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.]