Do You Give Back?

Just over 30 years ago, around the holiday season, an older gentleman asked me the question, “What do you do to give back to the community?” The question gave me pause, and caused me discomfort. I was a college student at the time with no excess finances to share. For a bit of time I felt pretty low because I felt I had no answer to give… then I began to remember.

I have always been a person who gives of their time and talents, but I didn’t realize until that year how much society values some contributions more greatly than others. Some service is valued as being better than other service, not because of the needs being served, but because of how the service conforms with a perception of what the provider considers valuable. Even the notion of charity seems to have a hierarchy, with some charitable acts being considered more valuable than others, not due to needs being met, but rather with how the charity is viewed by the peers of the one giving the charity.

Three decades have passed since the question was asked of me, and I find myself pondering the sad reality that for many (including the gentleman who asked the question) service and charity is measured by a monetary value rather than a kindness value. There is no rule that says that the two values cannot coexist, but there is a general notion that if the monetary is given the kindness is not necessary.

Consistently giving of ourselves, of our time, of our talents, and yes, even of our monetary surplus when such exists, is how we give back to society, and thereby contribute to a better society in which to live.

When we give with a focus on the kindness value, we need not feel discomfort when asked, “Do you give back?”

Giving Handmade Gifts: Holding onto the Joy

Sharing our joy with others helps us find our own inner peace, but we can only find this peace when our hearts and minds remain focused on the sharing and not on the receiving. The moment we fixate on how our handmade gift is received, we have shifted our focus from our act of giving and are now concerned only with the gift we expect in return – the recipient’s gratitude.

Giving a handmade gift to someone we know personally, as opposed to an anonymous donation gift, often leads to concern over how the gift will be received. This concern has the potential of undermining the joy the process of making has given us. Expectation of gratitude is a dangerous path to enter when we are on our handmaking journey. It is fraught with pitfalls which can cause us and the recipient of our handmade item emotional harm.

When we treat all gifts as we treat the anonymous donation gift – in essence, when we simply hope that the item will find itself being loved, even if it must pass through many hands before it finds its home, then we can hold on to the joy that is the byproduct of our making and our giving.

The guiding principle I live by when I give a handmade gift is this:

If I make the gift with love and the intent to give it unreservedly, then the joy that I gain in the making and giving is the only reward I will expect.

Living by this principle is not always easy, and even the best efforts can still allow in feelings of disappointment, but focusing on the joy of making will usually fend off such disruptive feelings.

Our desire to share our creativity, our time, and our talents with others is a worthy desire. When we make a gift for someone, and we make it with love, the joy we get from the making is the greatest reward. It is the process of doing, of making, of giving, of serving – it is this process that blesses our lives with joy and helps us find the inner peace we need.  

My daughter thinks I may be a bit more eloquent in the last section of today’s video.

Liberty: Joy and Sorrow

Liberty, even when it allows for the foolishness of mankind to flourish, is better than bondage.

We must be cautious not to forget that personal liberty should not come at the cost of the liberty of another. The wise understands that liberty, responsibility, and compassion are intrinsically intertwined. Without all three, it is easy for liberty to become nothing more than a mask for self-interest, greed, and apathy.  

Once liberty loses its meaning due to the foolishness of mankind, it becomes easier to convince the unwise to give up liberty in hopes of preventing the sorrow generated by foolish behavior.

Rather than rejecting liberty, it is better that we learn to find joy even when surrounded by the sorrow mankind generates through its foolishness. Liberty with foolishness and sorrow will always be better than bondage.  

Another Pithy Patchwork Project

After taking a week off to do a bit of spinning, I am ready to share another patchwork project – or two.

These are two of my favorite blocks. One of them may look familiar to those who have been following my blog and videos. I used it for the Festive Placemats last year. The other block looks a bit more complicated, but with a little trick in the sewing, it comes together quite quickly.

The principle that when the complicated is broken down into pieces, a simple path forward is usually exposed is one of the great lessons patchwork quilting teaches us.

Once again, I am sharing the patterns. You can find the download links just below the video of each project.


Pithy Patchwork Projects: Nine Patch

In an effort to help answer the question, “How do I begin?” or more specifically, “How do I begin quilting?”, I have embarked on a project of creating simple patchwork quilt projects.

I believe that pointing in the direction of a path, and providing a map, is often better than holding a person’s hand as they journey on the path.

It is with this philosophy that I have embarked on my current adventure to create simple patterns and accompanying videos. No fuss and nothing to sell, just tip-n-tricks, and a bit of pithy ponderings.

