When I divorced in 1994, I had been a stay-at-home mom for eighteen years. Needing to become gainfully employed, I decided to turn my hobby of quilt-making into a paid profession by becoming a speaker on the quilt lecture circuit. I didn’t know at the time that no such thing existed, but my ignorance served me well, it allowed me to get started.
I always loved patchwork quilts. In fact, I used to berate my grandmother for making hooked rugs for me to inherit instead of quilts. Needing to create such heirlooms myself, I took a ten-week adult education class in 1984. The instructor was a certified teacher of the National Quilters Association so I learned how to do things right! For instance, I learned how to work with the fabric’s grain which means that if one of my fabrics had trees printed on it, all the trees stood upright on my quilt and none rested on its side. Additionally, I learned how to make star blocks with sharp points, not lopped off rays. Bottom line, I became a very fine quilt-making technician. As you will see, this turned out to be an important step in my ultimate career. Just for the record, the quilt I made in that first class was a king-size bed quilt, entirely hand pieced and hand quilted!
READ MORE: How Knitting Helped Me Recover From a Divorce
I went on from there to cover every bed in my house with quilts. It was at this point that quilt-making changed radically. All that hand work went from being the norm to being the exception, thanks to the introduction of rotary cutters and the acceptance of machine piecing. I took a six-week class that taught the new techniques. In it, I made a new lap-size quilt every week! Using these fast methods, every wall in my house soon featured quilts.
And then it happened. My youngest child refused to try riding a bike without training wheels. I was so exasperated that I told her if she didn’t at least try, she could no longer live at our house! Immediately realizing the ridiculousness of this statement, I told her instead that if she learned how to ride the bike I would make her a special quilt. She learned how, and I made my first quilt-with-words. It said, “Lisa can ride her bike!”
Ten years into this sewing-fest, I divorced. Suddenly I needed a job! Going on the presumed-to-be quilt lecture circuit came to mind. I knew there were a lot of great quilt artists out there and worried about competing with them for speaking gigs. However, the great confidence I had in my technical skills allowed me to try! And when I realized that no one was making quilts-with-words, I knew I would stand alone in my field.
I gave myself a stiff goal – to make one quilt every two weeks. Therefore, at the end of six months I had a dozen lap-size quilts and was ready to take my show on the road. Not only that, but my inner voice had taken over and the words on those quilts worked together to tell a motivational story about the journey toward self-acceptance and love.
I quickly realized that if I promoted the motivational nature of my program, as opposed to the quilts, I could sell it to all groups, not just to quilt guilds. Additionally, when I learned there was no quilt lecture circuit per se, and that I just had to sell my program one-by-one to quilt guilds nationwide, I decided to sell it one-by-one to better-paying groups instead. And thus, I began a ten-year career speaking to every sort of group from PTAs to Procter & Gamble.
In the same manner that I write about what’s upsetting me in a journal, so do I create quilts. For example, I have always felt different from others. In high school, as my girlfriends giggled about boys, I talked to my rabbi about existentialism. As I got older, I tried to convince myself that I was unique instead of strange. Hence, I made this quilt:
On another day, discouraged that my creative career faced obstacle after obstacle, I soothed myself by making this quilt:
On the quilt, there is one mountain after another to climb, and as you will note, sometimes it seems like the sky is falling, as the sky-blue background does on the bottom of the quilt. But the mountains are so beautifully colored that they encourage me to enjoy the journey and to keep climbing.
So here I am, twenty-five years later. I have spoken to 250 audiences in eleven states. I also wrote a couple of quilt-illustrated books to sell at the lectures. In so doing, I saw that I liked to write, so I wrote a couple more books. I currently write for my website and for Worthy. And after dreaming about the possibility for years, I now print my quilt designs on giftware to sell on Etsy.
It’s astounding to realize that all this follows from the love of quilting, the need for employment, and the persistence to climb one mountain after another to reach success.
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