How Quilting Healed Me

Only those closest to me know that I had a younger sister who took her own life five years ago. My sister Christine was 32 years old when she died. She was my best friend. After she died, I felt like my whole world had crumbled down around me and there was no meaning to anything in the world anymore.

On the outside, I put up a brave front. I doubt anyone knew how I was really feeling. Each day I would wake up, go to work and come home. That was my daily routine. I was on autopilot. Each day blurred into the next. Before Christine’s death, though, I would spend every free moment I had creating something. I was always sketching new ideas or working on some project. Whether it was doing calligraphy, rubber stamping, making jewelry or creating cards, I could always find something creative to keep myself busy with. Every day seemed full of promise. I couldn’t wait to get home from work so I could dive into my next crafty project. I wanted to try so many different things. Christine always called me the Asian Martha Stewart because of my interest for everything crafty.

My sister Angela, Me and Christine

But after Christine’s death, nothing held any interest for me. I felt numb. I was in a creative rut. What once held hours of fascination for me no longer interested me. I tried to start new projects but failed to finish them each time. I just didn’t care about creating anymore. I couldn’t come up with one creative idea to save my life. And I didn’t know how to change this, to get back to the me I used to be.

This went on for about 10 months. But then one day, in January of 2008, I happened to find myself driving by one of the local quilt shops in town. For some reason, I just got this idea into my head to stop in and check out their class schedule. I don’t know where that idea came from. Perhaps it was my subconscious telling me it was time to move on to something new or the thought of trying something new with a brand new year starting appealed to me. I had always admired quilts from afar, like when I’d see them in antiques shops or in someone’s home and thought that it might be nice to make a quilt some day. But I never seriously entertained the thought that I would ever be a quilter. I even used to work one floor below the offices of American Patchwork & Quilting magazine and would run into the editors at various work functions. When I told them I was kind of interested in quilting, they said they sometimes quilted in their conference room during the lunch hour and I was welcome to join them. But I never took them up on their offer. The thought of cutting up perfectly good fabric into tiny pieces and then sewing them back together seemed kind of crazy to me at the time.

Anyway, I went into the quilt shop and found they had a beginning quilting class starting in a couple weeks. I signed up for it right then. I remember asking myself what I was doing. This wasn’t me at all. I loved taking classes, that’s for sure, but they were usually ones that dealt with something I was passionate about, like rubber stamping or making cards. I liked to sew, but I still wasn’t sure that I was going to like quilting. Little did I know that this class would start me on the path to recovery.

While taking the quilting class, the instructor told everyone that we should join the local quilting guild which was very active. So I did. I had been a member of the local calligraphy guild for 10 years (which had recently disbanded), so I knew how nice it was to experience fellowship with other like-minded people. I’m fortunate to live in a city that has such a large and active quilting guild. The downside is that with so many members (more than 400), it’s easy to get lost in the crowd and it can be difficult to meet people.

So our guild has what we call “small groups.” Members are encouraged to form small groups and come up with a name for their group. Each group usually meets at least once a month and works on individual or group projects. Some even do a lot of charity work, creating quilts for veterans or homeless shelters, place mats for Meals on Wheels or pillow cases for juvenile cancer patients at some of the local hospitals.

When you’re a newcomer to the guild, it’s really hard to find a small group to join. Many small groups are already formed and it’s considered impolite to ask a group if you can join them. There is a Newcomers group that the guild has for newbies to meet on a separate night and discuss beginning quilting techniques. A lot of people who come to the Newcomers group usually develop a rapport and form a small group. But that wasn’t the case for me. I went to the Newcomers meetings but didn’t really click with anyone there. A lot of the women were quite older than I was, so we didn’t have a lot in common.

I just kept going to the guild meetings and would stay for the social time after the meetings when refreshments were served, hoping to meet some women my age. After a short while, I was introduced to Lisa, who was about my age. She was very sweet and introduced me to other people in the guild because I really didn’t know anyone there. Another time, Teresa, a very kind older woman, came and sat by me and started talking to me. She made me feel very welcome. I later found out that she and Lisa were in the same small group and I was introduced to the other group members who were close to my age.

