The "Challenge" of Life

A short version of how we ended up in Maine goes like this:  We were living in middle Tennessee, preparing to take a family vacation.  Neither Ed nor I had ever been to New England, so we thought the family would enjoy a trip there - and as I am a quilter, the main impetus for my suggesting this was Keepsake Quilting, a quilter's dream store in New Hampshire (pictured above).  Ed, of course, had to say if we were going to New Hampshire, he wanted to go to LL Bean in Maine.   We managed to hit both shopping highlights on that trip, but once we got to Maine, we fell in love with the state and decided one day we would relocate here.  So in a way, Keepsake Quilting is responsible for our being in Maine today.

Every quilter loves Keepsake Quilting.  Just to go into the store will take your breath away.  It has over 12,000 bolts of fabric - that alone is enough to make a quilter lightheaded.  The folks at KQ have several quilt challenges a year.  I've never entered, but the ones who have won are extremely gifted and creative quilters.   Each challenge has a theme.  The latest challenge was "Create a Log Cabin Keepsake Challenge."  Here, for your amazement, is the first place winner:
Now, can you imagine creating this?  This lady is unbelievably talented and could probably teach geometry too!  So what's the challenge?  Well, besides the requirement of sticking with the theme, each entrant received six fabrics.  She could choose up to two additional fabrics of her own choice to supplement what she was given by KQ.  This is the truly astonishing part of the whole challenge, in my opinion.  Look at the six challenge fabrics below and see if you could come up with that winning quilt of Sandra Smart's.

It doesn't look possible, does it?  Yet those six fabrics are used in that winning quilt!

Quite a challenge, huh?  First you get a packet of six fabrics - not of your choosing - some you might love, some you might think are downright hideous, some you are sure could never be featured successfully in a quilt - that part is hard enough.  But then, you have to make the difficult choice of what two fabrics to add to the mix so that the final picture is the one you imagine.  Remember, you can choose any fabric in the world - KQ alone has over 12,000 bolts - so narrowing your choice to two must be a task of unfathomable struggle.  After imagining your quilt, dealing with the Challenge fabrics, picking your other two fabrics, assembling the quilt and finally quilting and embellishing the quilt, you are done. You are judged on:

Color, fabrics and patterns used in an unusual way.
Design reflects something unique about your personality or style.
Use of Color
Color values (lights and darks) arranged in an interesting way.
Color accents lend spark, design interest or movement.
Piecing fits together smoothly and lies flat. Applique stitches are invisible or add to the design.
Binding is neat and square.
Embellishments are tasteful.
Design Balance
Design has a focal point.
Size of the design elements are in scale with the overall design, and the sashes and borders are well proportioned.
Uniform amount of quilting over the entire quilt top. 

To see all the winners, click here.  When you look at these amazing creations, remember they started out with the same 6 fabrics - fabrics that were thrust upon them without their choice or approval.

I love to read the quotes from the winners.  They say things like "I had no idea how to use that odd-looking floral fabric!" and "Yuck, I've always hated orange," and "The theme was so frustrating for me" and other initially negative reactions.  Then they get to work.  They use all sort of tricks to expand their options within the rules - using both sides of the fabric, for instance, or maybe using some fabric paint for details. Maybe they tweak their original design after they see what the Challenge fabrics look like to make better use of what they received.   This winner said it all: "It all goes to prove that, no matter what fabric you start with, you can create a successful quilt."  (She also mentioned that the Log Cabin has never been one of her favorite patterns because she can't sew a straight line.  So what does she do?  She uses curves!)

So what does this all have to each us?  Last week when I read about the winning quilts, I had an epiphany.  This is not just about fabric and thread - this is about LIFE.   We are each granted our 24-hour days.  We are each given a genetic and environmental packet of fabric.  We did not choose our parents or the place of our birth.  We did not choose or economic status or race.  We did not choose how we were raised.  We did not choose the teachers we ended up with at school.   Some of what we have been given in our packet freaks us out.  Some of it delights us and makes us feel blessed.  Some of it is indeed hideous and evil and no one should have to put up with it.  But there it is, in our life challenge packet, and we are stuck with it.  The good news is we do have some extra choices to put in the mix.  And we do have creative ways to tweak what we have.  And the final result - our LIFE - is totally from our choice - given the rules, the genetic and environmental packet with which we have been allotted, and using the additional gifts of choice, imagination, passion, talent, education, mentors, and all the other wonderful things we have available to us - and the end result can be a thing of wonder.  We can't all win first place.  A lot of us will wind up with a truly beautiful quilt, every detail almost perfect.  Some will end up with a whimsical, lighthearted quilt.   Many of us will put that last stitch in a scrap quilt - using all sorts of fabrics that don't seem to go together but actually do.   Others will finish their years with a crazy quilt, everything jumbled and tossed around and my, oh, my, a little of everything!  Each quilt - each LIFE - will be different, unique.  It will reflect our true personalities and spirits.  It will hopefully make the best of what we started with.  What you end up with might pleasantly surprise you, and may not even be close to your original design.  Maybe you highlighted the challenge fabrics in your packet and thanked your lucky stars, or maybe you hid them away in the quilt and highlighted the fabric you chose to add to the mix.  It's the Challenge of Life.  Everyone is already an entrant.  The deadline for finishing your quilts is unknown, however.  So keep working, and good luck!