I am a quilter. In this article, I will share my story of how I exhibited my first quilt in a national exhibition. The focus will be on how, step by small step, I found the courage to do so. This article is not only for quilters though. My hope is that this article will inspire everyone to find the guts to share their art, with friends, strangers and peers alike. A previous rendition of this article is published on DeviantArt for a group project.
In the photo on top, you can see me and my quilting friends at the exhibition. I am the one in the orange pants. The quilt with the triangles and the yellow border is mine. This was in April 2019. By that time I had been quilting for about five years, of which the last two or three years intensely. However, for a long time, I was quilting in secret. Sure, my closest friends knew about it. Also, my mother knew because she is the one who taught me. But beyond those people, I was very much in the quilting closet. I was embarrassed and afraid people would laugh at me for my old-fashioned art.
Am I not too young to quilt?
How do you explain you are a student in the prime of your youth who spends her free time drinking wine and cutting up fabric alone in her room? Besides, my style is also unconventional and I like to use techniques and fabrics that other quilters might call wrong, at least that is what I assumed. Lastly, I feared I was not good enough to be accepted by serious quilting people. All turned out to be my negative assumptions, and exhibiting my art and participating in the quilting world helped me see that.
Once I dared to take steps to get out of the quilting closet I discovered people don’t think me or my art silly. Most of my friends were impressed I had the patience and skills to make my own bags or blankets. Also, familiarizing myself in the quilting world, I discovered that there are many quilters like me who love to break the rules. I was welcomed with open arms together with my enthusiasm, youth and love for the art. I also noticed that I learned much faster once I started to share my work and talk to people about it instead of working on my own in secret. The praise and encouragement I got from people motivated me, and the advice from experienced quilters helped to develop my technique. Through those quilting friends, I also got the opportunity to join my first exhibition.
Here is a sample of some of my earliest pieces:
- How to make a penguin backpack from old curtains
- How to make a scrap quilt with many pieces in 4 steps
- A mini-book quilt to calm one’s mind with Oscar Wilde
How I started sharing my quilts
It is key to find a small group of peers who support each other and push you to test the limits of your skill, creativity and courage. In the quilting world, we call those groups quilting bees. A quilting bee is a group of quilters who gather to quilt together, socialize and to inspire each other.
I took a long time before I dared to join my first quilting bee, though, because I used to fear to put my art out in the world. I started on DA because sharing art with strangers was easier. It felt safer. Of course, I told none of my real-life friends I had an account. However, soon I discovered a passion to share my art and to inspire other people with it. For that, I needed to extend my reach and this website was born, Bella G. Bear Art. The same as with DA, for the first few months, I didn’t tell anyone except strangers about the website for fear of judgement. However, when I eventually told some friends and family members they were encouraging. I started to share links to articles I wrote on my personal Facebook account.
Has my fear disappeared now?
It is my dream is to encourage people with my work to either take up quilting themselves or to be more conscious about the items they buy and discard easily. Because my quilted items are made with attention, skill and time, they are more valuable and counter the fast fashion industry. My aim is to encourage people to think about their consumption habits. One way to fight climate change is to buy fewer items which last us a long time. In the future, I’ll also be selling that kind of items myself. For that, check this website or my facebook page. I discovered that telling many people what you want to achieve is one way to build contacts, get support and ultimately to your opportunity for success.
Although I still fear judgement from time to time, I keep pushing myself to share my art. However, I also know that it is an insecurity I can overcome. It is not a reflection of my personality or my skills in quilting. Every person has their insecurities and fears and we cannot let those stop us from achieving our dreams or to do some good in the world. We all have the power to contribute to a better world if we dare. Currently, I am setting up a Facebook page, called Bella G. Bear Art. Please check it out and give the page a like!
Sharing creates a sense of belonging
Besides, even if my quilts were bad I would still share them to show the world that anything made with love and attention is worth sharing. Exhibiting my art showed me my art is worthwhile and also taught me a lot on how to improve it. Exhibiting my quilt in the national exhibition was a key moment for me because I realized my quilt belonged there with all the other quilts. This made me realize that I belong with the other quilters. My quilt was not better or worse than the pieces of my peers, but of equal value. It made me believe that if I keep working and exploring my creativity I have it in me to succeed as an artist. This is the piece I sent in:
And some pieces from other quilters:
Four tips to kick-start sharing your art
My wish is that the tips below will encourage you to start you on the journey to share your art:
- Find local groups to join to make friends and learn from each other.
- Find local exhibitions for beginners without any major entry requirements.
- Plan to go to the exhibit with friends or plan to meet them there. You can discuss all the quilts you see and you can be sure that there are at least some people who love your quilt!
- Start small if you are nervous. You don’t have to tell everyone and you don’t have to start with a competition-based exhibition. You can start online on Deviantart or any other social media platforms and slowly work towards bigger, scarier places to share. Any step you can take towards a bigger goal is brilliant. A mountain is climbed by taking the first few steps downhill after all.
Conclusion: Now find bravado yourself!
At my quilt groups, I see a lot of people who fear to showcase their work. They fear their quilts are not interesting or good enough. However, the moment they dare to share their work they only get praise! Most people who love their own artform wouldn’t dream about criticizing people who love the same thing. There are exceptions of course, but they are overshadowed by the positive majority. I know for myself that the moment I started to participate and show my work to other people I started to enjoy my art a thousand times more.
I am a member of the quilting bee you see us in the picture below. We are basting a part of my Kenyan quilt together. We meet every month to talk about our work and to encourage each other to try new things. I feel blessed because my friends are way more experienced than I am, so I can enjoy their absolute wealth of experience. They like my youth and enthusiasm, so everyone wins! Through my quilt group, I participated in the exhibition. I thank them for accepting me in the group and to encourage me. I thank myself to take the step to find a group to join. First, I thought any true artist does everything on their own. Now, I realize that learning from the great and experienced is the smartest and best way to learn.
Some questions for you:
I’d like to hear about your experience with sharing your art. By sharing experiences we can get inspired by each other and make this blog a small virtual quilting bee.
- Do you put your art in exhibitions? If yes, how did you manage that and what do you like about exhibiting your art?
- What are other ways or platforms you use to share your art?
- Do you have tips for people searching for the courage to exhibit?
- Did you, or do you fear to share your art? Would you mind sharing some of your story in the comments?
Would you like to know more?
- How to get good materials for quilting and embroidery creatively and cheap
- I’m not ashamed: humble Dear Jane quilt blocks
- Storytime with a smart cross-stitch dragon, a clever upcycle and a theft
See my DeviantArt or Instagram (username: bella.g.bear.art) for more artwork and WIPs. You can also follow my blog by clicking on the button on the left or by filling in your email address. There will be a monthly update at the end of every month and a new blog post every Sunday or Monday.