Sunday, April 5, 2020

Spirit Song Flimsy Finished + Streaks Motivation App Review: Harnessing Technology to Reach the Flow Zone Through Quiltmaking

Look what I finished yesterday!  My Spirit Song flimsy is finished!  (For those non-quilters or new quilters reading this, a "flimsy" is another name for a quilt top -- the pieced or appliqued top layer of a quilt, prior to being sandwiched with fluffy batting and a backing fabric that are all held together by quilting stitches that go through all three layers of the quilt).

My Spirit Song Quilt Top, 59 x 75, Ready for Quilting
My borders are nice and straight, too, not crooked as the appear in the photo above.  I slapped the finished quilt top on my design wall by myself, without a helper to assist in getting it up there straight.  I wanted to get a picture of the flimsy before loading it on the quilting frame that I can use to plan quilting designs on my iPad.  I am going to have SEW MUCH FUN quilting this one!!  If I hadn't already named it Spirit Song, I'd probably name it Pink Lemonade.

Getting the Job Done...  (Why Don't Berninas Come With Drink Holders?)
My blue inner border has a finished width of 1" and as of right now, the outer border will be 4 1/2" wide once the binding covers up the outer 1/4".  Or I might trim it down after quilting to be 4" like the Birds In the Air blocks.  You can always trim it down to make it smaller, but you can't trim it down to make it bigger if you cut it too small to begin with!

Borders In Progress
In that first photo on the design wall (taken at night with studio lighting), the outer border looks really dark and nearly red.  The progress shot above shows more accurate color -- hot pink with purple background and touches of orange and blue.  I think it "converses" nicely with the fabrics in the quilt top while containing the chaos of all those busy prints, and it achieves my purpose of steering the whole quilt back to a balance of pink, peach, coral, and orange.  It was feeling a bit too orange for me before I added the borders.  

Quick, Take a Picture!  Rebecca's Studio is Tidy Today!
The biggest hurdle I had to get over before I could finish this quilt top was that my workspace was constricted by a mess.  I need my whole cutting table cleared off in order to cut long strips of fabric accurately and I need my whole cutting table cleared off in order to pin those borders to the edges of the quilt, but prior to last week there were abandoned class projects, new fabric and tools not yet put away, and bits of pieces of other projects piled all over that table so that only about two square feet of it was available for cutting.  

Design Wall du Jour: Spirit Song on Left, Beware the Ishmaelites Sampler Blocks on Right
And yet, if I spend an hour in my studio tidying up and putting things away but didn't sew anything, I feel like nothing was accomplished.  I've decided that from now on, the unglamorous but essential time spent cleaning up from one task and getting ready for the next one counts as sewing time, at least for me.  And, speaking of keeping track of sewing time...

Artist Crystal Moody at Work in Her Studio

Crystal Moody and The Power of Daily Practice

I read an interesting article by Crystal Moody on the Craft Industry Alliance blog a few days ago entitled "The Power of Daily Practice."  Moody is a visual artist who challenged herself four years ago to build a habit of doing at least one line drawing or spending at least 20 minutes painting every single day in order to hone her craft.  Her article is very insightful about identifying the obstacles that get in the way of achieving these kinds of goals as well as how to track your successes, stay motivated, and best practices to keep from "falling off the wagon."  Having been in a slump of my own recently, and with a hulking longarm quilting machine that I have not spent enough time with to master, I couldn't help wondering whether Moody's method -- setting a goal of just getting in there and doing SOMETHING for only 20 minutes every single day -- might work better for me than trying to self-motivate with these larger task completion goals I've been setting each week (piece two blocks, borders attached, etc.) -- especially since I consistently, VASTLY underestimate how much time those tasks will complete, setting goals that I fail to reach week after week and month after month.  Not very encouraging!  

One suggestion Moody shared is that she tracked her progress -- how many days she got that 20 minutes of practice in -- by X'ing off those days on a wall calendar.  You start to see a "streak" that way, however many days in a row you did the thing you are trying to do consistently, and it motivates you to keep going so as not to break the streak of X's on the calendar.  But a wall calendar only motivates you if you're in the room that has the calendar on the wall, right?  If my wall calendar is upstairs in my studio, I'm not even going to see it if I don't go up there for a week.  

