When All Else Fails

What do you do when you don’t feel like doing anything? When you have no mojo, no forward momentum?

Do you accept that state and just hang out? That sounds nice . . .

It may be clear that I feel a pressing need to be productive. It seems to be critical to my sense of self and satisfaction.

So, I am rather undone on a day when I feel like doing nothing, when it all seems off kilter.

My antidote these days is to sit down and do some quilting by hand.


I had such a day recently. I managed to exercise for a bit and make some candy for a customer. And eat breakfast. But then I just stalled. I tried weaving and that wasn’t the answer. I ended up unweaving almost all I wove because my heart wasn’t in it and I kept making mistakes.

I did some prep work for embroidery squares for two different quilts. Blah.

The weather was windy, cold, icy . . . no hope of a walk outside.

I even tried to nap and that didn’t help.

In my heart, I knew just what I needed. I sat down in my little corner with the soft cushion on the sturdy chair, with the bright light over my shoulder, and my red and white quilt on my quilting hoop.

I put my thimble on and got stitching. When I quilt by hand, I use the method of rocking the needle through the layers of fabric and batting, loading 4 or 5 stitches on the needle at a time.

This method is rhythmic and results in small, even stitches—a joy for a quilter to behold.


I rock the needle and straight lines emerge. The flat, pieced blocks gain a texture, any wrinkles are plumped out as the fabric is sewn down around the interior batting.

Quilting in an open area of plain fabric poses no difficulties. The needle slides through easily and quickly and the magic happens.

I imagine my father felt the same satisfaction as he plowed a field, watching the straight, dark furrows replace untilled pasture.

Quilting by machine is all the rage these days and it can be fantastically impressive. I just know I could never get this calm sense of accomplishment from quilting on a sewing machine—sewing machines make me tense and frustrated.

I am sure hand quilting might make lots of people tense and frustrated, too. But it soothes me. And I’m not even certain why that is, except it’s difficult to make a mistake, it’s fairly easy and pretty mindless, and you can really see the benefit of the time invested.

I guess the point is that I hope we each have a place to turn when we want to make progress, feel productive, snap ourselves out of a funk. I know one of my “pick me ups” is hand quilting.

What’s yours? What soothes you, when your day seems off-kilter?

Just a footnote: Thank you for the time and energy so many of you invested in reading and adding wonderful comments and interactions on the Advent, My Way series. You made my holiday season memorable! Happy New Year!


90 thoughts on “When All Else Fails

  1. I always so enjoy your posts. I quite liked your analogy of your peace in quilting and your father’s work in the field (as a farmer, I get that).
    Peace or settling my internal jitters comes from a walk to the lake – no matter the weather. The waves and water always seem to “put things right” for me.
    Thanks for another wonderful post.

    • Thank you so much! I am very impressed that walking is your activity, “no matter the weather.” I love a good walk but the weather really gets to me–I think I need to just suck it up and get out there!

  2. One option, of course, is simply to sit with one’s lack of mojo and just experience it in all of its be-calmedness. Another one I love is reading a book — usually a biography of a songwriter. I love your description of hand-quilting — a blend of meditation and creation. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Oh a hand quoted blanket, such pleasures and the finished blanket such a treasure! It looks stunning what is the red fabric? To unwind I have an unhealthy habit of going on social media but also I pick up my hand knitting. I’m like you though I can’t sit still unless it’s with something to do, even my reading time has suffered lately as I’m always wanting to produce. At least we’ll all be very warm and snug!

    • My reading time has suffered, too–and I don’t like that! The red fabric is cotton–the quilt is made up of half blocks that are patchwork of red and white, with alternating blocks of all red and white. I’ll show some photos, if I ever get it done . . . .

  4. As soon as I read the first line of your blog, my mind immediately went to my handwork (hand quilting, boutis, cross-stitch, embroidery, etc.)…working with my hands in this small fashion sitting my easy chair is the most fulfilling and delightful thing I can do. With the cold winter this week, I have been doing a LOT of that! I truly enjoy reading your blog!

