How Patchwork Can Improve Your Mental Health

Crafting is a Great Anxiety Buster

There are so many health benefits to be gained from a creative hobby or craft. According to the Journal of Public Health, arts and crafts hobbies like quilting help people understand their problems, improve physical and mental functioning, and divert attention from pain and anxiety.

More than half of all Americans admit to being concerned for their mental health. If you fall into that half, you might be seeking better ways to deal with stress and anxiety. A therapeutic hobby like quilting can take your mind off mental health issues. Learn how you can try quilt-making to promote wellness and increase your emotional and physical well-being.

I have struggled with anxiety since childhood. As middle age approached, bouts of depression made me feel useless and unproductive. I knew I needed an effective way to deal with stress, but finding a solution that worked for me was difficult and frustrating. 

Sewing clothing and home decor was already a part of my life, but it didn’t relieve stress. Then, I stumbled upon quilt-making. It was like a new world opened up for me. My first quilt was a beginner attempt to sew something that looked like a quilt. When I see it now, I laugh. But that first quilt was vital because it started me on the road to creativity, self-esteem, community, relaxation, and, ultimately, greater emotional well-being.

wellness and relaxation through quilting. Try this mindful craft to boost mental health.
Photo credit: Sew Can She.

Reduce Stress Through Creativity

Making quilts is an art form enjoyed by an estimated 10-12 million quiltmakers in the United States alone. These quilters have discovered the secret to wellness, less stress, and more happiness!

The American Psychological Association suggests reducing stress through creative interests (such as sewing and quilting) increases serotonin in the body and brain. Serotonin promotes wellness, supports good sleep, and reduces anxiety. Another study by Utah State University found that approximately 75% of participants’ cortisol levels (one of the most widely studied hormonal markers of stress) were lowered after making art. 

Why Patchwork is Good For Our Overall Health

Participating in creative activities is a fantastic way to relax and promote good mental health, as it reduces stress and lowers blood pressure.

Making a patchwork quilt consists of easy, repetitive movements like:

  • Placing two pieces of fabric together
  • Putting the fabric pieces under the foot of the sewing machine
  • Using your foot to press the pedal and sew the seam

“When you focus on something that is not work-related, you give your mind something else to focus on that you find to be fun and enjoyable,” says Dr. Randy Cupps of South Denver Cardiology. He explains, “As a result, your blood pressure and hypertension lowers.”

Most quilters I have spoken to report quilt piecing induces an almost trance-like relaxation. Some psychologists describe this feeling as flow. Worries fade away, the tactile experience of working with your hands soothes the nerves, and physical tension disappears. 

If I compare the quilting experience with sewing clothes, fitting and sewing a garment can be stressful, and piecing a quilt always makes me feel better. After all, a quilt always fits!

An enjoyable activity that distracts from worries and stress is a necessity. The key is finding a healthy distraction that contributes to personal development and fulfilment. 

Some people call their spouses’ crafting or quilting an addiction. Still, I can think of plenty of worse habits: expensive cars, lottery tickets, and unhealthy substances, to name a few.

wellness and relaxation through quilting. Try this mindful craft to boost mental health.
Photo credit: Sew Can She.

Patchwork Improves Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are needed to perform precise and repetitive movements to create a patchwork quilt. The process of quilting becomes easier with each quilt you make. Continuing to sew and make quilts can help you retain fine motor skills as you age.

As I mentioned, one step in the quilt-making process is using your foot to make the sewing machine sew. This must mean quilting builds foot-eye coordination, too. I can argue quilting makes you a better driver!

Sewing hobbies, like quilting, often involve easy and repetitive processes with hidden benefits. Harvard Medical School includes sewing and knitting in its suggested activities to strengthen eye-hand coordination.

Patchwork Can Boost Self-Confidence

It’s a bold claim, but bear with me here! Learning any new skill always boosts an individual’s self-esteem, but patchwork is a hobby that also produces tangible items that can benefit individuals, families, and communities.

This can give a real sense of purpose when you’re quilting. Knowing that you’re creating something that will benefit someone else makes the activity even more meaningful. There is no better way to lift your mood than to make someone smile.

Barak Obama said, “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, and you will fill yourself with hope.”

Do you remember the fantastic feeling you last felt after helping someone or showing kindness? Quilters always get that feeling by gifting baby quilts, sending quilts to charities for veterans and refugees, or donating a raffle quilt to a local library or other worthy organization. As a bonus, they always have a meaningful birthday, housewarming, or wedding gift ready when those events sneak up on them.

