“Quilters cut with hope, stitch with grace, quilt with dreams, bind with laughter, share with love”. -Anonymous
Most quilters are fabric hoarders. They joke about this tendency to squirrel away fat quarters, swatches or whole bolts of choice designs. But, on a deeper level, fabric is a symbolic material that represents the core human needs of warmth, protection, and community.1 Maybe what the fabric hoarders are saving is their own psychics by connecting their body and mind through needle, thread and fabric.
Quilting as Therapy
The process of quilt making is therapeutic. For persons who seek a feeling of control, or are depressed, the structured process of cutting, piecing and stitching become predictable actions that put life back into a structured pattern. Taking swatches of material and piecing them together into a coherent design may serve as a symbolic recovery for women suffering from trauma. For those whose experience anxiety, repetitive actions such as cutting and slow stitching create a meditative, relaxed state. The warming and protective aspects of quilt making may increase self-nurturing in those who have experienced difficulty in relationships. By connecting with other women in a group, the social value of a quilting bee is invaluable. Getting together with neighbors to talk, eat and sew is a creative way to piece together the heart, mind and soul. Pressing a threaded needle through batting as soft as marshmallows is the ultimate in relaxation.
Art making has the ability to move people along their journey of grief and loss. A fabric masterpiece is the result of carefully pieced moments of healing and hope. When the creative process is engaged in the quilt making process a mourner’s life is recalibrated as the binding is hemmed into place. A gentle healing.
Clare Hunter, the author of Threads of Life, speaks of women who feel the pain of being disenfranchised by society. Her book chronicles how the act of stitching changes lives, and sisters of the needle “no long considered their place to be lesser, their power diminishable or their voices unheard.” Needle work is therapy.
Quilting Through the Generations
Congregating together in community quilting bees, generations of women have enjoyed the company of children, grandchildren and other folks as they send a running thread through a new creation. The older stitchers engage their memories as they recall patterns or procedure. The innovative quilters teach younger needleworkers new skills, which also creates new paths in their aging brain. However, the resulting masterpiece boosts self-esteem for a woman with advancing years filled with self-doubt. Elderly sew-ers enjoy the company and energy of the multi-generational quilting bee.
Jennifer Chiaverini has obviously been in a quilters group because she expresses what many stitches experience. “Anyone who works on a quilt, who devotes her time, energy, creativity, and passion to that art, learns to value the work of her hands. And as any quilter will tell you, a quilter’s quilting friends are some of the dearest, most generous, and most supportive people she knows.”
Teenagers learn time honored skills from the older adults while interacting with those whose frame of reference includes stories from the past. While learning the motor and cognitive steps of quilting, adolescents enjoy the freedom of self-expression and individuality that the medium offers. The feelings of creativity and empowerment boost self-sufficiency for teens who struggle with identity and a need for connection.
Even the younger participants in a quilting bee add to the general sense of community and the connection with life that is essential to the human condition. Agnes Gund, founder of Studio in a School, observes: “We share the importance of the arts, not only in society but also in building one’s self-esteem. And the kids really grasp that: They’re confident and proud of themselves and share art with the people in their lives.” Especially their masterpieces of quilting.
Feeling the Warmth
Vijaya Gowrisankar expresses the value of quilting. “Yes, my scars shape me. Today, I have learnt to cover it with fabric made of hope, faith, perseverance, and determination. For this, I am grateful to life.”
By physically cutting, patterning, sewing and binding fabric in the company of other women, the soul finds itself being patched together with grace and fortitude. Women helping other women to cope with whatever life throws at them.
One stitch at a time.
“We, like lace, make up the very fabric of society, the tapestry of togetherness that consists of holes, but also of threads that tie us together until the end of time. The more we embrace our fragility and shared sufferings, the more boundaries we overcome, until the light can’t help but pour on in.”
-Kayla Severson, Nature’s 1st Gem is Green
1.“Fabric and quilting as material in art therapy”, by Elyse Schauer, School of the Art Institute, Chicago, 2013