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'

How to layer up a quilt (the #100 days, 100 blocks quilt)

As I mentioned earlier, this autumn I took part in an Instagram quilt challenge to make a quilt block a day, each to be taken from Tula Pink’s book ‘100 modern quilt blocks’. The challenge began on 17 August and concluded on 24 November, so it was quite a considerable commitment. One block a day had to be uploaded on to Instagram, which was part of the point for me as I wanted to become more familiar with this wonderfully immediate mode of communication. It was fun seeing the same block, made in a myriad of different prints and colours, being posted on the same day from locations all over the world.

This week, I finished putting the quilt top together. There are 10 blocks in each row and 10 rows, with sashing strips and corner-stones separating out the blocks. There is a  narrow purple band around the whole thing and then a six-inch border of the same fabric as the sashing strips. Here it is hanging from the banister which at the edge of my mezzanine studio.

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This is a large quilt: 92 x 92″ (234 x 234cm), so I knew that layering it up was probably going to be tricky. In the event, it went quite well.  Here is how I did it.

1. I ironed the quilt top and the backing fabric really thoroughly. Then I moved the sofas aside in our living room, which has a wooden floor. This give me just enough room to lay the quilt out flat, and the wooden planks gave me some straight lines to work with too! I taped the backing fabric to the floor with wide masking tape, ensuring that the material was pulled really tight. The fabric for the back was joined down the centre and the pieces on the sides were joined at the mid-point. These seams gave me a mid-point on each side. DSC_0027.JPG

2. I folded the wadding neatly into four  and laid it on the top right-hand quarter of the backing (with the folded edges of the wadding facing in towards the quilt).DSC_0032.JPG3. Then I put on a mask, because breathing in glue (in any form) is a potential health hazard!DSC_0030.JPG4. I lifted the top edges of the wadding and folded them back so that the top one-eighth of the backing fabric was exposed. I sprayed this with a temporary adhesive for fabrics (I used the 505 brand here).DSC_0033.JPG5. Then I folded the wadding back down. With my hand on top of a single layer of wadding, I smoothed the wadding onto the backing in that one-eighth area of the quilt.dsc_0036                6. Next, I re-folded my wadding into the neat shape I began with  (see photo 2). Then I folded the shape upwards to expose the next eighth of the quilt. I sprayed the backing, then folded the wadding back down on to it and smoothed the bottom single layer of wadding as before. By now, one quarter of the wadding was attached to one quarter of the backing.DSC_0035.JPG7. Then I sprayed the next eighth of the backing (working downwards), and then unfolded, and smoothed the wadding onto the backing. Finally, I did the same again with the last eighth, which meant half the wadding was joined to half the backing.

8. The left-hand side of the quilt was easier to manage, as there was now only one layer of wadding to deal with. I sprayed a quarter of the backing at a time and smoothed the wadding onto the backing.dsc_00349. Once all the wadding was attached, I laid the quilt-top on top of the wadding, right side up. I then folded the quilt-top down the centre line, so the top lay folded, right sides together, on one side of the wadding.DSC_0040.JPG10. I attached the quilt-top to the wadding at the top and bottom with a quilter’s pin, ensuring that this point aligned with the centre point of the backing beneath.dsc_004111. Then I sprayed the wadding  which was to the left of the quilt-top, from the top to the bottom of the quilt and reaching across one eighth of the total quilt. Then I opened out the folded top and smoothed it onto the sprayed area.DSC_0042.JPG12. Once this was flat, I folded back a strip one-eighth of the quilt wide, from the top to the bottom of the top, sprayed the wadding and then re-folded and smoothed this part of the top. The other half of the quilt was done in the same way (steps 11 and 12).DSC_0044.JPG13. Once the process was complete, I pulled up the masking tape from one edge only. Then starting at the mid-point of that side. I tacked along the edge. I started at the centre point and worked outwards ensuring that the border was completely smooth. The three remaining borders were treated in the same way.DSC_0047.JPG14. Here is the finished item draped over a sofa while I tidied up! The whole process took two hours.DSC_0048.JPG