Emotional Connections

I recently stumbled across a discussion guide about “Why Quilts Matter“, and I want to explore in detail some of the questions within the guide book. Today, the question that jumped right out and grabbed me is:

What kinds of emotional connections do we have with quilts, and why do they engage us?

emotional connection

It is hard to know where to start in this large landscape of a question, but I really like the quote above by Marc Newson, “If you see something that you feel is familiar it gives you an important kind of emotional connection.” Beyond just a quilt itself, have you not found how easy conversation can become with a stranger when you realize that you are both quilters? I love watching this play out as I meet new people and introduce myself as a quilter. It is very common for their eyes to light up and for them to recall a family member who quilts, a beloved quilt that was handmade for them, or for them to acknowledge that they are also a quilter.

Those thoughts are secondary to the root of the question, though.

Personally, I started thinking that quilts meet some basic fundamental human needs. They provide warmth, they can convey a sense of love or care, and they can even be transformed to provide protection. Looking to Wikipedia for information on fundamental human needs, I found this chart:

fundamental human needs

Without too much of a stretch, I can see how quilts can help fulfill each of these fundamental human needs! How emotionally engaging is that?!


Quilts can make us feel a wide range of emotions. The quilts that stick with me are quilts that I deeply emotionally connect with for one reason or another. It could be one of the few remaining quilts that my paternal grandmother made, an artful quilt that shocks me into deep thought about a topic, a beautiful and artistic quilt that appeals to my sense of aesthetics, a quilt that was made with such love and grace and caring that I can feel the affection throbbing through an image on a computer screen, or many other responses.

I also approach quilting as an act of mindful meditation. To me, nothing says love and warmth like a hand made quilt, and I put my love and joy of creation into the quilts I make. When I am working on a quilt, I tend to be very focused on who I am making the quilt for and why. The emotional connections that I form with each quilt I create are different and unique, and I value each experience for the emotional gift it can also provide me.

I will close with another question that strikes me as a follow on to this discussion: Do you find that you have specific types of emotional connections to quilts or do you prefer quilts that elicit a particular emotion?

41 thoughts on “Emotional Connections

  1. This is a very thoughtful and well-written post. I definitely create emotional connections with my quilts. Sometimes it’s hard for me to “work” sew but I make my own connections anyway. I think quilts give off different emotions to different people so it’s hard for me to say what other people will think when they see it.

    1. Oh, there is certainly no way to know what someone else’s emotional response to something is going to be. I know what you mean about it being harder to sew for “work”; those do tend to be much harder for me to emotionally connect with as well.

  2. Vicki P says:

    What an insightful post! You’ve captured my experience exactly. I escape into quilting, and if the quilt is being made for someone, I think about the recipients, their lives, my relationship with them with every stitch. I fix mistakes so it will be a better quilt for them, and imagine the joy and comfort they will feel when they cuddle up in it. I don’t quilt for money or prizes – I quilt for this.

    1. I think that a lot of us are drawn into quilting for this reason, Vicki. Occasionally I will forget this core reasoning as I get caught up in other things and life, and it is good for me to be reminded and re-centered on it.

  3. knitnkwilt says:

    Two wildly divergent thoughts. First a partial disagreement with the Marc Newson quote. First the agreement–yes, the familiar fact of quilt, yes a familiar traditional pattern or style, yes to fabrics in a quilt I recognize from prior garments. But there is a point when familiar becomes ho-hum. There was a time that everyone was making Grandmother’s Flower Garden with yellow “sun” and green garden “paths”; the first couple were fun, then they became old, old, old. Similarly, at a small quilt show the first one from a kit or a class might catch my eye, but the response decreases with each subsequent iteration–especially if the colors remain the same.
    Secondly and more positively–I’m considering awe an emotion, not sure here. But the most attachment I feel with a quilt is the awe at some detail, maybe color, maybe design, maybe the quilting, maybe the precise miniature piecing, maybe the way the idea relates to the design.
    And I realize I’m thinking more in terms of interacting with quilts at a show than personal giving and receiving…I think if I were to shift gears I’d come up with different thoughts and emotions. But my first reaction was to think of quilts as quilts rather than as gifts.
    An interesting post–I hope you ponder and open other of the questions you found.

