We asked seven people in the quilting industry to share their challenges to creating in this time of isolation. Their answers are honest, vulnerable, and relatable. Sewing during quarantine looks different for everyone, but we're all doing our best to cope and move forward with the help of our craft.

May 22, 2020
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courtesy of Erika Bea.

Name: Erika Bea; pattern designer

APQ: How has the pandemic/quarantine affected your quilting life?

EB: I would love to say that I've had all this time at home to work on projects, but the truth is all my time at home has shifted dramatically. Pre-pandemic I had 6-7 hours at home alone everyday to work on projects, make quilts, and work on commissions and jobs. But all of a sudden those hours disappeared. With my husband working from home and my daughter schooling from home, my daily life looks very different. Adjusting to some kind of new normal always takes time, and it has taken me many weeks to feel at home with this new normal.

APQ: Do you find yourself sewing more or less now? And what obstacles to finding time to sew are you encountering?

EB: I am sewing far less than I was before. The biggest obstacle for me has been the mental capacity to take on new creative projects and challenges. I feel like most of my day has been spent just trying to make sure basic needs are met. Trying to make sure my family is supported for work and school at home, making sure we are all fed and we have the things we need, trying to take care of my at-risk family and neighbors, keeping everything clean so no one gets sick, and trying to make enough masks to protect those I am close to who desperately need them.  (Making masks was much more emotionally draining than I expected. It was one of the hardest things I've ever sewn -- not because they are technically difficult, but because of all the mental heaviness that came with it.) With all of that swirling in my brain every day, creative space is pushed to the sides. For me, creativity is only possible after those basic needs are fulfilled. No matter what kind of actual time I have, the brain space isn't free to really let myself dive into a new project.

APQ: Where are you turning to for inspiration right now?

EB: One thing I've been doing to get myself inspired is to tidy up my space. That doesn't take mental creative energy, but it definitely opens up that side of my brain. Reorganizing fabric, pulling out what I won't use to donate, and tidying things up is a good way to help my brain test the creative waters, but with no pressure to make something new.

APQ: What advice would you give to someone feeling unmotivated to create during this time?

EB: For someone feeling unmotivated, give yourself a little break. It's a pandemic. There is no right or wrong way to do this. You don't need to be "productive" all the time. Getting through this time has no guidebook. If sewing sounds overwhelming, do something that feels comfortable and cozy. Maybe try drawing, embroidery, crochet, hand-stitching. Or just binge-watch your favorite series while you sit in your sewing chair and organize a drawer. Creativity will come back -- this wont last forever. So give yourself the grace and space to get through these very weird times.

Name: Wendy Sheppard of Ivory Spring; pattern designer and author

APQ: How has the pandemic/quarantine affected your quilting life?

WS: I plan out my quilting life a couple of months ahead of time.  So, it hasn't affected me as much in that regard. But I do find myself playing with my stash more for scrappy quilts ideas. I have also used this time to re-organize my sewing room a little bit at a time. On the non-quilting front, I find that I am definitely eating homemade bread more (not good!).

APQ: Do you find yourself sewing more or less now? And what obstacles to finding time to sew are you encountering?

WS: I find myself sewing more, but mainly at night! I suddenly found myself being a homeschooling Mom to an 11-year-old back in early March. About 7 hours a day were devoted to making sure my daughter does her school work, and not daydream at the desk. So, I couldn't do much sewing during school time except doing prep work like fabric cutting and answering emails.  My biggest adjustment is realizing I have to cook more frequently to feed my crew at home.  The first couple of days of school, I forgot to feed my daughter until she reminded me she was starving at 1 pm.  I had completely forgotten about food in the midst of keeping track of school papers.

APQ: Where are you turning to for inspiration right now? 

WS: I have a stash of books on antique quilts and antique needlework that I turn to for inspiration during this shut-in. I have also found much inspiration within the online quilting community -- not just in designs, but rather the love and generosity of quilters to share their supplies and making items to help out their community. A quilter even puts out a quilt a day on her yard to cheer up her neighborhood (@gynconnie on Instagram). I have heard quilters are the most generous and loving people, and I have found that to be true during this time!

