Are You Up For A Challenge?

I’m always up for a challenge!

I mean, I like small challenges in my daily life—solving a problem, figuring something out, overcoming a difficulty, meeting a goal.

But even more, I love an external challenge–a set of standards or constraints, presented to a group of people, to see how they respond individually.

For instance, a number of years ago, we did a family fitness challenge. Four of us each put in $125 and set a 3-month time limit. The plan was to see who could exercise, for at least 30 minutes, for the most days in that time frame.

Two of the four participants exercised every single day for three months and shared the prize! And, of course, even those of us who “lost” won because we did far more than we would’ve, without the challenge.

Challenges are a big deal in the crafting world. Sometimes, these challenges are pretty straightforward—for instance, my quilt guild’s challenge last year was to make a red and white quilt and to incorporate, somewhere, two specific red and white print fabrics, which we were given.

Other challenges are more . . . challenging. One of the most intriguing I read about was a Beatles challenge, where each quilter chose a Beatles’ song to provide inspiration. My blog pal, Snarky Quilter, chose Paperback Writer and made her quilt a depiction of a pulp novel.

If you read a lot of craft blogs, you’ve probably come across a lot of craft bloggers who are participating in challenges and reporting back in their posts. Whether the crafters are knitting, embroidering, or quilting, challenges seem to draw us in.

What’s the appeal?

Part of the fun of a challenge is personal—I feel like I’ve done some of my most creative work in response to a challenge. Having guidelines and limitations is both constraining and liberating!

The best part of the challenge, though, is the unveiling, when the participants come together and show how they’ve each addressed the challenge. It is always fascinating to see how different people interpreted the guidelines and all the different directions creativity can go. A challenge creates a sense of community while celebrating individual creativity.

We went to the Vermont Weavers’ Guild show last weekend. We saw a number of lovely hand-woven pieces but, for both of us, the best part of the show was the display of challenge pieces.

The weavers had each chosen a postcard of an Impressionist painting and used that to inspire their choice of color and weaving pattern. The towels were displayed with the inspiration cards.

I loved the idea that practical, earthbound kitchen towels were inspired by transcendent works of art!

We spent a lot of time at the three racks of towels, choosing favorites and talking about what the weavers accomplished.

Seeing this challenge also got us thinking about ways we could use art as inspiration. It was fun to think about our own favorite paintings and consider ways we could use the colors. Don thought he might go the direction of Monet’s water lilies while I would look to the work of my favorite painter, John Singer Sargent. Wouldn’t these colors be pretty in a towel?


Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

One never knows where the next challenge is coming from, in life or in craft. Our life challenges may weigh heavily, tire us out, bring us down. Happily, our craft challenges can do just the opposite–lift us up, energize, give us new insight.

Have you participated in a favorite artistic challenge? Have you blogged about it? If so, consider leaving a link in the comments!

85 thoughts on “Are You Up For A Challenge?

  1. I have done quilting challenges and enjoyed most of them. The most recent that was specifically named as a challenge was my guild’s Iowa challenge last year. Here is a link to my blog post about it.

    I’ve also done quilting challenges that were less enjoyable. In 2012 our guild challenge was to create a (purely) red and white quilt. I did, and it was beautiful. But I did not enjoy the process, and when it was done, I cried. (Of course, I was depressed that year, so I cried a lot anyway.) And this year our guild quilt show is coming up. We have a special exhibit of red and white quilts. There have been many difficulties and obstacles along the way to creating TWO red and white quilts for it. Some have been due to execution of the quilts, and some have been human-made by quilt police. I may well cry when this is finally over, too. (No, I’m not depressed, just worn down by this!)

  2. I agree that challenges can bring pizzazz to one’s life. When my husband and I were biking regularly, we would set challenges for ourselves. Fun! Hope to get back to it this season.

