What is it about quilting that fosters the feeling of
belonging and sharing experiences with a special group, of taking part in a kind
of ceremony almost?
There is a certain feeling, an attitude, a Zen if you will,
that is connected to quilting. Joseph Campbell, exhorted in his classic work, The
Power of Myth, “Follow your bliss,” and for many quilters including myself, that
is exactly what they do. I know that I am never happier than when I am seated at
my machine surrounded by the clutter of fabric, thread, all the necessary tools,
and scraps on the floor, unless it is when I am appliquéing by hand, sitting in a
Think about it: none of the other needlework arts, knitting,
crocheting, needlepoint, cross stitch, bargello, etc. engenders such an encompassing
sense of coziness and familiarity. At one time or another I have tried most kinds
of needlework and still do counted cross stitch when watching television. With no
other form have I felt such a sense of belonging, that somehow I was part of a community
of women doing much the same thing, unknown though they may be.
When I first began quilting, I discovered that the entire
process of quilting has a calming effect. Cutting the fabric and feeling the different
textures, arranging and rearranging varying colors, sewing the cut pieces into blocks
and those blocks together into still larger blocks is sort of a sensual and very
satisfying experience. I somehow feel I am participating in an almost ritualized
activity which I, in some way, share with many others.
I asked quilters all over the country via the Internet about
the mystique that is unique to quilting, and their responses were varied. Through all
of them, however, run the threads of sharing a common experience, of creating something
singular all the quilter’s own, and of the infusion of love into every quilt.
The responses that I have received were varied, but through
them all runs the thread of sharing a common experience. Historically in America’s
past, the quilting bee was a treasured time for women in remote areas to get together
around a quilting frame and visit, share their thoughts, and support each other through
the trials of everyday life. It was a time, too, to teach the next generation as the
older, more experienced quilters would instruct the younger ones.
Today, many women belong to quilting guilds which provide
much more than a place to swap quilting patterns. One quilter mentioned that her
group had been together for twelve years, with the members supporting one another
through the trials of breast cancer, death, divorce, along with promotions, weddings,
birth, and adoptions, and it is that sharing that holds them together.
Love is stitched into the quilts that women make for their
families and friends and according to those quilters I spoke to, that has always been
so. Many remembered growing up with a quilt on their beds that their mother, grandmother,
or a favorite aunt had made and the feeling of comfort and security it gave them.
One quilter pointed out that quilting is a little like therapy:
the rocking of the needle, the feel of the fabric, the mix and contrast of colors.
She wondered if psychologists had ever tried using quilts to get their patients to open up.
After all, she noted, who ever heard of a silent quilting bee?.
Quilting gives the quilter a link with her friends and
relatives that can reach back over history. There is a sense of well-being and
accomplishment as you quilt a special quilt for a wedding gift or a new baby. But
for many, many years, quilting was not considered anything more than something
utilitarian and thrifty that women did: they recycled old and worn-out pieces of
clothing into quilts that could be used for survival on long, cold winter nights.
It is only within the past twenty-five or thirty years that quilting has come to be
recognized as an art form.
As a group, quilters tend to be warm, unselfish, and ready
to share their time, fabric, and patterns. There is a definite lack of competition
amongst them which accounts in large part for the supportive atmosphere. Perfect
strangers will start talking when they find out they are both quilters. Their eyes
light up and the conversation does not lag because of all the ideas and projects they share.
So what is the Quilting Mystique? I'm not sure that I know
even now, after discussing it with many other quilters. I do know that it is made up
of a sense of community, laced throughout with love and, topped with a satisfaction that
feeds the soul at having creating something that is unique and yours alone. Perhaps
that is all we need to know.
Quilting: challenges the mind,
nurtures the soul,
stimulates the brain, and
warms the heart.
©2004 Patricia Littlefield