Why We Quilt

Kachemak Bay Quilters - Homer

We decided to take a different approach to our newsletter article this quarter. Instead of telling you what we've been doing, we decided to talk about why we do it. What prompted this was a seemingly innocuous remark from my husband, who observed that I spend a lot of my time cutting up perfectly good fabric and sewing it back together. I had to admit he had a point.

I mentioned to one of my fellow quilters that I was going to write this story. It reminded her that she had once written down (presumably in answer to the "Why do you quilt?" question) several reasons and that she had saved them. She shared her list with me, then I made a similar list and this column started to take shape.

So at one of our weekly quilting sessions in Homer, I asked a few questions and here are our responses. Many won't surprise you (I quilt to feed my creative soul) and many will mirror your own reasons for being a quilter. But a few may give you pause for thought. One of my favorites for instance, was to keep from eating!

Here are some of the reasons we quilt:
- It's my creative outlet.

  • I like to play with colors and shapes. And I love to touch fabrics.
  • I quilt to avoid housework (although apparently this often results in domestic chore bargaining, as in, "After this quilt, I will clean the house/cook a real meal/organize my sewing room.")
  • I can be as perfect or whimsical as I want in a quilt design - only my persnicketyness drives the result, not anyone else's.
  • It's a family tradition (although in several cases it's one that skipped a generation - a grandmother or aunt quilted but not mom).
  • It gives me a sense of being connected to others who work with their hands in other countries and throughout the centuries (like potters, weavers and carpenters).
  • Quilting builds community. I feel proud that one of my quilts hangs in a public building that everyone visits.
  • It feeds my compulsive desire for attention to detail. Even when I am making a "scrappy" quilt, I control where and how the fabrics show up in the different blocks.
  • I have an appreciation for quilts and value making them.
  • It's both utilitarian and artistic.
  • Every time I see the quilt I made on my bed, it makes me smile.
  • I love the feeling I get when I give a quilt as a gift; people appreciate the effort, whether they are quilters or not.
  • It's not wasteful, especially if you make scrap quilts with remnants.
  • It meets my need for complex project management in retirement; the more difficult the pattern, the better for me.
  • Some of us are admitted fabric junkies who quilt to justify all the fabric we're hoarding. (Ouch! That one hits a little close to home!)

When and why did we start quilting? The answers ranged from "I can't remember back that far" to "my mother dragged me to a class in the 80's" to just recently. Quite a few of us sewed garments first and picked up quilting later, and now we rarely return to making clothing. Or when we do, it isn't as satisfying. That might be because, in at least one case, a garment made with a pattern she used to love turned out awful. We had a good laugh when she told us why; she had used 1/4" seams instead of 5/8"!

One quilter was dragged to a retreat by a couple of friends. She made a pink rail fence quilt. It wasn't anything special, but she was hooked on quilting from that day on. Another bought a quilt kit, and having read that she should wash fabrics before using, she washed the precut fabrics. Needless to say, her quilt turned out half the size of the originally intended piece. Did that dissuade her? Nope - it was just the beginning of decades of quilting.

How has our quilting evolved? Many of us remember cutting up small squares with scissors or tracing applique shapes from a coloring book. Some  made quilts with only 6.5" blocks for years. One remembers making an entire quilt out of 2" squares she cut out with scissors, pinned along every seam, and backstitched at both ends. Some refused to try applique. Or only used tiny floral pattern calico fabrics. Now we see a pattern we just HAVE to make and take a class to learn the new technique it uses. Now we tackle Judy Niemeyer quilts without fear. (Side note: thank you, thank you, thank you engineers, for rotary cutters!)

Most of us are hobby quilters; that sounds better than amateurs, doesn't it?  I have seen some very professional quilts made by these amazing women; there's nothing amateur about their work. Some of us have made quilting our business. One of our longarm quilters started quilting with her mother-in-law because she needed a creative outlet after long hours at a stressful job. She soon decided she wanted to finish her own quilts and bought a mid-arm quilting machine. She loved it, so she took a leap of faith.  She quit her stressful job, traded up to a long-arm machine and now makes her living as a quilter. She loved the challenge of getting started on her own and she still feels challenged as she learns more freehand designs.

Why do we quilt in groups? For some it's a social outlet. For me, it's where I find out everything I need to know since moving to Homer. My husband will say, "When you go to quilting on Thursday, ask the QBI (Quilter Bureau of Investigation) which barber I should go to. Or which chiropractor, where to buy a thumb drive, when do the cranes come back; they always know."

For others, group quilting is for fellowship. Quilters love to share ideas and get inspiration. Not sure how your just finished blocks should be arranged? Bring them to quilting and you will get a dozen recommendations. Need help with a new technique? We can help. Want to know where the police cars were headed at 11 PM on Saturday night? Someone will know.

Making quilts for worthy causes is another group activity. As in other communities, the Homer quilters make and keep an inventory of quilts for house fire victims. Locals who know we make the quilts often donate fabric and we use the proceeds from our annual quilt show to purchase batting and longarm quilting services. Individually, we also make quilts for fundraising auctions for local nonprofits, including the quilt we make for the Pratt Museum each year, Quilts of Valor, African relief efforts, etc.  Also small quilts to go with each of the teddy bears donated to Haven House for children impacted by domestic violence.

So now, the questions bounce back to you. Why do you quilt? How long have you been quilting? How has your quilting evolved?

We'd love to hear from you!