Why I Started Quilting at 22

Quilting is not a hobby associated with youth. Rather, when one imagines a quilter they often picture a someone closer to retirement than their college graduation. So just why do I now spend my weekends at a quilt class or volunteering at the quilt museum rather than brunching with my friends as so many millennials are known to do? Well, dear friends, there are reasons aplenty.

My Mother

My mother has always been a sewer (sewist?). Growing up she made her own clothes rather than buying them. She made suits for her brothers in exchange for her first car. All of my Halloween costumes growing up were homemade–no store bought allowed. She even crafted the bridesmaids dresses for my sisters wedding! But that love of sewing was never passed on to me or my sister. She tried and tried, but we were stubborn. Whenever I sat down to try sewing a shirt or dress, it always led to frustration. The needle would break. I’d run out of thread. I cut the pattern wrong. Oh how I detested sewing. But a few years ago, my mom started quilting. While there are obviously many similarities between the two crafts, they really are completely different games in so many ways. After my childhood hatred for sewing, I had no plans on following in my  mother’s footsteps at the time, but I adored helping her pick out patterns and fabric. She made me a beautiful quilt that I use every night.

My Hometown’s Resources

While my hometown is small, coming in at around 5,000 people in the last census, we are mighty when it comes to quilting. The famed Marianne Fons of Fons and Porter lives here. We have multiple stores that sell quilter’s cotton and other tools of the trade. We’ve got a quilt guild that has made and donated thousands of quilts to a local children’s hospital’s NICU, makes Quilts of Valor for veterans, and puts on a quilt show every year to show off what they’ve made. Recently an entire museum focused on quilts opened up on our town square. We were even featured in the Iowa issue of Quiltfolk–a serial focused on different states and communities of quilters.

On top of all of that, the quilters here love to teach others. A few teach in their homes, which is how my mom decided to learn. Our quilt store also holds a class almost every month, which is how I’m learning. It’s really handy to learn quilting from a professional quilter who also designs and sells his own patterns (yes his–a male quilter manages the quilt store I go to). Between him and the ladies who take his classes, I’ve learned tons of tips and tricks that I wouldn’t have gotten just from reading a book or quilting on my own. If I do say so myself, it’s helped me get pretty darn good at quilting in just a short amount of time. 

My Mental Health

It’s no secret that I’m not happy with where I’m at in my life right now. My plans were thrown into chaos a few months ago when I decided to put off grad-school and focus on paying off my current student debt before accruing any more. It was the right decision for me, but it was and is still hard. So now I’m job hunting. While job hunting is always difficult, the highs and lows are exacerbated by my depression and anxiety. After a few months of submitting applications and rarely leaving my house, I knew I needed something else to focus on. Since my mom already had all the tools needed and I was so well positioned to learn, I figured I might as well give quilting a go.

Honestly, having these projects has kept me from falling into pits of despair or having frequent anxiety attacks. You see, I tend to be a bit obsessive about things, both my hobbies and my anxieties. It was getting too in my head about this whole job thing. Books and video games, while great distractions, weren’t doing enough for me. I needed something constructive in my life. Quilting fit that description for me.Being able to set goals and achieve them in one area of my life makes it easier to live with so much uncertainty of my job hunt. Plus, being able to wrap up in a blanket is very soothing when you’re anxious. 

The craft has done wonders for my mental health, and I’m not alone. There are lots of articles (like this one) about how crafting (which quilting would be included in) helps your brain. Long story short, it increases your dopamine levels, and dopamine helps you feel relaxed. Crafting also helps fight the effects of aging on the brain. Though I don’t have to worry about that quite yet, it’s fascinating how the activity influences your brain. 

 

Now, if only I could find more millennials interested in quilting so that my community didn’t consist almost solely of women more than twice my age. Don’t get me wrong, I love those ladies, but I crave being able to share this craft with people closer to my own age too.

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Creating Space to Feel

As you may or may not know, I struggle with anxiety and depression. Medication, weekly counseling, the whole shabang. The beginning of the new semester brought me a new counselor, and so far I’ve really liked working with her. In our work together we go about discovering more about myself and healing in ways I haven’t before. Mainly we do chakra work and meditations to help me understand my own emotions and energies better. (I will definitely do a post on this sometime, but that is not the point of today’s post.) One of the things I have found rather helpful in my emotional regulation practices is in fact a very small alteration to my internal dialogue.

