A few months back, an article was circulating on social media about a veteran soldier who turned to making quilts for other veterans as a way to manage his PTSD*.
It got me to thinking about why I quilt, and why so many other women I know quilt, knit, and craft, and I will posit that many of us rock our needles in order to soothe our souls from the PTSD of navigating daily life as women.
Thinking back to our beginnings, we were rocked in utero as our mothers walked. As babies, we were rocked when we were crying. I watched my then-toddler son rock himself whenever he was frustrated. Back in the days of waterbeds, I used to rock my water mattress to rock myself to sleep!
Repetitive motion soothes us: we pat babies, animals, and the shoulders of our friends when they need comfort. The world of handcraft is a veritable smorgasbord of repetitive activities, many involving some type of forward-and-back rhythm that shares its DNA with rocking:
- Cut after cut to make strips and squares.
- Chain-piecing seams.
- The rhythmic thumping of each machined stitch.
- The back-and-forth of ironing.
- The up-and-down of hand-stitching.
- The stab-and-throw of knitting.
- The push-and-pull of a crochet hook.
As for why we need to rock, let’s just start with the fact that to be a woman is to be constantly judged, and usually found wanting. The pressure cooker of never being enough while trying to be everything to everyone is so ubiquitous that it might as well be part of the gravity that holds our feet to the ground.
Beyond that are the pressures of being the glue that is expected to hold everyone else together. Just take a look around your group of friends and you’ll see women in the trenches… in just the last couple of months I’ve watched my extended social circle deal with these things on top of daily living:
- Single-parenthood. With acrimonious custody arrangements.
- Supporting an adult child financially through exorbitant medical bills.
- Waiting to hear if a cancer remission is holding good.
- The exhaustion of dealing with racism, sexism, and bigotry in their workplace.
- Care decisions for an aging parent whose brain is misfiring.
- Juggling a dozen entrepreneurial hats.
- Dreading the next time their sensory-processing-disordered kiddo loses it in public. And dreading the judgment that it brings from the people who witness the meltdown.
- Escaping the bush fires in Australia.
- Feeling trapped by the demands of toddlers while caving to the 87th playing of Moana or Frozen to grab a moment of respite.
- The loss of a loved one.
- The betrayal of an autoimmune disease, and the struggle to function when your body wants to crumble. And being told your pain is in your head.
- Stretching the budget, especially through the holidays.
- Needing to hire a lawyer to force a school perform on an IEP
- Chemo. Radiation. Surgery.
- Grief. And people’s expectations that you can just shut grief off conveniently.
- Moving house.
- Putting a beloved pet to sleep.
- The wreckage caused by a family member battling addiction.
- Fighting to be referred to a specialist.
- The suicide of someone close.
- Toxic relationships and abuse.
- Their own dances with depression and anxiety.
- The daily gauntlets of laundry, dishes, and “what’s for dinner?”
- The endless requests to make things for any number of organizations who are helping people in need.**
And despite all that and more, my friends are STILL stitching, such is the need to soothe and be soothed through our intense, over-filled lives.
The soothing we aim for is not just for ourselves. To be a quilter is to attempt to wrap the world in fabric hugs, and I think a big part of doing this is because we’re trying to give people the hugs we probably need. Our veteran is far from the only one stitching himself together while serving others. Just look at the explosion of stitching that happens on behalf of the victims of any national or international tragedy.
We rock the needle to soothe many souls, including our own.
*I admit that I am often exasperated with articles that laud fellas for doing what thousands of women do daily in the handcrafts, unsung. But I also acknowledge, gratefully, that I cannot imagine what it‘s like to experience the PTSD that seems to be the tragic aftermath of having served in the armed forces.
** The members of my quilt guild supply over 200 quilts a year as comfort to hospitalized children, people in hospice, children experiencing a family loss, and families at our local battered women’s shelter. We also supply fabric to Project Linus, Quilts of Valor, and the Coffee Creek Quilters who teach sewing at a local women’s correctional facility.