Tedious Creativity and a T-Shirt Quilt

This past week I heard Elizabeth Gilbert on OPB discussing her latest book, Big Magic. The book is a composite of her advice for creative living and  will be filed under self-help. I’ll admit I was a skeptical listener at first. ‘Follow Your Dreams’ themes are trending to the point that they can feel cliche.

My skepticism did Ms. Gilbert a disservice (or, maybe I’m more of a self-help junkie than I want to admit). Her interview proved relevant to me as I find a way to make sewing part of my everyday life. I took two gems from her talk. First was her advice to get on with it. How many times have I found myself frozen in place simply because I can’t decide to get started with something that might fail? The answer to that rhetorical question: too many.

The other gem was a reminder that creativity can be tedious. If she had spoken in glowing terms about the thrills of each moment in her creative life, I’d probably be deeply discouraged (or, more likely, deeply sarcastic). In the ‘follow your dreams’ trend, it’s often implied that a golden beam of light will shine down on your path and every moment will be filled with magic.

Early in my sewing, I thought that was how my experience should be if I were going to take on this craft. That almost prevented me from continuing to hone this skill. Sewing a straight line is fairly easy but figuring out how to get a good fit and ripping out seams to fix mistakes is tedious. In years past, I thought if something didn’t come naturally to me, it might not be my ‘calling.’

It turns out, I have yet to find something creative that does come naturally. My creative endeavors have involved tedious work with mediocre results. I’m happy to say there’s been a learning curve over the years but that learning curve represents quite a few projects that hang in the back of my closet unworn but too dear to part with.

I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice to get started and accept that hard work may produce mediocre results. There’s a lot from doing something poorly (or mediocrally but that word doesn’t sound right).

A while back, I had a huge pile of t-shirts to be made into a quilt. It was a matter of cutting out squares, sewing them together and then attaching a backing with batting in the middle. Of course, I also had to calculate the amount of fabric to use for the backing and do some calculations for the quilt top.

quilt scraps

Over a year passed and the t-shirts were still taking up precious space in my 500 sq. ft. home. My mom visited and I asked her to help me get the project started. We spent an hour or so drawing pictures of squares and rectangles and scribbling numbers on a paper. That type of figuring is just not one of my strengths. I ended up drawing the quilt on graph paper to help me keep track of my calculations.


That figuring was the impetus I needed to get the project started. I bought an Omnigrip quilter’s plastic square and spent hours cutting and ironing on interfacing (this is the tedious part). The stretch fabric of the t-shirts would be sewn to non-stretch material so they needed sturdy interfacing.


Once the squares were cut and interfaced (is that a verb?), I spent a long time arranging them. The mismatching colors and patterns needed to create a whole that would let my eyes relax (possibly a personal quirk). A flowery shirt did the trick: I cut it up and created three heart squares that would be a consistent pattern for the eye to follow.

Then, I spent a few hours sewing straight lines (another tedious part).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few youtube tutorials later and a quilt sandwich rested on the living room floor secured with safety pins.


The final step: sew around the edges and tie with quilting floss.


The final product represented many, many hours of work. I learned I needed to use a heavier interfacing so that the t-shirts wouldn’t bunch up when sewn to the quilting fabric. Any professional quilter (or perfectionist quilter) would recognize the quilt’s flaws.

I appreciate Elizabeth Gilbert’s sentiment that she would rather spend a lot of time and effort on something and call it ‘good enough’ than not do something because it won’t be perfect. This imperfect quilt was a gift that I hope will be used until it’s in tatters.

What are your favorite imperfect projects?

3 thoughts on “Tedious Creativity and a T-Shirt Quilt

  1. Kady Boden

    I recognize that flowery shirt! I always have trouble finding space large enough to make the “quilt sandwich” and am never brave enough to bind the quilt. I always sew it as a pocket quilt and whip stitch the opening closed!

    1. Michelle Post author

      I was nervous about binding it as well. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it mostly took a lot of time and wasn’t as hard as I imagined. I’ve opted not to have a coffee table or anything like that to make sure I have space to lay out big projects. Someday, I dream of having a sewing room. Better yet, a sewing yurt in a spacious back yard!


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