I Love A Challenge

Scrapbag Bouquet Quilt

Scrapbag Bouquet, Simply Quilts Scrapbag Challenge entry made by Tom Russell, quilted by Kathy Drew.

Why Tom? Why do you love a challenge? Well, thank you for asking. I love a challenge because a challenge usually offers me an opportunity to grow in some way, to try something new and to stretch my creative muscles.

Little Challenges Sometimes a challenge can be small. Such as, can I still get into those jeans, or will anyone notice that I’m wearing the same clothes that I had on yesterday? We won’t go into why I’m wearing the same clothes—but there’s a very good reason. DON’T JUDGE ME!

Slightly Bigger Challenges Other times the stakes are a little higher, like when I’m at a restaurant with a group of friends. (This happened recently during my Dallas trip.) At the end of an amazing and totally satisfying meal, the waiter comes to the table and asks if anyone is interested in dessert? After the massive amount of food that had been consumed, he was expecting everyone to decline. Most members of the League declined, but I asked to see the dessert tray. (What can I say, I’m a bad influence.) Once the dessert tray arrived at the table, several League members decided that they might be able to eat just a little bit more—but a whole dessert—well, that was just too much. They were just too stuffed.

For each dessert ordered, the  waiter was told to bring two spoons. (Share the love. That is what quilters do best. Or, guilt is lessened when shared.) When he got to me, I ordered cheesecake and told him I would only need one spoon. League members were shocked and thought I would share. “That cheesecake is far too big for one person,” they said. (They obviously don’t know me—and my love of cheesecake.) As League members shared their wonderful desserts, they sat in dismay as they watched me gleefully consume each and every bite of my rich and creamy dessert. I would have licked the plate, but I only do that at home. My mother raised me right after all. Oh, I love a challenge and I definitely love cheesecake. I can honestly say—so far—I have met each and every cheesecake challenge, and I look forward to conquering the next one.

The Biggest Challenges Beyond the occasional cheesecake challenge, I love creative challenges. These challenges are always the most fun for me, and the added benefit is they allow me to still get into my jeans. The quilt shown above, Scrapbag Bouquet is an example of one of my best known creative challenges. This quilt was my entrant into the first Simply Quilts Scrapbag Challenge.

For the challenge, I was given 103, five-inch squares of fabric and one month to create a quilt. If that weren’t enough of a challenge, I had the added stress of presenting how I solved the challenge on TV.

The BEST Challenges I can honestly say that this challenge changed my life. Sure there were several moments throughout the process that I wondered what I had gotten myself into. There were challenges every step of the way. Everything I was working with was not mine. I was working with fabric I didn’t pick, didn’t want, and in colors I didn’t like. I was given no direction—other than to use it—and use ALL of it. I was given a ridiculous deadline that I could not miss. I also knew that if I didn’t come up with something, it was going to be obvious to millions of quilters that I was a fraud.

I wasn’t going to be showing my lack of skill or vision to a small supportive group of friends—NO—I was going to be exposed as a complete LOSER and FAILURE on national television, and I knew I would be forever banned from quilting after the episode aired. I knew I would be destined to roam the earth alone, clinching tightly to a dull rusty needle, constantly murmuring “but please Alex, let me explain. . . .” A sad, lonely, somewhat strange man. I would be an outcast among my people.

After a certain amount of whining and wailing about the mess I had gotten myself into, I decided to take on the Simply Quilts challenge with the same gusto and vigor I muster when confronted with a slice of cheesecake. This change in attitude changed everything. I was able to take all the previous obstacles and turn them into opportunities. Changing your attitude can help you achieve great things. I learned that you never know what you are capable of until you try. I also learned that when you participate in a challenge, you are not competing with others, you are actually competing with yourself. When you look at it this way, giving up is not an option.

Lessons Learned This quilt taught me a lot, to put it mildly. It wasn’t a painless process, but it was a great learning experience. It’s an experience I make myself have over and over again. I constantly challenge myself with each new quilt I make. I want to learn something new from each project. Beyond challenging myself with new techniques, I push myself to perfect the skills I have. I want to explore and experiment with each and every step of the process. With this approach, each new quilt becomes an adventure. The one thing I would really love to learn is how to make quilts as fast as I come up with new ideas for them.