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There are many wonderful tutorials on the internet and in libraries, both in book and video formats. These materials can help the quilter on their journey, and I highly recommend seeking them out. However when I am asked the basic question of how to get started, I often do not have a concise direction in which to point. So I have resurrected a project I began years ago, and I have tried to make it better fit into the modern world – a world where the video helps us learn when classrooms are often out of reach.

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I have created a playlist on YouTube for ease in finding these specific projects. In this first project video, I demonstrate the basic construction of the classic Nine Patch block and the construction of a small quilt featuring this block. I have also created a PDF pattern for free download.

Thankful for Memories

The Autumn and Winter holiday seasons inspire me to be creative, and flood me with memories of times gone by. So many of my memories include the practice of creating something that can be given to or shared with others.

I awoke this morning from a troubled dream. It was nonsense, but the crazy chaotic scenes were all too familiar. It was a reflection of the many times I overdid my efforts to make the holidays special for others, and in the process, overwhelmed myself. The overwhelmed me is not a person I like to recollect.

With age and greater understanding of my limitations, wisdom has emerged. This year, a year of stressful uncertainties and worries, I have made a commitment to myself (and my family) to maintain balance – or at least try my best to do so.

I have focused my creativity on projects that not only bring me joy, but represent all the things I didn’t do because I was busy doing too much for those I love. I am still giving and sharing, but now I am focused on sharing inspiration and joy rather than physical things.

I have long lived by two adages. The first relates to eating an elephant one bite at a time, and the second that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him one.

This year it my goal to share these truths rather than cookies, quilts, or hand-knitted hats. Hopefully by doing so, I can feel the joy of sharing, and not the chaos of overdoing.

Overcoming Fear

Fear is never an easy thing to overcome. Whether great or small, fear can prevent us from fully benefiting from the joys of life.

One of the great fears in knitting is cutting open a finished sweater so that it can become a cardigan. This fear is made even greater when the sweater is knit from handpsun wool, loving carded and spun for the purpose.

Overcoming the fear allows the knitter to have the ease and benefits of knitting in the round, while also having the benefits and comfort of a cardigan sweater.

I enjoy making the top-down raglan sweater for ease of construction, accuracy of fitting, and management of yarn use. When making this latest sweater for my son, I was able to spin the yarn as I was also knitting on the sweater. This ensured that I had little unused yarn when the project was complete. Since the yarn I used was a blend of Mohair, Alpaca, and CVM sheep’s wool, I was glad to avoid making any more yarn than was necessary.

I have steeked sweaters before but the nervousness of cutting open a sweater remains.

While it is never easy overcoming any fear, great or small, it is always worth the effort, and it does become a bit easier as our confidence in ourselves grows.

Vintage Sewing: Festive Placemats

This week I travel down memory lane and reflect back on how much I have learned since making my first holiday placemats.

My sewing and quilting skills have certainly improved, although my hands won’t hold quite as tiny of needles as they did a quarter of a century ago.

Life has taught me many lessons during these 25 years. There was a time when I thought I would lose my ability to hand quilt. Perseverance, medical advancement, and a better understanding of how vital balance-in-life is to one’s health have all played a role in my continued ability to use a quilting needle.

Quilting delightful and useful items for my family fills me with joy. I learned the skills of a quilter before I could afford the gadgets and gizmos of the modern quilter. Even after accumulating stacks of rulers, and cutting mats of various sizes, I still occasionally like to return to the simplicity of the old ways of piecing a block.

It is with simplicity and the budget-minded quilter that I have put together some basic blocks. I have also included instructions to turn the basic block used in my placemats into a rectangular placemat for those who wish for that shape.

I hope you enjoy my latest video and project. If you do, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel so that you won’t miss a single one.

Saith Me… Leadership

Leadership should be from the front, even when it is behind the scenes.

 

Leading the way means to take the first steps and chart the course that others will do well to follow. This can be done behind the scenes as is the case with most organizations that rely on volunteers. While the volunteer army goes forth to accomplish the goal, their success heavily relies upon the plan and focus designed by the leadership who may very well not be with them on the battlefield.

Or in other words, a good farmer does not need to directly harvest the crop if he has a harvest plan that can successfully be followed by his field hands.

Leadership

Build the Boat

There is a parable of sorts that goes around about a religious man watching the flood waters rising. Rather than getting into the rescue boats or helicopter, he keeps saying God will save him. At the Pearly Gates he asks why he was not saved. The answer he receives is that two boats and a helicopter were sent.

In truth, the answer should have been, “Why didn’t you seek divine assistance and build yourself the boat before the flood?”

With divine help, we can build the boat and then when the flood waters rise, we can seek to assist those in need rather than waiting to be assisted by our fellow man.