ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Story about Quilts and Healing

In my last post I forgot to mention that there was a winner for the hand-dyed fabric!  Laura McGrath of North Carolina, US, won four fat quarters.  She requested an assortment of the golds/greens/browns that I had showcased on my blog in this post.  I was happy to oblige, although I forgot to take a picture of the selection I sent!

By my deadline of midnight on Friday night I had not received a post about the above book.  Yesterday I had a post from Daphne in Ottawa with a story about Quilts and Healing.  At the moment, it is the second-last response to my post called Stuck on a Certain Fabric. Because I liked her story and she was the first to post, I decided to award the book to her.

If you would like to find out more about this book you can do so at the following posts, where I went into more detail about it.

Textile Arts as Women's Therapy, Part 2
Textile Arts as Women's Therapy

In the mean time, today I received a very moving story from a reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, but wants to share her story about quilts and healing.  I am happy to share it here.  I'm sure you will agree that it is an amazing story, and one that warms the heart.

My youngest son - in his late teens right through to his mid-thirties - was addicted to crack cocaine and we spent so much money and time trying to find the cure - getting him help and into treatment centres, both residential and non residential - none of which "worked".  These years were torturous - I nearly went mad trying to figure out what I had done, or not done, to cause him to be so severely unhappy with his life that he had turned to drugs and alcohol.  I lost contracts, I lost weight, I really did go a bit mad and tried to buy a gun to shoot the dealer, I would wait until my husband fell asleep then drive around downtown to try to find my son, (I knew my husband would stop me doing so),  I had many thoughts of driving my car over a bridge or hitting something large, I cut myself off from everyone I knew, I attended all kinds of AA meetings, and nothing seemed to make me feel less guilty or any better about my life, my relationship with my husband suffered and it is only because I am married to such a caring man that we made it through, every day I beat myself up with my guilty thoughts.

I was new to quilting at that time and one day, when he was in his early twenties and off at college, I pulled out fabric - black and white squares - thinking of my life as black and white - then I thought about all the arguments my son and I had had over these black years, and I pulled out colour to represent his moods - red for anger, blue for sadness, green for his love of the outdoors, yellow for the spark of light I saw in between his relapses, and I made a log cabin quilt to represent how much I loved him and to keep him centred and know that he was always in my heart.  I drove down to his college and gave him the quilt telling him this was all I could do for him.   I didn't think that he was very impressed or thankful for the quilt. After that things got worse and he was at times homeless, sleeping in shelters or sofa surfing in half-way homes, sometimes I didn't know where he was and I watched the morning news every day and called the police to follow up on any deaths or stabbings wondering if it was him.  Life went on like that for many years.

I eventually joined a group called Al Anon and worked through my guilt and sadness and began to understand that I didn't cause the addiction, I could not cure it and I had to admit that I was powerless to change him.  I eventually accepted the fact that he had a disease and found some peace within myself.     I am happy to say that he too found the right group and the right people to help him and he also has found a way to make peace with his demons and is currently healthy.

Two years ago he married and I have a beautiful daughter in law and a gorgeous grandson and the log cabin quilt is still with him and takes pride of place on their bed.  My daughter in law told me that part of the message on the label was part of their wedding ceremony. 

(I don't have a photograh of the quilt that I can send you but I can do so - it's not a work of art, but it did help me and obviously it helped him as this is the only possession he has from the past - everything else was sold or traded for drugs!)

So, that's my story and if you want to publish it I would ask that you do so anonimously as not everyone understands what addiction really is, and I also don't want to be labelled as the mother of a drug addict.   I'd rather everyone know that I love my son unconditionally and am proud of his success to overcome the struggles but I also acknowledge that it's a daily struggle, always close to the surface, but manageable at present and I would be most unhappy if people looked at him sideways, without trust or respect, because he so deserves to be understood.

I was new to quilting and had no idea how meditative and calming stitching can be.  Thinking back, the majority of the stitches held love but there was also a lot of cursing!

At different times in my life, while sitting in Intensive Care or hospital with my father, I knitted or did needlework - so needle arts are obviously (at least for me) a way of relieving stress and bringing some peace to my soul - and each stitch usually brings a hope for recover and love, of course!

Thank you anonymous reader for sharing this story with us today.  I'm sure you would also love the book.  I wasn't able to find it in Canada, so ordered the copy for the blog-giveaway from www.amazon.com.


  1. Nice story, Elaine, thanks for sharing it. I think all of us who love quilting and other fiber arts use it to some degree to keep our hands occupied so our subconscious minds can wander, which is very therapeutic. Some people clean fanatically, some people collect junk, and we sew, dye, and create.

    1. Ya, but our subconscious minds seem to get centred, and pulled away from whatever is bothering us at the time. I can't imagine getting the same kind of pleasure out of cleaning ;-))

  2. A very moving story - it brought tears to my eyes. What a courageous woman!

    Sorry I missed your healing stories post but it reminded me of how I reluctantly began quilting many years ago when someone asked me to make a block for a women's healing quilt (to be donated to a local church counsellor who worked with abused women). The theme was 'where I find my strength as a woman'. At the time I protested saying I didn't even like to sew...well, I created a block and 17 years later I am still stitching up a storm and telling stories with fabric. A couple of years ago my friend (Shirley) and I worked with a group of immigrant women to create a healing quilt whose blocks consisted of each woman's idea of what peace meant to them. What a way for people to connect with their pain! Quilts and healing - very powerful!!

    1. Juanita, isn't it funny how we get sucked in ... because of the joy it brings! You get to tell stories, I get to say things I want to say. People connect over quilts. Thanks for your contribution!

  3. Thanks for sharing your story, anonymous, and thank you Elaine for posting it. I don't think there is a family that hasn't been affected by addiction or another serious illness. We all deal with it in our own way. For me, the emotions I feel come out in my art although they may not be obvious to anyone else. As a former therapist, I can tell you that art and music therapy can reach people who can't be reached any other way.

  4. I think you are right Jeanne ... addiction affects every family. I didn't know you were a therpist! The emotions might not even be obvious to ourselves, as we create our art, but they do come out in our art.


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