Surprising Outcomes As I said, this challenge changed my life in ways I could not have imagined. After the show aired something special happened . . .

Was that a great lead-in or what? You’ll have to come back tomorrow to learn the rest of the story.


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21 Responses to “I Love A Challenge”

  1. Kathy Colvin Says:

    Can’t wait to see what happened! I love the way you see everything as a challenge…not a problem, but a challenge.

  2. Patricia Eaton Says:

    Tom, Some of us were cheering you every step of the way as you met this challenge. And, we were all pleased to see you on tv….looking very creative and doing a fine job explaining how you approached the challenge. And, I feel that way now as you approach this blog thing….I’m so proud of you!! pat

  3. Sherry Ford Says:

    Tom, I love that you are including a tag for “cheesecake” on your blog! What a man! You know I love this quilt and so look forward to seeing more and more of your work here on your blog.

    • Tom Russell Says:

      HA! I’m glad someone noticed that. I LOVE CHEESECAKE, but only the big-as-your-head kind, not the skinny little pie looking kind. Nope, don’t like those at all. There is no challenge there.

  4. Jayardi Says:

    • • • You are my HERO!

  5. Sue, a Florida Farm Girl Says:

    Hi Tom — that challenge quilt is gorgeous. And thanks for your little line about changing the attitude toward the challenge. Just what I need right now for a little quilting challenge of my own, and time is passing quickly!! I’ll be checking in regularly.

    And you are right. Jayardi is an amazing woman and I’m hoping to have one of those lovelies come home with me on April 29!!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Hi Sue, Thanks. I’m glad you like my little quilt. A change in attitude can change everything. It goes far beyond a cup half empty or a cup half full.

      I’ll be keeping my fingers crosses that one of those quilts to live at my house.

  6. Gari Says:

    What a great story! I can’t wait for the next part……… if your blog was a book I’d be flipping through the pages like a crazy gal, “whoosh – whoosh”!
    I too am a lover of cheesecake and I LOVE your bold, “One spoon” confidence! I’ll be thinking of cheesecake all day as I tackle my challenges. GREAT BLOG!!

  7. Gari Says:

    Oh, and as far as wearing the same clothes the next day….. I TOTALLY get it!!! I think more people understand that than you might expect!

  8. kathydrew Says:

    That quilt is still one of my favorites. Anything you do is always amazing and happy. I remember how excited I was when you were on Simply Quilts and how very well you did. I love visiting your blog Tom and I am here on a daily basis. The way you express yourself is so entertaining and I can hear you talking as I read. You are the best

    • Tom Russell Says:

      It’s one of my favorites too. Every time I get to share it, I get lost in all your lovely quilting. Someone always asks who quilted it, then I get to tell them about you.

      Now I’ll be able to tell them they can see even more of your work on your BRAND NEW BLOG!!! http://kathydrew.wordpress.com/

  9. JoAnn Says:

    ALways room for dessert, that’s my motto. Ritzy Thimble has a group going to Cincinnati in April for the IQS show, 3 days ,2 nights. Seats available on the bus . Wish you were in Knoxville and going with us. I am in charge, look out….have gotten a lot of prizes and gifts to keep the ladies smiling…Love the blog. Hugs……

    • Tom Russell Says:

      I agree. Even if I’m about to pop, I have to check out the dessert tray. Your trip sounds so much fun. I would be there to join you if I could. Spending three days and two nights with the Ritzy ladies is a prize all by itself.

      Tell everyone hi, and I think of them often.

  10. Bonnie Nyquist Says:

    Tom, that was my most favorite segment ever on SQ,and you did a msterful job teling how you approached this project. I have to smile every time I watch it as Alex just cannot contain her excitment with what you had done. The other two ladies did a great job also,but yours, well..out of the box wonderful!

    • Tom Russell Says:

      Thanks Bonnie, you are way too kind. There have been a lot of amazing guests on Simply Quilts during its 11 year run. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been one of them.

      Yep, Alex was pretty excited about my quilt. After all the quilts she has seen, I was flattered by her praise.

  11. Linda Teddlie Minton Says:

    Tom, I had the pleasure of custom quilting one of your quilt designs for a customer a while back … it was so much fun because the colors and flowers were so wacky and cheerful. Looking forward to seeing what you are up to next!

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