Three Comments on Balance

In the last post I showed you the quilt I’m working on now. It’s intended as a donation for our local VA hospital, to warm a vet with the love stitched into it. You can see the blocks below.


I talked about choosing the layout, and how using an even number of blocks across, when there are alternate blocks, can lead to an unbalanced layout. My EQ7 isn’t working properly right now, or I would show you a picture I create. Instead I’ll show you from Roberta Horton’s book Scrap Quilts: The Art of Making Do.


From Roberta Horton’s book Scrap Quilts: The Art of Making Do, page 19.

Notice that there are three star blocks on the left and two on the right, making it asymmetrical. If there were another row across, giving three and three, the arrangement still wouldn’t have left-right symmetry. The lack of symmetry makes it feel unbalanced.

In my quilt above, I have a similar layout, but use half-square triangle blocks rather than plain alternate blocks. To my eye, it is balanced. What’s the difference? The strong diagonal line created by the HST takes the emphasis off the horizontal (or vertical) row arrangement. The visual weight isn’t in the shoofly blocks; it’s in the HST, which creates diagonal lines that are symmetrical. (For more about visual weight, see my posts on proportion, parts 1, 2, and 3.)

For the last couple of years, I’ve had the goal to be sturdy and flexible. It’s an easy motto to say: “Sturdy and flexible — that’s the goal!” I apply it to both my physical and mental health. To be sturdy, I need good balance. But in August I hurt my left knee, and it’s astonishing how quickly everything else fell apart! My right leg wants to work much harder than my left leg does. My upper body feels a lot more competent than my lower body does. I am all out of balance, and I don’t feel at all sturdy, and my legs especially are not flexible. (Mentally things seem to be going fine, thank you.)

If you’re a quilter you know how physical our making can be. I get up and down off the floor once a piece is too big for my design wall. I walk up and down stairs, 15 steps each time, to get to my studio. I stand for long stretches when quilting at the longarm. And even sitting at the domestic machine requires good core strength to keep from hurting my back. I need this all to be easier again!

I decided it was time to ask for professional help. I’ve started working with a personal trainer at a local gym. So far we’ve assessed the problem (and she agrees with my evaluation, but in much more specific terms.) And she’s begun showing me the type of work I’ll do to get back on track. I’m looking forward to improving my strength, flexibility, and endurance, and to getting my balance back.

I’m also pondering how to set myself up to finish the year well. The key to doing what I want is knowing what I want. That sounds simple, but you know as well as I that sorting priorities isn’t always easy.

Here is something I wrote to a friend in email two years ago:

… your power is in what you DO, not in what you DID. For me, I can only DO effectively when I am doing the right things, really spending my time and energy on my true priorities. There are a lot of different layers to that, right? Bills have to be paid, dishes have to be washed, etc. …

I finally figured out my magic formula, this funny 3-legged stool … I have to identify my priorities correctly so I can balance my resources right. And I have to get my balance right to maximize my power.

Being sturdy and flexible is about being powerful, able to create and to endure. Identifying priorities is about being powerful, in just the same way.

Identifying priorities. That is the task I’m working on now. I’ll talk more about that another time.

12 thoughts on “Three Comments on Balance

  1. Elizabeth E.

    Loved this post and love the use of that diagonal in your quilt to make the point about balance in the rest of our lives. Good luck on getting physical strength back, and in working past your injury. Thanks, as well, for the insights into how we structure our lives, now that we are older.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Many of us who are older have more choices. With retirement and/or kids out of the house, more time is free for our own use, rather then meeting the insistent and persistent schedules imposed by others. That freedom is lovely, and is something to learn how to use well. Thanks.

  2. snarkyquilter

    Please, please correct your knee problems before they get worse. If you’re depending more on your other leg, the muscles and tendons will get out of whack and you’ll have alignment problems (and I don’t mean with your tires) later on. I’ve heard about problems long armers have with all the standing. I think you can sit with some machines, but it may apply more to mid arm machines. Hope the exercise program works out.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks. Yes, I feel pretty completely out of whack, which just feels weird since I am otherwise quite healthy. Just OLD all of a sudden! The exercise should help significantly. I hope…

  3. mothercat2013

    I retired a week ago, and am looking forward to finding a new balance for my life now that (paid) work is no longer a part of it, so your comment about identifying priorities correctly in order to balance resources, and then getting that balance right to maximize my power, really resonated with me. At the moment I’m enjoying a short holiday in Australia with my sister, and we’ve just spent three wonderful days at the Brisbane Craft and Quilt Show, which certainly assisted in acquiring resources to assist me in one of my priorities: more quilting! 🙂

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Congratulations on your retirement! There are always plenty of things to choose to do. You will find MANY people will offer you “opportunities” to volunteer. I have a little advice on that. Consider, at first, accepting only offers to help with limited-term projects. No need to obligate yourself to something that goes until time ends, at least not until you have your rhythm.

      Have fun!

  4. katechiconi

    Your comments about the physicality of quilting rang very true for me. I’ll never be as robust and flexible as I was before surgery, but my ability to make quilts is very high on my priority list, so I’ve learned strategies and techniques to enable me to meet my goals as much as possible before the body says “enough!”. I hope your training sessions restore you to where you need to be.


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