Ask Jo: Designing My Own Way

Last week I told you about why I sew Bonnie Hunter quilts.  I also told you a bit about my sewing adventures and designing quilts.  I you missed that post you can find it here.  Lots of people commented.  I always love reading through the comments.  It’s a good way for me to see if what I wanted to say was actually understood.  Sometimes as I write I know what I want to say but it doesn’t always come out in an understandable way to my readers.  I think I have to delve a little further into the hows and whys of quilt designing and why we’re content to simply stay where we are.

The comment that prompted me to see that I hadn’t written enough of the hows and whys of why I prefer sewing quilts, mostly Bonnie Hunter quilts, over designing our own came from Chris who wrote, “I think you are selling yourself short. Being influenced by one designer does influence your designs and not as appealing to others. Your patterns that you show are very nice, but I really would like to see more of creativity. I know it is in there someplace. Please don’t take offense. I think you have it. Think about it and challenge yourself.”

The truth is this…
At one point Kelli and I thought we might want to enter the quilt world in a big way as designers.  That came about the time we were working on our book.  That was before either of us had our forever homes…before Kelli knew she was going to be a nurse and before I was called back to childcare.  We thought it would be fun.  We worked hard…got a few breaks…had a lot of fun.  Then we were faced with this…TO REALLY “MAKE IT” IN THE QUILTING WORLD YOU HAVE TO TRAVEL.

oh-oh.  Neither one of us like to travel.  Occasional travel to see someone or a historic place, fine…work travel.  NO WAY!

I am not knocking anyone who likes to travel for business, all I am saying is it is not for me.

Mom and Dad (400x400)

I love my Hubby.  I want to be with him each and every day for the rest of my life.  I don’t like spending time away from him.

I love my kids.  I want to be with, near and around them whenever I can.


I love Carver.  I want to be in his life now and always.


My life is my family.  No ambition, no quilt, no profession, no nothing is worth being away from them for extended periods of time.  I LOVE being a house wife.  I LOVE being a grandma.  I LOVE the day to day mundane with my family.  I LOVE all aspects of family including the feather ruffling that happens between the kids from time to time.  I don’t want to miss any of this.  I’ve made my family my life since the day I met my Hubby….that isn’t changing.

Occasionally Kelli and I play around and design something.  Do you want to know why we do?  One, it’s kind of fun-it is flattering- and two we do it for mad money.  Both Kelli and I are married to farmers.  Neither of our families is rolling in extra money.  We get along fine, but there isn’t room for luxuries in either of our budgets.  When we get a quilt into a magazine we use the money we make for things we couldn’t otherwise afford.  We do things like go to a cross stitch shop and buy a cross stitch kit.  We go out to eat.  We go shopping and we both get a new pair of tennis shoes.  We go to a antique shop and each of us get something.  It’s our money…our husbands don’t care what we do with it and we don’t need it to make our budgets.


When we design it, we aren’t looking for any sort of fame or recognition, or to have made the best more creative quilt ever.  That’s not our goal at all..we want to provide a product that others could enjoy making and we want the mad money.

I feel completely fulfilled in my life.  I have no desire to “challenge myself” -to design something to please someone else.  Me, I’m happy with what I design.  What I do…I do for me.  I also do for Kelli.  If someone else along the way wants to make the quilt too…GREAT…if not, GREAT.


I really don’t think I am “selling myself short”.  I think I am being me.  I think I am being smart.  I think I am avoiding the treadmill that so many others are on.  I know what I want in life and am going after it.  Here the things I want out of life.

I want to be a child of God’s.
I want to be a day to day presence in my family’s lives.
I want to part of my extended family’s lives.


I want to be a guiding influence in the lives of my childcare kids and their families.

I want to be a friend to important people in my life.


I want to be part of my community.
I want to be able to keep the standard of living I have…I don’t need more.

I can’t do any of that, in the way that I want, if I am traveling…if I am sitting behind a computer working out complex quilt designs…

Beyond that…
I want my quilting to be my HOBBY.
I want my blog to be my HOBBY.

I want to be able to walk away from quilting and blogging as I see fit.  The only one I want to be married to is my husband and my family.


Don’t worry..I’m not walking away from blogging at any point soon.  I am not walking away from the designing we do.  I really enjoy blogging, quilting, and quilt designing in my own way….

My goal is to keep quilting as a hobby, doing it my own way- even if it isn’t traditional…even if it isn’t what others deem correct or creative.

I’m going to share one more thing with you.

