WARNING: Some people may find one of the pieces pictured a little disturbing – but don’t let that stop you from reading the blog and the explanation of the work!

Like many people, I have suffered with depression. I can see evidence that depression has been a feature of my life for a number of years, but sewing has always seen me through. When I stopped teaching in a secondary school, I started my own quilting group, and we had an outing to local quilt show, held by another group. Some of us joined that group – Parkham Patchers – and it has been a lifeline for me and for others since then. One of our members only started with our group and quilting a year ago – and she is phenomenal – producing some amazing work. Quilting is her therapy, and our group has helped her to build up confidence, and give her something she can do whilst she comes to terms with the limitations of her illness. I mention her here, because over the Christmas period she messaged me every day to see how I was – and how my husband was, as he’d had a heart attack on Christmas Day (he was in hospital for two weeks, had two stents, but is much better, and looking incredibly well – according to all those who see him and know his story). It really means a lot to me that she contacted me every day, to check how I was, when she has her own health issues.

Sewing and quilting shouldn’t be hard work – it should be something we enjoy doing, that we look forward to doing, that gives us that feel-good factor. It is good for the soul. I have produced a couple of pieces that are more ‘art’ than quilt – and they each have a story behind them. The first one I’m going to show you ties in with the theme of depression.

Catch 22 – this was created in response to a competition set by Quilting Arts – the magazine. The competition was to create a piece related to a book title, with the winning entries being featured in their calendar. I thought of a number of books, but the one I came back to was Catch 22. I think you can see that this piece of work is suggestive of depression, but it is a piece that I am rather proud of. The book itself is very confusing (it was one of our A-Level books, back in the early 90’s), and I picked out some of the enduring features from it to create my piece. I used fabric pens, printing on fabric, Angelina film, Angelina fibres, and 3D effects as well. It stretched me, as I hadn’t done any of these things before, and had no idea how to create the wings of a fly. To me, this piece features aspects of the book that have stuck in my mind: flies in the eyes (you don’t know you’ve got flies in your eyes, because you can’t see them, because you’ve got flies in your eyes); the cat sleeping on the head of one of the soldiers; one of the officers who was obsessed with feathers in his cap and black eyes, and getting red pennants; M&M enterprises (the many financial undertakings of Milo Minderbinder, who bought things back from himself at a lower price and still managed to make a profit); the officer who lost an eye by having flowers thrown at him during a parade; Yossarian censoring letters; the medics solving every ailment by painting gentian violet on toes and gums; the apple cheeks wanted by one character; and the time that there was Dove soap in with the mashed potato. If you haven’t read the book – give it a go, it really is quite bizarre and confusing, but it didn’t stop me reading it numerous times.

ICU – Christmas 2006 saw my husband and I in Birmingham with his parents. His dad was in ICU, having had a triple bypass replacement and a valve replacement (forgive me if I’ve made a mistake over the procedure). I had never been into an ICU previously, and it was rather overwhelming. We spent Christmas Day in the ICU, and as we’d opened some presents before visiting time, I had a pen and notebook with me. What caused me the greatest anxiety to start with were all the different sounds, beeps and alarms. I was intrigued by the different colours of aprons that were worn, and also the patterns on the monitor. In order to deal with all the confusion and anxiety, I started to think about how the sounds would look – what colour and shape they would take on. I was able to make a note of all these things, and put my ideas down – it made a bit of a change from sitting with EPP. I assigned the different beeps and alarms colours and shapes – and what position the shapes should be.

The original notes

My father-in-law recovered, and during 2007 I spent much of the first part of the year off work. Creating ICU certainly helped. The photo of ICU in progress was taken before I got my own sewing room, and shows the number of threads that I used. It was a revelation to work on this, as it developed as I progressed; it has a lot of raw edge applique, and I used a circle cutting tool to cut the circles. When I looked at what I had created, it looked a bit empty, so I added more of the same patterns and shapes. This helped to give a better impression of my experience of ICU – so many different sounds all occurring at the same time; the sounds intermingling, starting, stopping, overlapping. At the time of writing this blog, I have not yet quilted this piece; it is basted, and just needs me to do it. I decided on the quilting design back in 2007, when I started working on the quilt top; it will be heart rate / beat rhythms – and the other patterns that I saw on the monitors, and in the colours that the rhythms were on the monitor.

ICU in progress, in 2007
The completed top, waiting to be quilted – I WILL quilt it this year!

Quilting as therapy – it doesn’t have to be the response to your own illness, or therapy in the sense of psychiatry; it can be a response to what you are going through at the time – an attempt – no, your WAY to work through whatever difficulties you are facing. However it comes about, it is something that is part of you, that you have created, and that should be recorded. I will be coming back to the theme of recording next month!

I hope you’ve not been too disturbed by Catch 22, and that maybe one of these two pieces will give some of you food for thought. You may be surprised where you find inspiration (which is a topic for a future blog of mine), and at how something like this can help you get through and deal with difficult subjects and times.

Responses

  1. Cheryl Davies

    I found this very interesting because I believe that quilting (or any other craft for that matter) is therapy, but maybe for slightly different reasons than yours.
    I too have suffered from depression several times over my life. When my husband was suffering with cancer I was a beadworker (still am on occasion – I had not discovered quilting then!) and had been attending a regular class. When he was well enough, my husband would almost push me out of the door to go to my class – simply because he could see that the two hours I spent there took my mind away from what we were living through. When I thought it through, I came to the conclusion that, if you are concentrating on making something, you cannot be concentrating on your troubles, whatever they are. Crafting kept me sane after he died.
    I know that I am not good at sitting doing nothing – indeed it can make anxiety set in. If I get to that stage (as I did the other week – I had been trying to set up the craft room and had been telling myself I didn’t have room for sewing) I MUST sew. It doesn’t matter what it is – hand or machine, patchwork or wholecloth – but I need to do something. So I set up a folding table in my lounge (I live on my own so don’t have to worry about getting in anyone else’s way!) and pieced a throw together. I just need to quilt it now!
    We all do what we need to do. Happy quilting and thank you for sharing. xx

    1. Christine Hutchins Post author

      You are absolutely right Cheryl – any type of crafting can be a form of therapy. I know that if I am not feeling great, time spent in my sewing room can help to make me feel better, and it doesn’t matter what I am making. I am lucky, in that I can spend time more evenings doing some form of crafting – be it quilting, embroidery or crocheting. Crafting is therapy by itself. The two quilts I’ve showed have been specific responses to specific times – but my quilts don’t always take this sort of form. It just so happens that my experiences prompted a very personal and creative response, in an attempt to deal with what I was experiencing – trying to make sense of it all. Thank you for sharing your story – I know that getting out to my quilting group is essential – as it gives me a chance to meet up with friends, and get away from it all.