Saturday 17 January 2015


A belated happy new year to you all! I hope you and yours had a fabulous holiday/new year season. We mostly had pretty quiet celebrations with family and friends this year, and it was really lovely. We've just gotten home from a week staying at the beach and I'm feeling recharged and ready to jump back into sewing and blogging after almost a month off it all (a very long time for me!!) This is a very wordy post, so I've broken it up a bit with some of my favorite finishes from last year (the ones I can share at least!) It's taken me a couple of weeks to write this post - it's a bit of a soul searching post :o)

 A new year always gets me reflecting on the year just gone, and thinking about my plans for the year ahead. I had a really fabulous year last year in terms of quilty stuff - being made a Bernina Textile Artist, starting to teach patchwork locally, getting my quilt on the cover of the Quilters Companion diary, and continuing to get quilts commissioned by magazines - but I did end up a bit burnt out by the end of the year. Hence why I've had an unplanned break from all things quilting. It's the first time ever since I started quilting that I have had zero interest in going down to my sewing room and making things. I think a lot of it stemmed from working almost constantly on commissions for magazines for the last half of the year, and genuinely needing a break. Which was all a bit heart breaking to be honest - at one point I was actually thinking about whether I wanted to quilt anymore. And I started wondering how I could have fallen out of love with something that gives me so much joy?

After a LOT of reflection, I've come to a realisation that it is actually really hard to try to make your hobby into a job, and still keep the passion there. If you have managed to do this I would LOVE to hear some advice on how to balance it all. I'm a long, long way off bringing in any decent income from quilting, but it is still a dream to get there one day. I guess I've just become a bit more aware that even though you're doing something you absolutely love, it's incredibly hard work to try and earn income in a creative industry. Although it is still something I want to try to do, I'm a bit scared I'll lose the joy I get from quilting in the process. Perhaps I'm a bit naive for only just thinking of it now, but the last few months of last year made me start wondering.

I don't tend to talk much in this space about my ambitions to turn quilting into a business, but it is there. I hope eventually that between patterns, teaching and (eventually) quilting for other people I'll be able to make this my job (as I talked about here). One of the things I'd like to focus on business-wise is pattern design, so when I have the opportunity to design something for a magazine it's hard to say no. Having said that, I think I need to get better at saying no sometimes. I made five commission quilts between July and December last year, as well as several mini quilts for swaps and my epic (in terms of hours) star quilt. All the commissions were quilts I really wanted to make (or I wouldn't have submitted them I guess), but I think working in secret to a deadline changes the whole quilting experience for me somehow.

Like many of you, the only time I have to quilt is at night after the kids go to bed, and I'm lucky enough to have one day a week to sew while the kids are at school/care (although that will change this year as my youngest starts school). So when I have deadlines to meet, I think feeling I have to quilt every single night (even if I would normally do it anyway) is part of the problem, and part of why I have needed a break recently. Working to deadlines normally isn't a problem for me (I actually thrive on deadlines and find it is the best way to get projects finished without starting a million other things along the way), but having lots of deadlines one after the other is a problem. I inevitably think up new projects along the way, and start to resent the fact that I can't start them until I've worked through my list of commitments.

So that was all a very roundabout way of getting to the point ;o) I like to have a word to live by each year (a kind of mantra I guess?), and this year it is Perspective. I'm hoping that by keeping this word at the back of my mind, I'll be a bit more sensible with my time, and find a better balance between sewing for business (ie designs for magazines etc) and sewing for me (ie working on whatever I feel inspired to work on). By keeping this in perspective and remembering that I'm doing this because I love it and want to do it, I'm hoping I'll avoid burning myself out like I did last year. And I guess I need to get better at saying no.

I would love to hear about your experiences with this - do you share my dream of making for a living? Or have you successfully turned your hobby into a business? I would appreciate any and all advice from those of you who have managed to build your hobby into a business and manage to keep the joy there.

xx Jess


Jessica said...