One quilter named Mareen emailed me saying, “These three-yard quilt patterns are wonderful! I belong to a guild, and we do charity quits of all types and sizes. They get distributed to various shelters in our area: moms and their kids, vets, etc. These patterns will work up quickly and make someone very happy!”

Quilt-making is not just a hobby that makes a person feel better while creating it but also a productive use of time. Whether quilts are passed on to family members, acquaintances, or strangers, the love that comes with a quilt is always appreciated.

wellness and relaxation through quilting. Try this mindful craft to boost mental health.
Photo credit: Sew Can She.

Your self-confidence can really grow when you complete a project that requires setting and reaching smaller goals to achieve a larger plan. Positive Psychology reports, “Making progress towards personally meaningful goals is the scaffolding upon which healthy self-confidence is built.” 

The Steps To Make a Patchwork Quilt

Creating a patchwork quilt can be quite a daunting task, but a good quilt pattern breaks this goal down into easy, manageable steps:

  • Choose the fabrics
  • Cut the pieces
  • Piece quilt the squares together
  • Sew the quilt blocks together to make the quilt top
  • Adding batting and backing fabric to your patchwork
  • Adding binding to the edges of the quilt

Beginner quilters regularly email me pictures of their first quilt. Their sense of accomplishment is so great they want to show their quilt to the person who designed the pattern. 

Patchwork Gives a Sense of Belonging

The art of patchwork has brought women together for centuries. Your grandmother or great-grandmother may have gathered around a quilt at a quilting bee to chat, gossip, share ideas, and build friendships, all while creating a needed bed covering for someone in the group.

Modern quilters gather at quilt workshops, guild meetings, retreats, festivals, and quilting cruises. Even local fabric shops can offer classes and events for beginners. Crafters can experience a real sense of belonging at these sessions. Showing their quilts, sharing ideas and tips, and being inspired by others instils genuine camaraderie.

Having battled social anxiety, I used to fear going to a quilt shop or quilting event alone, but that feeling has long passed. I know wherever I find another quilter, I find a friend. What can you talk to another quilter about if nothing comes to mind? Fabric!

Sometimes when I’m in a fabric shop, other quilters ask me for colour or fabric advice even though they have no idea I’m a quilt designer with hundreds of free quilt patterns they have probably already seen on the internet. We chat and discuss various options before parting as new friends. Quilt shop owners and employees also love to discuss patterns and fabric designs. Ideas flow back and forth between quilters and workers, and everyone involved wants to go home and make a new quilt. 

Patchworking also increases a sense of belonging outside the sewing community. Quilt makers always give quilts away, which makes others feel cared for, and the quilter feels part of a larger community. Quilters often share their talents with others by teaching one-on-one or in a class or workshop. As a quilter does all these things, she feels connected with those around her.

Wellness and relaxation through quilting. Try this mindful craft to boost mental health.
Photo credit: Sew Can She.

Why Patchwork Can Improve Mental Health

Crafting can be a brilliant way to unwind, relieve stress, and express creativity. Focusing on a craft project can divert attention from everyday emotions and worries and provide a calming effect. It can also promote mindfulness by helping you stay present in the moment.

And it’s never too late to learn! As Henry Ford once said:

‘Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.’

Henry Ford

Like any other creative hobby or art form, there are various skill levels when it comes to making patchwork.

After learning basic techniques, you might discover you are passionate about intricate piecing, applique, collage quilting, or making art quilts.

Hundreds of easy quilt patterns can be found online for free. You can find beginner quilting tutorials online for piecing, sandwiching your quilt (putting the quilt top, batting, and backing together), quilting, and binding a quilt. You can also learn quilt-making by taking an online course or a class at your local quilt shop. 

After the quilt top is finished, there are endless options for quilting it, such as by hand or using straight-line quilting, thread art, embroidery, free-motion quilting, or special quilting rulers.

So, if you ever want to take up a hobby that can not only improve your mental health, physical wellness, and happiness, look no further! The benefits of quilting are no longer a secret. Quilters worldwide use their free time more productively, develop strong friendships, and serve their communities. I can’t think of better reasons than these to make a patchwork quilt.

Caroline Fairbanks-Critchfield
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Caroline Fairbanks-Critchfield is the sewist, quilter, and pattern designer behind SewCanShe. Having battled anxiety and depression herself, she is committed to helping others find fulfillment and happiness through sewing. She is the author of "Crafty Little Things to Sew," and "Just for You: Selfish Sewing," and has been featured on It's Sew Easy TV, in Quiltmakers 100 Blocks, Homespun, and McCall's Quilting.

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