Hello my quilting friends! This week I'm sharing a challenging quilt that taught me many lessons about quilting, life, and quilting design. This is a darker story about diving too deep and digging too far, but ultimately the lessons I learned along the way were very positive.
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Creating SinkholeAs you can probably tell by now, I’m a seeker. I’m a person looking for answers and always eager to learn and grown with the goal of becoming a better person.
In 2012 this journey lead me to creating a very dark, soul-sucking quilt called Sinkhole. At the time, I thought it would be a good idea to make a quilt that represented all the painful memories and hurtful things I'd ever been told and that this experience would somehow help me break free of that negativity.
I designed the quilt to be a series of rings so it looked like you were diving into a sinkhole in the ground. I was inspired by pictures of giant sinkholes online. I found it fascinating that regular looking places – cities, roads, and hillsides that looked so stable and secure could really be crumbling from the inside out. Then one heavy rainstorm was enough open a massive the hole in the ground.
This was a perfect symbol for what I felt like during this time. I felt like things looked great on the surface, but there was an intrinsic rot underneath and by exposing it and showing the sinkhole I would finally be free of it.
After constructing the sinkhole quilt top, I decided to quilt it with the most horrible things I'd ever been told that had contributed to my negative inner voice. I thought by stitching out these words in thread, I would be free of them.
Turns out the opposite happened.
Spending time on these words was in no way helpful. It simply caused me to relive the pain and bad situations that have happened in the past.
Mucking around in all those negative emotions made me feel terrible. I became more depressed and angrier at every person that had hurt me. I tried flipping the quilt over and quilting kind, healthy words on the back of the quilt. That didn’t help.
It got to a point that I could no longer work on this quilt. I folded it up and put it away for several months.
But I never wanted to return to it. More months passed. I created a positive quilt called Hot Cast and tried to pretend Sinkhole didn’t exist.
It soon became apparent I’d never finish this quilt. One evening when I was talking to Josh about it, I mused aloud that it would feels so great to be free of it. Josh reminded me we had a half gallon of kerosene outside.
So I set Sinkhole on fire, and being me, I filmed it. Here's a video of what this looked like:
This was such a positive thing – burning this quilt that had become so dark and represented all the worst things in my life was the best experience ever. I still have absolutely no regrets about burning this quilt.
And I can honestly say I wish this was the end of the story.
Unfortunately, the relief and lightness I gained from burning Sinkhole was short lived. I felt an overwhelming need to rush into another project, possibly to make up for the time wasted on Sinkhole and that dark learning experience.
I decided to pull an older sketch of a goddess emerging from a split with the sinkhole design so the goddess would appear as if she was splitting the whole and emerging from the darkness.
Of all my goddess quilts, this one suffered most from my tendency to rush and not take my time with the design. Before I had fully planned quilting design or fully planned even the piecing methods, I rushed off to begin quilting. I did incorporate lots of the techniques into this quilt including wild appliqué and trappliqué and the sun sections were originally 3D and floated off the surface of the quilt.
But the original goddess was quite ugly. Her face was fully covered with a feather filler design and her hair was simply couched yarns and decorative threads. She looked bald and her overall impact was very strange.
I enjoy looking at most of my quilt while I'm sitting at the kitchen table and I rarely wear my glasses or have contacts in. So I like my quilts to have a strong visual impact that is visible enough even from a 10 foot distance when I can barely see anything!
This version of emergence just fell flat.
Almost a year later, I heavily modified the quilt, ripping out her face and all the couched yarn on the surface. I appliquéd new pink hair and free motion quilted a new face with eyes and a mouth – one of my first goddess quilt that had facial features.
Even with these adjustments, Emergence has remained one of my least favorite goddess quilts. Looking back now many years later, I think my ego got involved in a lot of the quilting decisions. By this point I was wanting to work faster and to stop quilting so densely, but my ego demanded it be quilted to within an inch of its life.
In a constant quest to make me feel “enough” so the quilt would show well (even thought I never planned to show this quilt), I covered this quilt with so much thread it practically stands up on its own. It took ridiculous amounts of time and was a constant source of distraction in my sewing room.
In spite of the design and construction issues, the symbolism of Emergence is very important and the lessons learned are numerous. I learned to STOP DIGGING. If you have a sore spot on your arm, should you continue to rip off the scab? NO! Stop picking at it and let it heal.
Constantly rehashing the past is no way to live. Live for the present, look forward to the future, and let go of the past with as much grace and forgiveness as you can.
I learned the most about quilting design and when to just stop and rest. I think I designed most of this when I was both physically and emotionally exhausted and simply didn’t have the capacity to do my best.
I never showed Emergence, and I considered redesigning this quilt yet again, but ultimately I’ve always chosen to work on something totally new and fresh instead. Maybe one day.
Find more goddess quilt stories by clicking on the links below:
Leah Day - November 06, 2018
Hi Sha-Leine – Thank you very much for asking. Yes, I’m in a much better place now. As I said many times in this video, digging can only lead to more pain. I hope you can remember the good times with your child’s father and focus on the good things that came from that relationship. It’s also very good to give yourself permission to be sad when you feel sad. I often find that trying to fight a bad emotion just makes it worse.
For this particular time in my life it was postpartum depression that had caught me in a grip of darkness. I was also just starting to come to terms with my mother’s verbal abuse and alcoholism. Most of the negative words I quilted into the original Sinkhole quilt were things she said to me and I needed the chance to work that out.
But I also needed to learn how to let go and focus on the bright, beautiful life I was building with my family. I turned away from the darkness. I stopped digging, and I have been so much happier for it.
Sha-Leine - November 06, 2018
Hello Leah, Thank you for sharing your story. I wanted to ask…and if you don’t mind sharing…what caused you feel like you were in a sinkhole? Also if you feel quilting through your journey helps? The reason I ask is because I have had a lot of tragic situations in my life. The situation I am dealing with now is severe depression. My ex💜 (my son’s father) was tragically murdered a few months ago. Your story touched me, so I just wanted to know if you are in a better place now? I hope so!😌
Lisa - August 31, 2018
Thank you! You have been an unexpected blessing in my life. I have gained so much more than free motion quilting designs. Who knew?! :)
Leah Day - August 30, 2018
Thank you Diane. I love being able to share these stories and I’m so happy you enjoyed hearing it!
Catherine Russell - August 30, 2018
Oh, Leah, thank you for your transparency and courage! Would we all be able to share our struggles and be kind to each other. If you still struggle with memories and negative messages, I would encourage you to seek out a therapist who uses EMDR ( and the flash technique as part of that. ) Very powerful therapy that can provide significant relief in a surprisingly short period of time. Blessings, Cathy
Diane Allen-Harkins - August 30, 2018
Dear Leah, you are my hero. I love your thought process, and I love how you quilt. We all are emerging goddesses, here to learn and here to teach all that we are able. Thank you so much for sharing your story. You have inspired me for years since I saw a simple free motion quilting video, and I am grateful for all you have taught me. Your amazing quilting perfectly matches the beautiful woman and spirit you are. Thank you you are a gift.