Taking Back Your Quilting Mojo

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"Buttonholes," Design and Image by Wendi Gratz



I highly recommend popping over to Shiny Happy World to read the story of how Wendi Gratz is reclaiming her happiness in quilting. She used to make quilts for shows and galleries, until the pressure of those venues became just too draining.

But after a long hiatus, she's making quilts that please her, and that's made a big difference. As she says:

"These quilts will never appear in any gallery. They’ll never win a prize in a show. But they make people smile and they keep people warm and they’re really fun to make. I’m not stressing about points or matching seams – I’m playing with color and shape and cuddly monsters and cute puppies. And I love it!"

Quilts Delivering Comfort Around the World

threadinghope5 All images courtesy of Threading Hope



We were hoping to include this story in Quilting Happiness, but some complications prevented that. We're glad the internet's around, so we can share it here instead!


Danell Lynn is a couturier – meaning she's highly trained in fine sewing, and designs and makes stunning one-of-a-kind garments. She's also deeply interested in helping people in need.

She has two companies, dl-couture and Humani Handbags, which donate a portion of their profits to humanitarian organizations. She also founded a humanitarian project of her own: Threading Hope, which collects and handmade quilts and delivers them to orphanages (and other communities in need) around the world.

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Threading Hope began with a conversation between Danell and her mother Kristina Green, who is an award-winning quilter. Danell's love of traveling for humanitarian projects merged perfectly with Kristina's love of making quilts that exude warmth and comfort.

Their first mission took place in 2010, when Danell delivered nine quilts to children in a hospital in Haiti. The project has grown each year, with Danell delivering quilts to people in need in Malawi and Ecuador in 2011 and Colombia in 2012.

malawiThreadingHope

Threading Hope works with a variety of quilting groups around the U.S. to collect quilts for each trip (including Do.Good Stitches, which was profiled in our book). Danell considers herself a novice quilter despite her advanced sewing skills, but she tries to make at least one quilt for each trip.

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We asked Danell how she chooses organizations to deliver the quilts to – which must be a challenge, when there are so many people who need them:

"There are so many in need, and sadly we cannot reach everyone," she said. "As we grow each year and receive more quilt donations we have been able to expand and do two trips a year, and we'll only continue to create more projects around the world. 

We often find our locations by fate, or recommendations for reputable orphanages. It is a sad fact that there is a lot of black-market selling of donations, so I go to places that I know quite well or trust the person who referred me. Many times, life just opens up and reveals the perfect location. We started with just orphanages and have expanded to hospitals and occasionally, as in our Ecuador trip, donate to the head of a family in a rural village where the quilt will serve as warmth for an entire family!"


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Danell is currently planning a trip for November 2013, where she'll deliver quilts to orphanages in either Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic or Pakistan. "Sometimes cultural change or country politics can change on a whim, but we are hopeful that one of these three locations will work out. We will definitely be doing deliveries at the end of November."

If you're interested in donating quilts to Threading Hope, visit the donation page on the project's website – quilts are always welcome. You might also enjoy Philanthropic Wanderlust, Danell's new book about how and why she travels all over the world to help people in need.

This post was cross-posted to Diane's blog.

Recovery, Life Skills, and Finished Quilts

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All images in this post by Rachel Kerley, from her blog 2nd Avenue Studio.



Here's a bit of "Happiness" we had to cut from Quilting Happiness for space. It's from the "Quilting Together" chapter, which is about the comfort and connection that comes from teaching others to quilt, or just getting together to share some creative time. I should say, this was one of my favorite stories from the book, and the hardest one to see cut. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did.


Quilting plays a deep role in Rachel Kerley's life. She's given time to numerous charity quilting efforts, and in 2010-2011, volunteered time each week to teach quilting to female inmates of the Community Corrections Center in Washington County, Oregon. (The quilts were then donated to childrens’ charities around the state.) This was a challenging, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately very rewarding process. She shared with us how her own life experiences have compelled her to share comfort with others through quilting.


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How did you come to teach quilting to women in tough circumstances?

A woman came to my quilt guild and spoke about the need for volunteers to help out with ladies in a residential rehab program. I have a unique set of life experiences that allows for me to connect with these women. I grew up in poverty, around active drug abusers, and exposed to all the chaos that would involve--and yet I managed to get out and thrive.


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How is quilting meaningful and healing to you?

There is a sign in my studio that reads: “Work your grief up into art and it is gone.” (This is a quote from the Roycroft movement.) This idea of transformation seems to be a recurring theme in my work: transforming sadness and shame into joy and contentment.