Writing the quilt book was, for Kelli and I, not a pleasant experience.  We hated the deadlines.  We hated the pattern writing.  We hated the edits.  We hated being forced to sew.  It sucked all the fun away.  It was not enjoyable.  One day after we were done and the manuscript turned in, Kelli and were looking at some pictures.  One of the pictures was the picture of us that you see above.

Kelli looked at me.  She had big tears in her eyes.  She said, “Mom, I hope we can sew like that again someday.”  I asked her what she meant and she said, “I want us to sew for fun again.”  I looked at Kelli…now big tears were in my eyes too.  I said, “Me too!”

I will NEVER forget that.  I will never get on that quilt designing treadmill again.  Being the mom and grandma…being the wife…being there to let Ruby outside…being there for my child care families…ALL of that is WAY more important than producing quilt designs that meet anyone else’s expectation.


72 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Designing My Own Way”

  1. I think you said that very well – some of us love quilting for fun and using patterns we like and others want the fame and glory that come with designing and the travel, workshops etc. I could never be a designer, I don’t have the talent to do much designing of my quiltis although I usually change something or make an original now and then – but I do not want to have my quilting turn to work instead of fun – I won’t even take on a job of making a quilt for someone – after I make quilts if someone wants to buy one that is ok, but I’m not going to set myself any deadlines – it takes the fun out of it.

  2. Excellent response Jo! How refreshing to hear those words. No one should ever under rate our choices in life. We each can embrace life in our own ways. “Blessed is the life that finds joy in the Journey” was a cross stitched saying that our pastor once gave me years ago as a gift. Little did she realize that it would become my personal philosophy of life. I am glad that your Journey brings you joy. Thanks for putting into words what many of us feel. We are so lucky to have choices.

  3. Allison C Bayer

    Amen! Thank you for sharing!! I’m a fellow Bonniac — she made piecing quilts fun again!! All I want to do is love my Sweet Man of 33 years, quilt for others, quilt for myself, have sew days with my friends and be there for my family when they need me. Hugs, Allison in Plano, Texas

  4. Bravo, Jo!! Bravo!! Everyone has choices & I think the expression is something like “Be true to yourself!” I understood your previous post re: Bonnie Hunter quilts & had no qualms w/ your thoughts. I understand this one also & hope everyone that reads it understands that you are living your own life as you prefer. May you continue to enjoy your own journey Jo!

  5. Great post. Family is important. I traveled for years with my job because it paid the bills (single mother). I look back at the toll it took and I can tell you, it’s not the glamour that folks think it is. Fans are nice, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s family that will give you love, enjoyment, comfort, and protection.

  6. You said it perfectly the first time. I don’t use anyone else’s patterns, preferring to work designs out myself…except for Bonnies. I have three of them on the go now, for all the reasons that you love them too. My leader ender is usually a bonnie quilt, at the moment Garden Party, while I work on some project that I’ve drafted. Her quilts are just relaxation for me, no thinking,no angst, no wondering if I’m on the right track. I already know that I love the end result whereas sometimes designing can be full of false starts. I often wonder how Bonnie does it all, and worry that she’s going to burn out, she sure has a lot of stamina.
    Having traveled and taught in a small way I know that it isn’t for me either. No amount of fame and kudos can make up for the worry and hassle involved. And you don’t get rich teaching or writing books either, so that’s not a motivation! You keep doing exactly what you’re doing, and we’ll keep reading.

  7. You are a great example to us all! I think our society continues to push the consumer/must have xyz to be happy mentally. In the end, it is the people we have relationships with that matter. LIFE is HARD enough, there is no reason to add stress and worry by doing a job you don’t love. Your philosophy is one of the reasons I am a follower of your blog and happy to be your friend!

  8. “To your own self be true.” And I’m glad you are. I feel the same way. I don’t want deadlines or to have my sewing and quilting become work. I have a long-arm machine and mostly quilt for myself and some charity quilts. There are a handful of people I quilt for but I don’t advertise or try to drum up business. That would make it work! I like making Bonnie quilts, Jenny Doan quilts and I’ve been hankering to go back and make some quilts from the Thimbleberries books I collected years ago. I quilt because I enjoy the process, not to be a quilting star or for money.

  9. You go, Jo! Live your life on your terms, not somebody else’s. You don’t have to live according to someone else’s rules or expectations. Thank you for sharing your quilting and all the rest with us. I feel like you’re my friend, and I wouldn’t want a friend to be miserable.

  10. Good for you Jo! You are doing what you love most and that’s awesome. Too many people (me included) don’t know what they want.

  11. Well said , I enjoyed your book and am happy to have it. But if you never write another that is fine too. Your blog is enjoyable and doing what gives you pleasure is very important indeed. Keep up the good work.