    • Thank you! And, yes, I am not surprised to hear that you find satisfaction the same way I do–I’ve seen your handwork and it’s obvious you love doing it!

  5. So well expressed Kerry! A pick me up is necessary & if it involves any kind of creativity, it’s so much better!
    I can’t deal with the frustration I face when I lose my mojo. I usually go for a walk outdoors bring myself back to sanity 🙂
    I would say reading & painting are definitely my go to saviors:)

    • A walk would’ve been the perfect choice–except the wind chill was so bitterly cold, I just couldn’t face it! I just saw those mint cupcakes you made –baking is obviously a good creative outlet for you, too!

  6. I’m with theoldbarndoor on this one. When I’ve lost my mojo, only a walk will do – yes, even if it’s vile outside. I think the fresh air blowing through my skull must do something positive to my poor unstructured head and make it right again. Have a good year of quilting, weaving, whatever makes you happy …. just as long as it includes writing for your loyal readers!

  7. Ah, my over-productive friend 🙂 I have come to see that ‘losing the mojo’ is just another way of moving through our creative process. Something is gestating in there and we just have to sit and let it be. I tend to turn to my version of hand quilting I suppose, which is creating embellishments for my art or craft work. Flowers from rolled paper, coloured and doodled over; hand painted and doodled papers for backgrounds; pretty decorative tapes, drawn, coloured, doodling on masking tape. All of which can be done at my workbench or from a tray on my knee if the feeling so requires. Either way it is quiet and meditative and also, ultimately, productive 🙂 Walking is also an enjoyable option and one that Siddy happens to love as well.

    Your description of hand quilting left me eager to know more. My hand stitching is – well – abysmal, compared to yours. What is this ‘rocking’ you speak of? I must hit the link and find out more – though I find it hard to believe I could ever produce anything equating to your perfect stitches!

    • I just love the image of you happily doodling away! Reharding the hand quilting–that link is a video only about 30 seconds long and it shows the basic technique. I keep my fabric much tighter in the hoop and I think that lets me move a little more efficiently. The technique is a little awkward at first but just takes practice. And it makes it possible to get much smaller, much more even stitches that you ever could by stab stitching.

    • You’re tougher than I am, to enjoy fresh winter air when it’s blowing 35 miles an hour . . . But I bet your knitting come close to giving you the pleasure my hand quilting gives me!

      • I will probably be spending more time with my knitting blog than photos so you may see my “mittens” here from time to time.

  8. Your hand quilting looks lovely, and has the added benefit of giving you pleasure. It’s not my go-to, but then almost no hand stitching is. Stitching fabric scraps together, on the other hand… I hope the gradual lengthening of the days (and maybe a trip south) will help complete the cure.

  9. Hum…. My soul is not still either….don’t know why. I do have a Poodle who needs nursing but things are getting better. I can’t find peace at the loom, nor in the kitchen. Knitting helps, especially at three a.m.

    • A sick pup?? Oh, I can never rest when one of the cats is sick. I hope the dog is better soon. For me, it was mostly just that one day when nothing seemed right but this can be a tough time of year. I hope things perk up for you . . .

    • Do you know, I feel kind of guilty if I sit down, in the middle of the day, with a book? Isn’t that silly? I read in the evening and feel like I am supposed to be “productive” when it’s light out!

  10. Oh my goodness! Your stitching is so beautiful! I could never get the hang of quilting or sewing. My go-to when I’m in need of that deeply “my moment” thing is to Zentangle. I don’t do it as much as I would like but when I do, I am always so relaxed after!

    • Thanks! My hand quilting was awful (awful!) when I started but, like so many things, it got better the more I did! I tried Zentangle once and didn’t really feel the love–maybe I should try again!

      • It’s funny as I always say I don’t have the patience for quilting but then I do for Zentangling so maybe it’s just the whole needle and thread thing for me that I get so frustrated with! One of these days I’ll try it again!

