Saturday, May 31, 2008

Quilt Therapy


I am in therapy. Quilt therapy. And I have been in it all week. My Viking therapist is not only doing me good, she's doing a lot of good for others, too. Some shop, some drop, some just dig deep into the scrap basket and make quilts.

After an hour and a half phone call with an 80 year old woman I first (and last) met 25 years ago, I've had a lot of thinking to do on the therapy of quilting. She'd saved an article about me from the newspaper that had to do with my community quilting and wanted some advice on how she could get some help with some of her own handiwork. And, she wanted to know, how did our community quilting group 'work'?

She's a lifelong quilter and has spent the last 25 years sewing for different church quilting groups. One by one each group has stopped 'working'. They've come apart at their stitches, lost their backing, or just plain folded. The group she's in now, she feels like she's the only piecer/ quilt-top maker, in a church of over a thousand strong. The others just want to sit and visit and stitch on a quilt in the frame, she says. And that makes her mad.

I asked her why she kept on quilting. She said it's because she really needs something to do. Her husband is wheelchair bound, she has lots of health issues and she can't even do her own housework any more...but she still just plain 'needs something to do.'

That's quilt therapy, I told her. You quilt because it helps you to feel better. So, even if you're mad because when you asked one of the other members of the group if she'd tie one of your personal quilts because you couldn't....and she told you she'd do it for $75 and now you're upset...after all, you've been supplying their quilt tops for them for years and years...well, you still love the scraps, and the piecing, and the putting of all of those pieces into tops. So, it's still good for you and....you'd probably miss it if you didn't do it!

So, she sits home, almost alone, and she stitches her scraps into pieces, and the pieces into blocks, and the blocks into quilt tops. And yet some of the richness of quilt therapy has somehow been lost to her. Lost because of the lack of feeling her spiritual community when she perhaps needed it most, lost because of the lack of acknowledgment of all of her hard work, and lost because she has lost her own inner purpose and passion.

That made me sad. It made me sad because these same feelings show up in all of us. We do lose our ways sometimes. The passion and drive disappears now and then. We start looking for new fabric fixes, or another project to start when a million projects are unfinished. We may have stacks and stacks of fabric, but we always want more. Just like all of our own lives.

We are all looking for quilt therapy in one way or another and sometimes we all lose our way. We get disappointed in others, we feel a lack of connection with group and community, we go for the instant high, the quick fix of shopping gratification.... or we drop flat and have to back pedal...or even back float...for a while.

It was a long talk, and I hope she felt a little better afterwards. If not, then at least she knows now that she's not alone. At least someone listened, someone else understood and someone else still is deep in her scrap bags, piecing and making quilt-tops at home. And if she didn't feel better, than at least I did. I remembered once again, why I choose to do what I do and how it gives back to me tenfold. I remembered that it's truly the joy of purpose and the act of doing and not the accolades or acknowledgments. That it's within us, and up to us, to find and create our own joy, our own passion and our own self-acknowledgment.

I'm grateful that I was given the chance to remember that the simplest of quilters are our true roots. It gave me something to think about as I re-entered my santuary, dove back into my scrap bag, hauled out big handfuls of scraps, and once again met with my 'therapist' for another session. A session of quilt therapy.

4 comments:

  1. AMEN.
    "Why do you quilt?"
    Because I HAVE to. The real question here is: where are all the "quilters"? Why are groups falling apart? My 2 cents worth - the fabric manufacturers are killing us. Too many choices, too many kits and formula quilts and perfectly co-ordinated patterns and suddenly all the "me" is gone from the equation. There's no creativity left, and in any local quilt show you'll see 8 of the same quilt. WHY? Soon we're going to be those old ladies with scrap bags feeling lost but determined. I'd sure like to have encouraged another generation to be their own quilter-person by then. I'm glad she had you to talk to - there couldn't have been a more perfect set of ears for her!

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  2. Another great post! We truly do have it deep inside ourselves and we keep searching for others to acknowledge our purpose and importance.

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  3. Su Bee, you hit a giant nail on the head (or is it an elephant in the room?)... I learned early on that my scrappy quilts brought me the most joy and the same seemed to hold true for those that were gifted... it is hard to resist the pretty pictures offered online and those infernal jelly rolls at the quilt shop... but I am doing my best to honor my inner therapist and stay true to what makes me the happiest during AND after I work on a quilt...

    Thanks, Michele, for sharing another truly awesome post!

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  4. I am feeling appalled that your old friend didn't get a better response from her group. I wish I was a longarm quilter and i would quilt her quilt for her. You are right that we all feel that sense of rejection or disappointment at times in our lives. I hope I never inflict that feeling on anyone.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.