The first time I understood the emotional impact of quilts was at a guild meeting. An elderly woman, who I recall had been married close to 60 years, had made a quilt from her deceased husband’s clothing. While the resulting quilt was nowhere near show quality, her story was amazing. It had taken her more than a year to put together this quilt, crying over every memory and stitch. She used this quilt as a tangible memory of her husband, as well as a way to process her grief. That woman — and that quilt — made a huge impact on me.
The first time I experienced the power of quilting was making an art quilt based on the holocaust. My friend Gillian was teaching religious classes about the Holocaust and wrestling with how to teach this difficult subject to her Jewish students. In the process of her research, she came across the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” by Hana Volaukova. This picture book includes poems and artwork from some of the 15,000 children who passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp; less than 100 children survived.
I cannot describe the profound emotional connection I had to this quilt. While the overall message was of hopefulness — and the way these brave people found to embrace beauty in a horrendous situation — I kept thinking of the losses endured by the Jewish people.
The second emotional quilt I made was called “Remembrance” and was based on the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. McCrae was a Canadian medical officer in World War I. He wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” after the death of a close friend, and based on his observation that poppies grew very quickly around the crosses that marked the many graves in the area.
As I made this quilt, I found myself thinking about the sacrifices of our soldiers. What would it really feel like to lose your best friend? How do our troops endure such suffering, especially at such a young age?
I currently have a dear friend who is suffering through emotional trauma based on some horrendous events in her past. We’ve talked about her making a quilt. This would not be a show quilt or a quilt for anyone but her, it would be an art therapy piece to help express emotions and move her toward healing. She is already mulling over ideas and I have no doubt it will be beautiful and meaningful.