I continued to sit by these women who called themselves Seams So Easy during the social time after the meetings, wishing I was in a fun group like this. Well, some months later, I was surprised to receive a phone call from Lisa one night. She asked me if I would like to join their group. She said they took a vote and it was unanimous. They all wanted me to join. Of course, I calmly and happily said yes. But after I hung up the phone, I was jumping up and down, wanting to scream, “They like me! They really, really like me!”, not unlike Sally Field’s 1985 Oscar acceptance speech.

My small group Seams So Easy
Clockwise from back row:  Emma, Lisa, Dawn, Teresa, Tricia and Me

Since then, my group and I have done several group projects together. We made medallion (round robin) quilts where we each created a row on each person’s quilt. We secretly made a quilt for Dawn, one of our group members who was to be stationed in Afghanistan. We made a veteran’s quilt to donate to the VA Hospital here in town. And we’ve participated in monthly challenges designed to teach us something new or take us out of our comfort zones so we can stretch ourselves creatively. We’ve also gone on quilt retreats together, which have been a lot of fun. Being a part of this group has been so wonderful for me and such a blessing. I’ll always be so grateful to be a part of this fantastic circle of friends.

The Freedom Star quilt we secretly made for Dawn
before she was deployed to Afghanistan.

My medallion quilt that we all worked on back in 2010

I recently came across this post and this post about how sewing changed these two women’s lives and I really identified with them. I can honestly say quilting has changed my life. Quilting kept my hands and my mind busy, and at the same time, helped to dull the bitter sting of losing my sister. It also rekindled my love of sewing and made me a better, more confident sewer. It inspired me to sell more than just earrings in my Etsy shop, too. And most important, I feel passionate and excited about something again.

The reason why I posted this today is because it’s Christine’s birthday. She would have been 38. I think she would be happy that I have such a wonderful group of friends who all share my love of quilting and that I’ve found a hobby I’m crazy about. I feel like I’ve changed so much since Christine died. I’m not quite the same person I was before, but I’d like to think I’m even better.

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7 thoughts on “How Quilting Healed Me

  1. There are so many things that went through my mind as I was reading your post. Mostly, I wanted you to know that you were heard. I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine. I find my creative pursuits so necessary for my mental health and really a weathervane for how I feel. If I find myself going days without working on something, I realize I’m starting to sink into the darkness and I try to snap myself back. It’s amazing how creating something, anything, can help my mood.

  2. Veronica, I can understand your story. While mine is different, when my Mother died a few years ago, I felt such deep sadness and lost my motivation to do anything beyond putting one foot in front of the other while keeping my job. I had seen my neighbor’s quilts and thought I might like to try one some day but felt so far from capable. I decided to give it a try and, like you, the creative energy lifted my spirit. I am still a beginner but enjoying my creative growth.

    I have not had the positive experience with a local guild like you have. One by me is also quite large and I’ve gone to two meetings but have not found anyone to connect with. I am an outgoing person and make friends easily but the groups in the guild are so tight. Reminds me of times as an adolescent girl.. not fun! LOL

    anyway, I am glad that you have found this creative place and that it has helped you step into this next phase of your life. I look forward to reading more on your blog. I am trying to figure out how to make a specific pin cushion and am stumped so I am reading blogs to see what I can learn.

    take care,
    Michelle
    in seatle

    • Hi, Michelle! Thanks so much for your comment. I’m so sorry for your loss. I totally know what you mean about feeling like an adolescent. I used to feel that way, too. The groups can seem pretty cliquey at first until you get to know people better. Maybe you can check out the Modern Quilt Guild in Seattle (that’s my favorite city to visit!). We have one here in Des Moines, and it’s a lot smaller group. Also, participating in guild swaps and retreats really helped me to meet more people. I’m glad you found quilting, too. Good luck with finding info on your pincushion. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Thanks Veronica, I saw a post about the modern quilt guild in Seattle just recently. I think they meet on one Saturday a month. I may check them out. Is that the guild you mention in your post?

        I found a picture of the pincushion I want to figure out how to make. If I could send you a picture of it, maybe you’ve seen a tutorial for it?? let me know. You have my email address from my post to your blog, if you are willing to look and see if it looks familiar.

        Thank you again for the encouragemenet to check further into a guild. I appreciate the support.

        michelle

  3. Wow, Veronica! I am so sorry about your sister, but thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I learned to quilt during a very difficult time as well, and I still feel that sewing is my therapy. I’m glad you were able to find something beautiful out of a very difficult situation, and I’m sure your sister would be very happy to know about it.

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