Tips for Finding Your SewJo

Finding your sewjoWe probably all have those days or weeks when our quilting inspiration, motivation and energy just disappears.  It could be burnout (too much deadline sewing) or we might have lost our confidence (no one wants my quilts and, anyway, my quilts aren’t good, perfect or pretty  enough).  We have the time, we have the fabric, we have a pattern—-what we are missing is the energy to get in our sewing space and make something. What we need are easy ways for finding our SewJo. When our energy and motivation are back to healthy levels, we can tackle our important projects with clear hearts and focused minds.

I notice that my SewJo starts draining away when I start listening to the negative, critical voices in my head telling me that my ideas or my skills aren’t good enough.  Or, voices saying that no one wants my quilts anyway….  What do your voices say?  What drains your SewJo?

Losing our SewJo means we stop DOING and MAKING.

So, we need to find ways to get back into ACTION.

I believe that getting moving and active in our sewing space can help our brains get out of the low energy rut.

7 Tips for Finding My SewJo

In a nutshell, here are 7 tips that help me when lose my quilting inspiration and I just stop wanting to make stuff.  This is how I get back into active, productive making.

  1. Clean and Donate
  2. Make a Charity Quilt
  3. Grab those hoarded fabrics and make something [GASP…]
  4. Sew Day with Friends
  5. Make a Quick Quilt for a Friend or Loved One
  6. Practice a New Technique–with Scraps
  7. What Not to Do

What helps you find your SewJo? Comment at the end of this post and share your favorite tips.

The 15 Minute Rule

OK, the first tip is the 15 Minute Rule that my dear cousin Pat taught me many years ago.  Her rule is that if there’s something we need to do, but don’t feel like doing, we tend to spend far too much time thinking about doing it, procrastinating and generally whining about it.  Instead, she said there’s an easy way to get stuff done.

You start by setting a timer for 15 minutes. Then start doing that thing you don’t want to do, or don’t have the energy to do.  When the timer rings, you can decide to just stop for now or reset it and keep going for another 15 minutes.  You see, we can stand doing almost anything if we know that we can stop in 15 minutes.  I’ll come back to this later in this post.

I added an extra 20 seconds just for fun.

Clean and Donate

This is actually 2 tips.  Doing a SMALL clean up can get us interested in the fabrics we have and help us identify what to give away! Notice the word small in that first sentence.  Keep the clean up do-able so that you don’t get overwhelmed.  Remember the 15 Minute Rule and set a timer for 15 minutes and tackle one small area.  When the timer rings, you can decide to stop or re-set it for 15 minutes.

There’s something magical about looking through your stash without a purpose other than folding and stacking neatly. Finding our SewJo happens when we reconnect with memories of past projects or just looking at fabrics that we love.

I usually start by cleaning my floor, because I get awfully messy there.

I have project bins–those 12 inch scrapbooking plastic boxes. Here’s a stack of different bins, some random stuff and who knows what. Time to clean up this area–15 minutes is plenty of time.


The shelves are right there! But the floor is so much easier!

Another easy clean up for me is to tackle a bin or two.  I have larger plastic bins for fabric scraps. Pull out a bin of fabric and sort through it–folding and deciding what to keep and what to give away.

Sew Your Stash

There might be enough for an interesting improv block quilt top right here! I feel my SewJo lighting up.

I keep one or two donation boxes in the corner.  The box is pre-labeled for the group I’ll be sending it to so when it’s full, I can tape it up and put in my car for a trip to the Post Office.

This box goes in the mail today to a quilt project that I support.

As I clean up a scrap bin or find random fabric on the floor, I toss fabric into the donation box. This is fabric that I don’t think I’ll use.   Either there isn’t enough of it for the way I work, or it’s fabric that I have lost interest in using.  I don’t overthink this.  In fact, I keep Mari Kondo’s mantra in my head:

Is this fabric bringing me joy?

If the answer is ‘Not So Much’ or just NO!, then in the box it goes.   It’s all quality quilting fabric–no junk.  My favorite donation groups are junior guilds or community quilting projects.  When the box is full, I just take it to the post office.

Who can you donate quilt fabric to?  Start a box today–and I guarantee you it will bring you joy.

Another clean up tip:  While you are cleaning up, start a box for Charity Quilt projects.  Keep it simple by deciding on a color palette and tossing in yardage or scraps that generally fit that color scheme or style.  I like to make bright quilts for charity so my pile looks like this.