  12. Well said, Jo! You have found a balance you can be happy with and a lifestyle that suits you. Bravo! More than can be said for many folks!

  13. That was hard to read, I bet it was way harder to write. One thing is for sure, you are good blogger. You have a way with words or stories or what have you – you make it interesting so I am glad blogging is still on your list of things to do.

  14. I, too, had tears in my eyes as I finished reading your post. Good for you for knowing what you want out of life. That’s one of the many reasons I enjoy your blog. Love the pictures of baby Carver. He is adorable.

  15. Kristy Wilkinson

    You are an encouragement to me to do what God has put before you. I am so glad you are happy with your life and with your choices. I am glad I can read about you and your family and feel a part of it too. I too had tears in my eyes as I read your post. I know that you love what you are doing now. Thanks for sharing your heart. Kristy

  16. Hurray for you! I feel the same way. I love what you do and love your quilt designs. I love reading your blog and thank you for sharing your life and family with us. Keep up the good work!

  17. Great post, Jo. I think this is why I read your blog every day. You know who you are and where you want to be and you’re not ashamed to say it. I LOVE the pic of you behind the machines! Happy Jo. Where you want to be, doing something you enjoy. I think you may be very good at all this things you want to do. God bless you and your hubby and whole family.

  18. And that’s why I love reading your blog! You are so real and you know the important things in life! Love you Jo and wish you all the best!

  19. There’s nothing better than being with the ppl you love!!
    And it’s good that you have a hobby that gives you so much pleasure.

  20. I agree that you should do what’s works best for you and your family. You and Kelli make lovely quilts and it would be a shame to take the enjoyment out of it.
    I love Bonnie Hunter’s designs and I’m very thankful that she enjoys designing so many great quilts and writing pattern books and doing so many workshops but I couldn’t handle her lifestyle, to be constantly on the road or ship or whatever would drive me nuts. But I thank God for the people who enjoy it.

  21. Although I hated that you felt you needed to explain your choices in more detail, I was cheering you on while reading your post. You go girl! Keep living your life the way that makes you most happy. If others don’t like it, that’s their problem!

  22. There are so many different ways to live and when you find “your way”, its wonderful.
    So glad that are happy. There are many of us who have amazing talents but we just don’t want the lifestyle that goes with marketing it and the travel, and its so good to know that –=-instead of trying to do it and hating it. Keep on sharing the love. It is such a pleasure to read about your adventures.

  23. I discovered your blog within the past year and am enjoying it. I found Bonnie several years ago and enjoy her also, but i also know I could never be happy in her lifestyle, but I’m certainly happy that she does all she does! Love the xstitch picture with sewing machine. Are you willing to share the name of the pattern? I’m a xstitcher also.

  24. Sandra Davidson

    Good for you Jo, one thing I have always loved about your blog is that you are true to yourself and you know who you are and what you like to do. Some people are just so unhappy because they don’t know what they want. I love the relationships you have with all of your family friends and especially your daycare kids. Blessings to all.
    By the way that is one sweet grand baby they are the best.

  25. Thanks Jo for your comments. I’m with you 100%. Family is most important, and being able to spent time with them, especially the Grandchildren is a joy! I know quilting is you passion as it is mine so I understand the joy you feel with each quilt you complete. Keep up what you enjoy doing, it is less stressful, and healthier. I look forward to reading your blog every morning and every evening, reading about your family, the kiddos, and the quilts.

  26. Very well said. I applaud your values and your gift of expression…whether it be with words or quilts. Keep doing what brings you joy…a good lesson for all of us!

  27. Well said, Jo! You are so genuine, that’s what I like so much about your blog. Thank you for just being yourself, and sharing your life – and your quilts – with your readers.

  28. I think so many of us who read your blog have such admiration for you. Why.?. because , you’re happy,,we feel it in your posts . Also you get more done in a day then most of us get done in a week. I enjoy reading your post. When I’m out of town I let my hubby know he’d better not delete your posts (also along with Quiltville)..haha I think you challenge yourself everyday with all the things you are able to get done in a day. Happiness is what life is all about, you have certainly achieved that. Thank you for letting us share in your life and family.
    Sweet blessings to you and yours.

  29. Amen. I learned years ago (I have been quilting for over 35 years) that making quilts “to order” took all the joy out of it. I made two baby quilts while working full time–took nine months of my life and I didn’t enjoy it. I want my quilting to be relaxing and to bring me joy. So, I make quilts I want to make and I love it. I also share your family values and there is nothing I want more than time with family. Money does not buy happiness! I am also a huge Bonnie Hunter fan and am amazed at the pace she keeps up, but that isn’t for everyone. She does it with grace and I think we all feel like she is someone we’d love to spend time with. However, she makes sacrifices to do what she does. Thanks for sharing your values and your family with us. (You may live in Iowa, but you are still “Minnesota nice!”) You betcha!

