ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Still at It!

Last week while selling hand-dyed fabrics at the quilt show, someone posed this question to me: "are you still at it"?  It is a question I get with some regularity, as though one would expect I might have given up by now ;-). I suspect there is a belief out there that making a living as a quilt artist is not possible. I used to hold this belief myself..The fact is that, at the age of 53, if I "give up" I will quite simply have to find a conventional 9-5 job. Those of us who decide to make a career as a quilt artist do so partly because we don't fit into that 9-5 mold anymore. So I've always approached my job with the attitude that I have to be successful at it because the alternative (fitting into a regular job again) is unbearable to think about. I am sure we all have difference definitions of success as well.

Given that I finally had some time to breathe this past week, I  had some much-needed time to reflect. And being out in nature (at Mer Bleu Conservation Area) for a beautiful walk on a glorious sunny Sunday of a long weekend here in Canada, my mind was free and clear to wander.

There is much about this career that you can't control, but there is one thing that is a given. You won't make it without a lot of hard work. I think it is way more necessary than talent.

Now I'm sure you will find reading what I have to say more enjoyable with some beautiful visual stimulation so I'm including photos from our walk.

What keeps the skies blue in my world is being my own boss, having a certain amount of freedom, being able to travel, and having good health. Health is a subject I've reflected a lot on this year. This year marks an important anniversary for me. In 1985 (30 years ago!) I faced a life-threatening medical condition when a malignant tumor was diagnosed in my left ear. Many of you know that I am deaf on my left side, but you may not have known why. This landmark year brings me happiness each day. When the illness was discovered I felt my future uncertain, and yet here I am much happier 30 years later. This anniversary also gives me endless excuses for being good to myself. Stay tuned as I strike off a few items on my bucket list this year!

Three and a half years ago I had another scare when my knee gave out on me and swelled to monumental proportions. I was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis. Worries about my career being curtailed plagued me for a very long time.  An exercise program helped me a great deal. Despite that, I've suffered a lot of pain in the last couple of years. Not my knees so much as other parts of my body (hips, legs, shoulders) that operate and line up differently than they should because they accommodate for my knees (which have little cartiledge left under the kneecaps). Early this year I learned that the brand of athletic shoes I've worn for a decade for my foot issues have been discontinued. This lead to a search for a new shoe, a lot of pain, a lot of expense, a lot of trials and errors.

Finally, I've found a new shoe that isn't leaving me in pain and that I don't dread stepping into in the morning. I am a happy camper! I'm walking my path a little easier now.

Being a travelling teacher has its challenges. I usually need to take two large pieces of check-in luggage when I fly. When I drive my car is usually filled to capacity with "stuff". Of course we teachers have wheels on our suitcases and wheeled carts, but that doesn't always work when we encounter a billet with stairs or a lecture hall or classroom with stairs. I've started asking for a hotel room as a first preference in my contract because I know there will be an elevator. It also gives me much-needed down time after a day of teaching. I still stay in homes if they can provide a ground floor bed and bath, and if they aren't able to provide that, then I need help with my bags. A few trips ago I came home with shoulder and elbow problems from pulling around a heavy bag. Those pains lingered through, and worsened, with all the dyeing, ironing, and cutting. 

Seven and a half years ago when I became a full-time artist and teacher, I kept a crazier pace. Yes, I do just as much teaching as then, perhaps more, but now I try to book time to myself between bookings, even if only a day alone at a hotel somewhere. I am taking better care of myself. If I don't, who will?

So yes I AM STILL AT IT!! And if time ever permits, you might see more quilted art works in the hosta theme (as well as new themes). I took these photos yesterday right in my own yard.

I even turned on my sewing machine yesterday. Don't get too excited thinking a piece of quilted art is soon going to emerge. It was only to fix a blouse. I know that teaching schedules ebb and flow. Sometimes you are in more demand, sometimes less. There will be days in the studio again. Right now I'm just counting my blessings.


  1. Take care! Your photos are beautiful.

  2. What a wonderfully reflective piece. Sometimes it takes turning off our outer listening to hear our inner thoughts, desires and needs. Being gentle and caring to oneself is not only the best thing we can do for ourselves it is the only thing we need to do. I have yet to find a more inspiring teacher and a blog that is the first thing I search for. All the best and good luck with ticking off the items on your bucket list. Jackie

  3. Thank you Jackie for your lovely response and your kind comments. Now ... I know a few people by the name of Jackie so I'm not sure which of the Jackies you are? I do, however, appreciate your post, and it made my day :-))

  4. Did you get my last message Elaine, about sticking at it?

  5. Elaine, I'm sorry you've been experiencing so much pain, but I certainly understand how problems in one area (knee for instance) translate to problems elsewhere when you don't walk right to compensate. But I'm constantly amazed at how much you get done with traveling and teaching and dyeing! Glad you schedule some down time to rest.
    The 4th, 5th, and 8th pictures on your post wouldn't open, and I'm very interested in the shoes you've found (if pic. 4 was actually of shoes). Love the hosta picture from your yard.

  6. Thanks for your note Martha. I hope my blog post didn't sound too whiney ... I wrote it because I am feeling a lot better!! I wore Etonic shoes for more than a decade, and bought them at the foot clinic where I have my orthotics made. When the shoes were discontinued, I tried many shoes, and have found the New Balance Mens M1260 to be fantastic. I am wearing a 2E width, so have to go with mens. Here is a link:
    http://www.newbalance.ca/New%20Balance%201260v4/M1260-V4,en_CA,pd.html#color=Silver_with_Bright Blue_and_Lime
    Great support and lots of cushioning. I am a happy camper!!
    I just checked my blog and the photos loaded OK for me. There were no pics of shoes, just more of the peat bog, and hosta plants in my yard.

  7. My two fledgling hosta survived their first winter in my prairie garden and have appeared again this year. To celebrate, I bought a third...and thought of you! Glad to hear you are "still" at it, with improving health, and joyfully so!

    1. Thank you for your lovely note Margaret. I am happy to hear about your intrepid hosta plants. Thank you for thinking of me. I will be in Edmonton later in June!


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