Thursday, December 15, 2016

Quilting as Self-Care

Why do women quilt? Nowadays, it is surely rarely out of necessity. In fact, it is probably cheaper to buy a manufactured quilt than to make your own and definitely much quicker. Yet, twenty-first century quilters still spend hours stitching up beautiful quilts of all sizes and often invest a lot of money in high-quality cotton fabrics and in state-of-the-art cutting and sewing tools. Sociologist Marybeth C. Stalp claims that quilting is a hobby that allows women to pursue a serious leisure interest without outwardly rejecting traditional feminine ideals of the nurturing and caring wife and mother. For her extensive study Quilting: The Fabric of Everyday Life (2007), Stalp interviewed seventy quilters (between 40 to 65 years of age) that had taken up quilting at midlife. While the reasons for taking up this hobby varied (for example wanting to continue a craft that had been practised by generations of women within the family or because they had been introduced to quilting through a women's group they had started to attend), the majority of women stressed that they prefered quilting to other hobbies because it not only served themselves, but also their families. Quilting, like other leisure activities practiced by women, may be perceived as time taken away from household duties and from caring for the family, specifically because it is no longer a necessity. Some of the women reported that their husbands did not like for them to sew at night, but wanted them to spend the evening watching TV together. Others felt the criticism of their extended family because their quilting stuff was constantly taking up space on the dining room table. However, the vast majority of women also reported that their friends and family enjoy the finished quilts and other kinds of small projects which they were regularly given as gifts. 



As such, Stalp identifies quilting as a serious leisure practise that allows women to take out time for themselves, while, at the same time, "accept[ing], reproduc[ing] and negotiat[ing] traditional notions of gender in families" which are centered on ideas of women as dedicated homemakers (25). In this setting, friends and family appear to value the finished product over the process of making a quilt, whereas quilters value the process over the product (130). Instead of thinking of a finished quilt in measurable terms such as hours spent working on it or the money invested in it, quilters tend to connect it with certain life events that they were experiencing at the time of stitching the project. The quilt above was developed from a block I made with some fabric scraps left over from a sample I made for the quilt shop I used to teach. The block became part of one of three charity coverlets that my quilt group made in honor one of our members who had recently passed away. I liked the pattern and the fabric collection and decided to make a whole quilt from it. That was in the summer of 2015. I finished the quilt only a few weeks ago here in England after I'd moved back in September. Though it is only indirectly related to Janice's passing, for me, this quilt will always serve as a memory of her. More though, the quilt makes me feel the warmth and support of my quilt group. Janice was in our thoughts as we were working on the three charity quilts and we often talked about her and about how much we miss her. For us, the process of making the three coverlets for the local hospice was also a process of mourning and of working through our grief. Naturally, we were proud to be able to donate the finished items, but, in hindsight, I think that the four months we spent on making these coverlets were more important to us as a group and also to each one of us individually than the finished product. As quilters, we valued the process over the product. For Janice's husband, however, surely the moment of handing the quilts over to the hospice staff was more meaningful than all the weeks building up to it, because he was not directly involved in the making process.


Each woman in the quilt group took time away from her family and work commitments in order to work on Janice's quilts. This was done out of kindness towards others and served a charitable cause since the quilts were donated to the local hospice to be put on the beds of the patients. However, the act of making the coverlets was also an act of kindness for the self. It was a form of self-care because the process of making the coverlets provided a medium to work through one's grief and allowed time and space for the individual and communal mourning of a dear friend. For me, this process continued even after I left the quilt group in August and moved back to Germany because I kept working on the quilt that was initially inspired by a single block in one of the hospice coverlets. As such, quilt making becomes a form of self-care for the maker. As Stalp puts it "quilters garner personal, physical, emotional, and artistic fulfilment from participating in the activity" (114). It makes you feel good even when you might be feeling low or going through a rough patch. I definitely don't need yet another wall hanging, bed quilt or handbag, but piecing together disparate pieces of material to the smooth sound of my sewing machine, for me, is much like a traditional meditation session. I sometimes literally get antsy when I haven't been able to squeeze in some sewing for a long period of time. I quilt, because it does me good. To quilt is to care about oneself and to take care of one's self!



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