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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Healing with Quilting

Based on the pattern "Crazy Hearts" from the book by Karla Alexander
Stack the Deck! Crazy Quilts in 4 Easy Steps
There's a story of love and hope behind this quilt. I began constructing this quilt in 2007 for my husband, as a celebration of our love and commitment in marriage. I am attracted to the creativity of the design Alexander calls Stack the Deck (now available as an eBook; she has many other books as well). I worked at it here and there over the proceeding years, and now the top is finally completed. 

I followed these steps to make it:

Each applique is different!
  1. Cut an assortment of fabrics into 8" squares (mine are all from the green color family).
  2. Stack nine squares together and re-cut squares into 4 pieces (they become like puzzle pieces with only straight edges).
  3. Shuffle the 4 pieces of each stack of nine squares so that they are "scrappy" (each square is now made up of four different fabrics).
  4. Reassemble (sew) each square back together (mine has 144 at 12 blocks by 12 blocks!). Trim to 6" squares. Arrange into rows.
  5. Cut out 144 scrappy hearts for needle-turn applique (no raw edges for mine).
  6. Applique each heart applique onto each block with decorative stitch of choice (I did some by hand, and some by machine). 
  7. Add sashing (mine is purple fabric).
Even my "running hens" like it!
Back view

Now I will create the "quilt sandwich" by basting it to a backing fabric with the batting (wadding) in between to prepare for machine quilting, probably by long-arm machine on 
which I can rent time. Then I will label it and lay it on our bed.

I like the scrappy-ness of it, which seems folk-art-y to me. I enjoyed the search for the assortment of fabrics for the hearts--blue, red, pink, purple. Its design and assembly presented a satisfying challenge. This quilt is not "perfect."

Healing with Quilting

Some of you may have heard a recent story about some research concerning the brain and quilting. Your can listen or read it here, by clicking on this link: 

Learning A New Skill Works Best To Keep Your Brain Sharp

My quilt is a symbol and culmination of healing for me and our entire family. I have a story to tell and I want to warn you: it's not pretty. Please don't feel like you have to read it, though it may save someone else's life or relationships.

Our family has been through much pain and confusion over many years. We finally discovered that I had a non-cancerous brain tumor in 2006, and I had surgery to remove it two weeks later. The devastation that took place prior to the discovery is a nightmare that we sometimes shudder to recall. We were truly "on the brink," on the precipice of destroyed relationships, especially me.
Making progress step by step

This tumor had taken up residence over 20 years ago in my body and our lives, and slowly grew and smashed the tissues of my brain against the hard confines of the skull. While doing so, it was altering my personality in subtle ways. The changes were easily ascribed to other possibilities: age, pre-menopause, depression, etc. As the tumor got larger (to become the size of a fist in 2006!), my personality changes and behavior became more extreme and odd. I know that "zombie" movies are popular now, but can you imagine actually being one or living with one?? I didn't suck anyone's blood, if that's what they do (I don't watch these movies!), but I was quite capable of doing things that would seem abhorrent or immoral, and we are glad that it didn't get that far. What I really became was a 'nothing'. I don't know how else to describe who I was, how I felt, what it was like to be 'me'. I alienated everyone around me and I didn't care, nor was I capable of caring or expressing my own frustrations. It was equally terrible for my family members. It was a horrible time.

As I mentioned before, I finally had surgery, but keep in mind that no one, not even the neurosurgeon, could predict the result. While I blithely went into a serious 6-hour surgery (I'm not kidding), my family waited with fear.
complexity and creativity!

Recovery from this surgery is an eight-year story all its own. While our lives had become a "hell" of sorts prior to surgery, it became it's own type of "heaven and hell" afterwards. Rather than go into all the details, I want to tell you about the part that quilting, and knitting, played for my healing brain and relationships.

After surgery, I had a new surge of energy; it was like I'd been asleep for 20 years! I felt like I was in a hurry to make up for the time lost, literally (can you imagine??). This extreme impulse, or surge, was tempered by fatigued. When a brain is healing, it is exerting a lot of unseen energy making new neural pathways (connections). This is exhausting! It requires rest, regardless of all my dreams and plans. I could barely get through a day emotionally--doctors explained that I had no control over this healing brain, and it would swing from one emotional extreme to the other, adding to the exhaustion.