    1. Great observation about how familiarity can breed a lack of excitement. In my old work life, we called that “normalized abnormality”. I think that your example of seeing the same aesthetic repeated at a quilt show is especially poignant in illustration.

      I will definitely be adding more about these questions over time. I already have next week’s post ready to go, in fact. :)

      1. knitnkwilt says:

        “Normalized abnormality”: I like that–gotta remember the phrase and use it. Awaiting the next in the series.

      2. Lara B. says:

        “Normalized abnormality” – I love that. We do adapt to the abnormal, sometimes rather quickly.

  4. I find that I’m not attached much to the quilts I create once I’m finished creating them, other than to enjoy the beauty of them or to savor the lessons learned while making them. I can easily give them away or sell them, because I feel I’ve already gotten what I needed from them in the moments I was creating them. I deeply hope they evoke feelings of joy, peace, enthusiasm, thoughtfullness – whatever positive thing they may evoke in the people to whom they go – whenever they look at or use them. Now I’ve had a quilt made by my grandmother, who died when I was nine, since I got married 24 years ago (my aunt kept all her quilts and gave one to each of us when we married). Even though she died when I was very young, she had some profound impacts on me that are a strong part of how I live even now, at fifty! So when I got it, I saved it – I didn’t use it because it would fade; I just admired it every once in a while and thought of Grandma and felt the love and emotions, etc. that came with it. Recently I realized that I wanted to have it out and use it, even if it meant that it would be ruined, because that’s why it was created. Yes, I think of Grandma every time I use it, and I feel that connection with her, but it’s just a thing, and it was meant to do ALL those things you listed above, and by hiding it away and saving it, I wasn’t allowing it to do those things. Plus, Grandma has been gone for a long time and my son and husband never met even her – so I figure that while the knower of Grandma, i.e. me, could enjoy a little deeper connection to her through it, they could get whatever intention she put into the creating of it just because it was there, and when it’s tattered I will be able to let it go easily because it’s not the thing itself, it’s the spirit that created it – and that never leaves. And, too, I hope that something of her lives on in me, and that’s the way other people will get to experience her – the material parts should just be allowed to be temporary, but to be enjoyed while they can be.

    Sorry if this is too long, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as you see. Thanks for the thoughtful questions you pose – who knows what kind of changes come about from them!

    1. Long responses are wonderful; there is no limit on what you want to say here! I find that it is enjoyable to think about and write these posts, but the real insights happen in the comments. So, thank you!

      Not being attached to quilts after they are made is an interesting thought, and one that gave me pause. I try very hard not to be too attached to “things”, and I realized that for the most part I agree with your comment. The creation of quilts is what fuels me, and I am more than happy to let them go on to new homes to share whatever they have with someone else.

      I think the exceptions to that are sentimental quilts, like my first quilt which was the last quilt my paternal grandmother hand quilted before she passed away. Or the quilt I made for my husband and I when we got married. I use both of those quilts, but I am very emotionally attached to them and not likely to want to let them go. When they are in tatters, I wonder if I will re-purpose them… :)

    2. Lara B. says:

      Carrie, what you have to say in your post is beautiful. “It’s not the thing itself, it’s the spirit that created it…”

  5. susanbk says:

    What a great topic to explore! I definitely have an emotional connection to quilts, even sometimes some raggedy snippets left forlorn in a basket at the flea market. I think we do sense the maker’s work that went into them. Many quilts, of course, draw us immediately to thoughts of snuggling under them or picnicking on top of them. And at QuiltCon this year, I was bowled over by my responses to two bold quilts in particular: CauchyComplete’s (Chawne Kimber’s) tribute to Trayvon Martin and Penny Schine Gold’s “I am a mother…” There was no mistaking the impact of both those quilts. I really was quite literally stopped in my tracks. For quilts to have such an effect on us — what a remarkable thing.