"Move Rings" on Apple Watch.  Rings Close to a Circle When Goals are Met
But then I remembered the "Move Rings" on my husband's and my sons' Apple Watches.  What you see above is an app that comes already installed on Apple Watches, with different colored rings to track things like the number of steps you take per day, how often you get up and stand throughout the day, and how many minutes out of the day your heart rate is elevated from cardio exercise of any kind.  Users can adjust those goals to their liking and then see a visual for how they are doing right there on their wrist every time they check the time.  The app also tracks "streaks" -- how many days in a row you met those goals -- a high tech version of what Moody suggests for staying on track with daily art practice, and a visual reminder that follows you around all day long.  The Apple Watch is able to track movement (steps), standing, and cardio (elevated heart rate) automatically, but surely someone has created a similar app to help people with non-exercise goals, right?  

Introducing My New Favorite Quilting App, Streaks for Apple Devices!

A bit of Internet research led me to the highly rated, Apple Design Award winning, highly customizable Streaks app that syncs across all of my Apple devices.  I've been using it for several days now and I'm loving it!

Streaks App for Apple Devices Lets You Track ANY Kind of Goal
With all of the Apple stores closed due to our state-wide Stay at Home order, I had to order my Apple Watch online and it won't arrive until April 9th.  (I had already decided to get an Apple Watch before discovering this app, so that I can play music on my earphones while out walking without lugging my phone around with me).  Meanwhile, here's what the Streaks app looks like on my iPhone 11 Pro Max:

Streaks App for iPhone, available here
As you can see, I've customized the appearance of the app by changing the background from the default orange to this purply color.  I've created four goals of three different types for myself:
  • The "Walk 5,000 Steps" goal is completely automatic because it ties into the information in the built-in Health app that is already tracking my steps throughout the day. I don't carry my phone around with me as I move around the house, so the total number of steps in the Health app isn't very accurate right now.  But I have been trying to remember to take the phone with me when I go for my walk, so that's where those 5,000 steps are coming from.  I will adjust that goal as needed get more out of it when my Apple Watch arrives.  This circle is solid white with a little star next to a 4 because I've completed my walking goal for four days in a row (and the goal was completed when I took the screen shot).
  • 30 Minutes Quilting and Read a Book are both TIMED goals.  Unlike the exercise goals that my phone and watch can track automatically, my devices have no way of knowing that I'm engaged in reading or quilting.  In the screen shot above, the Quilting icon has a white circle background and a star next to a 4 because I'd already met that goal for the day when I took the screen shot and I had a 4-day streak of meeting that goal every day.  But at the beginning of the day, the Quilting goal looks like the Reading goal just below -- the icon has a purple background and a start/play arrow that I can tap to start the timer.  I can also pause the timer if I'm interrupted.  Another cool feature with this app is that I was able to enable and customize Siri commands, so I don't have to open the app to start those timers -- I just have to say "Hey, Siri, start quilting timer."  And when I've reached my 30 minute goal, the app plays a happy noise and the circle changes to solid white for Complete.  Cool, right?!  This would also be a great way to track daily music practice -- and yes, there are violin and piano icons that you can select when you create a music practice task.  There are TONS of icons to choose from, for just about any habit you're hoping to create -- or trying to break.
  • The "No Food After 8 PM" goal is a NEGATIVE goal -- something that I would tap to mark off a failure rather than a successful completion.   I get acid reflux overnight if there's food in my stomach when I lie down to sleep, and stomach acid burning your vocal cords every night is not very helpful for singing!  I don't need to take medication for the reflux as long as I remember not to eat after 8 PM, so this is something I want to be mindful of.  Other negative goals you might want to track would be "no sweets," "no cigarettes," "no swearing," or "no whatever-it-is-you're-giving-up-for-lent."  In the screen shot above, my No Food After 8 PM circle is going to stay solid white and track each day as a successful completion UNLESS I tap that circle to tell the app I messed up and ate a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream at 11 PM...  Hypothetically, you understand, wink wink...
  • Not Shown: a Regular, Non-Timed Task to Check Off.  The other kind of goal, that I haven't happened to set for myself, would be the opposite of my No Food after 8 PM goal, something that I wanted to do each day that doesn't need to be timed, like "Physical Therapy Stretches" or "Feed the Dog."  I am sure I'll set goals like that at some point in the future, but wanted to start out with just these four for now.