APQ: What advice would you give to someone feeling unmotivated to create during this time? 

WS: One thing is to not be too hard on yourself even if you are unmotivated to create during this time. If you don't feel creative, try organizing your sewing space. I find that sometimes pressing or re-folding fabrics is the best way to jump start my enthusiasm for quilting.

courtesy of Stacey of Two Terriers Studio.

Name: Stacey of Two Terriers Studio; pattern tester

APQ: How has the pandemic/quarantine affected your quilting life?

SH: I think the biggest change to my “quilting life” is not acquiring new fabric. I’m only using what I have available at home since I’ve strictly quarantined since 3/13/20. Interestingly, I started a purge of my studio in January and set aside fabric to donate or sell and that fabric became mask making fabric pretty quickly.

APQ: Do you find yourself sewing more or less now? And what obstacles to finding time to sew are you encountering?

SH: I’m sewing about the same amount of time each day as pre-pandemic.

APQ: Where are you turning to for inspiration right now? 

SH: I’m inspired by my quilty friends and other makers. We live all around the world and are at different stages in our home states with pandemic #s and rules, so we stay in touch and talk non-sewing stuff too.  What I found is that many of my friends who are wildly talented and generous started to sew for the pandemic and then quit because of the emotions/anxiety and rudeness of customers. I found the same thing happen to me, but I just took a break and then resumed. I was frustrated by the priorities and perspectives of people who wanted masks, but who saw them as a fashion statement and not a safety accessory. It was a very strange time, but it passed.

APQ: What advice would you give to someone feeling unmotivated to create during this time? 

SH: I don’t think this is the time to feel pressure or guilt about creativity. If you’re not feeling it, then do something else. Or do nothing…taking a break is fine! This season of lockdown is unlike anything we’ve seen in many generations, so there’s not a right or wrong way to navigate how you spend your time. I just keep saying, “safety first, be safe, and do the right thing,” but everything else is just whatever it takes to get through the day.

Name: Sherri McConnell of A Quilting Life; pattern and fabric designer, author

APQ: How has the pandemic/quarantine affected your quilting life?

SM: At first I thought I would get tons more accomplished. But in reality I haven't been as "productive" as usual, as in number of quilts finished. However, I have been doing more organizing and thinking about what I really want to spend time on. So I feel like that is a "win!"

APQ: Do you find yourself sewing more or less now? And what obstacles to finding time to sew are you encountering?

SM: Absolutely sewing less. I'm trying to get on a better schedule though! One thing that really helps is leaving something out ready to work on so that when I do head into my sewing room I can start to sew without having to think about it.

APQ: Where are you turning to for inspiration right now? 

SM: I'm actually sorting through works-in-progress and fabric bins and drawers for inspiration. I've also been looking through my pattern files and notes. I've come up with a lot of projects to add to my "to make" list.

APQ: What advice would you give to someone feeling unmotivated to create during this time? 

SM: Don't be too hard on yourself. Set small goals. Those goals might not even be sewing related (for example menu planning or getting outside), but in the long run I think they will increase your spirits and your motivation to create.

courtesy of Sheila Sinclair Snyder.

Name: Sheila Sinclair Snyder of License to Quilt; quilt designer, author, teacher

APQ: How has the pandemic/quarantine affected your quilting life?

SSS: After a day or so of sitting in shock watching things unfold on TV, I realized I had just received what I had always wanted: Time at home without distractions! I was able to finish some time-sensitive projects more quickly than expected and moved other projects along, before starting to work on face masks. That became an all-consuming project for about a week. It also became emotional for me, so after delivering masks to family, friends, and former co-workers in health care, I needed a break. Fortunately, it is spring, there is a never-ending list of things that need attention outside—mainly weeds! Weeding can be very hard on the hands, so I do pace myself to protect my hands for quilting! I’ve had some very quiet days, and some very social days connecting with friends and family by phone or email, and have definitely spent more time on Facebook and Instagram.

