Quilting and good mental health

In the UK, the week from 8-14 May 2017 was designated ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’. The week was coordinated by the Mental Health Foundation (click here to go to their website). Severe mental illness has afflicted members of my family, so this is a topic that is close to my heart. The theme for the week was ‘Surviving or Thriving’.  Good mental health is more than an absence of illness and the Mental Health Foundation is keen to encourage all of us to take positive steps to improve our own mental wellbeing. The guide on their site entitled ‘How to look after your mental health’ lists 10 steps that we can take. Interestingly, some of these are directly relevant to quilting.

Step number 8 is ‘Do something you are good at’ and the suggestion is made that you should consider the question ‘What activities can you lose yourself in?’ Again and again, when teaching groups of beginners how to make a quilt, I see how this power of ‘losing yourself’ takes hold. Students report that the time has flown by while they have been engaged in their stitching. It has reinforced for me that this is partly what Amanda Jane Textiles is about. All my quilt patterns so far have been geared specifically to enable individuals to make a start with quilting, even if they have never tried it before.

Clouds and Smoke cover picture

Over many years of teaching, I have enjoyed introducing people for the first time to quilting, sewing, embroidery, crochet and knitting, but I am particularly passionate about the quilting.  There is something specifically about making a quilt which produces positive benefits. You need to concentrate on your work: cutting the pieces to size, assembling them accurately into rows or blocks, joining these up, laying up the quilt, quilting the quilt top with care and then putting on a binding.

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Seeing a pattern take shape under your fingers is exhilarating.  Making something warm and soft that can cover a person (baby, child or adult) while they sleep, is comforting. Choosing and using fabrics of many different colours is exciting.

Hand-quilting

Another of the positive steps is number 9 ‘Accept who you are’. One of the fascinating things about seeing finished quilts is to observe how individual the finished pieces are. Making a quilt to a pattern you have chosen and using ‘your’ colours is a part of self-expression that can enhance your feeling of self-worth.

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Step number 5, ‘Care for others’ and step number 10, ‘Keep in touch’, often arise naturally among a group of people who choose to quilt together. Websters New World Dictionary defines a ‘Quilting Bee’ (particularly popular in the nineteenth century) as ‘a social gathering of women at which they work together sewing quilts’. These gatherings still take place today as people take part in workshops and classes and as they join sewing and quilt groups across the nation. Social interaction and the opportunity to reach out to others occur naturally as you sit and sew together.

There has been some academic research into these consequences of quilting by Emily L. Burt and Jacqueline Atkinson of Glasgow University. They wrote an article based on their research entitled ‘The relationship between quilting and wellbeing’ which was published online on 5 June 2011 and then in the ‘Journal of Public Health’, Oxford University Press volume 34, Issue 1. The study was a relatively small one (29 interviewees), but the findings were unequivocal regarding the benefits of quilting for wellbeing.; Please click the link here to see all the conclusions of the study.  I particularly noted the phrase: ‘Participants experienced ‘flow’ while quilting’. I think that is the phenomenon I have mentioned above. I can attest myself to the experience of ‘flow’ when quilting – the quality of being ‘in the moment’, of being engaged in something, being energised and caught up in the enjoyment of an activity. In fact, I could say that doing exactly this has helped carry me through a particularly difficult time of bereavement in my life, as well as adding great joy and satisfaction during happier times.

Working on 'The Ponies'

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