Creative Exercises to Inspire Your Design Process – QuiltCon lecture by Alexia Marcelle Abegg

QuiltCon was filled with so much talent. It was truly overwhelming. I am definitely one of those people who has to try and do it all. Being a QuiltCon “newbie” I attended as many lectures and workshops as I could! It likely saved me from overspending in the Exhibit and Vendor Hall; but, I will admit, I had some QuiltCon Overload which has resulted in some dreaded QuiltCon Withdrawl – yup it’s real!

I want to share some of the pearls of wisdom from some of the speakers and the workshops that I attended.

The first lecture I went to was by Alexia Marcelle Abegg, the fabric designer and co-founder of Cotton and Steel. You can find her at

        “The train was coming for me and I was meant to get on it.” -Alexia Abegg

Alexia gave us her story, how she ended up working with Melody Miller and doing a job she absolutely loves and feels she was truly meant to do. She has always had a need to make, to be a Maker, whether it was creating with food, photography, fabric, or painting.  Cotton and Steel is one of those fabric lines I adore and I am making a Passacaglia quilt using only Cotton and Steel so I was interested to hear her take on her creative process and any tips for the rest of us!

Stages of Development

Alexia addressed the stages we all must go through starting with an idea, and the excitement from this idea to propel us forward through the whole design process. If our excitement dwindles this can halt the whole process – one of the reasons for many WIPS! Then there is the design stage, building the parameters and the support for the idea. The framework.

The work comes next and you need to muster the endurance and fortitude to carry on through this part. There can be many obstacles getting in the way of this part from other obligations (feeding family anyone?!?) to inadequate space or supplies.

The next stage is what interested me the most, as I feel many of us hit this, and hit it hard, no matter how advanced an artist we are.  She called it the Chaos/Ugly Stage/Doubt stage. This is when you start doubting your work. You are in the midst of getting it done and you start self sabatoging – doubting yourself and your work. You feel something isn’t working or isn’t right and you can freeze right here.

Well, Alexia says, “Just keep going. You are generally too close to the work at this time so you are not being rational about it.” She actually supports all of our WIPS saying, “that is why it is good having multiple projects. So you can regroup by picking up another project and then go back to your work.”

I like this. We knew there was a reason but now it is official. WIPS have a purpose. Do not feel guilty! Know that stepping back and picking something else up is often important in the whole design process so that we can get out of the way of ourselves, as long as we do find our way back to the work – say hello WIPS, good bye UFOS! We can then come back with a fresh perspective. We are no longer so close, so emotional anymore, that we can now give a critique that is to improve our work instead of looking for flaws. She urges that you do not linger too long here!

“When you are in the flow you loose track of time and there is no doubt here”

Creative Exercises

Alexia wrapped up by giving everyone some pointers on exercises and what she does to keep her creativity flowing.

First off, she says to get a Sketch Book and make it a safe and critique free zone. “Let your ideas be terrible in your book”. No judgement. Practie taking creative risks in your book. Find some peace and quiet time. I know for many of us this is hard to come by, but I try for 15 minutes a day. I call it my meditation and it is part of my Quilting with Intention. I find it is important to have the practice of the 15 minutes as some days I may get a whole lot longer; but, on those where life is crazy, I still can find my “space” in my Sketch book for 15 minutes or even just by looking on my InstaGram feed marking inspirational likes.

Lastly, Alexia states, “physical exercise clears the head for mental energy and absorbs external things.” So just like stretching before physical exercise she does some creative exercises to get herself into the creative flow. I am very bad at this as I just jump right in, as I often have no or little time, but it makes sense how important this can be in the overall process. It is definitely something to try.

You can help hone your voice through the use of instinct and these are exercises she suggests:

Restrict yourself to play within an exercise with Shape/Scale/Colour. Some examples are to use all stripes with off white and neutral backgrounds. Use just triangles. Play with negative space. Keep it under a certain size. Give yourself a time frame to get it done. Restrict your palette – for instance use just two colours and a neutral, a warm and a neutral, all clear or desaturated colours, all lights, or all darks. So limit fabric types and numbers, set yourself time limits and work in specific sizes. Do not be afraid to cut into fabric – this is part of your process!

Alexia also recommends creating an emotional connection before starting your practice. This is something that I actually do! I set my intention. Before starting your practice think for a minute about an emotion or an emotional memory. What does that memory or feeling have? A colour? A shape? Values of lights and darks? And work in specific sizes as these are warm ups and sketches not throws or king size bed quilts!

Well, I will be the first to admit that I can be scared to cut into fabric! Seriously, I hoard every little scrap of it! So the idea of using it on something that I am not actually going to use in a finished quilt or project is a hard one for me BUT I am going to try it. And maybe I can make a quilt out out of them at the end of the year called, “Sketch Book – No Judgement!”.

I will post a few warm ups here as I do them and I will post my next pointers from a lecture or workshop I attended at QuiltCon 2015 in the next week or so. Keep an eye out for words from, and about, Luke Haynes, Weeks Ringle, Bill Kerr, Sherri Lynn Wood and Cristy Fincher.

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