Comfort Zone


Continuing to work through the discussion guide about “Why Quilts Matter“, today I want to focus on:

Given the variety of fabrics and notions available today, what would it take to move you out of your comfort zone to try a new style?


This resonates deeply with me, because I can find myself very, very scared of change. And let’s face it, there are only a few things that are certain in life: change and death (OK, OK, and maybe taxes, too). So I have tried to learn how to recognize when I am feeling very scared when faced with an unexpected something new or different in my life… and the outcome is that I am slowly becoming more adventurous and open to actively seeking out new experiences.

I went looking for advice on how to become comfortable with discomfort, which is what is necessary in order to step outside of our comfort zones, and I found an article called Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe that has 5 pieces of advice for starting to master discomfort:

  1. Pick something that’s not hard. When you were new to quilting, did you jump right in and master paper piecing, free motion quilting, and hand stitching your binding on your first quilt? Probably not. I would also recommend selecting something that interests you, if you can.
  2. Just do a little. You don’t have to start by doing a queen sized quilt. Make one block. Sew one seam…
  3. Push out of your comfort zone, a little. The suggestion here is that when you get the urge to stop, or quit, or get up, don’t; when the urge happens again; don’t, when the urge happens the third time, it is time to move on.
  4. Watch the discomfort.Watch yourself as you get a bit uncomfortable — are you starting to complain (internally)? Are you looking for ways to avoid it? Where do you turn to? What happens if you stay with it, and don’t do anything?
  5. Smile.This is not trivial advice. If you can smile while being uncomfortable, you can learn to be happy with discomfort, with practice.


By and large, I have to say that I admire this quilting community. I watch as you consistently approach something new and step outside of your comfort zone to tackle a new technique for a block for your swap or friend, to challenge yourself in quilt swaps, to eagerly anticipate learning something new in a class, and to do it with grace an humor. Are there keys to setting up an environment that allows you to step out of a comfort zone and try something new?


  • Well, I agree in part that in order not to become overwhelmed, one should take baby steps when starting a new venture such as sewing/quilting or anything for that matter. It seems that the brain requires time to adjust to new perspective. It is funny though as it seems somehow discouraging when a “teacher” tells a student that they must first make a certain block before tackling a detailed, complicated design. No one told me that I shouldn’t make the quilt that I made first, so I did it with no knowledge of block construction or using any of the lovely rulers and “extras” available to quilters today. Maybe slow and steady is for some! Just saying!
    Have a great weekend. Sending you big hugzzzz♡ (not trying to offend)

    • No offense at all! I love what you have to say here – you are so absolutely right. I think that in a lot of ways education creates the situation where it can make you afraid to try something because you were told / taught / learned that stepping outside the lines, doing something different were not the “right” way to do something. Being bold and going for it is admirable and awesome. In fact, I see that a lot in the quilting community and applaud it. Thanks for your input – the best part of these discussions is always in the comments. 🙂

  • This is really interesting to me. Especially the comment about taking a small step. I often have the tendency to try something new with like ,say a twin sized quilt and then I get bogged down. I guess I should be trying more mini’s and pillow covers.

    • I don’t know, Lisa; maybe so. I find that I can get bogged down on projects that don’t speak to me, so I am always trying to set mini goals to get excited about completing them; however slowly that might be. Perhaps minis and pillows are the way to explore some ideas, but twin size quilts are also super fun and the sense of accomplishment is awesome!

  • What does it ake to get me out of my comfort zone? An idea. Or an inspiration of some sort. I find that where quilting is concerned, I don’t have a comfort zone, believe it or not. In fact, the way my process works is that first I have an idea, then I have to figure out how to do it. It’s a little crazy, I know….but for me, it works. I’m not afraid to try stuff at all, but I also lack the perfection gene. I KNOW I can’t do it perfectly, so I don’t worry about it. I just try to do MY best.

    What I do have however, are likes and dislikes. If there are certain types of fabrics involved, (which I will not mention), it just doesn’t excite me. And sometimes I can really admire a piece but have no desire to make it myself. I’m in awe of some people’s applique, but it doesn’t make me excited to do it, I just want to have it! 🙂

    • Brilliant and wonderful, Carrie! I have definitely noticed this trend in the quilting community and it is awesome. You are so right about likes and dislikes, too. Thank you so much for the reminder that perfection isn’t everything… that was actually a resolution I made for myself for the year, and I am trying to keep that in mind. 🙂

    • Almost exactly what I was going to say. I have a relatively high tolerance for imperfection. When something new comes up I either buy a book about it or take a class. I thought I didn’t like to applique, yet sometimes I have an idea that needs it. Guild offered a class and I took it mostly to be sociable. Turns out once I knew how, I started to do it more and more, and funny thing, had more ideas that needed it.

