog. Good points you brought up. This is somewhat veering from your issue here but I have found that I easily decide my work is not good enough when I see much more superior work then my own. I allow that to easily deter my path. I know you will not do this and I am so glad you learned so much. Your quilts reflect your vibrant and generous heart.
    Cat from curves camp

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  30. i love this idea, rachel! i was wondering if i was the only one feeling both inspired but also a little discouraged after hearing denyse schmidt's keynote. i kept thinking, "ooh, that's a beautiful quilt, i want to make that!" but the whole point of her talk was finding your own style and being true to yourself. which, obviously, made me feel extra lame for only wanting to copy her. sigh. i think i might try this tonight and see where it gets me. when i don't have a special project, like making quilts for the bee or for someone else, i find i'm often stuck, so maybe this kind of exercise will help. (also, it was wonderful to see you again in person!)

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    1. Yes, Ara Jane, I totally felt the same way. She has such a distinct style and that's something I personally aspire to (not her style, but mine).

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  31. This is a very helpful idea, I am going to do it. i have always been a traditional quilter, love civil war repros and traditional applique etc. But my sister gave me a book called Material Obsession for Christmas and it has completely given me a new horizon to quilt to. I still love the traditional fabrics and stuff but love the modern stuff too. Especially the fabrics and colours.I really need to redefine my style.

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  32. I'm overwhelmed just watching from the sidelines and getting sneak peaks so I can imagine a debriefing is in order for those who attended. Love the post and think the exercises you layout would be great for all of us.

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  33. Wow. I hope you never lose your love of quilting because you feel you're not fitting into "the current" definition. Quilts are personal. Inspiration is personal. Color choices are personal. Follow your path. Listen to your heart. We, as quilters, as modern quilters, have to be open minded about design and definition. Not everyone wants to make a beautifully complicated block. Not everyone wants to make improv blocks. Not everyone wants to make perfectly paper-pieced blocks. Not everyone wants to use white as their neutral. Not everyone wants to make scrappy quilts. Acceptance and appreciation for all of these, and so much more, should be the hallmark of modern quilters.

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  34. I'm going to need some time to set aside to do this.... You're not alone, after the lectures about what "modern" means etc (reading the other emily's notes since I was in class), I've had some reeling too - wondering where I fit and if I'm feeling uneasy because the definitions don't seem to define me. I'll report back after I do your little exercise there.... PS it was great meeting you!

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  35. Fantastic post! I'm struggling with this right now, because I love traditional quilts and fabrics but my Flickr and Pinterest are filled up with mostly clearer fabrics. I don't think I'm a modern quilter but I love the style. I'm building a stash but between the bad economy in Ireland and postal costs, I'm being super careful about everything I buy and whether I'll use it, or am I buying it because it's popular, etc. I was at the LQS yesterday, talking about a pattern I want to do, and she pointed out that I don't HAVE to do only be a traditional quilter, I CAN think outside of the box. I keep reminding myself that at the end of the day, it's my family that will use my quilts and my house that will be decorated with them, so I need to stop thinking of what's popular and just go with what I like.

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  36. Thanks for this post. I am sur to this exercise soon..i am finding myself getting bired after starting a certain project and were not as happy as I thought I would be with some of the end results... I have too much liking, i guess i have to reakly narrow it done and fibd my true style... Btw, you look so pretty in the photo with the oodalolly quilt!!!!

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  37. So telling about your style. I'm in a local group where we are stretching ourselves in the area of quilt design. There are two camps of creative people. I describe them, to myself, as planners and panners. Planners have lists, drawings, flow charts, and have everything mostly decided before starting. Panners just start sifting, do what they feels right, keep what they like, toss what they don't, and it all pans out in the end. You, my friend, appear to be a planner. I'm glad you planned your way out disillusionment on the flight and are rearing to go. I still have some panning to do.

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    1. I like that, Jenny! Yes, I am a planner, even though I do love improv. I sometimes plan my way into improv, lol. I can visualize the "panning" process too. Thanks again for our valuable conversation!

