Minimalism and Quilting

MinimalistQuilter

Katie Ringo, 2014 – New York City

Since I began Project Simplify months ago I’ve been having this one topic consistently on my mind to discuss in the blog. Minimalism is a movement sweeping the world right now. People are realizing they can have a fuller life with less stuff and they are becoming happier in the process.

Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.

After my health scare last year I reevaluated what was most important in my life. Time. Time is the one thing I can’t make or buy more of and the one thing I have no idea how much I actually have left. I wanted to find a way to change my life so I spend a majority of my time doing the things that are important to me and bring me joy and less on the things that take up my time needlessly.

When I moved into my little Corgi Cottage last year I’d gotten rid of about 70% of my stuff.  I still have more to purge and go through but the one thing I’ve noticed is I don’t miss anything. I love not spending so much time cleaning, organizing, and tidying up because I have less.

I want to apply this principal to my hobby but how do I do that when the quilting hobby seems to require so much stuff? Is it even possible to be a minimalist quilter?

What if applying minimalism to quilting changes my whole outlook on design? What if being a minimalist quilter means I’m limiting myself or my craft? What do I gain by applying minimalism to quilting?


Possessions

The list of things quilters need seems neverending. Beginners are often intimidated seeing everything they have to purchase to begin. Experienced quilters feel pressure to upgrade tools, machines, space and fabric. When is enough enough? This is one area that I think is difficult for people to get a handle on because at every Spring and Fall market there is something new coming out that we must have.  I know I have had a difficult time getting rid of something because what if I need it later?

What do we really need to make the quilts we make? I know the basics: rotary cutter, 24″ x 6″ ruler, 12″ x 12″ ruler, cutting mat, pins, scissors, seam ripper, thread, and fabric.  Somehow after six years I’ve ended up with a lot more than just the basics.  Some projects require special tools and I’ve noticed that I seem to use those items maybe once to finish that particular quilt and then it collects dust for quite a while.  It all adds up to a lot of stuff. Stuff that I have to figure out how to organize, store and sort through. Stuff that I’ve had to move three times when my studio has changed locations. I’m done dealing with stuff I don’t need.

Studying minimalism made me think of a concept that often comes up where for any particular item you can divide the cost of the item by the number of uses and see if it was really worth the initial purchase price depending on how often you’ve used it.  For example – a $40 iron used daily for three months comes out to .44 cents a use.  The idea is for items you get a lot of use from you should invest more in so they last a long time. It also can reveal things you’ve purchased and never used or only used once.  That $35 specialty ruler or book doesn’t seem so special if you only use it for one quilt.

How many tools do I have that do the same thing in a different package? I know I have at least three rulers that make flying geese but all use a different technique to do it. Maybe I need to decide what technique I use the most and destash the other rulers that do the same thing a different way.

Can I do more with less?

Focus

In the practical sense I can only work on one project at a time. Given my last UFO Confessional you can see that I tend to start a lot of projects and not finish a lot.  I think I’m addicted to starting things. The idea and conception of a project is fun for me but actually sitting down and finishing it I find myself challenged at times to find motivation. Keeping minimalism in mind it would force me to focus on projects already in progress, finish them and once they are done only work on one project at a time.

Working on one project at a time would also cut down on the number of materials needed on hand at any given time. If I buy for one project I don’t have to worry about stocking a lot for other things or overbuying.

Purpose

My storage space is really limited so I’m now having to think about where quilts will be stored while they are in progress and after they are finished. Before I start a new project in the future I’m going to have to figure out what the purpose of it will be when it is finished.  I certainly have some space now for new quilts but its not unlimited. Wall quilts are lovely but I only have so much wall space where quilts can be rotated. My office walls are pretty bare and I do spend a lot of time there at work so I’m sure over time I’ll have more.  Still, I think it’ll be important to think about what the end purpose of my project will be before I begin working on it.

Patterns, books, notions and fabric should also have a purpose. I was absolutely shocked when I cleaned out my studio and found so many things I bought at trunk shows, quilt shows and quilt shops that I didn’t remember purchasing or ever using. I’m sure they had a purpose at one point in time but it wasn’t for anything immediate so they just sat unused. I can keep a list of things I’m interested in possibly working on in the future and if it’s meant to be I can always buy it in then.

Time

A few years ago I added up the amount of time I spend each week on average quilting and it was about 25-30 hours a week. I did get a lot done but it was basically a part-time job. I definitely burned myself out. Now I spend about 4-8 hours a week working on quilting things. Time is one of those things I can’t buy more of. I work really well with deadlines so I see myself scheduling out time each week to work on a project and get a goal finished for a quilt. For me personally its important to see a finish in the future and a date attached to it.