  3. Our guild held its October, 2016 meeting at our local university’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. We were to take inspiration from one of the items in the exhibit and just last week, we saw everyone’s projects. What a creative and wide-ranging collection! I described one of my projects at –one because I thought I’d go in one direction, but was distracted into going in more than one! I enjoyed how the challenge stretched me into unfamiliar territory, one I will probably revisit in the future. Museum exhibits do change.

    • I remember that post! That’s an excellent idea for a challenge–so much latitude for creativity. I need to weave a cover for my loom bench . . .

  4. The hand towels are wonderful! It’s a clever way to come up with inspirational colorways…
    I did a challenge for the quilt guild here that I used to attend. I think one of the rules was that there had to be words or letters on it. I had just bought a lot of seed packets, and was dreaming of my Summer veggie garden, hence my inspiration.
    I only participate in challenges if they interest me; otherwise I conser them time-wasters. I don’t mean that rudely, but I have SO many ideas and things I want to do. When one project is completed, I never think “What shall I do next?” but “Which idea shall I start next?”. (Or I should think “What UFO shall I finish next”!!!)

    • I hadn’t read that post of yours–it was before we “met,” I guess—it’s a great quilt! I don’t do all of our guild challenges and stuff by any means–I’d never have time for anything else!

    • I wonder if I’ll ever follow through on that?! Probably not–ha! But it’s fun to think about because it would be important to get the sense of the light colors glowing as they do in the painting . . .

  5. Can’t wait to see your interpretation of that picture. I have seen it a couple of times in exhibitions (I love JSS’s work too) and it is luminous and breathtaking. I have no doubt that anything you would produce would be equally marvellous! 🙂

    • Well, the official challenge has ended and I don’t know what the guild is doing next year, if anything. What i think I will do, though, is, next time I’m trying to come up with colors for a project, I’ll use the technique of picking a painting I love and working from it.

  6. Challenges are great for getting me outside my comfort zone. The latest quilting one I did was to finish someone else’s UFO. All the participants said they enjoyed working with shapes/colors, etc., they didn’t usually pick. The dishtowel colors challenge is a great one.

  7. I sometimes like a challenge if it’s something I genuinely want to do but I try not to beat myself up about it if I don’t succeed or if it doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. I try to put it down to experience and feel that at least I tried something new. I love the idea of those woven pieces inspired by paintings – though I definitely won’t be taking on that challenge 😉

    • I agree about not doing the challenges just for the sake of it. I think through the set of rules and see if inspiration strikes. If not, I have so many other ideas–just like you do, I’m sure!

    • I completely agree about not wanting to feel forced into anything! The only challenges I’ve taken part it are a couple that gave a little thrill when I thought up a creative approach to them.

  8. I admit to not often undertaking challenges – except those I give myself when I feel I’ve dithered about long enough. But I like the thought of being inspired by the work of others. Though the truth is I think I’m always inspired by the work of others, but don’t always directly acknowledge that – if you know what I mean. I’m currently ‘challenging’ myself to paint in pastel shades, rather than the brights I always end up with ……… this could portend a whole new beginning or a complete artistic collapse 🙂

    • I don’t think a challenge has to come from outside to count! I read about people who challenge themselves to work only from “stash,” and I bet that leads to a lot of creativity. And, yes, you turning to pastels definitely counts as a legitimate challenge! I’ll look forward to seeing how that works out!

  9. Since I’m not one of those crafty type persons, I never contemplated a competition such as this. But it is fascinating. Looking forward to more on this!

    • You’re right–a lot of the challenges I’m thinking of come from being a member of a crafty-type group. But maybe you’ve set yourself non-craft challenges, to stretch your limits?

    • I always though it was one of JSS’s lesser works–too saccharine for my taste–until I saw it in person. It’s a totally different painting in real life!

  10. Years ago the National Gallery had a Sargent exhibit and that picture was one of my favorites. There was a beautiful shawl that kept appearing on different people in different paintings and one painting showed a rectangle of sunlight hitting a palazzo floor. When I got up close to it, it looked a bit like a stick of butter, thus illustrating the nature of paint and illusion. I can’t wait to see the towel that results from Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. I think it will lead the weaver a fine dance!

