Quilting as Meditation {Discussion}

I occasionally like to have larger philosophical conversations here, which I put under the header of a discussion. I very much value the comments that I receive on these kinds of posts, and I encourage you to take the time to read the thoughts others share below, or if you are early in reading this post, consider coming back to check in on the comments later as there is often more nuance brought to the topic through others insights.

Over the weekend, as I was doing a daily meditation, the guided meditation talked about some general misconceptions around meditation. From what I recall, they mentioned:

  • Meditation is not the absence of thought. Instead, meditation is the act of focusing thought repeatedly.
    • Yvonne’s notes: Thoughts inevitably come, and my goal in meditation is to recognize when those thoughts arise and then work toward moving my thoughts back to the focusing idea or thought.
  • There are many ways to meditate; you do not have to sit still and only concentrate on your thoughts.
    • Mindfulness
    • Guided meditation (like I was engaged with)
    • Visualization
    • Active meditation
    • and many more!

During (!!) and after the guided meditation, I really keyed in on thinking more about active meditation. Active meditation is about connecting to the here and now while engaging in daily activities. Examples include:

  • Preparing food
  • Cleaning
  • Walking
  • Showering
  • …Quilting
Improv Patchwork - Sunset Mini - Quilting Detail

Improv Patchwork – Sunset Mini – Quilting Detail

You may have heard of a kind of free motion quilting called flow quilting (if not, my friend Leanne from Devoted Quilter explains it well in her flow quilting blog post). As you may know, I really love using walking foot quilting to quilt my quilts, but free motion quilting is a great tool to have in my toolkit and knowing how to transition from one motif to another in a smooth, flowing way is really powerful. When I’m looking for free motion quilting motif ideas, I look back on previous quilts like the Improv Patchwork mini shown above for ideas. However, in flow quilting instead of lots of stopping, consideration, and starting, you simply quilt a motif for a little bit and then transition to a different motif, aiming to keep the transitions as smooth as possible.

I really like thinking of flow quilting because of the way it ties in with the idea of a state of flow, or that feeling of being completely absorbed in something; complete immersion. Flow experiences can happen when you are doing something you enjoy and at which you are skilled and is often associated with creative work such as painting, drawing, or writing, but it also can occur when you are engaged in a physical activity like dancing or running. To my mind, quilting is the perfect blend of a creative and physical activity; as you well know, quilting can take a lot of physical effort!

Quilting Diatom

Quilting Diatom

Which isn’t to say that you can only achieve a state of flow while doing free motion or flow quilting. I can find myself in that state while I am walking foot quilting, as long as I allow myself to be completely focused on the quilting and in the moment. I can also definitely get into a state of flow when I am hand stitching down binding.

Just like when I am meditating, I can find that my thoughts jump off the rails even after having achieved a state of flow for a period of time. Sometimes I jump straight into spiraling thoughts about some embarrassing past event or memory. Or straight into stress and concern about how the quilting is coming together (is this really the best quilting plan? does this look like garbage? should I rip this all out?) or how the quilt is finishing or what I perceive I *should* be doing.

At those times, when I am far from feeling peaceful and nowhere near a state of flow, I like to stand up, stretch, and take a few deep belly breaths. Then I evaluate: what do I need now? Do I need to put on some music, an audiobook, or a podcast to help ease my mind out of the thought spirals? Do I need to get some water or food and take a break and come back later?

Am I always able to achieve a state of flow or a feeling of active meditation while I am quilting? Definitely not! Over the years, I have found that as my skill has increased, I am more likely to be able to find that feeling, but every project and every day is different. Have you ever slipped into this active meditation kind of state while you were cutting, piecing, quilting, or putting in the final stitches for the binding?

Studies purport that meditation can reduce stress, help in relief of anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms, improve mental health, improve self-awareness, and help with sleep. I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling overloaded, spending a few minutes with fabric in one way or another (pulling fabric to make a color palette, sewing a few things, stitching on a binding) really does help me feel more centered and calm.

So is quilting meditation? I vote that, yes, it certainly can be… as long as it’s not what is causing me stress!

As always, there is a lot more to this topic than I articulated in this post. I’d love to get your thoughts through the comments and I look forward to the conversation we will have.