What makes the Streaks app so useful is how well it integrates with your Apple device and how customizable it is.  You can set each goal for once per day, multiple times per day, or times per month, or a certain number of days out of the month.  I've set each of my goals for 29 days out of the month so, if something unexpected comes up and I just can't get in the studio or open a book that day, it can be like a "cheat day" on the diet and I won't fall off the wagon just from one or two missed days.  On the integration side, I also love that I was able to add the Streaks widget to my Today View screen on my iPhone so I can get to it quickly just by swiping to the right on my lock screen or home screen:

Streaks App on Today View Screen of My iPhone 11 Pro Max
I am looking forward to seeing these goals as "complications" on my watch face as well, so I can keep my goals front-of-mind even better:

Streaks "Complications" for Apple Watch
(For an explanation of Apple Watch "complications" and how they can be used to customize an Apple Watch, click here).  This Streaks app has definitely been beneficial in helping me get out of my slump and get the borders sewn onto Spirit Song, and it's gotten me outside in the sunshine every day for the past few days, too.  I'm hoping that it will help me to spend more of my time doing the things I want to be doing, rather than having these endless days of quarantine melt into one another and fritter away with endless hours of news-watching, social media surfing, or even too much time writing blog posts at the computer, cough cough...

A Final Note About My Goal Strategy and How it Relates to Flow Theory

Just to be clear, I am NOT using the Streaks app to track the TOTAL amount of time I'm quilting/reading, or even the total number of steps I'm taking throughout the day.  I'm using it to track whether I spend my MINIMUM amount of time doing those activities each day and whether I've taken the MINIMUM number of steps I've set for each day.  When I started using the app, I set my reading goal to one hour.  Several days went by of not meeting the goal, because I felt like "it's too close to bed time/I'm too tired/I don't have an hour right now."  So I revised that down to the ridiculously low 15 minute goal, because I'm never too tired to read for 15 minutes, right?  And what usually happens is that, by the time I've been reading for 15 minutes, I'm absorbed in my book and I'm probably going to keep on reading for a lot longer than 15 minutes.  Same thing with the 30 minutes quilting goal.  I knew I needed the goal to be longer than 15 minutes because it takes me that long to turn on the lights, plug in the iron, and oil and warm up the longarm machine without sewing a single stitch!  But I wanted to keep the time small and attainable -- like Moody's 20 minutes of painting every day -- so that I would be less likely to blow it off altogether on a busy day when I didn't have an hour or two to spend in my studio.  Every single day that I met my 30 Minutes Quilting goal, I actually spent much longer working in my studio, and that's the whole point.  I know that my biggest challenge is task initiation, or switching from one task to another.  Once I've been working in the studio for 30 minutes, I am in a "flow state" where I am enjoying myself and want to keep going without needing to keep track of time anymore.  Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described this experience in a 2015 NPR interview about achieving happiness, and what makes life worth living.  (You can listen to that interview or read the transcript here).  Here's Csikszentmihalyi discussing a composer's experience of getting lost in the crafting of a musical composition: 

"...This is so intense an experience that it feels almost as if he didn't exist. And that sounds like kind of a romantic exaggeration. But actually our nervous system is incapable of processing more than about 110 bits of information per second. And in order to hear me and understand what I'm saying, you need to process about 60 bits per second. That's why you can't understand more than two people talking to you. Well, when you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new, as this man does, he doesn't have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels or his problems at home. He can't feel even that he's hungry or tired. His body disappears. His identity disappears from his consciousness because he doesn't have enough attention - like none of us do - to really do well something that requires a lot of concentration and at the same time to feel that he exists, so existence temporarily suspended. Now, when that happens, the music just flows out. And so many of the people described this as a spontaneous flow that I call this type of experience the flow experience."
Let that sink in for a minute -- when you are intensely involved in creating something new, challenging yourself and pushing yourself to the limits of your technical and creative abilities, all of the troubles of the world outside and even your own body's aches, pains, hunger and fatigue disappear.  Who doesn't need some FLOW in their lives during a pandemic, right?!  

HIGH Challenge Level Plus HIGH Skill Level Leads to FLOW State
This theory also helps me to see my tendency to deliberately seek out challenges in amore positive light.  Perfectionism -- holding oneself to unattainable standards -- is unhealthy and destructive, yes -- and I do sometimes veer off in that direction if I'm not careful.  But  seeking out challenges is not automatically perfectionism, and setting challenges that push you to your limits is the only way you can ever reach that Flow state that Csikszentmihalyi discovered was common to creative people who report feeling happy and fulfilled in their lives (see visual above, shamelessly pilfered from Wikipedia).  So, consider that crazy-complex quilt block I shared here recently (Nancy Cabot's 1933 Cathedral Window, with 16 Y-seams in a single block):

High Challenge + High Skill Level (My Cathedral Window block, Designed by Nancy Cabot in 1933)
Several readers commented that I could redraft that block to eliminate the challenging Y-seams by subdividing eight of those triangles, and that would absolutely be an easier version of this block.  That's a great idea for someone who is on a time crunch, or for a beginner who isn't yet ready to tackle the challenge presented by this design.  That would absolutely make the block easier.  (Scroll back up to that "Flow Chart" and you'll see that combining a very high challenge level with very low, beginner skills leads to Anxiety instead of to Flow!)  