  11. First off, Kerry, what beautiful stitching! Secondly, I really welcomed your post because it resonates so well with me. I have arrived at that time of life for a woman which is totally natural, but which also turns your life upside-down. I frequently find myself in a gloomy fog but am happily learning to recognise it for what it is – ie something happening to me, rather than actually me. I find that as long as I do something, anything, I can work through it. It can be as little and mindless as sitting in front of the computer deleting unwanted files, or it can be really productive like complicated knitting. Overall, I say to myself ‘this too will pass’ and work on making sure I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. X

    • When I retired, which I had been *yearning* to do for years, I was shocked to find this sense of “what now”? In the 6 years since, I’ve found lots of answers to that question but still have days when I feel adrift. But, as you say, I find something to put my hands and mind to and it passes!

  12. Love that red quilt, glad you were able to settle to it. When I can’t settle down, i usually knit something small in the round like a hat or sock, and let my braid bubble away while my fingers go round.

  13. If I’m not feeling guilty about not working then I might settle in with my magazine pile. I keep them for a treat, rather than diving in immediately and then the pile grows. Or I throw stuff out 🙂

    • I don’t get many magazines any more but, yes, I used to save them, too, especially if I knew I had a long flight coming up. The very nature of your work gives you options of different tasks to be working on, depending on your mood–that must help.

  14. I am perfectly capable of doing nothing with pleasure. I feel so rushed and scheduled much of the time that when time opens up in a way that offers me the opportunity to do nothing, I am happy to accept it. Sometimes with a walk, sometimes with a book, sometimes just sitting. Your stitches are amazing, by the way.

    • When I was working, I, too, was very capable of just hanging out. This is a by-product of being retired and wanting to still lead a meaningful existence (whatever that means!) 😉

  15. At the local, annual quilt show I am impressed the the precise designs of the machine sewn quilts. But, I always vote for a hand-stitched quilt. I am invested in the process of making, rather than the product. An emphasis on product is the God of a consumer driven society, in which that product is discarded with the fashion. Another product is easily substituted to taste and budget. An emphasis on process of making recognizes the humility of human ability and accomplishment. The store-bought quilts and throws we have acquired will some day head off to the charity shop. The hand-made wedding-band quilt my wife’s aunt made, and the hand-stitched sampler quilt assembled by my mother will be passed down to the next generation. Enjoy your place of peace and comfort for these cold winter days.


    • You make these points so well, Oscar! I feel the same way about the machine quilting–I’m blown away by the complexity and recognize that it is difficult to do it well . . . but I vote for the hand quilted quilts!

    • Well, then, you’re *my* hero for writing! It’s interesting, isn’t it, how different creative outlets draw us? If I were to start quilting now, when the focus is heavily on machine-based quilting (both piecing and the actual quilting) I don’t think I would’ve stuck with it. I have found it to be a very soothing pastime, with lots of room for creativity . . . can’t beat that!

  16. I know the feeling…. it’s usually when I start snacking…
    My husband Peter is newly retired, so I am feeling a bit off kilter myself!
    Having something you must do is a help. I am preparing for a make and take quilt event and also starting a craft group in the neighborhood.
    What I really need to do is finish the studio reorg I started and think about what I want to accomplish in there this year!

  17. Your post resonated with me too, Kerry. Like you, I like to be productive, and my daily To Do List is always overfilled. So, when nothing appeals it is a bit disconcerting. I usually turn to a book, especially something I can slip into with ease. But last year I also found that playing with different materials and ideas was really good too. Lots came out of my playtime. Like all your other commenters I marvel at your delicate stitching, but understand how it brings peace and calm.

    • I need to do more playing, I think, and maybe more small projects that don’t take days (weeks/months?!) to finish. It’s nice to know that you’ve had these same feelings, Anne!

      • I have to consciously give myself permission to play. I seem to be driven to have an end product that I am happy with. But playing frees up so much creativity!

  18. I’m impressed how you still accomplished something even though the day felt off-kilter. On off-kilter days, can too easily let time slip by – though sometimes that’s probably just what I need.

  19. So impressed with your readers, KerryCan. And you, of course! I have yet to find the activity that reliably frees me from the feeling of not being productive — or, as I usually think of it — “competent.” A productive friend told me her mother’s approach to complaints of boredom was to send her to clean out a closet. Perhaps if I clean out more closets, I will become as productive as my friend is today.

