• Sarah Hunter

5 Ways to Beat (Quilting) Burnout

Has doing laundry ever sounded like a better idea than sewing? Have you have ever felt bored, frustrated or resentful of your hobby? Is there a work in progress (WIP) that you keep putting off and you don’t know why?

If you said yes, you’re in good company my friend. Creative genius Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Frida Kahlo and Tchaikovsky were all reported to have suffered from creative burnout. In fact, almost every quilter I know has experienced it at least once, myself included.

As an overachieving, Type A personality with a penchant for tying her self-worth to her work, I’ve gone thru many, many burnout cycles. I learn something new each time and add it to my toolkit for the next round. Although there are thousands of articles about it, I want to share some of my best tips for overcoming burnout based on my experience as a sewist and quilter.

How to Identify Burnout

A sculpture of three monkeys, see no evil,  hear not evil
My brain is the one in the middle.

Here’s a transcript of the conversation between my body and my brain over the last six months…

November 2020

Body: ‘Hey, you’re not feeling well, how about we take a break?”

Brain: “Eat dirt! I’ve got this under control.”

Body: “I really think you need to take better care of yourself”

Brain: “Are you kidding me? I workout daily. I eat well. I sleep okay. And besides, I have to finish writing this pattern and three other quilt projects.

December 2020

Body: “We have walking pneumonia.”

Brain: “What? I cant hear you! LALALALALALALA!” (see picture above)

February 2021

Body: “We have shingles. Studies suggest shingles is caused by prolonged periods of stress and a suppressed immune system.”

Brain: “Huh. Neat. Could you please pass the cortisone cream and shut the hell up? I’ve got stuff to do.”

April 2021

Body: “You know what’s really sexy? That reoccurring skin infection we get every time you become neurotic about a project, like the one we have now”

Brain: “Ok, you might be onto something but I have three big deadlines between now and June. Then I’ll take some time off.”

Body: *face palm*🤦‍♀️

May 2021

Body: “Hey, nice bald spot. Told you so.”

Brain: OMGSH MY HAIR! Okay okay, you win! I’ll stop, just give me my damn hair back!“

A bald spot on on the back of a woman's head
My bald spot is now on the world wide web.

Just because you don’t have voices in your head or a bald spot like I do doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing burnout. Here are a few other symptoms:

Procrastination – A project you couldn’t wait to get started on now feels like a burden that you have to finish. You keep pushing it off or hide it in a drawer to avoid feeling guilty. Even if would only take 30 minutes, you've been pushing it off for weeks.

Loss of interest– Do you feel more deflated after scrolling thru Instagram or Pinterest, rather than more inspired? I know I'm getting close to burnout when I don't get excited about a new fabric collection or quilt pattern at least once a week.

Physical stress –Thankfully, baldness is not usually the first sign something isn’t right. Watch for changes to your sleep pattern, a sudden onset of mental fogginess or long periods of physical exhaustion. Don’t make your body scream at you to get your attention like I did.

5 Ways to Overcome Creative Burnout

If you were nodding your head as you read over the symptoms mentioned above, have no fear! Here are my favorite ways to get out of that creative funk and start having fun again.

1. Take a vacation… from social media.

Start with a 24 hour break, then lengthen it until you no longer feel exhausted at the mere idea of checking your notifications.

Speaking of notifications: TURN THEM OFF. Do you really need to be pinged 500 times a day with each email, comment and like? Do you really like having your attention pulled in every direction all day long? Nope! This is my number one life hack to restore your sanity.

If you’re a business or influencer, I know what your thinking. “If I stop posting then they (Instagram or Facebook) will stop showing my posts to people!” Yes, they probably will for a few days but you know what? It’s not forever. Your followers will be there when you come back and your content will be fresh and natural. If you’re posting because you think you have to in order to please the algorithm, then your content is forced and people can tell. When that happens, you’re losing the battle and the war.

2. Try something completely new

Burnout isn’t ALL bad. Being in a creative depression is how I discovered that I love foundation paper piecing, cross stitch and making hexies. Find a YouTube video or a tutorial about the new skill you’ve been wanting to learn but haven’t had the time. Now IS the time! Start small by making a single block or small project instead of starting a new quilt.

3. Give yourself permission to take a break

Say it with me now: “There is nothing wrong with walking away.” Take a sabbatical from creativity altogether if you don’t feel like making anything. As with any emotion, this too shall pass and chances are you will feel renewed when you decide to come back to it.

4. Embrace “good enough”

Spoiler alert! We never do our best work when we’re burnt out. Give yourself a healthy dose of grace, a heaping dose of chocolate and take the week off from striving for perfection and instead aim for good enough.

5. Avoid deadlines at all costs

For those of us in the quilt business this isn’t always possible, but in retrospect, the vast majority of my deadlines are self-imposed and I’m the only one holding myself to them. Can you relate?

I truly believe that deadlines are the fastest way to turn a hobby we love into a hobby we loathe. Can you take a break from pattern testing or start a quilt gift a month earlier than normal? Which deadlines can be removed and adjusted? When I ask myself these questions and make a few adjustments to my agenda, I feel a sense of relief!

Full Transparency

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to avoid burnout completely but I know that I’m bouncing back faster than I used to. Finding the right balance is a constantly moving target.

Which one of the tips above will you try first? Let me know in the comments below, I read every single one! Don't forget to save this to Pinterest or print it out and hang it somewhere you will see it daily.