Efficiency in quilting will make the most of my time. I love chain piecing and working on things in a batch so I don’t have to setup tools or a new work area each time I’m in a different stage of a project. I think only doing one project at a time will massively improve this part since I won’t be constantly shifting or cleaning things up from other projects to do something else.

Design

Modern quilting design goes hand in hand with minimalism in a lot of ways. I love the balance of using beautiful fabric while still leaving negative space to show off gorgeous quilting that enhances the overall design. I see myself gravitating towards simplistic but interesting designs that use color and space without overwhelming the eye. It is possible to have a gorgeous quilt without spending four hours making one complicated block. I’d rather spend that time working on the quilting and showcasing that.


I think my journey into becoming a minimalist quilter will be gradual but ultimately I believe this is the best way for me to work on my hobby while utilizing my time and budget in a smart way.  Keep it simple. Minimize some things to maximize a lot of other things. This will be my ultimate goal with Project Simplify.

Comments

  1. I have found out that I can actually make more quilts with less stuff once I clear out the clutter! It’s like freeing up my space frees up my mind as well 🙂 Great post!

  2. Heather Dwyer says:

    Hi Katie, I love your podcast and blog, and I think this is my favorite post yet because it combines my two biggest interests right now: minimalism and quilting. I’m fascinated by the minimalism movement, but I also enjoy the tactile nature and productivity-high that comes from creating a quilt. I’m running into similar issues that you describe – even if tools and fabric stashes are kept to a minimum, how many quilts does one need?? It’s hard to balance a hobby where its very nature is creating material things, with a minimalist lifestyle. Always looking forward to your next podcast!

    • I think this is going to be the struggle – figuring out how to continue to enjoy my hobby that makes material things. I do need some bed quilts for my own place but after that I will need to decide on storage for show quilts etc. that I end up designing and working on. It will be an interesting journey becoming a minimalist quilter!

  3. I love your minimalist ideas and goals. Living in an RV full-time requires that lifestyle and I love it, but I do need to minimize my stash and have been working at it, bit-by-bit. Thanks Katie for a the great post.

  4. Totally agree. You don’t have to own every ruler, notion or fabric line. It’s easier to resist in Australia cause it’s that much more expensive . I found some podcasts in the past a little distasteful when they seem to advocate buy buy must have. Also when people almost boast about the size of their stash I’m like “why”. I’m glad minimalism is coming in.

  5. Steph Lindsay says:

    Great post! The topic caught my eye at quilterblogs, and now I am looking forward to exploring your site.

    I am with Heather…quilting and decluttering (adapting Marie Kondo’s approach) are my two major pastimes at the moment. I also belong to a modern quilt guild, and do appreciate the minimalism and negative space in many designs.

    Decluttering has freed up physical and mental space, as well as time, for quilting. I did go thru my entire stash, scraps and all, it is so much easier to work with it well oganized. And, the spark-joy approach gave me amnesty to rehome fabric I did not really like, whereas I used to feel obligated to keep every scrap lest I disrespect my pioneer ancestors!

    In the spirit of simplifying, I am not purchasing any fabric in 2016 (gifts and barter are okay!) Working with what I have is definitely influencing my design decisions. My stash is more than half filled with prints from 1970-2000, and much lighter on the moderns and solids. Paradoxically, I would have to buy more fabric to make some of those minimalist designs. So, my current projects are not so modern looking!

    I am focusing on bed-sized quilts to donate, this year.

  6. Another great post Katie! I started listening to The Minimalists podcast, they are great! They also have a movie coming out, have you heard of it? I will have to tackle my sewing room big time as the landlord is changing all of our windows and right now they are not even accessible in my sewing room! I don’t feel like going in there right now as I have to clean up first to start doing any sewing. Go us! 🙂

  7. Great post, Katie. Lots of good food for thought. I like the idea of simplifying things in our lives — even quilting. I’d be interested to know which ruler/method you ultimately like the best for making flying geese! 😉

  8. I enjoy working a few projects at a time, but I know that I don’t enjoy having UFOs. I lose interest in the project after the initial rush of excitement, so it is important to me to finish the project relatively quickly. Let me know how it goes working on one project at a time.

  9. I’ve maintained for a while that all I need is needle, thread, fabric and scissors, and I will be content, especially as I age and know someday downsizing will most likely happen. In the meantime I will enjoy all the tools and machines that I have. I’m also happier with multiply projects at once (chalk it up to my ADHD). I used to only work on one project at a time when I had serious budget constraints and I wasn’t as engaged with the entire process as I am now.

  10. Thanks for this thought provoking post. I especially like your discussion of purpose. If I took it truly to heart I wouldn’t make another quilt because I don’t need one. So what would be the purpose? Designing and creating make me happy and that’s the struggle for me to be a minimalist quilter.