How to be a Quilty Magical Girl Super Hero

Monday, April 27, 2015

I began to notice a strange phenomenon during fall Quilt Market. Then I became more aware of it at my guild meetings. At Quilt Con, it was undeniable: I am a magical girl super hero.

Okay, maybe that's a little over the top. Let's backtrack a bit.

I'm an introvert at heart. During college, my friends practically had to pry me out of my room with a crowbar or bribe me with tasty treats to get me to get me to go do something social. I feel awkward meeting new people. I've even introduced myself by saying, "I'm Felice. *long silence* I'm awkward." The person usually nods slowly before voicing the sudden urge to use the bathroom.

If you're a quilty person and we've met, you may be scoffing right now and calling me a liar. I can understand why. When it comes to social settings involving the quilting community, something amazing happens. I transform like Sailor Moon from normal, everyday introvert into magical quilty social butterfly!

Prior to Quilt Con, one of my friends commented on how I seemed to have such an easy time talking to people at Market, including the designers that we tend to idolize. She knew she'd have the chance to talk to her personal fabric idol, Lizzy House, at Quilt Con, but was fretting over what to say and how to approach her. Or anyone new people for that matter.

I assured her that I was no natural extrovert, this was a skill I started learning and refining the same way I learned to quilt. It takes practice for us introverts.

This funny scene in Girls has some truth to it.
If you haven't read Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, I highly recommend it. In one chapter, she talks about the whole "fake it 'til you make it" idea where introverts behave like extroverts to achieve a goal. The idea is that you tell yourself, "I'm doing this to advance work I care about deeply, and when the work is done, I'll settle back into my true self." It's not about pretending to be someone you are not, it's about pushing yourself outside of your usual comfort zone. I would never go out of my way to chat up people at the grocery store, but at Quilt Con, I know I'm around people who share my passion. My goal is to further that passion and grow in this community, so I force myself to behave in a way that diverges from my everyday persona.

I think I started the magical girl transformation early on when I joined the Houston Modern Quilt Guild. I wanted people to recognize my intense love for quilting, but more importantly, I wanted to make friends. I knew those things would be difficult to achieve if I continued to be so socially withdrawn, so I behaved accordingly by becoming more gregarious. Quilt Market stepped things up a few notches because I had to manage my feelings of intimidation and nervousness when approaching the designers, but within a few hours (and a beer) it was all coming naturally.

I know there are plenty of other people who are in the same boat aboard the HMS Introvert, drifting in a sea of awkwardness when it comes to events, but they don't have to stay there. Here are some tips and advice that I hope will help you come out of your shell for the sake of this awesome hobby!

1. Talk to strangers! The rallying cry for my group of friends at Quilt Con was "Let's talk to strangers!" Grab a friend, literally walk up to a stranger, and introduce yourselves. It doesn't have to be smooth and suave. As kids, we did in on the playground without hesitation. What's the worst that can happen? Start by paying them a compliment. If they're browsing for materials, ask them what projects they're working on. Make a goal to talk to a certain number of new people every day.

2. Have some canned small talk or anecdotes at your disposal. Getting a conversation started (or keeping it going) will be a lot less nerve-racking if you have some go-to material. So many people at Quilt Market were taking selfies with their favorite designers, so I started falling back on the story of why I like to make ridiculous faces in photos. Find something brief and relatable that will make people laugh. Laughter will always win you points.

3. Ask open-ended questions. People are usually able to talk about themselves easily, so asking them open-ended questions can give you some time to find your social footing. By open-ended, I mean questions that can't be answered with just a "yes" or "no" or a single word. For example, instead of asking them if they had fun at Quilt Con, ask them what the most memorable part of Quilt Con was. If they enjoy paper piecing, ask what they like best about the process. Ask for advice on something they're knowledgeable about. It's one of the greatest forms of flattery and they'll probably be happy to share some wisdom.

4. Share a sincere compliment. I try to refrain from making general compliments ("I love your work" or "I like your shirt.") because it doesn't fuel the conversation much. Expand upon the compliment by sharing why you enjoy something. It will make the experience more memorable. For example, following his lecture at Quilt Con I told Bill Kerr, "I really enjoyed your lecture. I graduated from college a year and half ago with my degree in art, so I've really missed having a place to listen to educators talk about design in a serious way. Your presentation really made me think deeply about how I'm going to approach my quilts in the future." This is a good tip for social media as well. A comment of well-worded praise will easily stand out from a sea of "Cute!" and "Love it!"

6. Wear/carry something handmade. This goes along with #4. I've found that wearing/carrying handmade items gives people more reasons to approach YOU and pay a compliment, which makes it even easier to strike up a conversation. Be able to let them know what pattern you used and any advice you'd have for making it, as it will keep the conversation going.

5. Remember that everyone is just a person. Approaching someone "famous" within our community can be overwhelming. We idolize these people. But the truth is, they're just normal people like us. Lizzy House and Tula Pink probably don't get recognized and mobbed like Tom Cruise when they go grocery shopping. The average person has no clue who they are even if they are Titans to us. Approach them like any other person. I promise, they're normal.

6. Follow up! It's normal for introverts to need some time to recharge in solitude after a lot of social activity, but we also need to keep our new connections aflame. Within a the first few days of a meeting a new quilty friend, take some time to re-engage them. Send them a short email thanking them for a nice conversation. Follow them on Instagram and leave some comments on their posts. Read their blog and engage with them there. I think of these connections like plants that need watering. You don't need to drown the poor thing, but you should give it a little sprinkle periodically if you want it to live on.

So what are your thoughts? Do you have a hard time coming out of your shell or are you a magical girl super hero? What advice do you have for other introverts?