I Quilt for Fun… But Not Always…

My sister sent me a link for a blogspot post titled “Work to Glory Ratio,” on the I Quilt for Fun blog site. The blogger, in turn, based her essay on another found on a knitting site, about the pure pleasure of using high-quality materials to create beautiful output. There’s a lot more to it than this. I do hope you’ll read both the quilting and knitting posts.

My sister’s note, though, was a reminder not to turn quilting into an obligation, but preserve the joy.

Coincidentally, a few days ago I posed a question on the yahoo Stashbusters group site.

How much of your quilting is ONLY to please you? Are most of your projects made in sizes or shapes or colors for others, or do you just do what you want and then decide if someone else can have it?

To my surprise, the answers that came back were unanimous: the quilters quilt for themselves.

There are so many pleasures for me from quilting. I love the touch and the colors and patterns of the fabrics. I love pulling out one plastic bin at a time, dropping colors next to each other and being surprised at the effect, whether for good or bad. Pressing, cutting, stitching, and most of all, designing… The process gives me a lot of satisfaction.

But satisfaction isn’t the same thing as fun, and I am not always having fun. Nor am I always quilting only to please myself.

So why do I quilt?

I quilt because I’ve found a way to combine the aesthetic and analytical sides of me to produce things that are beautiful and useful. Because I enjoy the challenge of figuring out a design and how to implement it. Because I like touching fabric — the tactile sensation is soothing. Because I like the colors and patterns. Because I can make things for others that I believe they will find meaningful — it isn’t only about pleasing me.

I quilt because it is fun.

And I quilt because it is therapy.

My first quilt was for a granddaughter born almost ten years ago. It was a terrible experience in many ways, and I told my daughter I didn’t care how many babies she had, I’d never make another qult. And then three of the next four were guilt quilts, for other grandchildren.

By that time, the pleasure outweighed the pain and sense of obligation. And I made more. Dozens more. I’ve lost count, there are so many more.

Last year, 2012, was a pretty hard year for me in many ways. A relationship problem flipped a switch in me, triggering an anxiety disorder, something that never happened before. Swept up by the tornado of emotion and questions, I had little control over how I reacted to life around me.

One place I could maintain control — of what I did, if not how I thought — was in my quilt studio. While battling the worst part of my illness, I finished my son’s graduation quilt and the “hunger quilt.” Both were difficult projects. In the middle of the year I decided to start a new project, a quilt for each of Jim’s siblings. There are eight of them. I designed a unique lap quilt for each of them. Frankly, I don’t love all the quilts because they are not my taste. But I think I captured the right essence for each of them. Quilting to please them, instead of myself, was therapy.

The time I spent on them, designing and executing my plans, kept my sad distracted mind busy. The level of required concentration focused my attention, pulling me away from the swirl of questions, self-doubt, and grief. It was therapy, not fun. I did not have fun. But I healed.

And when I was done with those eight quilts, there was more to do. The year’s stresses had involved both Jim and me, and had taken a toll. The fabric of our relationship was not frayed, the seams were not split, no rips were found. But once I finished quilts that emotionally involved other people, it was time to turn my focus back where it belonged, on my husband and on me. And most importantly, on us together.

In late November, the same day I finished the siblings’ quilts, I began anew. The next quilt was for us and did not need to make anyone else happy. I did not need to worry about anyone else’s happiness or how the quilt would be received.

I decided to begin a medallion quilt, using a center block and then creating borders around it. This is a very old format for quilt design, pre-dating the block format so familiar to most of us. For the sake of making one design decision at a time, medallion quilt it was.

As I built it I used some new purchases and also some stash. When I use leftovers from other projects, I enjoy remembering those projects and the people they were for. The cream background of the center block is one I used both for Son’s graduation quilt and also for his fiancee’s. Many of the fabrics in the first few rings were from previous quilts, including the amazing paisley border stripe. It, also, was from my future daughter-in-law’s graduation quilt.

Again, the process was therapy, and while I did not need to rush, the quilt was done in about three weeks. I gave it to Jim as the ninth siblings’ quilt.

As with many quilters, I keep few quilts I make. Most of my best work has been given away, and when I looked around the house, there were none here just for me.

One more part in the process of therapy… The anxiety disorder has dissipated, and I feel the contentment I enjoyed before it tore through my life. But this year also has been hard, though healthier. Events have taken me by surprise again, and relationship impacts of them have been real and difficult. Happiness has not always been easy. Fun sometimes has been hard to find.

This spring I found, much to my surprise, no obligations to quilt for anyone else. There were no weddings, graduations, babies due, for which I might wish to make a quilt. All my time was available to make a quilt for me alone, and I have it finished now.