    1. The QuiltCon quilts you mention are fabulous examples of bold emotional quilts. I was also really drawn to the Survivor / Victim quilt and the Tough Titties in much the same fashion this year. :)

  6. Jan O says:

    Interesting topic and worthy of more thought…
    I find that I’m much more emotionally connected to the quilts I make as gifts for a specific recipient than I am to others, such as those made for a pattern, guild challenge, donation, or whatever. I guess the connection to the person transfers over to the making and therefore to the thing made. Does this apply to any craft?
    When I read blogs, sometimes the homely quilts that have a family history, or one the blogger is making especially for a loved one, speak to me more than the latest fat quarter collection. (That said, sometimes the fabrics grab me, too!)

    1. A quilt I make with a specific recipient in mind has a lot more emotional connection for me during the creation process, too. Your question about it applying to any craft is quite interesting.

      My husband is a photographer, and he does not particularly take photographs for a specific person, but he has a lot more emotional connection with natural subjects (wildlife, landscapes) and he goes to great lengths to avoid man-made objects in his photography, so there is obviously emotional content to that decision.

    2. Yes, I see what you mean, Jan. If I’m making a quilt for a specific person, there is definitely a different energy going into it, more emotions – hope for sure. What a fun topic to think about.

  7. Christine Sherman says:

    Funny of the timing of this post. I’ve been working on a vintage sheet quilt today for my sister. All the while thinking of how I hope it brings her comfort in very rough times, etc etc. I picked a sheet she bought me some time ago for the backing. I remember she was so happy to give it to me because it was so pretty and like new. I also have a scrap patchwork quilt laying in my chair that my Mom made me many years ago. I put it there after my surgery because even though it’s literally falling apart, it brings me such comfort. Every single time I sit down I spend time looking at the fabrics, remembering them from her big tubs of fabric. Now I’m rambling on. I find old fabrics speak to me greatly and those are the quilts I connect with the most :)

    1. Wow, it sounds like you have really been putting a lot of recent thought into this, Christine. I, too, hope that the quilt you are making your sister brings her as much comfort as the quilt your mom made you has obviously brought you. A quilt in tatters from long, loving use is a lovely and beautiful thing.

  8. pbarretthill says:

    Yes, each item I make takes a “bit” of me – my emotions vary as to each project. In fact I feel that my projects express frustrations, joys, pains, sorrows and so on. Most of the time, it is a sincere expression of goodwill. This is funny, there are family members who want me to make them a quilt and I am unable to so because the emotional connection is toxic. On the other hand, it would be therapeutic (for me) if I made them a word quilt expressing the true emotion that I feel. However, I don’t want to be unkind! I love and admire Chawne of https://cauchycomplete.wordpress.com. Her “word” quilts are fantastic and are obviously quilts born of deep emotional and a need to express said emotions. I love the intricate designed quilts of say, Jacqueline de Jonge of http://www.becolorfulquilts.com and Etsuko Misaka and so many others too numerous to name. Other artist evoke emotion (s), perhaps not the authors ‘. emotions. By the by, I applaud the convention managers who are including quilts from all walks of life and expression. I hope that no one group of people stifle another’s outlet of expression. Emotions are we! We are emotions! That is what makes what we do ART! Some years ago, I attended a quilt museum that hung several quilts that at first glance looked hideous! A closer look at those quilts revealed great piecing and design, but they were all various shades of black, greys, and dingy whites. Uggg! So I took time to read about them. The quilter was from the early 1900s and was a prolific quiltmaker. When her daughter died in infancy, the quilter took ALL the quilts in her home and dyed them BLACK. Talk about emotion. The story changed my perspective about those beautifully made pieces. YES, emotion equals art expression! Just my humble opinion. I want you to know that I’ve been thinking about this post since you posted it. ☺

    1. Wow, the story about the woman who dyed all her quilts black after the death of her daughter is quite powerful. I completely agree about the quilters / artists you mention as having such powerful emotional quilts. There are some really creative and inspiring works of art out there right now. I also completely understand what you are saying about not being able to make a quilt for someone out of the fear of putting toxic energy and emotion into its creation; that is very honest and honorable for you to abstain from making for them, although they are likely to not understand that.

