Quilt Therapy


“When an individual’s mind takes off in uncontrollable flights of anxiety or depression or grief,
making a quilt redirects and soothes the mind in a safe, predictable way.
Quilting is meditation for people who can’t sit still to meditate.” 1

-Dr. Madeline Fernbach, Clinical Psychologist

This type of therapy can be inexpensive. Best of all, it is transportable, creative, mindless at times, and satisfying. Whether at a machine, a hoop, or just hand stitching, the act of quilting is a time honored way of working through emotional or mental health issues. Working with fabric while working with the human spirit. Quilt therapy.

Irene King credits quilting with keeping her life in balance and her mind sane. She enjoyed the feeling of completion that sewing offered because it countered the mundaneness of daily chores. A few years ago, Irene relied on quilting as her main coping mechanism when both her oldest son and her husband had open heart surgery. She explains: “The only thing that kept my mind off my troubles during the hospital vigil was keeping my fingers busy. Ironically, I was appliqueing a block with bleeding hearts on it.” As the family members healed, Irene also recovered. “Quilting is cheaper than therapy!” she quipped when asked about the volume of quilts produced during that time.

Photo courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rich701/14187109235/in/pool-1910-1920/

Many quilters responded to the crisis of 9-11-2001 by concentrating on creation in the face of destruction. Lorraine J. Miner found solace through the red, white and blue fabrics in her stash. Her finished comforter contained patriotic sayings: “Thank you, NYFD”, “I pledge allegiance”, and “angels are among us”. A small flag from her sister was stitched into the patches. Lorraine takes the 9-11 Quilt with her on trips.

9/11 MEMORIAL MUSEUM – Photo courtesy of: http://organiceyourlife.com/911-memorial-museum/

As Carolyn Krone says, “Through its fabrics and associated activities, quilting softens and smoothes the rough edges of painful realities.” 2

Emotional pain is difficult to soothe, and yet the pins and needles of quilting do just that.  Like many women, Kathy Matthew quilted to cover a bad day, a tough job, and an even tougher marriage. She hand- stitched with a hoop on her lap after snuggling her children into beds. In the quietness, the repetitiveness of the task allowed her to feel that she mattered. “That I could tell my complaints to the needle and by pushing it in and out, it helped me deal with it all.” As her mind slipped from her difficulties, Kathy realized “that I was talented, I was keeping my family warm…I can’t imagine a therapist accomplishing more than that, so I quilt.”

Quilting demonstration at the Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida. 19–. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/109462>, accessed 10 June 2017.

In my own life, the quilting experience provided feelings of connection that I lacked in my life. My childhood involved a lot of moving which prevented personal relationships to grow. Later in life, I joined the Oak Lawn Stitchers Group who wrapped me in their quilted arms, creating emotions of belonging and acceptance. These women even helped my granddaughter and me to finish a feed sack quilt started by my mother in the last century. I agree with Dr. Fernbach: “Connecting with others is incredibly precious.” For me, the group was never about making a bed covering. It was all about binding loose pieces into a cohesive pattern.

Quilt therapy. It works. One stitch at a time.

“No matter how hard school gets, I know I can always come home and pull out my sewing…There is something so relaxing, so therapeutic about choosing colors, laying out a block, and piecing fabric…it makes me feel accomplished.”   -Virginia Yarrington, Veterinary student

1. Quilt Therapy, by Dr. Madeline Fernbach, http://www.fernbach.net
2. p.120, “Quilting and Bereavement: Her Grief in the Quilt: by Carolyn H. Krone and Thomas M. Horner, Uncoverings, 1992.

Meme Photo credit: https://morguefile.com/p/834208

Dust Between the StitchesDust Between the Stitches is a quilt story set in the Dust Bowl during the 1930’s. It tells the story of Addie Meyers as she tries to save the family homestead from foreclosure while teaching in a one room schoolhouse for script. Each chapter of the book starts with a quilt pattern, many of them based on Sunbonnet Sue and Overall Sam. A picture of life in the Dust Bowl emerges in this novel that will warm your heart and inspire your faith.


  1. I am teaching a class on art beginning this fall. Art as catharsis is one of the subjects to be covered. This article fits into it very well, backed up by your article about combining reading to children with wrapping them in quilts. I will quote your articles. There are many kinds of art and many uses for art. You have shared a number of them in these two articles.

  2. Cleo, we would love to see you at our Stitchers group more often. It does not even have to be about stitching. Much of our time is about creating friendships.

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