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Healing Your Inner Negative Voice with Quilting - Shadow Self Quilt Story

For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived with a horrible voice in my head. This voice sounds like me, but it says terrible things that cut me down and make me feel small, unworthy, ugly, and stupid. 

Hear the story of how I challenged this inner negative voice while creating of the Shadow Self, the 3rd in my goddess art quilt series:

Click the images below to learn more about my goddess quilt series or make one of your own!

The Turning Point

Healing Negativity through QuiltingThis changed the second I had James. The moment I touched his little body, I was transported to another place where there was no pain, no fear, no voice in my head. It was a place of utter stillness and peace. I honestly believe this is what heaven is like and I got a glimpse of it that day.

Of course I crashed back to Earth in less than a minute and all my fears and worries and that horrible monster in my head all flooded back in.

But I could never forget and never let go of that single minute of stillness and peace. It was like I’d been given a taste of the best dessert in the entire world. I wanted MORE of THAT!

I began reading as many books as I could get my hands on about self help, motivation, and building self esteem. I found lots of mentions of negative voices in our minds and soon I realized this wasn’t something weird about me. Most people have hurtful voices in their heads. Most people are struggling to live their lives while a monster tries to eat them alive from the inside.

I read and I read, but I honestly think the most healing and beneficial way to work through any issue is to stitch it out. I wanted to design a quilt. I wanted a picture I could look at and ask myself – is this me, or is this my negative voice just acting out?

Designing Shadow Self

I began designing Shadow Self in March 2010 and for the first time I gave myself permission to go slow. I’d rushed the design for My Cup Runneth Over and ended up having to put that quilt in time-out. I had learned the importance of working slowly, steadily, one decision at a time.

My design method was very different from my other quilts: I drew the quilt within an 8 inch square on paper. I added every detail and used tracing paper to draw the quilting designs too. Everything was created on that small scale.

Then I scanned the pages into my computer and resized the design to 65 inches square. By designing this way I could get the proportions correct, make sure the lines looked great, then resize it to exactly the size I wanted.

Shadow Self Goddess Quilt

This was the first time I gave myself permission to geek out on the quilting designs and symbolism. The yin yang symbol in the center of the quilt was the perfect choice to represent the split in my head. I made sure the darker shape not only cut the goddess’s head in half, it also split her heart.

Throughout the darker area, I used only designs with straight lines and sharp angles. In the lighter sections, I drew curving lines and flames. For the first time I continued drawing, planning, and answering every question within this design until there were no questions left. It was time to begin construction.

Note: my only regret about this quilt is adding the black border with straight lines. This is very challenging to piece and in combination with the puffy quilting design, there are a few tricky spots where the border doesn’t appear to be pieced straight, even though it was.

I learned from this experience not to add straight lines to a quilt like this. Instead make the outer edges of the inner quilt curve and also make the outer edges of the quilt curved and there will be no straight lines to catch your eye.

Shadow Self Goddess Quilt

Constructing Shadow Self

I used a combination of freezer paper piecing and some turned edge freezer paper applique to construct Shadow Self. Most of the quilt is pieced, despite the multitude of curved seams. Only the darker half of the yin yang circle is turned edge hand appliqué.

Once the quilt was constructed, I marked the surface with the quilting designs and quilted the outlines for trapunto. This is a technique that makes the motifs on the quilt puffy so they stand out and create an extra design on the surface.

My absolute favorite part of any elaborate quilt is clipping the batting away for trapunto. I love it! I shot a two-part video tutorial during this process to explain the construction process so far and dive into my choices about the quilting design.

The second part of this video focuses on the construction process and machine quilting:

Once I’d completed the trapunto step, it was time to layer and baste the quilt again and quilt it densely. Again, I intentionally chose quilting designs that would reinforce the symbolism for the quilt: straight lines, sharp angles for the darker sections. Curves, Stippling, Brain Coral, and Paisley for the lighter sections.

I shared several blog posts throughout this construction process. Click the links below to read each post:

The design for this quilt was very unique, and I wrote an about it in an article for Machine Quilting Unlimited Magazine published in November 2010.

Challenging My Inner Negative Voice

While I quilted, I listened to my inner negative voice. This was different from the way I usually let it run nonstop and unnoticed in the back of my head. For the first time I was paying attention to what it was saying.

I’d picked up a book (Affiliate Link) I know I’m in There Somewhere by Helen Brenner and in this book one of the tasks was to make a list of all the things you think about in a day. That was a scary, depressing, humbling list to create.

But it forced me to get real with this negative dialogue. I couldn’t ignore it anymore or pretend it wasn’t there. It was a problem and it was definitely keeping me stuck, hurt, and sad.

The second step of the list was to think back and figure out WHO said these things to me first. Because that’s the thing about this inner negative voice – it’s not normal! It is not the default of the human experience. This is learned behavior.

I know I wasn’t born with this monster in my head. These hurtful words are spoken by people I trusted and loved when I was too little to understand what was true and I unfortunately believed them.


Once I identified where the hurtful words came from, I stopped hearing those words spoken in my voice, but in the voice of the person that said it first, or the most often. That was a very important step because it helped me stop identifying with that monster in my head. That wasn’t ME. It never had been.

Would you like to read more about this quilting journey? Click Here to find the story in the book Leah Day's Goddess Quilts.

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