  9. Lara B. says:

    It is so interesting to read through your chart of fundamental human needs and keep thinking -“Why that’s what a quilt does too!” Making a quilt is transforming for both the fabric and the maker… both become something a little more miraculous.

    I too find quilting meditative. I think of the person I am making it for more often and I sew prayers right into the seams. Also, that focus I need to create, in order to make a good quilt, that keeping my thoughts on something lovely, is healing for me too.

    Quilts that evoke emotional connections are probably the ones that I am drawn to the most. But I also love to see quilts that elicit emotional responses. Well, I should qualify that: not all types of emotional responses are something I want to have when viewing a quilt.

    1. The chart was so impressive to me; I thought that quilts would probably meet a few needs, not potentially all of them!

      I think that one of the biggest reasons people are drawn to quilting is because the process is so healing for the creator. I have seen it mentioned a lot recently, and I think it is a very awesome thing.

      Do you mind sharing what kind of emotional responses you would not want to see when viewing a quilt?

      1. Lara B. says:

        I was surprised too Yvonne about how a quilt might meet any or all of those needs.

        Well, i can give you an example of an unwanted emotional response I have to a certain type of quilt. I have seen two quilts that evoked the response of Disgust. One was a quilt with the N word and another had the F word all over it.

        I like having my viewpoints broadened, like when you showed us your Crave quilt / Reclamation Project 2. I loved that Yvonne!

        With the two profanity quilts, it seemed like their makers were not so much interested in creating art and pushing boundaries, as they were seeking to place themselves at the center of controversy. A turnoff for me.

    2. Profanity… that can be tricky. I personally have to own the “F” word a bit. With my last name being Fuchs, I have had to come to embrace the typos and misspellings and re-frame my perspective on that word a bit. Honestly, it can be entertaining to leave “Fuchs” as your group name with a maitre ‘d at a restaurant. Even carefully spelling it out, they tend to not write an “H”, and you will know it is your turn to be seated when their eyes turn into the size of saucer plates… we tend to try to save embarrassment and stand up before they actually vocalize their misspelling… I have a friend who made a beautiful “F@%! cancer” quilt that has amazing much heart and soul and emotion behind it, and it can definitely stir up controversy. In terms of the N word? Now that one is much more tricky, I agree. Thank you for sharing what pushes your buttons.

  10. Renee says:

    When I think of my emotional connection with my quilts I first think of my Cesarean and Fuck Cancer quilts–they are not only quilts I made from raw emotion, but the ones that elicit strong emotions from myself and others. I agree with your above comment/reply–the quilts I make for someone I know (even on commission) I put a lot more emotional energy into. All those tardis quilts I’ve made (excluding the first) were fun, but lacked much emotion during the process. Considering the amount of time and thought I spend on all the details on most quilts, the emotional connections are pretty strong usually! Every quilt I give away I consider part of the family and every recipient is therefore a part of the Quilty Family as well.

    1. Yes, there are definitely quilts that land a lot higher up the emotional connection scale than others, and your two examples are perfect. And I love the visual of a Quilty Family… I don’t think I had quite thought of it that way before, but that is great imagery.

    2. Lara B. says:

      Renee, now there is a situation where I can appreciate the F word on a quilt.

      1. Haha! You already found that reference. Yes, that is a powerful quilt. Context is interesting.

      2. Lara B. says:

        Yes it is and Renee has now broadened my mind… big time! And I definitely do not feel disgust, but instead a strong connection with the emotions behind her two quilts. And Yvonne, you had me dying laughing with the saga of working with your last name and “owning” the F word. Actually, I was pronouncing it differently… like “Fukes”

  11. I think I am drawn to ‘happy’ (bright) or ‘safe, warm and comforting’ (traditional) quilts. But the mood I get from one quilt might inspire the opposite in someone else. I find that part fascinating.
    Maya Angelou’s quote is ringing true for me at the moment. My Gran cannot remember our days together or our conversations, but the echo of a good mood remains.

    1. Great point about quilts inspiring different feelings or moods for different people. That is the wonderful thing about art.

      It sounds like your gran is slipping much faster than I had hoped. I am thankful that we can remember the core good memories of a person, too.