    • I went to that show, too! It’s the only time I saw C, L ,L ,R in real life–and what a different that makes! I would so love to be able experience Sargent’s work like that again. I wonder if I will ever follow through on the towel idea? And if I did, whether I’d ever feel satisfied . . .

      • Fabulous! It’s funny, now that I think of it, the number of exhibits that get imprinted on my mind–That’s one of them, and one called Northern Lights at the Corcoran, of Scandinavian painters. You should try the towel idea, but make sure it’s a concept reflective of the image rather than the image–Well, you would do that better than I would.

  11. I love the towels with their painted inspiration, they are really wonderful. I cannot wait to see how you interpret you painting, you have so much to work with.😊 My last challenge was the Hardanger contest run by Nordic Needle, blogged here . I recently heard back that I didn’t make the finals (no surprise) but was thrilled to learn that I will received copy of the winning patterns book because I participated. I am thrilled, because those books are always amazing.😄

    • I remember that challenge! It seems REALLY challenging to me! How nice that you’ll get the book of patterns–maybe you’ll be doing more hardanger??

      • Yes, I have a big project to start after I finish my latest cross stitch. I am going to recreate the table topper my grandma made in the late 1890’s. I’m going to chart the pattern for my cousins, and give the copy to my sister. If it qualifies, I will submit it for the Hardanger challenge next year. I have all my supplies, so am plotting my course as I cross stitch my barn. 😊

    • I agree about having a deadline–I’m rushing to finish a quilt top right now, in order to meet a June deadline. On that same trip to VT, we bought another loom . . . more soon!

    • It is a fun idea, isn’t it? I struggle with color and tend to be very safe (and boring) with my choices. I think this would be a way to take a walk on the wild side!

  12. Life has been challenging enough these days and I always challenge myself to go outside my comfort zone so I tend to stay away from outside challenges right now. Maybe sometime in the future when this current challenge is no more. I have in the past done a weight loss challenge with my sister and her wife. $50 to the one that lost the most. I won after losing 50 pounds. Now I have to do that again. 😦 Down 15, 25 to go. Sigh.

    • No, Marlene–you have NO need to go looking for challenges! The ones you are facing are plenty enough to test your problem-solving abilities. And I understand about re-visiting a fitness challenge. My husband and I were reminiscing about that exercise challenge we did and saying how we needed to do it again . . . . sigh.

      • I have a fitness challenge of my own. To get to the top of a certain hill by summers end without huffing and puffing my way up. My walk in the morning is about 4000 steps as fast as I can move. I have to challenge myself everyday.;)

    • I almost wish I hadn’t mentioned that idea–everyone says they want to see what I do and the more I think about it the more daunting it seems! Maybe someday–after all, it would give me an excuse to buy lots of pretty new thread . . .

  13. I’m with Judy. I don’t have enough time to do all the projects I have in mind and am not inclined to take on outside challenges under someone else’s rules. On the other hand, “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” could make me a convert. Those colors, hues, and shapes just make my hands itch to create something. And I’d love to see what others did with it too. What a gorgeous painting.

    • It is a beautiful painting and so much more amazing in person. I don’t have any idea how the artist created the effect of the lanterns glowing in the dusk. I pick and choose the challenges I do and have to say that the two most recent have produced two of my most favorite quilts ever, one of which I would never have thought of without the challenge.

  14. I suppose the small challenge that’s now become part of my weekly routine is the WordPress weekly photo challenge. I enjoy looking for the new theme on Wednesday, and letting my largely unconscious mind turn it over. Then it’s fun to put it together, and to look at how others have interpreted the theme, in such different ways. Needless to say, it’s been the way to make a few more blogging ‘friends’ as well.

    • Yes! That totally counts! I have never taken on one of the blog-based challenges and, frankly, think a lot of people don’t do that effective a job with them. But your contributions have been great–it seems to really bring a creative angle to your thinking!