APQ: Do you find yourself sewing more or less now? And what obstacles to finding time to sew are you encountering?

SSS: I have been sewing and quilting more and trying to use my time wisely. I normally have everything I need for a project, but in this case I was short on a couple fabrics, backing, and quilting thread! I was able to substitute what I could draw from my stash (always fun). I could barter some quilting thread—I was low on a specific color—from a friend.  She was able to leave the thread I needed on her porch and I was able to leave some fabric she could use, without direct contact. It worked out smoothly even though we would have preferred to go out to lunch together! And we will, later!

I have also been able to support a local quilt shop by ordering from their ETSY shop and using curbside pickup. The other thing I did was upcycle a colorful and spunky thermal shirt of mine (something that didn’t fit well and was uncomfortable) into a fun thermal for a charming 5 year old!  Going back to my garment sewing roots is always fun and upcycling/recycling is second nature to me!

APQ: Where are you turning to for inspiration right now? 

SSS: Honestly, the emotional climate of the pandemic is an inspiration to me in a weird way! It does inspire me to use what I have on hand, to really think about the possibilities I have within myself to make a difference and contribute, and with so much suffering “out there” it does inspire me to keep my head straight and keep working. I think about my parents and grandparents who did so much with so little available and feel grateful that I can keep their examples in mind. I listen to audio books (22 since the start of the “stay at home orders”) and they keep me working longer, as I am not so aware of time passing.

As for art inspiration, we are so lucky to have a strong internet. I can still tour a museum, search Pinterest for color combos, look up literally anything. I have my camera and phone to photograph the emergence of spring with its shapes and colors and combinations—let alone the intoxicating scent of the lilacs, irises, and flowering trees!

APQ: What advice would you give to someone feeling unmotivated to create during this time? 

SSS: One of the things that really motivates me is helping others and working with others. Taking a meal, helping a friend with a project, holding a hand in a crisis (which physically is so limited now). Translating that to being motivated during the pandemic I’ve come up with a few suggestions:

  • Try starting a small round robin project with friends! Working together—but separately—can be a real motivator to stay on task, as well as to spark your imagination for the possibilities.
  • Start a fun exchange of small projects like mug rugs, pot holders or pincushions -- something small and doable with a definite start and ending. Again, it involves other people, fabric and imagination -- what could be better!
  • This might be a good chance to have a handmade year of birthdays and holidays!
  • Make and send fabric postcards to those people who may need to know that someone is thinking about them. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to  show someone you care.
  • I limit TV news, watching half an hour of local and half an hour of national news is enough for me. More than that keeps me from accomplishing much.
  • I’ve taken the time to really read and look through the quilting magazines and books that I had barely glanced at previously. I found some amazing projects!
  • If nothing else works, sorting and organizing your sewing space always allows for a few surprises to resurface and makes space for something fun and interesting!
courtesy of Mariana of Sew Mariana.

Name: Mariana of Sew Mariana; pattern designer

APQ: How has the pandemic/quarantine affected your quilting life?

MD: There are a lot of decisions that go into each quilting project, from colors to sizes to priorities. When I spend too much time on something, everything seems to blend together so I like getting outside opinions. Before, I’d have to chase down or text loved ones for their thoughts and now…well, my house is full to the brim. I’ve got my college kids back, my youngest, my husband and my dad all under one roof. So one of the biggest changes in regard to quilting specifically is that while I used to hunt for opinion now I have a surplus! (And, of course, they never agree with each other).

Though now that my home is packed, I get to see my work used a lot more with the boys buried under quilts for a movie night or my daughter hugging a handmade cushion while she drinks her morning coffee. It has been a sweet reminder of why we do this in the first place.

APQ: Do you find yourself sewing more or less now? And what obstacles to finding time to sew are you encountering?

MD: I can certainly say that I have more time to sew now, seeing as errands have been postponed indefinitely and there’s no need to drive my son from his bed to his computer for class. There’s also a lot more to do at home now that I’ve got my family with me. A lot of chores and ‘hey mom!’, but also a lot of enjoying this little slice of life I get with my otherwise scattered family. I’m doing my best to make the most of their presence and that takes time! 

