three • Individual Experiences of Health and Well-being through Quiltmaking
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48 | “When life throws you scraps, make quilts,” “Our lives are like quilts—bits and pieces, joy and sorrow, stitched with love,” and “Those who sleep under a quilt, sleep under a blanket of love.”1 These proverbs reflect the motivations of so many who turn to making and using quilts for personal well-being and healing. The scientific literature is now verifying what many quiltmakers already know: making quilts is therapeutic. The work these quiltmakers produce is tangible, tactile evidence of progress toward recovery or of acceptance of living with altered conditions, of perseverance, of life-affirming activity, and of continuing to be productive in the face of adversity. Quilt artist Michele Bilyeu powerfully expressed her feelings about quilting like this: I use the healing gifts that I have been blessed with, and I take those energies and infuse the fabric with heart, and thought, and caring, and prayer and I send them off into the world. That is the essence of a healing quilt, a prayer quilt, a quilt. Be kind to one another in word and deed and make a difference in someone else’s life today, and every day. And then think about making and giving away quilts for charitable giving and charitable causes. I just know you’ll feel a whole lot better! You’ll look at yourself differently, your life differently, your aches and pains and challenges differently, and you will alchemize the transformative process that is really and truly mind over matter . . . the unity of mind, body, and spirit . . . by the act of giving, and the gratitude for what you do have . . . and not just focusing on your own sadness or your own losses or depression. Focus on what you do have, what you are grateful for and give to others as you also create a form of giving to yourself.2 On the individual level, the making or the receipt of quilts can profoundly affect health and well-being. Our research into both historical and contemporary accounts reveals that artists have used quiltmaking as a way of trying to understand and cope with their health situations or to distract themselves from external challenges. They have engaged in quiltmaking to express compassion and empathy for others who are dealing with health or traumatic life challenges, to provide tangible comfort. Often, the line between the giver and the receiver in terms of who benefits is blurred. While the recipient of a quilt is comforted Individual Experiences of Health and Well-being through Quiltmaking three} Health and Well-being through Quiltmaking | 49 physically and emotionally, the quiltmaker gains a sense of their own well-being through the activity of making and giving. Vital components of well-being include having a sense of purpose and self-worth and feeling connected to a community of others in which one is valued. Indeed, the previous examples we have given in this book provide evidence of how quilting not only contributes to improving the health and well-being of those who are facing illness or crisis; it also has substantial therapeutic value in terms of sustaining one’s own health in the absence of illness. This is particularly relevant to the considerable attention currently being paid to self-efficacy and promoting healthy lifestyle choices and behaviors, based on the idea that people bear some responsibility for their own health. It also resonates with an increased recognition that health should be defined in holistic terms, that it is comprised of multiple, interrelated elements such as physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and mental well-being. In these contexts , quilting can be thought of as a preventive activity, a behavior that promotes holistic health and strengthens one’s individual defenses against illness. Grief, Mourning, and Quilts The loss of someone dear is a time when many quiltmakers find that their work comforts them. Nettie Uher, quoted by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Burferd in The Quilters, said, “After my boy Razzie died when he was fourteen, I began to quilt in earnest, all day sometimes. There was still the two younger ones to take care of but losing my oldest just took something. I lost my spirit for housework for a long time, but quiltin’ was a comfort. Seems my mind just couldn’t quit planning patterns and colors, and the piecing, the sewing with the needle comforted me.”3 Coping with the deaths of her husband and a daughter, Merrilee J. Tieche, who was living in Nixa, Missouri, found that making quilts...


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