In spite of my warring desires, I had to take things slow. Interests that I'd had prior to becoming really ill, such as sewing, quilting, knitting, etc., became options again. I discovered projects I had started, some over 20 years before, that I'd never completed (lack of motivation due to brain tumor in the frontal lobe). I wanted to do them again, but I had to do so slowly. For example, something like shopping, so necessary for such creative pursuits, was a particularly overwhelming and fatiguing activity as being out in public (not to mention driving) was an assault to my vision, hearing, and decision-making, and more. I even suffered from flashbacks and what I'm sure is PTSD, which is so unpredictable.

Sometimes my only low-key activity option became watching television. I chose to watch the programming for arts and crafts which had become prevalent on the public broadcasting station (while I was "sleeping" my life away, literally), including quilting and knitting. I found Alex Anderson, Kaye Wood, Georgia Bonesteel, Fons and Porter, and Eleanor Burns. I devoured the content and my creative "juices" began flowing again!

That's how I got back into quilting. I had many things to learn because the techniques had changed during my "absence." I didn't even have a rotary cutter or a cutting mat! I decided to begin with fabrics I already had in my possession, and later discovered there is a distinction between quality quilt fabrics and other fabrics! I didn't know what a quarter-inch foot was--I had so much to learn!

What's particularly fascinating to me is the intrigue I found in patterns and complexity of quilting. It requires math. It involves colors, angles, problem-solving, creating, configuring and re-configuring, matching, ripping, construction--it is quite complex! and this fed my hungering brain.

I sincerely believe that quilting, and knitting, have been significant contributors to my healing, not to mention inspiration and outlets for expression. I think it's helped my internal circuitry to reconnect as well as build new pathways.

It's been eight long years of healing. I have restored relationships with my husband and my children, my sister and her family, and other family members as well, including a few friends. There's so much more to the story, but I'll stop here. Thanks to the skill of a neurosurgeon, I am finally beginning to feel the "normal" I haven't felt in a very long time.


Connecting with you through:
WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced  AND  Sew Fresh Quilts


  1. Pictures do not do this's beautiful in person! :)

    1. I remember you said that you didn't think you liked it, until it was all put together. Fun sewing with you!

  2. Wow! What an amazing story. I'm so glad you're enjoying life again! This is a great quilt. "Perfect" is over-rated. I much prefer meaningful and fun. :) Nice work and congrats on this hard earned finish.

    1. Thank u for stopping by & taking the time to read it. Stories that have "interesting threads" are better, aren't they? ;-)

  3. Well done and congratulations on completing the top of your quilt, wonderful bright colours. I believe that colour also has a huge impact on our lives and our healing. Keep well. Happy quilting

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I appreciate the thoughts. Color can truly bring joy and warmth, can't they? Happy quilting to you!

  4. I can relate to what you are saying. I suffered from depression for many years, Two and a half years ago I had an experimental operation and I am now free of depression. This is such a blessing but I have had to learn how to live a "normal", depression-free life which has been hard at times. I'm just a beginning quilter so I'm glad to hear that quilting could help me in my quest to bring new meaning to my life. I'm so glad that it's been so helpful for you!

    1. Hi Linda, you have a story, too. I don't know what type of experimental operation you had, but if it had to do with the brain, plz keep in mind (LOL) that it takes a long time for the brain to heal, but the healing continues! Learning to be "normal", figuring out who you are without the interference in our bodies, takes courage. Hang in there, feel free to keep in touch, share your story (personally with me, if you like), & I hope you find joy & satisfaction in quilting,too.

  5. What a bad sister I am! I looked at your pictures but didn't read your story. Sigh...Julie, this quilt is really your victory, and fitting that it's hearts, because you have love again...of family, of the doing, of the everyday. So, so glad to have you back. It was hard to think I had lost you forever. (((hugs)))~your little sissy

    1. I'm glad you've loved me through it. What an adventure we've been on, huh?

  6. Thank you for sharing your story--it is an inspiration! The quilt is lovely and I hope that recovery and joy will continue to be part of your life.

    1. Hi Margaret, thanks so much for stopping by and for the encouragement. I appreciate your taking the time to read it.

  7. The quilt is beautiful. I am a lover of colourful quilts! And your story.... is equally beautiful. I am glad you have found healing and happiness through quilting. And that you have shared it all with us! The quilt, the colour, the healing and the happiness! Although I have not suffered from any physical issues, I, too find that quilting has allowed me to heal and has given me great hope and happiness. Thank you, Julie. I am so glad you have joined in the Let's Bee Social. It is so nice to meet you!