    • I would do almost anything to avoid cleaning out closets! My other go-to activity when I need to be productive and don’t want to be is ironing some of those vintage linens that are piled up around here. Totally mindless and I create such order out of chaos–very satisfying! And, yes, my readers are the BEST readers!

  20. I often feel off-kilter but it’s usually due to not enough sleep. I would like to just do nothing or read a book but the awful guilt feeling won’t often let me! Sometimes I can’t concentrate on a book so I do crossword puzzles or killer sudoku just to take my mind off the long to-do list I have! Walking or gardening make me feel much better but there are days when I just can’t go outside (or won’t!). I often resort to (ugh) cleaning, which assuages the guilt and when I’ve finished I feel pleased with myself. I used to be very creative when I was younger but found I didn’t have time for it 20 or so years ago. I tried knitting again a year ago but gave up in disgust because I found I’d have to relearn all I used to know without thinking, my arthritic fingers won’t do as they’re told and I can’t see as well as I used! A tale of woe! 🙂 I need a little more spare time so I can relax and enjoy it again and maybe get back into the embroidery, drawing and other crafts I used to do.
    Like your other commenters and followers I do admire your beautiful stitching! I find hand sewing therapeutic – I still sew but I only repair clothes and linen.
    My goodness! What a moan! It really isn’t as bad as I’ve described it! I’m a bit off-kilter today 😉

    • I hope you get back to your knitting or embroidery or something–I bet you’d find it soothing, after the initial stage of getting back in the groove. I have to agree, though, that I have been kind of shocked at the differences in my dexterity and eye sight!

  21. as you have guessed, I share that compulsion to produce, you have to give yourself permission to sit and do “nothing”. Sometimes that quiet, unproductive time is when your creative brain is re-charging its batteries. Love those tiny, perfect stitches, a form of meditation.

  22. Love the visual of your father in the field paralleling your hand quilting. For me, also, complete unwinding and……..well, comfort and serenity as the “whatever” unwinds and relaxes. I ‘get’ it!!!!

    • It happened again yesterday–my morning was all messed up from having to go to town for a medical test and, when I got home, the thing that settled me down was the quilting!

  23. Love your stories Kerry, so recognizable! I am just starting to get back to the order of the day but I am a bit listless..might it be that I had too much fun with my boys and they left Saturday…and Charley and I keep on sighing. Well, first some cleaning, a neat house always perks me up, than looking at my projects, whining with some friends over a coffee, looking at more project and start to knit again. But if you don’t mind, I am going to sulk and pout a little more…xo Johanna

    • I just read your post and I can see why it’s difficult to get back to regular life–after such a perfect time with the family. But I know you’re not a long-term pouter, Ms. Johanna!

  24. I have never mastered hand quilting and no longer see well enough to do it. I’ve learned to let it be until it comes back. I take some time to rest, read, maybe tidy up somewhere. (There is always somewhere) Moving things and rearranging tends to inspire me again. I would love to learn to hand quilt but I’m sure as slow as I sew, nothing would ever get finished. Pauline is right on. Give the mind some time to cook whatever is sitting in there. I used to be like you and have to be productive. Quiet time increases productiveness. Enjoy.

    • Hand quilting is a slow process by nature and I think that’s part of why I like it–it forces me to be still and just focus on what’s happening right then and there. You give good advice, Marlene!

  25. When I’m feeling little bit out of sorts, I find myself picking up odd jobs around the house. I just kind of go with it and before I know it, the house is clean, the laundry is done and bills are paid. Then I can really get into my hand quilting – my go to source of relaxation. I get pretty tense with machine quilting; I know I never will be able to do anything close to what I see coming from machine quilters now. Hand-quilting in the morning or the last thing at night is a wonderful thing, for me at least. Your stitches are gorgeous by the way, and thank you very much for your series on Advent – I read it every day

    • Oh, thanks, Pam–I love knowing that you were reading! I just saw the quilt you’re working on and love it–that will keep you busy for awhile! It’s nice to know you can relate to the peace I get when hand quilting.

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