Normally when feelings arise, especially if they are negative, I respond by internally saying things like “I am anxious,” “I am sad,” and so on and so forth. The issue with phrasing my emotional states in this way is that it does not recognize that those feelings are just that, temporary states. By saying “I am…” I am unconsciously equating my identity to my feelings. For someone who feels a lot of quote unquote “negative” emotions, this practice can be incredibly harmful and self-destructive to the way in which I see myself. I started to believe that anxiety, depression, and guilt were who I was. I ended up feeling worthless and inherently bad. Combine that with my previous campus ministry’s theology of sin and there was a lot of pain in my life.

After a few sessions with my new counselor, I started attempting to switch out my “I am…” statements with “I am feeling…” So far it has done a lot for me. This slight alteration in the way I speak to myself and the focus on noticing my internal realm has created space for my feelings to be feelings and not my identities. While I’m by no means “fixed” or “cured” (Damn it, I’ve got to stop saying toxic things like that. It’s just so ever present in our society’s language surrounding any kind of illness.)…anyways, I am still definitely struggling with anxiety and depression (and now I’m coming to realize codependency as well… more on that later), but this small act of mindfulness has eased things for me.

Now I need to work on saying “I am feeling…at this moment” in order to remind myself that these feelings are transient. So remember folks, you are not what you feel. You are the conscious being that notices your emotions and the comings and goings of said emotions. Do not get too wrapped up in the feels, but rather create a space for them to exist and allow them to both stay as long as they need to and leave when they are ready.

Connecting Body, Mind, and Spirit

I am an intellectual person. I do not say this as a way to boast, but merely to put into words the way in which I encounter the world. Simply put, I live in my head. While at times the habit of allowing my mind to be the ruling center of my life has its benefits (i.e. school and other academic pursuits), residing in my head is rather exhausting. Often I feel as though I have trouble being present. Whenever I interact with others I am always overly conscious of my body language and the messages it is sending, whether or not I am talking too much or with the proper inflection for what I am trying to convey, or I allow my mind to wander. Rarely can I allow myself to simply be. There’s simply too much to consider, too many things to observe, for me to let go of my thoughts and enjoy a moment. I fear I am out of balance. I place too much emphasis on my mind and not enough on my body and spirit, and I’m feeling the consequences.

Lately I’ve been working on noticing where in my body I feel my emotions, especially stress, and I have been focusing a lot on my breath. The books on mindfulness and meditation are piling up next to my bed and on my to-read list. The issue is that it is all too simply for me to read about how to do these things, but applying what I intellectually learn into my life is just so difficult. I can understand the importance of letting go, but the act is so difficult. My disconnect from my body is not simply expressed throughout my emotions and breath; my relationship with my physical health is suffering. I had once lost a considerable amount of weight, was exercising regularly, and eating healthy. No longer is that the case. I’ve started to gain a bit of weight back, eat terribly, and avoid working out. The motivation to care for my body just isn’t there right now. On some level I want to, but again, I’m just not too eager to put my desires into practice.

Spirit is a bit more difficult for me to even define, but right now I’m thinking of it as religious spirituality. Again, a very difficult concept for me. I can read texts and understand concepts, but I struggle with prayer, I worry that about my micromovements during communion, I just don’t feel connected to God (which I’m still trying to understand intellectually anyways, regardless of experiential (dis)connection). I think about religion and spirituality all the time, but I only experience it through my mind, not on a spiritual level.

I’m seeking better balance, but it is difficult. How can I simply let go of my thoughts and just allow for experiences to come as they do? How can I be fully present in the present without worry of not being present? How can I be without analyzing how I am? These are the questions that plague me during long drives by myself.

My Mental Health Story (As of Now)

I first started to notice that I struggled with my emotions and coping with stress during my junior year of high school. It was a pretty rough year. I was being made fun of in my gym class pretty ruthlessly by three of my peers, my band director had explicitly embarrassed me in front of our 180 person band several times and subsequently made me feel like an idiot, and my family was dealing with the stress that came with my sister’s impending wedding.

I feel it’s safe to say that I wasn’t okay. I was crying a lot, always anxious — especially during gym, and having panic attacks about once a week (though I didn’t know that’s what they were at the time). It caused frequent arguments with my friends because I was simply on edge the whole time. Continue reading