But for me, the original block design had that perfect combination of a high challenge level that would engage my highest skill levels, bringing me into the Flow zone.  If I had simplified the construction to where I could piece this block on autopilot, my mind could still be consumed by the scary headlines and worries of the day and I would not have enjoyed the process nearly as much.  There's definitely a time and place for "mindless sewing," which for me would be the needleturned applique that I take along for my quilting bee, something I can stitch automatically while engaging in six conversations at once (SERIOUSLY!!  We are a gabby bunch!!)

Another interesting takeaway is that you need to build up your skill level in a particular activity BEFORE you can get into a flow state with it.  That circles us back around to my beginner longarm skills, which have not been advancing in my sleep over the months and months of not practicing -- and it also bring me back Moody's article about creating a habit of daily practice in order to develop her skills as an artist.  That longarm machine is just a giant pencil that draws with stitches of thread, and the only way to get better at drawing with that machine is to actually spend time practicing on a regular basis.  

I thought about setting separate goals for actual longarm quilting practice versus my generic quilting goal that encompasses all of the processes that go into a quilt from cutting out the fabric to stitching down the binding, but I opted against being that specific.  There is always SOMETHING I can work on in the studio to further the process of quiltmaking (and get a work-in-progress closer to being a quilt on the frame), but there is not always a quilt already loaded on the longarm, ready to be quilted on for 30 minutes.  Blah, blah, blah -- are you bored yet?  Let's look at my finished quilt top again:

One Last Look at My Finished Spirit Song Flimsy Before We Go
Whew -- you know what else gets me "into my flow zone?"  Researching Flow Theory and habit formation and writing ridiculously long blog posts!  I ought to have cookies or something to reward those of you who are able to stick with these sagas and read them all the way through to the end.  :-). Hah!  

I'm linking up today's post with:

·       Slow Sunday Stitching at Kathy's Quilts  
·       Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework
·       Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  
·       Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt
·       BOMs Away Katie Mae Quilts  
·       Whoop Whoop Fridays at Confessions of a Fabric Addict
·       Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More
·       Beauty Pageant at From Bolt to Beauty
·       Finished Or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts
·       Off the Wall Friday at Nina Marie Sayre
·       TGIFF Thank Goodness It’s Finished Friday, rotates, schedule found here:  

·       UFO Busting at Tish in Wonderland


Paula said...

Spirit Song is lovely. I thought it would be an awesome quilt from your very first post and I'm so happy it turned out lovely. Thanks for sharing the journey with us.

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

love your workroom and the quilt!! I don't carry my phone every where either - sometimes just plain no pockets! I do have my fitbit though and I either wear on my wrist everyday or in a necklace that was made for it. I try for my 10,000 every day but the last two weeks I barely made a total of 40,000 a week - this week I am determined to get back on schedule and have nearly 6,000 just for today.

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

what a great workroom you have! I just love it. I carry by fitbit with me all the time and try for 10,000 every day but the past two weeks I have failed, I need to get back to business here on walking and exercising

Kathleen said...

The borders are perfect on Spirit Song and I know what you mean about the cleaning as quilting time. I am always caught between just finish this or sew a little on this project instead or pull some fabric and then it is chaos. I think my groove is to get it cleaned up and ready for the next day works pretty well for me. NOW, about that app - I have looked for something for awhile, but not in recent months....this sounds perfect! I will download it and see how it works for me. Thanks for the hint.

abelian said...

Thanks for the review of Streaks. I'm off to get it. You will love your Apple Watch. I've had mine for about a year, and can't imagine doing without it.

Dot in Wilmington

Chris said...

I do not have any Apple products nor do I carry a cell phone with me everywhere. I do have one but it is either dead or my Granddaughter is borrowing it to play games which is why it is usually dead. Nor do I have a longarm to fret about. I listen to the news at breakfast time then again at night sometimes to be aware of what I need to be aware of. Having said all this, I sleep well at night and have peace until the grand children start fighting like just happened now.
Your Spirit Song flimsy looks amazing. It certainly is bright and well coordinated. I like the idea of being challenged to the point of forgetting all else.

Gretchen Weaver said...

Spirit Song is so beautiful, I love it, love the colors, love the brightness, love the feeling of happiness from jus looking at it! However you decide to quilt, I know it's going to be wonderful!