I think I have enough in this box to make a fun kid quilt for charity.

Collect up all those Orphan Blocks or partially finished projects–could they be combined into one or two scrappy charity quilts?  Here’s a project box for a quilt that I decided not to make.  See the Orphan Blocks?  I could probably make another kid quilt top in a day.  In fact, I think I will!  I’ll post it when it’s done. It can go to a friend or to charity.

Make A Quick Quilt for Charity

I love making quilts for our Guild charity efforts.  But I sometimes see quilters turning this into a major project by spending hours picking out fabrics or deciding on a pattern.   If you find yourself overthinking a charity quilt, do this:  stop, breathe and just jump in.  Remember, the person who receives this quilt will ONLY see the love in it.

To keep this project really simple, here are some tips.

  • Choose a simple palette and put all the fabrics in a box together.  This could be part of the cleaning process. [see above]
  • Choose an easy pattern such as a plus quilt, 9 patch or even a really simple 4 patch with solid unpieced blocks.  If you have lots of extra binding, how about a scrappy string pieced or jelly roll race quilt? See a version here.
  • Use your favorite piecing technique–the one that you can do in your sleep.  I love making freehand cut curves so I can cut and piece these without a care in the world.  It’s mindless because there’s no precision matching involved.  (My freehand curves technqiue is in the pattern called Parisian Curves in Madly Modern Quilts.)
  • Back to those orphan blocks:  Pick a few that sort of go together color-wise.  They can even be different sizes.  Piece them together with sashing or even using those pieces of leftover binding!  I’ll bet you have enough for one or two quilts without a lot of effort.

Start a bin for Charity Quilt projects.  Keep it simple by deciding on a color palette and tossing in yardage or scraps.  I like to make bright quilts for charity so my pile looks like this.

I think I have enough in this box to make a fun kid quilt for charity.

Collect up all those Orphan Blocks or partially finished projects–could they be combined into one or two scrappy quick quilts?  Here’s a project box for a quilt that I decided not to make.  See the Orphan Blocks?  I could probably make another kid quilt top in a day.  In fact, I think I will!  I’ll post it when it’s done. Hmmm….I have a friend I can give this one to so it may not be a charity quilt when it’s completed.

Grab those Hoarded Fabrics and Make Something

OK, I know some of you almost fainted when you read that.  I really mean it–we joke about it,  but hoarding fabric because you are afraid to cut it up or you are saving for some mythical future perfect project is NOT something to be proud of.  Sew Your Stash Now!!

Reward yourself. Honor yourself—-Use up some of the stuff you’ve been saving.  This is your special day, your special project.

  1. Pick a simple pattern or piecing technique that you are good at doing.  This is NOT the time to learn a tricky new technique..
  2. Use just a fat quarter or only half a yard of the ‘precious’ fabric and add other coordinating fabric from your stash.
  3. Make the quilt.
  4. Celebrate!!!
  5. Use the quilt or give the quilt away.

Time to use these Karen Lewis prints.

Sew Day with a Friend

Pack up a charity quilt project or other no pressure project, and go sit and sew with a friend or two. But don’t set any major goals for the day–just sit and sew with friends.

Have a potluck lunch or, better yet, have it delivered!

It’s the company that counts.  So, choose wisely.  Sew with a friend or two or three who will gently support you, and let you work at your own pace.  Stop and chat or even take a walk outside now and then.  Keep these hours as simple and nurturing as possible.


Make a Quick Quilt for a Friend or Loved One

The key is the same:  keep it super simple! Don’t start that heirloom, hand pieced,  hand quilted project when your SewJo is low.  Pick something that you can start and finish quickly.  SewJo gets replenished when we see a project done and in the hands of someone else who smiles with gratitude.

And use fabrics and colors that bring you joy.  I made this strip quilt using bright tropical fabrics and ombres for a dear friend. I smiles as I sewed every stitch.  Here’s a link to the tutorial.


And here’s fabric and photos of quilts I made for family.  I made 3 quilts  using the same stash.  The curves are free hand improv pieced.  The 9 patch was made with improv piecing.  I even used leftover blocks as I went along– in fact, one of the quilts started with leftover blocks and fabric from an earlier quilt for family.   No stress–just the joy of making from my stash!!