I probably have a fair amount of “survivors guilt;” I live in a house that is larger than the fourplex where I grew up. Having been neglected and abused as a child, I've been able to come to terms with my past and have respectful, loving relationships as an adult. Teaching healthy life skills to other recovering women, and helping them find ways of coping with the shame and grief of their pasts, is a part of my own recovery. It’s also a place where I can put my feelings about things I cannot control and practice acceptance.


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What do you think the women you work with experienced as they learned to make quilts? Was it a struggle to learn the craft?

Quilting as a craft isn’t hard, but the planning, execution and finishing skills that are involved can take a lifetime to master. Because the quilting program at Washington County Jail was mandatory, the women were not always enthusiastic. The whole process could be be difficult for them. Many of the women I worked with had never made anything, for themselves or for anyone else. If a person is actively living in abuse or dysfuntion, they are not able to learn, or to learn how to learn.

I’ve met women who have never used an iron, never finished anything, or may have a real impairment either from birth or from abuse. I've heard statements like, “I can't do math” or “I'm not artistic” frequently, and all that negative scripting can get in the way of learning. But once we pushed through all that self-limiting stuff, the women who were serious about recovery could really get excited. It’s a true joy to watch a woman put raw yardage in a project box and then watch her go through the making process until she finally pulls a finished quilt out of the dryer.


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Most of the process of working with these women is a careful application of a hands-off approach. Push and let go, push and let go, letting her make her own choices and helping her find a vision for her quilt. I usually sit right down next to these women and quietly coach them along. It's a somewhat sneaky style, like I’m not really watching them, but I can catch mistakes before they snowball. I ask questions, if the answer is a negative personal statement. I repeat it and add “Yet.” I then ask if she wants to know, or offer to show her.

Like this:
“Something’s wrong,” she'll say.
“Is your machine threaded correctly?” I'll ask (though I know that it isn’t).
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know… yet,” I’ll remind her, adding "did you check the threading guide?"
“I can’t thread.”
“I can’t thread… yet. Would you like me to talk you through it?” And on and on it goes.

After a while, she’ll really get into it, She’s learning, and she’s successful! This is what learning looks like! That simple “yet” will give her hope when she needs it. “Yet” is a life skill somebody gave me. Aren’t I lucky to have been able to pass it on?


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How did they feel about their finished quilts?
I’ve seen women just be overwhelmed in the moment of finishing a quilt--with joy, with everything. It’s very complex, to be an adult and realize that for whatever reason, this quilt is where you are right now . . . is it a first effort? Is it crooked? Was it your best effort or your least effort? Have you been giving yourself your best effort? How can you give others something you don't know how to give yourself?

Quilting is actually a lot like life, or recovery. There are so many choices to make, so many places to ruin it, so many opportunities to look honestly at what's going on and do a course correction. And not only is quilting a metaphor for life, it can also be an escape from it. In order to “make” well, a person has to really focus on the making and put aside other things. This gives a chaotic mind a chance to rest. An abused mind a chance to recover. The repetitiveness of the sewing machine, the quietness of pressing, the unique focus of hand sewing, the joy of color--I believe all of these things contain a magical element of healing for a tired mind.


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The women I worked with are dealing with all the tough stuff that recovery from drugs brings: the shame of whatever abuse or malfunction it was that started them on drugs, and the shame of whatever they did while on drugs. Working on something tangible, warming, and joyful like a quilt gives us evidence that the shame isn't well-founded and allows them to stop believing in it.


This post was cross-posted to Diane's blog.

Quiz: What Quilt Are They?

Princess and the Pea

Image by Christina Lane


Here's a bit of "Happiness" we had to cut from Quilting Happiness for space. It's from the "Quilting For Others" chapter, where we talk about making gift quilts for loved ones, and quilting for charity. Enjoy!



If you’re thinking of making a quilt for someone you love, but aren’t sure which one to choose, why not start with their personality and match a quilt to that? This little quiz might help.

1. What kinds of colors do you see this person wearing most often?
  • a. Bright and bold
  • b. Pale pastels
  • c. Darks and black
  • d. Subtle neutrals


2. How would you describe his or her clothing style?
  • a. Fashion forward
  • b. Feminine
  • c. Masculine
  • d. Simple


3. How would you describe this person’s home?
  • a. Filled with detail
  • b. Rumpled, but comfortable
  • c. Rather chaotic
  • d. Clean and pristine


4. Which of the following best describes his or her personality?
  • a. Active and focused
  • b. Bubbly and cheerful
  • c. Moody and intense
  • d. Stable and serene


5. Which of the following best describes this person’s favorite pastime?
  • a. Being with friends
  • b. Creating things
  • c. Running around sporting
  • d. Curling up reading



Let’s total up the score now.

