The Healing Art of Quilting
by Brenda Gibbs
A quilt is a symbol of comfort, support, and love. A quilt often evokes strong emotions for both the recipient and the maker. A quilt is both functional and art. First, I will share what quilting means to me, and then I will share what I have been told by others.
When I make a quilt, what do I feel?
As I make and design each quilt, I think of the person I am gifting this to and review memories, infuse my desires of peace and prosperity for this person, and just generally feel compassion and creativity in my heart. Sewing quilts allows me to show this love to family, friends, and neighbours, to celebrate happy events and milestones in my loved one’s life, and to bring comfort to others in times of grief. Making quilts is a creative quest that satisfies my need to see and feel beauty in the everyday. It is a way to focus on the here and now, a kind of free-flowing meditation. See the horse quilt (Figure 1) I have made for girls in our family as they connect with their beloved four-legged teacher and companion.
Quilts and Grieving
I have found that making a quilt for someone bereaved or who is seriously ill is more a gift to myself than to the recipient. I want to do something and say something that is meaningful and sincere, but am unsure. Sewing a quilt says what is in my heart. As a school counsellor, I made quilts for families who lost their child unexpectedly. Those losses are unthinkable to any parent. I made a quilt for a longtime neighbour and friend. Our daughters have been friends since grade school and have been witness to each other’s wedding vows. When this beautiful and passionate young woman was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, I did not know what to do or say. Of course, I made a quilt for each of them. Figure 2 is the quilt I made for the daughter.
A quilt is an iconic symbol of comfort and can feel like being wrapped in another pair of arms. And quilters by nature are a generous and compassionate group of people. In times of great loss, the quilting community rallies and sends out the call for donations. Some recent Canadian examples were the Alberta flood (2013), Fort McMurray fires (2016), and the quilts for Humboldt Broncos (2018) (Figure 3). Another way to sew your grief is to make a quilt from the shirts of your beloved. I met a wonderful woman who was recently widowed and who finished a quilt for her son’s birthday. She cut and sewed material from his father’s shirts to make a “man’s shirt quilt.” Such a powerful healing journey as she stitched the pieces from shirts she had washed and ironed over many years. And such a tangible memorial for her adult son in receiving a loving tribute to his father.
Often, groups of quilters band together to form guilds which share a strong, everlasting kindred bond. There they support each other in learning new techniques, share their recent finishes, and also make charity quilts which are given to places like local hospitals, cancer centres, family shelters, and hospices.
On a national level, there is a drive to provide quilts for injured or ill military members, past and present. At this time, Canada has over 45,000 injured veterans. To date, Quilts of Valor-Canada has presented close to 12,000 quilts. Their goal is to donate 20,000 quilts by the year 2020. There is even an ongoing international campaign to make a million pillowcases for foster children. And so I believe that, yes, a quilt makes everything better!
Receiving a Quilt
I have not received a quilt from anyone, yet. So I asked some family and friends what their experiences were like when they were gifted with a quilt. The very best response I ever heard was when I was told by my daughter, who for years had chastised me for spending so much money on buying fabric “to only cut it up and sew it back together!” Of course, I did not listen to this voice of reason and went on to make many quilts for her two daughters. But it was when her second daughter responded so happily and hugged the “bunny quilt” (Figure 4) that my own daughter later said, “When I’m a grammie, I want to make quilts for my grandbabies like you do. Every quilt shows how much you care for us!” Quilts are personal and signify the special and unique relationship between the maker and the receiver.
I’m always in awe of the mastery and beauty of these works of art, whether I see them at a quilt show or enjoy the work of my friends. I am also very proud to call myself a quilter, even though I believe I’m still only an advanced beginner. I am so fortunate to have this hobby in my life and the community around me who call themselves quilters. I know the satisfaction in making a functional yet lovely object with my own hands and heart.
In conclusion, this quote found on Facebook sums up how I attempt to work and feel when making a quilt. “Quilters… cut with hope, stitch with grace, quilt with dreams, bind with laughter, and share with love.”
Brenda Gibbs is a retired school counsellor from the Saskatoon Public division and a widow, grandmother, sister, quilter, and newbie to the game of pickle ball. She has lived in Saskatoon since studying for her BEd degree and raised three children. Her daughters live in the Yorkton area with their families, and her son recently completed his mining engineer degree and lives in Ontario. Life is good! To contact her, call (306) 227-7323 and/or visit quiltdesignsintheyard.com.