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  38. A very interesting approach, Rachel. I too went through many emotions during Quilt Con, but I think for different reasons. I'm still sifting through them and not sure how to articulate them on the blog.

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  39. Oh thank you so much for posting this. I know I sometimes just feel lost sometimes, it's good to know there are more people out there!

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  40. OK, this is not near as profound as some of the other comments out there. But, that is a great picture you (and your quilt)- lovely!!!

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  41. I learned so much at QuiltCon too. If I have to pick my quilting style today, it is definitely modern-traditional. I came home planning to mind-map, collage and journal : ). It was a wonderful conference and I left with the feeling that quilters are the nicest people!
    I saw your beautiful quilt too

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  42. I know that I have a contemporary aesthetic as a maker in general, from color choices to composition and I might even go so far as to say that I am a modernist at heart (referring to more to the actual art movement), but I'm not inclined to label any further beyond that. I actually get confused by the discussion of "modern quilting" because it encompasses so many different ideas and definitions, many of which often conflict with one another. I know I have a certain process as a maker and that I'm drawn to a certain balance of color, value, and composition that seems ingrained in who I am--but that said, I like to experiment and hope to push myself constantly to try new things. Thanks for starting this discussion!

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  43. Tried this last night...wandered aimlessly around a few sheets of paper for a while...but eventually, found the clarity...and it was so simple it was profound! Definitely a new lens to change the way I view what I do! Thanks!

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  44. Thank you for a great process to apply to so many things (decor, fashion, career choices, etc.)! Brilliant!

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  45. Do you know of a standard list of definitions of specific styles of quilting? (Modern, traditional, contemporary, art quilts, etc) I can't seem to find any. I think I fit solidly within the "modern" with the main points of my style are focused on being intricate/precise with a balance of solid / negative space and a bit of improv. Thanks for posting about your process. This was fun to work through.

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    1. I really don't think there is a standard list. I think it's all pretty controversial to define this or that.

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  46. I have only recently returned to quilting and was floundering a little bit worrying about trying to be "modern". I had difficulty even finding a consensus on what modern quilting is. then I decided that I need to 1- do what makes me happy and 2- make some attempt to use the huge stash I had already accumulated and not start over buying fabrics just to be 'modern'.
    I will work through your exercise though, it might help to determine what is important to me in this process.

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  47. Un artículo muy interesante. Necesito más tiempo para pensar un poco más en todo esto.

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  48. I've had this bookmarked to look at when I had a bit of decompression time after QuiltCon. I had a similar reaction, and left feeling over-stimulated and creatively spent. I've started to come back from that but I'm still not feeling that inspired (it all feels old and rehashed and done before after seeing all those amazing things) and tonight I remembered this post. I sat down and spent a couple of hours going through it and found that I have two tenants that kept coming up and almost everything pointed to one or the other. (Those were painterly/hand-drawn feel and texture, esp. through the use of color) Hopefully it's okay to embed those here in the comments, I know you don't want people to feel swayed. :)

    I already feel like I have a bit more clarity and I'm excited to start incorporating those more into future design decisions. And going through my earlier quilts actually reminded me that I have a small quilt that I wanted to re-visit and work into a larger quilt, delving more deeply into the design elements.

    Thank you so much for posting these exercises. I am planning to encourage others in our guild to try them out. :)

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  49. I really did enjoy doing this and found it very helpful and enlightening... Thanks so much...

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  50. Just had a chance to do this and loved it. Really nailed down my frustrations with certain quilts. Thank you!

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  51. What a fabulous go-to guide for mind mapping 'your' style. Thanks, I will bear this in mind when I try your 30 days of design challenge.

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  52. Rachel, thanks so much for some guidance re my style. I often experience being overwhelmed by too many ideas& projects. I also find myself losing interest in projects & trying to learn what I like / dont like from those experiences. I hope your exercise will help me progress in my journey@

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