When I started making lanyards and t-shirt quilts, it was fun at first, but it quickly lost its charm (the latter was much quicker!). People sometimes ask me if I sell my quilts (rarely) or key fobs or lanyards or pouches or what have you, or if I can make them something. If I don't quilt for me or for a specific purpose (not necessarily deadline imposed), it drains out all the fun. So I know exactly how you feel. I got much better at saying "no" last year and turned down many t-shirt quilt commissions for this year, too. Life is short and I just don't have the energy, time, materials, or space to devote to making money by quilting. So far, though, I have been happy to support my hobby by teaching some classes and giving some lectures, and those are things I enjoy much more. :)

Erica said...

I also enjoy working toward a deadline and being able to accomplish commissioned projects, but I have gotten to a point where I can't do those things all of the time. I need time to sew my own projects because I found that when I didn't have time to sew my own projects, I stopped thinking of things that I want to sew and that is something that I really love. I have reached a point where I am a little uncomfortable with how busy I am quilting. I love quilting and I like being asked to make things, but I really need to ask myself, "Do I really love what I am making?" before I spend precious time making it. And there are plenty of times where I do love making something, but I don't like the amount of time I now need to spend responding to emails or writing up patterns. I think that balance with all of these things is a personal decision and will change as our lives change so I think it's something that will always be a struggle with all of it. I am glad you are back to quilting because you make beautiful things!

DreiPunkteWerk said...

Take care of yourself!
I think I can see that you are putting so much love in your quilts - don't get to "to machine down".
Liebe Grüße from Germany,

ipatchandquilt said...

I have dreamed about starting a quilting business, but I have come to the reality that it would probably be not for me. I am a full-time teacher for 16 years now. The job gives me a steady income form which I can live comfortably. If I want to buy fabrics, I do. I still have to save up for a new sewing machine, though... I am not THAT rich, LOL
i do get smalll commissions from family members wanting gifts for others. They give me free reign and that is why I keep doing it. Most of the time I do whatever I like doing. It actually works like a"quick fix" for me. I have several large projects on the go, just for me, but the little commissions help me with my urge to start a new project. Whenever I see a new block pattern or new technique, I want to try it out. The little projects let me do just that.
This system is working for me. I get some money for the commission, nothing mayor, but we are all happy with the arrangement.
Maybe in the future , when I get the Sweet 16/Tiara machien I want, I will do some quilting for others. i am keeping my options open.
Bye bye

ipatchandquilt said...

Oh, I forgot to say, that I am very glad your are back! We all missed you!
I adore your work and you are an inspiration to me!
Please take care of yourself, your soul is the origin of your creativeness!

Charlotte said...

I think it's really difficult to take a pastime that you love and make it into a business without losing what made you love it in the first place. As soon as you *have* to do something it can never be as much of an escape as it was before. Maybe the key is to have dedicated days set aside to do your own work so that you don't feel under pressure all the time?

Kay Holm said...

I have tried all my life to do what I love and "the money will follow." I am now 61 years old and I don't believe that one who truly works from the soul can make a comfortable living. The problem is that money becomes the reason for doing rather than the passion deep in your soul. You can make money by quilting for others and feel good about your work but you lose the ability to do the stuff that feeds your creative soul. You become burned out always doing rather than creating. I so wish that being an artist didn't mean starving but I believe that society as a whole needs to change to pay what the art really is worth. I don't mean to be a downer and this is just the experience of an old granny so I hope that it is different for you.

Leanne said...

It's complicated, that's for sure. I think that if you work on organizing your time to balance all the things you want to do, then you will know if you have the time to make quilting a profitable business. If you only have part time hours to do the business, then perhaps if you expect part time profits you will see it all differently. Remember being a full time parent is a full time job so you don't actually have time to add a second full time job in the same week. Perspective is a great word.

Teresa in Music City said...

