Why Quilters are More Creative Than Puzzle Builders

How The Creativity of Quilters Became A Gold Standard

If you’ve noticed I watch TED talks often. But I don’t watch much television mostly — because I don’t have a lot of free time.

However, when I get the rare break, I do watch television- mostly DIY channels. I find them both educational and entertaining (edutaining). And that’s why I love watching TED talks too. They’re short, educational and sometimes entertaining.

While watching Tina Seelig in her TED talk — “The 6 Characteristics of Truly Creative People”, I heard her make these two statements:

“True innovators, true entrepreneurs, are not puzzle builders”. They’re quilt makers.


“To be truly creative, you need to see yourself as a quilt maker as opposed to a puzzle builder” (hmmm that sounds absolutely fascinating)!!

Of course, that got me thinking. What is it about quilt making that makes it such a creativity booster? Many quilters I meet don’t think of themselves as creative or artistic. I’m constantly trying to let quilters realize how creative they already are.

Yet, creative career professionals like Tina Seelig are advising people who want to be more creative to approach problem-solving like quilters do.

Ok. So why do you need to think like a quilter to be a creative person? What is it about quilting that makes it so special?

Why Quilters are More Creative Than Puzzle Builders

A. Quilt Making:

If you’re thinking that this does not apply to you because you’re a traditional quilter, then you’re so wrong!! Let me show you why. First, let’s take a closer look at traditional quilting.

Granted, you may start your quilt with a traditional quilt pattern like a Log Cabin, Flying Geese or a Nine Patch.

But let’s face it. That’s about it in terms of direction on what to do. You are in charge from here on.

You’ve got to make the decisions on just about everything else. And that’s where your creativity comes in. There are no right or wrong answers. There are only creative choices.

Here are just a few of those decisions you need to make:
 a. What colors of fabrics to choose
 b. To add a border or not to add a border
 c. Embellish with mixed media or not (paints, beads, etc.)
 d. Straight line quilting or free motion quilting
 e. Which free motion quilting designs to use and where
 f. Finishing Techniques (binding, raw edge, facing)
 g. Hanging Techniques (Hanging Sleeves or Mounting)

Looking at the list above, you can already see what’s going on here. When you quilt you’re making creative choices each step of the way. Each choice froth with the possibility of failure.

So, if you’re a quilter, you can’t tell me you’re not creative. Whether you’re a traditional quilter or an art quilter, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got an abundance of creative skills. And you exhibit these skills each time you create something new.

Instinctively, you know how to respond to the unexpected. If you accidentally snip a hole in your quilt top, you’ll figure out a way to cover it up. If you run out of blue fabric or cannot match it in the fabric store, you’ll make it work somehow.

That right there is creativity in action, my friend. It’s not the technical skills here which are important but your ability to figure out how to solve problems in novel ways and overcome obstacles to create something that is unique.

B. Puzzle Building

How about puzzle building? What is it about it that makes it less creative than quilting. Don’t get this wrong. Puzzle-building is also a creative endeavor. It fosters lateral creative thinking and logical thinking.

With jigsaw puzzles, the picture is printed on the box top. This helps puzzle-builders have a goal to work towards. But it’s this and other features about puzzle building that Tina Seeling takes aim at. She says they make puzzle building less creative than quilt making.

Let’s examine it further, shall we? The fact that your final outcome is predetermined for you in puzzle-building limits your creative abilities. You’re essentially denied the opportunity to flex your creative skills when you build a puzzle.

Because you have a fixed goal and you must work to create that specific picture, you don’t get the choice to create a variation of the original picture. And if a puzzle piece happens to be missing then you’re stuck and you’ll not be able to complete the picture.

On the other hand, with quilting, although you may start with one pattern, you have the ability to make changes to create something unique.

Quilt Making Involves Risks. Puzzle-Building Does Not

The underlying creative difference between quilting versus puzzle making is thus risk taking.

In quilt making, you don’t have a completed picture you’re looking at and working towards. Nor do you have fabrics already cut out in the right colors and sizes for you to simply piece together. You’ve got to go on a limb to make those decisions.

And each of those decisions involves some risk. Will you choose the right thread or fabric colors? Will you choose the right quilting design to complement your piecing?

You have to take creative risks with the choices you make because the outcome is not predetermined. Any choice you make has the potential of not yielding the desired results. That’s how integral risk taking is to creativity.

“An unfortunate aspect of creative work is that it requires an element of risk-taking”,

says Denise Shekerjian in her book about the MacArthur award winners — “Uncommon Genius”.

She continues to write,

“Risks make people nervous — which might explain why so many of us have trouble realizing the full length of our creative potential.”

I write blog posts about fear a lot because it holds us back from being who we can become. I feel the fear too (I’m not immune to it), but I remind myself that I’m not alone. Those who have preceeded us also encountered fear in the same ways we do now. But somehow, they managed to conquer it.

“To take on risks you need to conquer fear, at least temporarily, at least occasionally. It can be done, especially if you look outside of yourself for a strong ledge to stand on, at least temporarily, at least occasionally.”

Creative ability is different from creative confidence. And most of us have the first but struggle with the second. If only we’ll let ourselves conquer fear, just temporarily — once in every while- oh what great creative feats we’ll accomplish.

I love the show “Iron Chef” on television (don’t know if it’s still running). In that show, I see how the chefs go out on a limb to cook wonderful dishes despite the fear they surely must feel when they’re presented with strange ingredients to make a dish out of. I’m always amazed at their creative choices.

Quilters you too can do this!!! You’ve got the creative abilities to become exceptional. Just conquer your fear. If not all the time, some of the time.

Three ways to overcome the fear of risk taking are:

  • Start by taking small risks and then build up your confidence to a place where you can take bigger risks
  • Find a reason to create, which is bigger than yourself. In Denise Shekerjian’s words: Find “a bigger ledge to stand on”. If it’s all about you alone, you’ll not be creating for long.
  • Create consistently. So that creative risk-taking becomes easier if not second nature to you.

And if you’re not a quilter, there’s so much you can learn them.

Your Turn

Do you struggle with creative confidence? Why do you struggle to accept what everyone else around you sees in you? Let’s discuss below.

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Originally published at CLARA NARTEY |Textile Artist.