The Joyful Quilter said...

Where's my cookie? Oh! While you're at it, you could always make another quilt just like this one to call Pink Lemonade. Since you already have My Spirit Song, you can just mail that one to me! (Minus the pink border, please. The more orange pre-Kaffe border suited me perfectly.)

Ruth L. said...

Oh my! Flow state!?! A limit on how much information our brains can process in a second!?! My mind is blown. I've never been able to conceptualize why I can sometimes focus on a task to the point of being oblivious of what is going on around me, most especially the passage of time. It takes being interrupted, the completion of/roadblock in that task, or occasionally just plain old fatigue to pull me from it. I did my best programming work after most others had left and it usually left me feeling happy. Thank you for helping me understand it. Oh, and your quilt is gorgeous and your border fabric choices were well done. Now go play on that long arm!

SJSM said...

So that’s what I do just about every time I go into the sewing studio. FLOW! I just know sewing is my happy place. When I’ve tackle a hard project going to an easy mindless one brings me relaxation. When I am actively engaged on a tough one it turns dark outside and I wonder where the day went. Now, how to unkind those shoulders?

Thanks for the Flow talk.

duClay Chapter of EGA said...

I love Spirit Song! Your border choices are fantastic!

Vivian said...

As they say, you were clearly "moving with the Spirit" to get Spirit Song done! The colors in this work so well --- just juicy, like a sip of that Pink Lemonade! I think I need to add those minimums to my daily plans too -- I'm more likely to hit a streak of *not quilting* once I initiate it. The article I had read about "Flow" had talked about the steps to it and the tipping point is that "sense of control over your actions" -- that point at where you see the challenge ahead but have confidence you can accomplish it with applied effort. That's why, as you said, it's so important to build the skills which then give you that confidence to meet the challenges as opposed to avoiding them.

Alycia~Quiltygirl said...

Ohhh your spirit song is sooo pretty!! Enjoy quilting it and show it again!!

MissPat said...

Oh, dear, my head hurts. Too much to absorb in one sitting, so I will have to go back and reread some parts of this post later. I've been retired for 7 years, so I don't feel compelled to track everything I do and I'm happy to sometimes get nothing accomplished without feeling guilty.
I've read that if you are trying to change or develop habits, it's best to concentrate on only one at a time. It's that whole multi-tasking doesn't work thing. I do have a suggestion for increasing your long-arm practice, though. Since you thrive on making complicated designs with lots of pieces that take lots of time, how about acquiring some quilt panels to which you might add simple borders. Then use these panels for practice and donate them to a local charity.
Hope the radical change to your Easter tradition (no choir or church, I assume) will not disrupt what should be a joyous season.

Kate said...

Congrats on the fun and colorful finished flimsy! I'm with you one the keeping the sewing room clean, I'd so much rather sew than do the clean up thing. I'm very disciplined about keeping the cutting table and the sewing table clear, but the rest of the room is disaster. Good luck with your all your goals.

Preeti said...

So beautiful..I love it. The colors are rich, the pattern is familiar and reassuring and overall effect is spectacular.
This loveliness is just what I have been craving in this desert of emptiness. Lots of love, hugs and best wishes. Stay safe and sane, my friend!!!

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

Wow, I love your Spirit Song, or Pink Lemonade, such a beauty! You are right, cleaning shoud be considering as sewing time ;))

Katy McCoy said...

Thanks for the "Streaks" suggestions - just what I was looking for. Found "Healthy Habit Tracker " for the computer - not quite as high-tech as phone but I hate being tied to my phone!

Lisa in Port Hope said...

That was really interesting! And I didn't need the reward of cookies but since you mention it, we did discover a brownie mix in the cupboard yesterday... I love the explanation of flow, that is exactly how I feel when I spend an hour in my sewing room (often after 9 pm, but that's when I have "me" time. It really recharges me.

And the pink lemonade quilt is amazing, I love the scrappiness and the warm colours. Thanks for linking to TGIFF!

Wendy @ Wendysquiltsandmore said...

Spirit Song is wonderful! I love the colours you've used, and the Kaffe Fassett border is just right. Your sewing room looks amazing. I'd spend a lot of time up there if that was my house. Thank you for linking up to the Peacock Party.

Robby said...

I saved this in Feedly to come back to when I had time to look more closely at Spirit Song. It's lovely and I'm glad I came back to look at it in greater detail. BUT reading the part about Streaks and Flow was every bit as valuable. Thanks for taking the time to share all of that. I need to go hit the App Store now.