Here’s the third quilt in this series.  I used leftover blocks from the 2 other quilts shown above. I pieced a few improv circle blocks and added simple squares.  All stash fabric.  It was an easy 2 day project because the layout was basic.  It’s fun and interesting because of the lively colors and improvisational squares. My improv circle process is in my book, Madly Modern Quilts

Practice a New Technique with Scraps

See that scrap pile?  See that book, pattern or tutorial with the technique you’ve always wanted to learn?  Maybe you saw something in a magazine and thought, “I’d like to try that.”  Now’s the time to grab one (any one will do). In fact, grab something from that pile at random.  The less thinking about getting going, the better!

All you have to do is surrender yourself to someone else’s guidance.  Use scrap fabric so you’re not worried about messing up ‘the good stuff’.  Nothing should be on your mind except following the directions and learning something new.  I keep a bin of solid and print scraps for this purpose.

I learned to make inset pieced circles recently.  Here’s my tutorial for 6 minute circles.

Want to try improvisational piecing?  Here’s a pattern that is easy AND uses those precious selvedges in improvisationally pieced blocks. Selvedge X pattern.

What technique could you practice today?

After you’ve made the block or blocks, you can put them in that charity quilt bin.

What Not to Do….

Here’s my list of activities that can drain away my SewJo so I stay away from them.

  1. Do NOT spend time on social media–Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.  These platforms have their value.  But when my SewJo is low, these images just make me feel worse.  I step away from my devices.
  2. Do NOT spend time just paging through your books and magazines.  Looking at all the wonderful work by others might not inspire you.  It might make those critical negative voices in our heads just get louder.
  3. Here’s a caution:  You may NOT want to  try to finish a WIP or UFO that’s been sitting around.  If the project doesn’t give you a bit of zippy energy, put it aside for another day when you’re feeling more motivated.   Finding SewJo energy is hard sometimes–picking up a project that feels like drudgery isn’t a good idea.

The key to getting SewJo back is ACTION–getting back to making with a willing spirit.

Share Your Tips!

I hope you have found a tip or two that will help you get your SewJo back.  Remember, when our energy and motivation are back to healthy levels, we can tackle our important quilting projects with clear hearts, willing spirits and focused minds.  What helps you find your SewJo? Comment and share your favorite tips because you never know what might help other quilters who are working on finding quilting SewJo.


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11 Responses to Tips for Finding Your SewJo

  1. piecefulwendy April 5, 2018 at 8:08 am #

    So much good wisdom in this post. I think I should keep this handy. Those voices in our heads are not always helpful, and your tip about staying away from social media when the slump happens is so spot on. Usually tidying up my space helps me too, but not always. Improv piecing is usually my go to, because it frees me from rules and I know that whatever I make is original, like no one else’s, just mine. When I work on improv, I like to listen to jazz. On no sewjo days, I avoid mellow music. 🙂

    • Carole Lyles Shaw April 20, 2018 at 4:40 pm #

      I’m a rock and roll girl myself. LOL! Sometimes, I need silence when I’m thinking hard about choices I need to make. Then, it’s back to rock or a good audio book.

  2. Kathy E. April 5, 2018 at 10:12 am #

    All great tips, Carole! Sprucing up my space always helps my inspiration to bloom. Also, browsing Pinterest (and my boards) brings me so many ideas that I could spend days in my sewing room! When I find an idea there, it gets pinned for future (or immediate!) use. Life is too short!

  3. Patricia Howard April 5, 2018 at 11:18 am #

    Reading your articles brings me joy! Wonderful tips. Thanks.

    • Carole Lyles Shaw April 20, 2018 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks so much Patricia. That really makes my day to hear you say that.

  4. Jayne Namerow April 5, 2018 at 11:51 am #

    I lost my sewjo recently (due to surgery), and this newsletter is not only timely, but valuable. Great ideas! Into the sewing room I go! Thanks, Carole

  5. yellowcatquilts April 5, 2018 at 9:19 pm #

    All of these are great ideas!

  6. Ann Rapice April 7, 2018 at 1:56 am #

    I like to make a mini quilt. You start and finish all in one afternoon. It feels good to have a complete project.

    • Carole Lyles Shaw April 20, 2018 at 4:38 pm #

      I agree. And, mini’s are such a great way to test an idea or practice a complex block before tackling a big project.

  7. Juanda April 10, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

    Thanks, Carole! These are some great tips!

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