I've been experiencing the same feelings. I had begun to do some teaching and designed a few quilts which required writing up and selling patterns. I ended up losing my joy for the simple pleasure of quilting! I've decided to cut back considerably this year and do more of just what I want to do rather than have deadlines and commitments as much as possible. I'm blessed to be able to not have to work (thank you hubby!), so I'm determined to not make my fun hobby a dreaded job! It's really not easy to draw that line successfully though.

greeneggs said...

I have to say you are one of my most admired quilters and I think you have talents that take your work above the common herd. This is an issue I don't have any insight into, as I'm strictly a hobbyist as a quilter. Hope you find the right balance to make it work and keep loving it. I find your quilting so inspiring, I'd hate to think it doesn't give you as much pleasure as it gives your followers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jess. I'm glad you've taken a break to put everything into perspective. I think, if you don't have to get a job or study this year, that you will find life gets considerabley easier and you will have a lot more time on your hands once when your littlest one starts school. It may be the year that you really get to make a business out ouf it. Having said that, I would suggest cutting back on your least favourite quilting related things - you don't want to burn out.

You may be able to dedicate 3 school days a week to your business, and one day to fun sewing (and one day to errands and to do other home related work). Then you will have your nights free to sleep, which you may very well need to stop you from feeling burnt out.

Whatever you do, I wish you the best of luck :)

Lisa J. said...

Hi Jess: First of all I'd like to say that I love all the quilts in this post and also think you have an amazing talent. I'm also a hobby quilter but I do have a job in a field that I love ...which is not super well paid. I love some parts of the job and other parts not so much. I've worked in the same place for over 20 years and mostly love my work but at times I've thought I couldn't stand working there any more . The most recent of this times was this fall. The secret for me is arranging things so I can do more of the things that I love and that give me energy... So my hope is that you will be able to increase the things that give you energy and fuel your creativity.

Sandra W said...

I would forget about commissions--it can't bring in that much money. If you need cash and want to contribute to the family income--get a part-time outside job and then spend the rest of the time on your hobby/love and maybe teach (more money);do a Craftsy course (or aim for it) and perhaps patterns or fabric design. Surely you do have some income already (blog sponsors) so you are making a good start.
I'm baffled why you can't do some quilting during the day. Surely there is some down time with your family. Then save the handwork for the evenings with your hubby.
I had a quilt-type part-time business while I worked full-time with 2 children. Working craft fairs was an eye-opener. People maul the items and most people are very hesitant about parting with their money. It was fun, for awhile, but then became discouraging and thankless. So, that's my free advise--and remember, free advise is worth what you pay for it. ;)

Michele said...

I too have the same eventually quilt for customers and to sell my own pattern and I hope this year to at least get my first one published. It is a struggle to balance it with family life but It is something that I just have to do. Whether or not it brings in big bucks at the moment isn't important since I'm also still working but one day I hope that it will turn into a nice little business. Best of luck to you in finding a way to make it work.

Annabella said...

I've had that dream - like so many but know that living where I am it's unlikely to become a reality. Good luck Jess - you have spoilt us this SUnday with such beautiful quilts. Happy New Year to you.

Ella said...

I'm glad you're back and feeling recharged. I think it's hard whenever money/lack of freedom comes attached with any job. I love teaching where I am because I have a TON of freedom, but I felt like a paycheck at my old school. I love doing drama with kids, but I get tired every Jan (and kind of a crabapple) when I'm on rolling deadlines and dealing with 29 people in a very different way than my normal classroom. It's a hard balance. You are an incredibly talented quilter and designer, but, ultimately, it's your love and sanity at stake, you have to figure out what incarnation works for you. That said, I'm glad I get to see windows into your process and I LOVE your work!

Dianne said...

I have no personal experience with this issue but have had conversations with artists who have wrangled with this very thing. It worked for them to set aside certain days and hours in their week to "work" just as one would if they were going to a traditional "job". Their non working time was sacred and balanced between family, responsibilities and their art.
I suspect that the blurring of lines between the "work" and the "art" is where the drain on one's passion begins.
I wish you success in your goal of finding perspective this year. Your creations are a source of pleasure for so many, I hope that they continue to be a source of joy for you as well.