      I especially like the concept of “learning zone.”

      I think my comfort zone limitations occur in areas other than quilting and design.

      • I really like that once we do step outside our comfort zones and try something new, we find ourselves using that technique or skill more readily. I felt the same way about applique… but I seem to be doing a bit of it these days.

    • I’m right there with you! Ideas often lead me down unknown paths, and once a vision is in my head, there’s no turning back, even if I don’t know technically “how” to do it. I’ll just watch some you tube videos, maybe, and then try. The funny thing is, I DO struggle with that perfection gene, but almost all the time, I accomplish the aesthetic I’m going for, even if it’s not done “right”. 3D sewing, on the other hand, is where my true comfort zone ends. When I was getting ready to make my first bag, I was legitimately scared: sweating, short of breath, fast heartbeat. It’s crazy, since it’s JUST A BAG, but I felt so much like I had NO idea what I was doing that it was nerve wracking. Some posts I put up on IG got me some immediate real-time tips and encouragement, which were awake and exactly what I needed to breathe and forge ahead!!

  • Great article! This has encouraged me to accept my first “Quilt Challenge” and commit to actually making it and TURNING IT IN! Thanks so much for your encouraging words. You truly have a gift for writing as well as quilting.

  • Very interesting process, one I need to try in regards to using solids. I keep dipping my toe in, only to pull back. Small steps, I guess.

    • For some things, small steps are definitely the way to go. I was tentative about solids, too, but recently I have been having so much fun with them. Becoming familiar with them first definitely helped me embrace them.

  • I love the advice about smiling. I find that the more positive I am, the more accepting to change I am. I still struggle, but it isn’t a defeating struggle.

    • I do think that having a grateful or positive attitude (as much as is reasonably possibly, anyway) has helped me a lot in my life, too. There are certainly times when enough is enough, but I haven’t found that moment in quilting, yet! 🙂

  • Experimentation. I’m always asking, “what if we did this?” I don’t know if you should move through being uncomfortable or if that uncomfortable feeling is telling you this isn’t the right way to go. Our instinct, our gut, whatever “it” is speaks to us. I’m uncertain if you need to know the rules to break them or if you shouldn’t try to learn the rules at all. I don’t have the luxury of finding out since I learned all the quilting techniques for traditional quilting before I tried something new: modern quilting.

    • I think that there are certain sewing / quilting “rules” that shouldn’t be broken (umm, a 1/4″ seam allowance comes to mind, although there are certainly times to know how to utilize a scant 1/4″ seam allowance…). But other than that, I am OK with folks jumping in and not following “rules”. As long as we can all be honest about what was learned from an experience, which I find bloggers tend to do well (this worked, this did not work), then exploration is wonderful.

      In terms of the uncomfortable feeling, there are times when it is definitely an instinct kicking in and we should listen to it. Other times, it can be worthwhile to try to see where things lead if we can temporarily keep going. I liked the suggestion to ignore it twice and honor it the third time when really pushing yourself. Clearly (I hope), this is meant for when you really are wanting to explore and try something new and not meant as a way to endanger oneself.

  • You have such great discussions Yvonne. I will have to remember that about starting with small steps. At least in terms of quilting. I have more than once bit off more than I could chew and then been frozen and unable to move forward until I backed off again and broke it down into easier to achieve steps.
    Perhaps a key to creating an environment for stepping out of your comfort zone is that the people (in a class or in a group of friends) are non-judgemental and encouraging. Also, have you ever noticed that you have some friends who are just braver and bolder and that when you are with them that you feel a little that more that way too?

    • Breaking a big project down into smaller steps or milestones really works for me. I love counting the number of bobbins I have gone though, or the number or blocks I have pieced, or other quantifiable things to help keep me moving forward sometimes.

      Yes – the right group of people can make ALL the difference! I know exactly what you mean about being around braver and bolder friends to help buoy up my own confidence. Thank you for being part of that community online, too! 🙂

  • This is a great post on a fantastic and interesting topic! Free motion quilting has been the last big thing outside of my comfort zone that I have been trying to tackle. I have found it to be really difficult to remain patient with myself through this process since it is one of the only types of sewing I haven’t done before. My mom started teaching me to sew before I was even in elementary school so I never really had a chance to think that sewing and quilting were “hard.” Once I had the basics, it was just a matter of combining those basics in an order that works.

