Allow Your Heart To Lead You

The other day I posted some tips for “newer” quilters, and many of you chimed in with more in comments. Since then I stumbled upon something I read a few years ago. It is a 2009 interview with a newer quilter, someone with little experience in the art. She also provides a few tips, from her own perspective. I’ll start by sharing this question and answer from the interview [edited to note that the quotes below are from a longer version of the interview that no longer has links]:

KM (interviewer Karen Musgrave): What advice would you offer somebody making their first quilt?

JM (quilter Joy Major): Jump in. I would suggest [laughs.] that they allow their heart to lead them. They can search through all the quilt books, quilt magazines that they want, but quality inspiration of their heart, I think there is something to be said for traditional, the Amish type of quilt, and I think there is something to be said about expressing life through quilts. [Bold emphasis added by me.]

I’ve never seen better advice on quilting or any art than this:

Allow your heart to lead you.

At the time of the interview, Joy Major, the quilter, had made only one quilt. Even so, she understood what makes a great quilt:

KM: What do you think makes a great quilt? In your mind, what makes a great quilt?

JM: Love. The energy, the thought. The care, the care in making it. When I had my pieces of material, I treasured each one of them. A small piece, that piece right there. Love, that’s what makes a special quilt. The meaning of the quilt. The purpose of the quilt. The energy that it carries with it, the response that I had, the response that perhaps other people had, your response. I think that is the most important part. Certainly love. [Bold emphasis added by me.]

At the time of the interview, Joy Major was an inmate of the Ohio Reformatory for Women, serving a minimum of 25 years for the murder of her husband. She was invited by her prison chaplain and encouraged by her therapist to work with a quilting project called Sacred Threads.

Participants in the quilting project had limited access to resources of all kinds. Time, fabric, and notions were in short supply. As you know, constraints often lead us to our most creative work, and that was true for Ms. Major. What she did not lack was the desire to honor her own story and that of fellow inmates with her work and with her heart. She allowed her heart to lead, and created a fascinating quilt unique to her.

I encourage you to read the here.

Your thoughts? I’d love to hear in comments. 


19 thoughts on “Allow Your Heart To Lead You

  1. Shasta

    This is so true that it is the “Love. The energy, the thought. The care, the care in making it” that makes a great quilt. Of the quilts I made, it isn’t the technically perfect or had the most expensive fabric that I am proud to have made, it is the ones that brought me joy while I was making it, and the care I was able to put into it.

  2. KerryCan

    This was all fascinating to read–I love the extent to which she saw symbolism in every bit of fabric and every stitch, as if she was explaining herself to herself, as she worked.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yeah, that was really cool. I’ve had some experiences like that, where every choice and every stitch seemed to have significance, but I’ll admit, it isn’t that intense most of the time. Perhaps that’s for the best! Thanks much.

  3. TextileRanger

    I am so glad she found joy and personal success in quilting!
    And as far as the advice to Follow Your Heart, it made me think my spirit animal must be an octopus, because they have 3 hearts. My problem is there are so many choices that I just love and I want to try all of them! (Fortunately I am not trying to build a career so I don’t really have to choose.)
    I think I will stick with an octopus as my spirit guide though, because who wouldn’t love to have 8 arms to help get more done too! 🙂

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh my yes! 8 arms would help somedays, though I suspect sometimes a few would get in the way. 🙂 Thanks for that, Gwen. I love that you shared that small gem about you.

  4. Paula Hedges

    Quite a story! I just read the complete interview and was very moved by it. She expressed the heart of a quilt with such passion. Thank you for sharing the link to the interview.

  5. audrey

    I’ve read a few articles about these sorts of quilting experiments in the last several years. It’s all very moving. So striking that these women with so little to choose from have it more figured it out than most of us with plenty. I wish more quilting emphasis focused on this and not on the race to a finish! It’s so, so important for all of us to try and put more and more of ourselves into the quilts we make. It’s that very connection that draws others to our work whether they actually like it or not!

  6. katechiconi

    It’s true. The heart knows, and informs the brain, the brain informs the hands, and the growing quilt speaks too. Invest each piece with meaning, care and consideration, and your quilt cannot be a failure; at the very least it will be a learning experience that teaches what works for you.


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