Renee said...

I feel the same way about quilting, commissions, deadlines, etc. I sew throughout the day when I can, but it's pretty sporadic. Before my ankle surgery (which was just before xmas) I was sewing in the evenings, but haven't been able to get back into that again yet. I really want to start quilting for others and hope that this is the year for the pieces to start coming together.

lvkwilt said...

As a "senior citizen," I can tell you that I learned years ago that making things to sell earns very little. If you figure out the hours you put into a quilt (and the cost of materials), you are earning very little per hour. If quilting is your passion, do what you love. If you enjoy designing patterns, do that but don't force deadlines on yourself. If you enjoy teaching, do that. Don't let others steal your joy though. Life is too short! Just MHO!

DeborahGun said...

I'm sorry that it all became too stressful Jess, but glad you managed to have a good break over Christmas. I guess the key is learning how much you can manage without feeling overwhelmed, and maybe setting aside some time each week that is just for you to sew whatever you feel like that day :)

Hannlib said...

Sending you hugs Jess. You're so lovely and your work is so wonderful. We all put so much pressure on ourselves.
I've been taking on more obligation sewing lately and I don't know why. I don't want to make this my job, I guess I just like the external validation that what I do is worthwhile. But truly, obligation sewing turns me off sometimes. I have a couple of deadlines coming up then I need to reassess.

Alyce @ Blossom Heart Quilts said...

I mean, other than the actual sewing projects, I swear this may as well have been my post! I love having a deadline to motivate me to actually get moving, but too many and I just start to hate it all. Maybe hate is too strong a word, but burn-out/no joy is definitely there. These are all thoughts that I have had at varying times, and now that I know what direction I want to go - designing, teaching - it has definitely helped me get over some of those "hate" feelings. Sure, certain things may not be fun, or AS fun as other jobs, but it's work and I try to just "suck it up". Good luck this year, I am so excited to see what happens!

moira said...

Perspective is a great thing. Stepping back and seeing what works for you and what doesn't will help guide your path this year. You don't have to say yes to everything, especially now that you have a "name" in the community/sector. Perhaps you can be more choosy about what you want to do. It is your path so there is no pressure (other than from yourself) to follow the paths others have taken at the speed that they go. Perspective and balance and remembering that you are chuffing amazeballs. Here's to a less stressful 2015 x

Katy Cameron said...

So as the person who just had a nervous breakdown with overwork and stress, I've thought about this rather a lot (funnily enough!) Here's the conclusions I came to:

1. Magazine commissions are great, and while it's flattering to be asked, and there's a feeling that you need to get your name out there and keep it in people's mind in order to be able to capitalise on it, you also have to consider how much time you're giving to them. I've made some complex bags that I've certainly not been paid enough for, so I've started dialling it right back - no-one has batted an eyelid, so maybe think about every other month if you want to do complex, or go a little easier on yourself in the piecing and/or quilting part.

2. Divide your time up for 'commitment' sewing and 'play' sewing, and stick to that. Work out how much time you have available for commitments to allow you to play too - if you don't get the chance to play your creativity will surely suffer. For me, week nights are for bee blocks, one weekend a month is for commissions, and the rest are for playing - I count swaps as playing, as I'm usually doing something new and exciting, but I severely limit how many I sign up for. I've also turned down seriously tempting requests to join bees - I can't do it all, and given how many as yet unassembled bee quilts I have, joining more would be pure folly!

3. Vary your money making activities, and try and make the time you spend on them relative to the money you get for them - think about it, you probably get more for teaching a class where you're making blocks than you do for a highly designed, heavily quilted effort for a magazine.

4. Limit your social media time, and choose to spend time on what works best for you from a business point of view.

And so sayeth Katy ;o) j/k, hope you manage to work out your balance