    I think a lot of us (ok, maybe all human beings) want perfection as soon as we start something new. When I started teaching sewing to college students (some wanted to be there, others hated the idea of sewing) I tried to encourage them to be patient with themselves. It took years to learn how to write a decent paper, but we want instant results when we sew. Learning a new stitch is like learning a new word, when you take a series of stitches to make a seam you are constructing a sentence, when you make a series of seams you are crafting the essay. Most of sewing is based in a few basic stitches. Once you can make a straight stitch, you can work on making a straight stitch with an accurate seam allowance. When you can do this on a straight seam, try a curve (or ten!). Most of what you will ever sew is based on a making a straight stitch with an accurate seam allowance. Most quilt blocks, tote bags, and clothing are constructed with a straight stitch. Putting in a zipper is just a series of straight seams using a machine foot that stays out of the way of the zipper coil. Corset construction always looks impressive, but it, too, is a series of straight seams- you just slide boning in once the seams are sewn. Do we make mistakes, particularly as we try something new? Of course! What makes someone good is the willingness to keep trying and pushing themselves!

    (Sorry for the length- I got a bit carried away!)

    • No worry about the length of your response at all, Cassandra, I love it! The best part of these posts are the discussions in the comments, and I get really excited when a post resonates with someone.

      Learning to have patience with ourselves is so much harder than cheering along someone who is new to a technique. I know that if someone else sticks with it and pushes through the beginning it will come more and more naturally to them. For myself though? Oh man, do I get nervous and worried about the quality of my work! What a great reminder that I need to have that same attitude and grace toward myself.

  • Great post. I don’t like moving out of my comfort zone, but when I do, I’m generally happy that I did so. That’s how we learn.

  • I like the small steps. I like to try new piecing or quilting on small projects. Mini quilts are great for this. But I also like to think about purpose. I plan on trying something new, because it would be perfect for my sister’s gift. But I might not do if if it were for me.

    • Mini quilts really can be perfect for trying out new ideas. And I have found that making things for others tends to push me out of my comfort zone more readily than I would accept or do if it were just for me.

  • Great topic of discussion Yvonne. Being in a bee has really allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and I’m not afraid of it anymore. It’s funny, right before I read this post, I was looking at a block with curves and it didn’t frighten me as much as I thought it would. Now that I’ve read this, I think I should challenge myself to try some curved piecing. Oh, and I love the graphic with the bullseye and arrow. I agree that there’s a sweet spot where there’s growth and beyond that is panic.

  • Great discussion on the topic Yvonne. I need to remind myself of your #2 advice, to start small. I tend to jump in too fast with both feet and end up in the panic zone always writing it off as a “it’s what I do” well maybe it’s worth changing that part of my attitude 🙂

  • I always dive in head first when it comes to quilting ideas and I think maybe because having learned as I went along, watching craftsy and YouTube you get comfortable with figuring things out for yourself. Success breeds success. Complete opposite learning the guitar though!

    • Wow, it is interesting how differently you feel about learning two different topics. I know I am much the same way; some things seem worth diving into and exploring and some things scare / worry me. I’ll have to give that a bit of thought.

  • I have to admit, while I don’t like being uncomfortable (who does?) I actually thrive off of it, too. Mainly because it is a challenge to me and I really enjoy a good challenge. What has stopped me lately is TAKING that plunge into being uncomfortable which isn’t normally “normal” for me. I am hoping that I am slowly finding my way back to actually being uncomfortable. I never thought of it that way until reading this… but I have lived so many places, with someone or by myself and am never afraid to be alone where I didn’t know anyone, I am more scared of not GETTING TO KNOW someone. :o) I also think there are things we will go into whether it is uncomfortable or not because it excites us, so some are easier than others to get over the uncomfortable feeling. The more we are excited about it the more the nerves become nerves of excitement.

    • I know what you mean about being scared to actually get to know someone! I have moved around a lot, and I eventually became much more guarded about making friends and getting to know people because I knew I would probably move and not really stay in touch with anyone. That has changed recently; I feel very fortunate to have my current community and feel the most connected I have ever felt in my life. But occasionally it is still a bit shocking to think how much history I have with some people now! Totally a tangent, there. 😉

  • Another interesting one! I find I’m very happy to challenge myself but it’s usually kind of within my comfort zone in a way – in that I’ll push myself that bit further but with the kind of thing that I already love, so I’m sort of challenging myself vertically but not necessarily horizontally, breadth wise often.

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)