Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

Soothing the Edges of Pain

~ how women use quilting to cope with tragic loss ~

read more about this quilt by Kimberly Wulfert

"Through its fabrics and associated activities, quilting softens and smoothes the rough edges of painful realities". 1

In our current crisis women are finding that quilting not only sooths the pain of loss but also distracts us from the anxiety that occurs in times of national crisis. Our minds are jumbled with myriad fears. Will the economy crash, how might they strike next, what will the world be like for our children? Grief for friends, family and even those unknown to us is now a part of our everyday thoughts.

We find ourselves watching TV, talking to friends and neighbors, hashing and rehashing events and possibilities. Although sharing our concerns with others can help, sometimes solace comes outside of verbal communication.

As it did for women generations before us quilting is helping us concentrate on creation rather than destruction. The soft feel of washed cotton is soothing to our hands. As we sort out the cut shapes of fabric and organize how we will place them we also sort out our own fears and priorities. Quilting has given us a mindful space where we can begin to consider the overwhelming problems that we face.

We are following a long tradition of women turning to quilting in times of crisis and tragedy. During the Civil War women made mourning quilts in memory of lost brothers, husbands and sons. Scraps of clothing that belonged to the loved one were often included. Quilts were also made for soldiers and for fundraising giving women a way to help and at the same time engaging them in the soothing act of quilting.

The famous Dear Jane Quilt was made by Vermont resident Jane Stickle during the long anxiety ridden years of the Civil War. This quilt of 225 block patterns and 5,602 individual pieces of cloth is still admired and copied by quilters today. The quilt is signed by Jane and titled "In War Time".

A delightful picture of a young wife holding a quilt she has made during World War II is signed, "I love you - hurry home and help me use it honey." 2 How many other women must have made quilts as they waited for the return of their husbands from war. Some of these quilts were used in joyful reunions while others carried an unfulfilled hope.

In the face of this new national tragedy we have returned to quilting. Some quilts are made for those in need, some as a statement of patriotism and some for our own family as we realize how precious our loved ones are to us.

We take the scattered pieces of fabric and create something brand new, something beautiful and uniquely ours. In a small way we feel a sense of individual empowerment and a bit less helpless in coping with greater events.

October 2001, Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author)

References:

1 p 120, "Quilting and Bereavement: Her Grief in the Quilt"
by Carolyn H. Krone and Thomas M. Horner, Uncoverings 1992

2 p 41, Kansas Quilts and Quilters

To see a large version of the above pictured quilt along with the quilters comments
about her quilt made after September 11, 2001 go to Mourning Quilt, by Kimberly Wulfert


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