  15. Love this post. Thank You. I have not participated in any challenge, but my wife and I been betting on something among us. If I lose, I buy a bottle of sparkling wine, if my wife lose, she buys a bottle sparkling wine. 🙂

    Those weaver’s impressionist towels are gorgeous. I love the last one – Water Lilies.

    Happy weekend.

  16. Sounds like such a fun challenge, I love the painting you picked out, and I am curious to see what a John Singer Sargent towel would look like. The colours of the painting are gorgeous.

    • The trick, if I were to really try and make a towel with those colors, would be to get luminosity of the lanterns. I would somehow have to get the darks dark enough so the peachy colors would glow.

  17. Look at the discussion you started! What a neat challenge you have shared. I love the matching of colors in the painting to the towels.
    While I cannot say that I have ever participated in a craft challenge, I sure resonated with your physical challenge. I challenged myself to ride my bicycle on 37 mile route this past weekend. Phew!

    • Yes! I just read about that ride and I’m very impressed! I wonder if, now that you’ve made such a big step, you’ll do more regular bike riding?

  18. I love to see the results of challenges, whether it’s the woven towels you’ve shown, or sewing challenges like me made May. I have sat out on knitting and now sewing challenges, probably because my output is too slow and unpredictable. I am more into solo mental challenges -daily puzzles, the Sunday crossword, 2 suit spider type of things.

  19. There are some wonderfully creative quilters out there Kerry! Love the tea towels 🙂 Would be interested to see an interpretation of a John Singer Sargent painting! Many many years ago (1895) to be precise my late grandmother sat for a Singer Sargent painting as her grandfather was a benefactor of Sargent’s in London. My great great grandfather was a self made businessman who started life as a footman in a stately home in Welsh border country (alas the money has not come down the family line!!). He had a lifelong interest in art and promoted up and coming artists. Unfortunately the original painting of my late nanna (at 4 years old) is apparently held by a private collector in the States and not available for public viewing. However I do have framed prints of it (it’s called “Expectancy” if you ever hear of it coming back into the public domain here is a link Obviously there is no way I could buy it but I would love for it to be housed in a museum or gallery so that many other people could have the benefit of viewing it. I was very close to my nanna (she lived to 100 and died when I was 27) and I love looking at the print each day (I have 2 at home)! Not sure what my nanna would think if she knew anyone could google the picture of her at 4 (she died before the internet age had taken off)! I also love the Impressionists too so was particularly interested in this post! 🙂

    • What a wonderful, fascinating family story! I love Sargent and can’t imagine the thrill of knowing that a family member had had a portrait done by him. And the portrait is so sweet . . .

      • Thanks Kerry! Yes it’s a wonderful story and I really hope to see the original one day!!! My nanna was very proud of the history and my mum too! I love the white dress with all the ruffles!

  20. I love to hear of crafting challenges. I have not entered into joint challenges – but am often setting myself goals, some of which I achieve, though some become epic fails! Am currently looking for inspriation with a ‘countryside’ theme – a group of friends hope to have a table sale at a local ‘Countryside Day’ event here in the UK. Thinking of small, reasonably priced gifts for browsers to purchase which are quick to make and don’t cost a packet! All ideas welcomed!

  21. I didn’t mean it to be a challenge, but I think I sub-consciously challenged myself to sell all the items on Trade Me. And I did get a 100% sale rate. And I was very chuffed. I am always amazed at the variety of challenges people come up with.

  22. Loved all the photos you shared with the beautiful works of art – both on canvas, as well as the weaving! I have not joined a challenge group (yet) for quilting, due to my unpredictable schedule, but I am always setting up challenges for myself because it helps me finish something. 😊

    • I have to admit that, for the couple quilting challenges I have done, I felt both irritated by the pressure and sort of pleased that the pressure meant I actually finished!

  23. Yes! I have participated in a competition/challenge and really enjoyed working in the limits to create something special. I would really like to do one again some day when my kids are a bit older and I have a bit more free time.

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