13 thoughts on “Quilting as Meditation {Discussion}

  1. Julie says:

    There’s something especially peaceful about walking in nature, love the term forest-bathing; deep breathing in the fragrance of all the plants & earth and listening to the birds, insects, and little creatures rustling about. Back home, it’s all about the “hand-work”. It’s the best stress/anxiety reduction for me & essential for my sanity. My husband says I have restless hands, they’re always busy. While quilting is a priority at home during daylight, knitting goes everywhere with me. I always carry a project bag with a sock or scarf to keep my hands busy and my thoughts calm.

  2. Hi Yvonne! I’ve been in that flow many times! There was a book awhile back, pretty sure it was “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, in which the author talks about a different part of ourselves taking over in creative activity. I always feel very rested and centered after a quilting session, I wonder if that’s why…. but love this too much to look too deeply for reasons!

  3. I find quilting and sewing are a form of therapy. Especially during stressful times, putting thread into fabric has a calming effect on my nerves. The more complex the project the better, as the focus concentrates to only what I am doing, allowing everything else to be pushed aside for a while. Coming back to the stressful subject later, a way forward is usually clearer. While most of the time I have the TV on, or an audiobook, times of high stress it is best to sew in total quiet. If it is cool enough to open a window to hear the birds, even better.

  4. Sarah says:

    I definitely find quilting to be meditative – to the point I wake up an hour early just to start my day at the sewing machine before waking the toddler and going to work. What aspect of quilting is most helpful depends on the state of mind. Chain piecing is always helpful, but not available all the time. Hand binding isn’t quite engaging enough to keep my mind from wandering, nor is block trimming. Free motion quilting is always good, to the detriment of my shoulders.

  5. This summer, I have realized that I enjoy the meditative nature of the color green. I love to walk on paths where I am surrounded by green trees and ground cover. With quilting, I definitely have more of a focused, meditative state when I am working on improv, even though it energizes me so you’d think it would have the opposite effect. Knowing I don’t have to make something like everyone else is very satisfying. Slow stitching is definitely meditative and soothing. The feel of the thread moving through the cloth, the texture of the fabrics, the connection it gives to my mother and grandmother.

  6. Danice G says:

    Quilting is meditation for me. It does have a calming effect. The various shades/tones of green also is calming to me, as it is my favorite color. Hand-stitching down a binding is a favorite time for me as well.

  7. patty says:

    Any type of handwork – knitting, hand quilting, applique, sewing on a binding – absolutely puts me in the meditative state. For me, it is also my daily morning swim.

  8. I find quilting can be therapeutic, stressful or meditative…it all depends. Stressful sewing is the least fun and I try to avoid it. Therapeutic sewing is where I am most of the time…that it is good for my soul. I do love when I find I am in a meditative space for sewing – something familiar that lets my body and mind relax…often times with hand work I find this happens. It happens too when the quilting is going well and mindless, and yes, the more skilled I am at what I am doing, the less I have to focus on the quilting, and the more easily I can actively meditate.

  9. MelanieClaire says:

    Thank you for this perspective.
    I can not sit still for “meditation ” , much less focus. It is very difficult to turn my mind off. Every therapist, MD had said..’you should meditate”..

    Sewing. Piecing. Pressing. Handling fabric. It all calms me and I can do this for hours, even though my neck pain is so much worse next day or 2.
    This article,your perspective makes sense to me and helps.
    Again. Thanks.

  10. Nikki says:

    I have struggled for years on how to meditate and asked all the questions but no one ever explained it like you did. And at a time in my life where I just got back into quilting and trying to get back with my walk. The funny thing is this came out the day before my birthday so I know it was perfect timing. Thank you for making this clear and helping me while I figure things out.

  11. Kate says:

    Sewing is definitely stress reducing, but it’s rare that I reach the level of focus that I’d consider it meditative. But then again, I don’t quilt, I just piece. So maybe that’s the difference. For me, photography seems to be more meditative, especially when I’m focused on either our weekly photo challenge or working on assignments from one of my books. Examining the play of light in nature, looking for textures, trying to see things from a different perspective always produces this sense of wonder and peace, plus it’s a lot more effective at warding off the intrusive thoughts.

  12. Carolyn Turcio-Gilman says:

    For me, hand quilting is my meditative activity. It keeps me focused and peaceful. I enjoy it enough that I now make a point of having a project ready to hand quilt most of the time, especially when the rest of my life is hectic.

  13. I agree – Quilting is a wonderful combination of activity and peacefulness .. lately I have realized it is also a stress release – the piecing part makes me stop thinking of the outside forces and I get to focus on one thing… it helps calm the brain

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