Add 5 points for each “a” answer, 10 points for each “b” answer, 15 points for each “c” and 20 points for each “d”. Here’s what your total score means:


25-38 points: Here’s a colorful, social personality who deserves a bright, bold quilt. From the book, you might try The Bric a Brac Quilt or the The Petal Pie Quilt.


39-53 points: This score represents a caring, creative person who’d no doubt love a soft, flowing style of quilt. Consider The Plus You Quilt or The Talent Show Quilt, which match that description nicely. For a smaller keepsake, how about making them a Quilter’s Wall Caddy to store their creative tools?


54-67 points: If this is your giftee’s score, you’re quilting for a strong, focused, and even a little bit forceful personality. A graphic quilt like The Can’t Help Myself Quilt or The Starstruck Quilt would be perfect.



68-80 points: This score points to a very calm, laid back personality. A subtle, simple style of quilt would be a great match--how about The Geneva Quilt or The Patchwork Diamonds Quilt? Or for a smaller gift, whip up the Quilter's Tote Bag in a range of neutral shades.


This post was cross-posted to Diane's blog.

How to Choose Fabric Colors for Quilts (and a Free Quilt Pattern), on Sew, Mama, Sew

Selecting Quilt Colors on Sew, Mama,Sew



If you've ever struggled with choosing just the right fabrics for a quilt project, check out Christina's guest post on Sew, Mama, Sew. In it, she shares some very simple tricks for getting harmonious fabric palettes. She's even created a fresh, free quilt pattern, The Forest Path Quilt, to use in playing around with your new-found color sense.

Tools For Happiness: Inspiration Emergency Kit

Waiting for inspiration

Image by Brandon Grasley, via Flickr Creative Commons


Here's one of the "Happiness" essays we had to cut from Quilting Happiness. It's from the "Inspired to Quilt" chapter, where we delve into what fires up your imagination, and how your creative mind works. If you'd like to hear Diane talk more about the "Happiness" part of the book, listen to her on the Sept 16 edition of the American Patchwork and Quilting Podcast.


Great ideas can pop into your head at the most inconvenient times. Many of us have particular spaces in our lives where inspiration tends to visit, whether we’re ready or not. Maybe you always get great ideas when you’re in the shower, or out on a walk, or sitting in the carpool lane.

There’s actually a scientific reason behind this: the right hemisphere of your brain is constantly making creative associations between the various sights, sounds, ideas and memories stored there – and some of these associations are quite brilliant.

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Image by S.C. Asher, via Flickr Creative Commons



...But the left hemisphere of your brain stays very focused and busy with the many details of living in the world, so you can’t always “hear” the creative solutions bubbling up from the right side. That is, until you do something that allows your brain to relax. Then, your right brain has an opportunity to let those creative brainstorms slip into your conscious mind.

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Image by gurms, via Flickr Creative Commons



When those lovely ideas pop up, we’d all like to think we can hold onto them until we have time to jot them down. But how often have you seen a brainstorm slip away? How do you prepare yourself for those flashes of inspiration? By paying attention to where your brainstorms tend to happen, and then installing an Inspiration Emergency Kit in those spots.

Bathroom artwork
Image by mollybee, via Flickr



What would your Inspiration Emergency Kit look like? Well, its form can be whatever fits your "inspiration places." Maybe you need to keep a digital voice recorder in your car, so you can safely capture ideas while you’re driving. Maybe you need a dry erase board in your kitchen, or a box of index cards tucked away in your dining room sideboard. Maybe you need some washable soap crayons, so you can sketch right on your shower walls!

The very next time a great idea comes to you, and you have that moment of panic over "how will I remember this," that's an excellent cue to set up an Inspiration Emergency Kit for next time.

This post was cross-posted to Diane's blog.

Quilting Happiness on The American Patchwork & Quilting Podcast

I'll be a guest on Pat Sloan's Podcast



Tune in on Monday, September 16 at 4pm Eastern (1pm Pacific) to the American Patchwork & Quilting Podcast. Diane will be a guest, talking with host Pat Sloan about how happiness plays an important role in quilting. (If you miss the live show, you can still catch the recording over here.)