  12. I absolutely “miss” every bit of anything I make, because I really do put a lot of love into it all… most certainly a finished quilt. I think that comes heavier because each one is truly ‘unique’ (the way I view it) and it is a part of me. Although when I remind myself that a part of me is being spread all around, it makes me just that more warmer and gratefulness. I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately, in tunes with all of the recent blog posts of the ‘bad’ things in swaps, etc. I love your reads; always beautifully written.

    1. I do think that viewing your quilts as bits of a family spreading out helps to reframe it a bit (at least for me). :) I have definitely been hesitant about joining swaps, and sometimes I think that is almost selfish on my part, but I am plenty busy without adding a stressful situation on top of everything else. I’m sure not all swaps are stressful, but I do know I would put a lot of pressure on myself, you know?

  13. Jasmine says:

    I’m just catching up on some reading, and I love all the comments here. I do sew a lot of love into the quilts I make. That is partly why I named my blog “Quilt Kisses.” Quilts are an expression of tender care. And I think of the recipients (whether or not I know them) when making the quilt.

    There are some I do get really attached to, but I appreciate the reminder that they are things. I enjoy creating them, but my biggest attachments are to people. So I do hope that those I do let go bless the lives of others. Because I do keep many of them. My house is full of quilts. I feel they are things of beauty and comfort. I was once accused of hoarding them, but I like to think that I could give them away if someone really needed it.

    1. I think that the beauty of these posts is in the discussion in the comments, Jasmine, and I am glad that you feel that way, too.

      Having a lot of quilts in your house does not qualify as hoarding in my book! You make so many and give them away so generously. I am sure if there is someone in need, you will have them covered. :)

  14. helenthedaydreamer@gmail.com says:

    I find there is a very strong emotional connection to quilts. On a personal level I made a quilt for a cousins child who’s mother had died very unexpectedly. This was 18 years ago, she is now 23 and would still mentioned her quilt when I meet her again last year. I was very touched so I suppose it fulfilled an emotional need in both of us at that time.

    Sent from Surface Pro

    1. How awesome that she still mentions the quilt to you; that was a very powerful and wonderful gift you gave her! And that is definitely my desire when quilting: to create something that helps form a lasting impression or link.

  15. RuthB says:

    It’s not quilt related but i was reminded of a documentary series on art and the one on music talked about familiarity, When releasing a new single radio stations will play it in between 2 well known songs as that familiar feeling will generate positivity to the new song in between! A quilt to me is like a hug and something we as apes are very familiar with! Giving the gift of a quilt made with someone in mind is giving a big hug and knowing someone values you and cares!

    1. Yes, quilts are my way of sending my physical body on a journey – long distance hugs! And what an interesting thing to know about music and new songs; I will try to pay attention to that in the future.

  16. sally says:

    I’m starting a catch up and this post title grabbed me first today! Definitely a huge emotional connection with the quilts I make. Most of them are presents for people I care about and I find that as I make them I’m thinking about the person they’re intended for and shared memories, and as well as the love and thought that gets stitched into the quilt, I find it’s almost creating a deeper connection with the person at the same time, without them even being aware of it. As for quilts that elicit an emotional response from me – I think the very nature of quilts makes it easy for them to be extremely powerful when someone wants to create one with a hard hitting message, because quilts are usually something of warmth and security and love, I think it feels more shocking when there’s a quilt with a message that’s juxtaposed with those feelings, and therefore it provokes a stronger emotional response in the viewer. Would the use of profanities discussed above elicit the same level of feelings of disgust if they were on some street art rather than a quilt? I think a good example for me of a ‘shocking’ but really powerful quilt which very much elicits an emotional response is this one – http://tallgrassprairiestudio.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/bang-youre-dead.html.

    1. Jacquie’s “Bang You’re Dead” quilt is very amazing, Sally. I got to see it in person at QuiltCon 2013 in Austin, and I thought it was fabulous. Her description of the process and its meaning really balanced out the initial shock of viewing the quilt.

      I agree that the very nature of quilts helps them be so powerful – a physical connection when an in person one cannot be made. I feel like my quilts are little extensions of myself that get to go on care journeys. :)

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)