My blessings are also my hurdles. I had one of my kids set up his computer in my studio, which has led it to become an inadvertent college classroom. Due to my understandable reluctance to loudly sew during an advanced engineering lecture, I’ve had to postpone my plans more than once. That being said, I’ve written three patterns in this time, so my productivity has definitely fought its way and survived!

APQ: Where are you turning to for inspiration right now? 

MD: This new normal. It has been long enough that we’ve created a routine in what was a disruptive exception to our "normal" life. My new normal sees bike rides with my husband, too-hard board games with my eldest, unsteady piano exercises rising from my little one’s room, a ridiculous amount of too-good desserts from my kitchen-deprived dorm girl, sipping coffee twice a day with my dad, and craziest of all, sitting down for a meal with all of them at once. 

The uncertainty is a source of inspiration as well. Observing how each individual reacts to the unknown, from sticking viciously to one another to lashing out or pretending nothing has changed. One glance around today is all the inspiration I need.

APQ: What advice would you give to someone feeling unmotivated to create during this time? 

MD: I’m a graphic designer by trade, so I’ve learned to adapt when motivation doesn’t feel like showing up. The worst for me is trying to force creativity. It’s much better to establish a routine of tasks that may lead to imagination, and to be kind to myself. If I’ve been staring at a blank screen for an hour, it’s time to get a glass of pink lemonade.

Here’s a good example of a simple routine to get yourself moving:

1. Small accomplishments. Make your bed, take a shower, get dressed. It doesn’t matter if it’s sweatpants or that no one will see you, you have to feel the part to act it.

2. Take care of basic needs: eat, sleep, drink lots of water, talk to at least one other human being.

3. Start with an unfinished project you have laying around and fix it up a bit; maybe edit the wording or polish some images. If you can add onto it, great!

4. Clean and organize your workspace. A cluttered workspace can feel overwhelming, and accomplishing a task related to your work will make you feel like you’re already working!

5. Try to work on something for someone else. I find it a lot easier to finish what I’ve started if I have someone else’s best interests in mind.

6. Alright, I may be addicted to lists, but use them with caution. It’s great to make a list of all the things you’d like to try, or eventually get done. Don’t give yourself a mile-long list of tasks for one day. The guilt for not finishing it will kill your motivation. Try starting with one thing you want to get today, then work your way up to three simple missions. Even if you’re in high productivity, try not to go beyond seven things on your list a day. 

7. Divide up your goals into bite-size pieces! Does starting a new quilt sound like too much? Flip through some patterns on your couch with TV on the background until you find one you love. A separate task can be deciding on your color scheme. Then maybe spending some time picking our fabrics. 

8. Mix and match! It’s easy to get bored or overwhelmed if you’re looking at the same thing for too long. Advance a little on one project and switch to something else you’d like to get done!

9. MOST IMPORTANTLY be nice to yourself. If it isn’t happening, you always have the wonderful excuse: well the world is in flames so it’s understandable.

courtesy of Elizabeth of LOHE Quilts.

Name: Elizabeth of LOHE Quilts; pattern designer

APQ: How has the pandemic/quarantine affected your quilting life?

EB: The pandemic has affected my quilting life by taking away TIME. I have two young elementary-age children who are now home full-time. I now teach them full-time and facilitate the entire day, rather than having them at school. I focus my time in my sewing room in the evening mostly. I have ordered less fabric to help save money. I have also stopped working on quilts and have focused more on masks.

APQ: Do you find yourself sewing more or less now? And what obstacles to finding time to sew are you encountering?

EB: I find myself sewing less for joy and more for requests and necessity. The biggest obstacles I find are time and my children's needs. While I write this my daughter has asked roughly 1,908,763 questions.

APQ: Where are you turning to for inspiration right now? 

EB: Inspiration right now is coming from my project pile. I look forward to diving back into the two WIPs as soon as this last batch of mask donations is complete.

APQ: What advice would you give to someone feeling unmotivated to create during this time? 

EB: Step away, explore new creators, and try something totally new!