As I write this, I feel healthier and happier than I have since 2011. While I was ill and healing, I created some pretty great quilts, some of my best work.

Fun? Not always. But whether I quilt for others or for myself, with a feeling of obligation or of freedom, quilting always brings me satisfaction in the process and product.

[You can see the quilts I made last year, including the siblings’ quilts and Jim’s quilt, here.]


18 thoughts on “I Quilt for Fun… But Not Always…

  1. KerryCan

    I’m so pleased you directed me back to this post! I think you’ve done an amazing job in explaining the reasons we quilt and how it fulfills us. I imagine this is true for women across the ages–a way to bring order to a disordered world. I know other makers (weavers, knitters, bakers, etc.) feel the same way!

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      That’s a good way to put it — bringing order to a disordered world. It’s also a way to balance our personal neediness/selfishness with our need to give.

      I hesitated to give you the link. I’m proud of the post but don’t talk a lot about my illness. So it still feels a little exposed. Thanks for reading and understanding.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      You’re so welcome. Thanks for taking a look.

      I’ve been doing a Medallion Sew-Along this past month or so. Very different format than yours (which I love!) but you might enjoy taking a look.

      Thanks again.

  2. audrey

    Found your blog by way of your comment at Bloomin’ Workshop. Thanks for the link–very thought provoking. Without getting into details, I will say that I have definitely used my quilting for therapy before too. Glad you’re in a better place now. The quilt you made for your husband is absolutely stunning.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      No details needed. I think we all use it that way sometimes, with greater or lesser intensity. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. It just seemed important to acknowledge… it really is not always fun.

      Thanks again.

  3. shoreacres

    One thing particularly struck me. Near the end, you say quilting always brings you satisfaction in the process and the product.

    Here’s a direct quote from the end of my little entry on my blog’s “about page”. “As I begin shaping stories and sharing convictions in these pages, it is my hope that what I do with where I have been will be of interest – both process and product alike.”

    More writing for me, more quilting for you – but the same dynamic’s at play. Very interesting.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      I am a writer. I have a lot to say. Sometimes what I say is in my quilts. And yes, the same dynamic’s at play. Thanks for noticing and commenting on that.

  4. Laura C

    What a lovely post. It’s hard to explain to someone why you NEED to do something that’s expensive, frustrating, and tiring. But, like you, I find that quilting fills so many needs in my life, and is so good for my spirit. Even when it goes wrong. 🙂

    More quilts for you! I do one “just for me” every 4 or 5 months. I think that is incredibly important.

  5. Deb@asimplelifequilts

    I came back to quilting last fall after a 3 year hiatus that started with a badly broken leg, surgery and lots of rehab. My creative mo-jo totally disappeared! Then last fall people dear to me had major life issues and I found my refuge (and therapy) in quilting again. With a focus on finishing all the things I’d left undone knowing now how precarious life can be. I can’t see going that long without it again. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope things are looking brighter for you and your dear ones now. Yes, life is short and we leave so much undone, whether we are diligent or not. Best to try to enjoy, to the extent we can, and make sure those we care about know how we feel. For me, part of that is in my quilts.

      Thanks again.

  6. Suzanne Dutchess County, NY, USA

    I am glad I came upon your comment on Lucie’s blog. Your post I am sure has a ring of commonality many of us feel. You were very eloquent in your post and very brave to share it. I am sure the post itself is a part of the therapy too. It is true for me that quilting is the one constant in my life. It’s a refuge, a morale booster, a comfort and a tool to help others or just to give something of myself to another and express my creativity. I like your idea of a medallion follow along.
    Thanks for sharing and I hope that life for you now is less complicated and less stressful.

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Suzanne. Writing about it does help. It’s hard to find the right balance for an audience of more than just me! I could tell you a lot about the anxiety disorder, but this post was about the healing, not the illness. 🙂

      I’m glad you find strength and comfort in expressing your creativity. The more I quilt, the more I feel sorry for those who don’t have a creative outlet. I think we all yearn for it, but might not know how to express it.

      Thanks again.

  7. Jim in IA

    I’m glad you quilt. I see it bring out the artistic and creative parts of you. I see how you are able to enjoy it for yourself and as a gift for others. Thank you for the quilt you made for me. It has been too warm this summer to do anything except show it draped over the stair wall. It will keep me warm in other ways this fall and winter. oxoxox

    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Your support makes all the difference. The encouragement to try new ideas and colors, to write, all mean so much to me. And I love having my own design consultant in-house! I love you.


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