  30. Well said, Jo. You are very lucky to know what makes you happy and to stick to it. It is rare to find someone truly content with their place in life. You also make many, many people happy with your blog.

  31. Well said – be true to yourself. It’s so clear how much you love your family, and your life. Who needs a big pay cheque if it interferes with what is important in your life?

  32. Well said Jo. You are living your life your way and this is what life is all about. Doing what brings you joy and being with family – doesn’t get any better than that.

  33. JO, if you bottle that philosophy for others, you would wipe out mental health problems. LOL Congrats to a well adjusted, wonderful, giving woman. Thank you.

  34. SOOO well said!!! We are kindred souls for sure. I admired you and your family before, and even more so now. That is a blog post I will come back to many times.

  35. I, too, am a kindred spirit. Very moving post. I share your philosophy on family first…above all. I also want my quilting to be fun and fulfilling above all. AMEN to everything!!! Love your honest blog!

  36. Its a good choice for you, and that is how it should be. We would love to see more designs because you have talent for it, but you have to be happy at what you do otherwise the designs will suffer. I love the blog, and hope you don’t stop writing. I would probably never known about Bonnie Hunter if I had not read your blog. It makes me want to have a stash to make a quilt. You have also provided me with what to do with my husbands shirts that he can no longer wear to work. I need to add them to my growing stash and see what I can create. Be true to yourself and God and all will be right in your life.

  37. Love your post. Love that you started your “important” list with God and family. Those are truly the things that matter!

  38. Well, I don’t design any of my own quilts but still feel creative and energized through the process of making them. Who cares where the original idea/pattern comes from? Choosing the fabrics, placement, values, and colours is still plenty creative! Not to mention coming up with a quilting design (oops, someone quilts my big projects for me too!) and binding. Loved your post! Do what makes you happy!

  39. You have “matured” and know what you want in life! I’m older than you but I totally agree. We do what we enjoy and what is fun. I had a job that I enjoyed. I am retired now. I LOVE my quilting – following other’s work and designs. I refuse to allow others make my quilting a “job” because I refuse to allow others to dictate where, when, how or what! I make quilts because I enjoy the process from start to finish.

  40. Now I have big tears in my eyes!!

    That is exactly why I left a very good, well paying job and started working part time when my kids started school. I wanted and needed to be home for them, they are my life not my job:)

    Thanks for being you!

  41. It took me a while to get my thoughts together on this post. You are one of the lucky ones. You could only write this post because you pursued ‘professional’ quilting. You know what it takes because you’ve been there. To realize that it’s not for you, walk away, and go back to what you love, isn’t always easy. We’ve just gone through this same thing with my husband’s job. I say you are lucky, not because you’ve struggled, but because you will never have to live with ‘what if…’. You’ve made your choice based on what you’ve experienced. As my son was growing up, I always stressed to him to make informed decisions. That’s exactly what you’ve done! I love your blog!

  42. Quilting should be fun. Not a job. Do what makes you happy and enjoy those times with family. You know what’s important for your happiness better than anybody. You go girl(s)!
    For me, this is the only blog currently that I read everyday – or twice a day!
    Happy 3 day weekend.

  43. Jo, your happiness with the life you’ve crafted is a true measure of success! My friend let me borrow a book she had checked out from her local library and as I was leafing through, I saw your and Kelli’s name as designers of one of the quilts! I was tickled seeing someone I “know” in the book!!

  44. Jo, I just got the chance to read your blog as I have been in the hospital but felt I had to comment. Each of us has been given gifts from God, and you are using yours. Your family is very important as it should be. Your love of children is wonderful, and after that is your love of quilting. You should keep doing what you want to do, don’t let anyone push you. Love what you do and enjoy your gifts. May God bless and I hope your foot heals soon.

  45. Being retired now, I’m finally got to be just what I wanted and that’s a house wife! I know exactly what you’re talking about! I certainly can understand not wanting to turn your hobby into a job! You are a very lucky lady in that your daughter loves the same hobby as you do and enjoys doing it with you. ((Hugs))

  46. I’m not as good at expressing myself as you are. Thank you. What you said is exactly how I feel. I am sooo blessed to be able to be “in” my children’s lives and now my 21 grandchildren. Quilting brings me great joy but my “full” joy comes from my family and knowing I am a child of God. I’m grateful you were able to express how important family is!! Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU!!

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