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Sunday, 24 January 2021

2020 hindsight – my year in review

Over the festive season I participated in Ruth Singer's 'Gentle Goal Setting' for 2021. Truth be told, I'm still doing it. I was looking for a way to reflect on the momentous year just gone and plan for the year ahead – a process that would focus on my practice and what I want to learn and experience rather than numbers of social media followers, my marketing strategy or giving myself sales targets. 

Wanting to be present with family over Christmas (or as best as I could, after months of isolation) and then having a rather large work contract, means I'm taking longer to complete my planning, but being gentle with myself – as the process suggests – I'm OK with that.

1974 quilt machine and hand stitching
Detail of '1974', based on the stripe of a childhood jumper. Hand pieced, hand and machine quilted.
Looking back on 2020, the first thing that struck me was the number of rejections I got. Don't all rush to commiserate – I was also accepted for a lot of things and was given some wonderful opportunities out of the blue. Plus, I'm very good at giving myself a moment/day to be disappointed and then moving on – maybe I should give lessons? Seriously though, I applied for a LOT of things in 2020 so there were bound to be downs with the ups. 

Some of the rejections were for things I really wanted to do and others were about me supporting the organisation with my entry fee. Sometimes I didn't have the right work, even if I did want to participate. Some opportunities, once they were actually released, turned out not to be what I thought they were, and some I don't think I was quite ready for. Part of my reflection will be to go back and look properly at those rejections, to see if I can learn some more about what I should focus my time on. Was it something I really should have been applying for in the first place? Did it fit with the direction I want to take my work? Was my work suited?

Another reflection, came not from the course, but rather a moment just before Christmas, when a Covid outbreak started in Sydney, 11am rolled around for the morning's press conference and I felt a clench of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. It was only then I realised the feeling had been there for most of 2020. Worrying about when we were ever going to get out of lockdown, when I'd be able to see loved ones again, when I was going to get paid work. Of course, bad situations always end, but the lack of human contact I had for so long will take time to recover from, so I need to be gentle with myself there too.

Hourglass block quilt in khadi cotton
An hourglass quilt started during lockdown. Leftover khadi cut with scissors.
There were also two things that resurfaced during this process – things I clearly need to be reminded about, regularly. The first is that I don't like making to deadline. I think it's partly as my whole career has been so deadline-driven, but also because it's clear that I never produce my best work that way. Well not work that completely satisfies me. There are several projects I've walked away from over the last year and then come back to recently and they're so much the better for it. I'm never a great long-term planner, but there are times I think need to start thinking several years' out if I want to have the best outcome. I know for those who make dozens of quilts a year, this might seem insane, but it's just the way I roll.

The second thing that resurfaced is a reminder of what drives my making – authenticity and sustainability; a desire to keep learning; being generous with my time and my creative efforts; and, above all, my making should be a joy. Man, I need to be reminded about this a LOT. Especially when social media is telling me I need to release more patterns, tag or spruik someone's product, have more followers, make more videos bla, bla, bla. While I'm incredibly grateful for the people I've met through Instragram and the support I get – especially last year – this is the downside of social media for me. It's a constant pressure and it's exhausting. In the end, I feel I do make most of my decisions from the place that's driving me, but honestly, regular reminders are good and necessary!

Stack of Stitch & Yarn quilts
Quilt stack of my pattern releases up to mid-2020
So, what are my plans for 2021? Are they gentle? Hell no! They're ambitious as all get-out and way more specific than Ruth is intending, but I come from the school of 'bite off more than you can chew, and then chew like mad'. I will however, be gentle with myself if I don't manage them all, and having some flow into 2022 is also fine with me. My main aim for this year is to release an online course. It's is something I've been toying with for a while and 2020 gave me the opportunity to really work up the specifics. It's called Quilt Design School and is aimed at budding quilt designers – taking you from inspiration to publication. If this is all I manage to do this year, that would actually be OK. If you want to be first to learn more about it, then sign up to my email newsletter (above right) or drop me an email at the address below.

Of course, I also have a list of quilts – from finishing one for my oldest niece through to a couple of exhibition quilts for later in the year and a pattern release or two. There are also applications, but they will be few and far between for 2021, while I look again at where I should direct my efforts. And last, there are steps I want to take towards long term goals... The flipping print table for starters – how many years have I been banging on about that now? 

'Lockstep' quilt, releasing in March 2021.
You know what though? Making quilts isn't saving the world, and no-one will die in a ditch if I don't do any of this, so quite frankly, here's to a year of inspiration, connection and joy in the making! 

So how about you? Did you get a chance to reflect on your work, or perhaps lack of it it, in 2020? Do you have big things planned for this year or are you just going to see what comes your way? Are you feeling wrung out after 2020, or are you inspired, full of hope and ready to dive back in?


  1. A most inspiring blog, Tara. I feel I might be at least partly responsible for the "bite off more than you can chew then chew like mad" philosophy so perhaps I should take some lessons in gentle goal setting. I am sure it would have health benefits as well. All the best for the year ahead.

    1. You and the "say yes and worry about how to do it later" attitude of my last employer ;-)

  2. Tara, I adore your aesthetic and work. How do you know where to enter your pieces, besides Houston and Quiltcon? I would like to get more rejections, too, but I don't know my options for where and when to enter!

    1. Hi there, honestly a lot of the other things I enter are art shows rather than quilt ones. We have a few major textile art awards over here and group shows where any medium can be entered, also craft festivals too. I guess I find them often by following galleries on Instragram, but also Googling and talking to networks of likeminded artists.
      Good luck with it all!

  3. And like you, I have very big goals for this year. I'm determined to release four patterns, and to start offering and teaching classes, and to make at least some of the ideas that are in my head - all the while maintaining a balanced life (good luck to me, I know!) I feel like there is a door slightly ajar, and I need to wedge my foot in and get going before it shuts in my face! And see what happens.

    1. This sounds exactly like the amount of stuff I try and cram into a year too! Just promise me you'll celebrate what you do manage to achieve rather than beating yourself up for the things that you don't!