What I Did This Summer… Fun with Sew Alongs on Instagram

First block in my Moroccan Tiles quilt

First, for those who enjoy a little backstory:

(if you don’t care about backstory, skip on down to the Sew Alongs – I won’t be offended!)

One of the challenges of pursuing your passion (or something related to your passion) as your vocation is the risk of adding so many financial and/or performance related pressures that what once gave you joy becomes another source of stress instead. Back when I was showing and selling my work in galleries, I found myself in the very odd position of not being able to afford my own work. The amount of money I could make by selling my art quilts was too high for me to justify making anything for myself when I had a family to help support! Later, when I was designing quilts and writing quilting books for Martingale & Co. and teaching both locally and all around the country, I found my sewing and quilting time so limited that I felt I couldn’t justify taking the time to sew or quilt anything just for fun – everything had to be something I could either sell, show, include in a book, or use as a teaching sample. I love to experiment and play the “what if” game, but I felt very constrained in my experimentation – I had to be pretty confident in the outcome in order to justify the expense of time and resources. I couldn’t allow myself to take the kinds of creative risks I yearned to take. 

Another of my Moroccan Tiles blocks

This phenomenon was exacerbated for me when an apparent mini-stroke almost 10 years ago (combined with long term symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis) left me not only reliant on aids like wheelchairs, walkers, and canes to get around, but left me with impaired fine motor control and strength – and mostly unable to cut fabric, sew (by either hand or machine), and especially quilt.  As the severity of my symptoms fluctuated, I was able to do a little sewing, but it was mostly (of necessity) related to my role as Creative Director for Lakeshore Sewing. 

I coped with this by turning my creative focus to writing, drawing and designing fabric – things I could do even when confined to bed, and sewing small items when able.

But something changed this spring. As my mobility, dexterity, and energy gradually improved, I started sewing again. Small stuff at first, like bags and purses; but eventually even quilts. While I am still very much affected by MS, I am physically doing the best I have since 2009/2010. And I am so happy!

But I also know that I want to approach my sewing and quilting differently than I have in the past – I want to keep more of the joy. As I was discussing this with my sister, she mentioned to me that I was reminding her a lot of a book she had recently read by Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. As soon as I could, I bought a copy for myself and started reading. I devoured it!

I won’t get into a full book review here, except to say that I heartily recommend it for anyone and everyone who is interested in living a creative life – not necessarily as a vocation (although it’s applicable for that, too), but as a way of living. One of the most important take-aways for me personally was not to get caught up again in always creating “original” or marketable work, but to allow myself to freely and without the pressure of expectation pursue any rabbit trails that might catch my eye and capture my interest.  Allowing myself to play and to participate more fully in the creativity around me has become a new goal for me.

Which brings me back to what I did this summer…

Discovering Sew Alongs and Quilt Alongs on Instagram

I love Instagram! It look me a little to time to figure out which hashtags and accounts to follow; but now I am inspired every day by all of the wonderful things people are making and the luscious fabrics they are making them with. And I am eager to join in the fun! 

There are a lot of independent designers on Instagram who use the platform to market their work. I love this, as I probably never would have discovered some of my now-favorite up-and-coming designers otherwise.  Beyond just posting photo after photo (which I also enjoy), some designers host Sew Alongs or Quilt Alongs to help connect with their customers and reach new ones.  

For the participant, it usually works something like this:

  • You see an announcement that the Sew Along is coming, along with a link to sign up and a link to buy the pattern (if you don’t already own it) – which is often offered at a discounted rate during the Sew Along.
  • Signing up usually subscribes you to a newsletter or series of emails from the host of the Sew Along.
  • Once the Sew Along starts, there will be a task set for each week. For example, Week 1 is usually selecting fabrics, Week 2 is usually cutting, Week 3 starts the first set of blocks, etc., etc.
  • There will be a series of blog posts, emails, and/or instructional videos to help explain each step of the creative process. 
  • Each participant is invited to post photos of their progess using the hashtag or hashtags set for that Sew Along so that everyone participating will be able to see what everyone else is doing.
  • There are often prizes from a partnering shop or sponsoring company each week, randomly awarded to participants who posted their progress that week.

    Fabulous prize I won from Joanna of Kustom Kwilts during the Moroccan Tiles Sew Along

Note: By following hashtags for previous Sew Alongs that I missed out on, I have found that it’s never too late to join in the fun. Not only is it OK to join in while a Sew Along is in progress, but many quilters post in-progress and finished quilt photos long after the official time period of the Sew Along.

One of the things I love the most about the Sew Alongs is the opportunity to see how differently so many people interpret each pattern. I definitely enjoy putting my own spin on things, too! I see this as a great forum for experimenting with color and value placement, visual texture, and in the Hold Tight sew along, transparency.

So far, I have participated in three Sew Alongs:

The Moroccan Tiles Sew Along with Joanna of Kustom Kwilts,

Moroccan Tiles quilt top made by Beth Ann Williams, pattern from Kustom Kwilts

the Church Window Quilt Along with Brittany Lloyd of Lo & Behold Stitchery,

Church Window quilt top made by Beth Ann Williams, pattern by Brittany Lloyd of Lo & Behold Stitchery

and the Hold Tight Petite Sew Along with Sharon Holland.

Hold Tight Petite quilt top made by Beth Ann Williams, pattern by Sharon Holland

Now I need to turn my finished quilt tops into finished quilts! But I’ve already signed up for 3 more sew alongs starting in September… 

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Beth Ann

When health challenges made hand-sewing (and hand appliqué and hand-quilting) no longer physically viable for her, Beth Ann’s first instinct was dismay and discouragement. But Grandma Baldwin gave her a loving (but stern!) “No pity parties – just figure out a different way.” So Beth Ann turned to her trusty sewing machine and began devising ways to achieve the fine quality appliqué look she craved faster and easier than she ever thought possible. And a career was born! Now Beth Ann enjoys sharing her accessible “invisible” machine appliqué and creative machine quilting techniques with other quilters and fiber artists around the world.

2 thoughts on “What I Did This Summer… Fun with Sew Alongs on Instagram

  1. Hooray, hooray, Beth Ann!
    So glad you are finding the ability and the doing again. You have always shared the joy. Bless you!

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