Can Quilting Be an Addiction?
A brief look at the psychology of quilting
Posted Jun 08, 2016
“I am addicted to quilting enjoying the color, texture and patterns. This [Pinterest] board inspires me in color, quilts, designs and quilting!” (Kim Hazlett)
“My name is Laura and I’m addicted to quilting. I know there could be worse addictions, so all things considered, quilting is a harmless addiction. Unless that is, you are running out of time to do it all!. I did 4 [square blocks] over the past week and a half. I jumped ahead. I couldn't help it. The more I make, the more I want to keep on making them! At this rate I'll surely have all 111 blocks finished by 2012. Not that there's a deadline)” (Laura)
“Addiction to quilting? Are you being serious?” I here you say. Obviously there is no scientific research on ‘quilting addiction’ (although there is academic research on quilting that I’ll talk about later in this article) but a quick Google search shows there are numerous websites devoted to the topic (for example, Addicted to Quilts, My Quilting Addiction, Sew Addicted To Quilting, My Quilt Place, Quilt Addicts Anonymous, Addicted to Fabric, etc.). None of these sites are really about addiction but more about people’s overwhelming love of quilting (either professionally or personally). There are even books on the topic such as Get Addicted To Free-Motion Quilting (by Sheila Sinclair Snyder) and dedicated webpages such as ‘Addicted To Scraps’ on the Quiltmaker website or ’15 reasons to get addicted to Kantha quilts’ on the Houzz website.
Renelda Peldunas-Harter, author of From Ensign’s Bars to Colonel’s Stars: Making Quilts to Honor Those Who Serve and author of the online article ‘Are you addicted to quilting?’ asserted:
“Quilting is habit-forming and I’m going to try and break down certain aspects of the addiction. I’m going to throw a disclaimer in right here – I am not trained to diagnose or explain anything, I am merely an observer and chronicler of the quilting animal and want to share my observations. Quilters can display many ‘habit-forming’ behaviors”.
Peldunas-Harter divides quilting into three categories – the fabrics, the tools used, and stash building. More specifically, quilting addiction depends upon the type of fabrics chosen to make quilts, the number of different tools the quilter owns to make quilts, and (probably the most obvious indicators of an addiction) the accumulating of quilting paraphernalia. For Peldunas-Harter, stash building encompasses many things:
“It can mean an obsession to make quilt related gifts, compulsion to collect quilt magazines, quilt gadgets, quilt patterns, fabric/items with a certain theme, machines, patterns, or buying large/medium/small amounts of fabric in general with no earthly idea of what to do with it – otherwise known as stash building!”
With tongue firmly in cheek, the article outlines ‘The Quilting Commandments, which if adhered to could certainly indicative of addiction: “(1) Always buy new fabric no matter how much you already have; (2) Sew all day and night – absolutely no cooking permitted; (3) Always start a new quilt before the last one is finished; (4) Repeat Step 1”.
While researching this article, I was surprised to find that there had been quite a bit of research on quilting. In a 2001 paper in the World Leisure Journal, Dr. Faye King examined the social dynamics of quilting (based on her own 1997 PhD thesis). Based on her research, Faye reached three main conclusions: (i) quilting expresses powerful rhetorical statements about the maker's values and social concerns (in which Faye provides a number of examples of where quilts were created to make political statements); (ii) quilting can have a social impact on society as well as their individual maker (those donated to charities and hospitals for sick children); and (iii) quilting provides meaning for the maker and as a leisure activity can help help reduce stress in one's life (which indirectly provides a reason as to why some people might theoretically develop an ‘addiction’).
A qualitative study by Dr. Rhiannon Gainor of 25 quilters that run their own quilting websites and/or blogs examined motivations for quilting and their expressions of personal creativity. One of the salient themes that emerged was ‘quilting as passion’ and described by some as an addiction. More specifically, Gainor noted that:
“Quilters also wrote about quilting being a passion, an addiction, and a lifelong interest. These kinds of comments on the sites made it clear that quilting for many is more avocation than pastime, supporting Stebbins’ (2004) definition of the serious leisure enthusiast as one finding gratification and fulfillment, rather than mere fun, in their chosen activity”.
Dr. Marybeth Stalp has written a few papers on quilting. In one of them published in a 2008 issue of the journal Home Cultures, she examined the “stash” of those that engaged in domestic handicraft (including quilters). She makes a reference to addiction:
“Those who create domestic arts and handcrafts are quite familiar with the term ‘stash’ and may even have one (or more). While it is not a reference to addictive drugs (or is it?), questions regarding the stash illuminate the themes that exist within the stash and the ‘lifeworlds’ of the collectors of the stash”.
Via participant observation and interviews, the paper examined the meaning and role of the stash in the lives of knitters, quilters, and crocheters. Arguably, the findings use the language of addictions in various places:
“Handcrafters collectively refer to their collections as ‘stash,’ hoard whatever they collect over time, find un/official support groups to support their habits, and together strategize hiding places and storage. Collecting, hoarding, and hiding stash is quite normal for crafters, yet such acts are often deviant to others, particularly those who share their living space. Often the stash is portrayed negatively by non-crafting family members and friends, as well as the popular media, and sometimes even by handcrafters themselves…The handcrafter continues to acquire and stash fabric, yarn, floss, etc. despite how much space the stash demands, or how the stash influences relationships with others. The larger social structures of family, work and friends shape how we think about our stashes”.
In an earlier paper published in a 2006 issue of the journal Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, Stalp presented her results of a four-year ethnographic study of 70 US amateur quilters. She examined the “guilty pleasures surrounding quilting practices, including the deviant acts of hiding both identity and fabric from family members and friends”. The paper describes how quilters slowly build up their stash of fabric, purchasing more fabric than they need than necessary, and both hoarding and strategically hiding it from their families. She then goes on to say that:
"Women's anxieties surrounding acquiring, hoarding, and hiding their fabric stashes highlight their diminished ability, relative to their spouses and their children, to pursue leisure activities without a stigma. Collecting and hiding the fabric stash become symbolic of women's attempts to carve out time and space for themselves amid the multiple demands placed on them by such greedy institutions such as family and the workplace”.
Another academic who has written a few papers on quilting is Dr. Rosemary Wilkinson. Her first paper on the topic in the International Journal of the Humanities examined the rhetoric of obsession, addiction, guilt, and subterfuge in two Australian quilters’ magazines (Down Under Quilts and Quilters Companion) over a five-year period. She reported that while some of the quilting publications describe the benefits of quilting to individuals and communities, she also noted the ways in which the magazines integrate the “rhetotic of addiction” in constructing of the identity of quilters. She concludes that:
“[This] ploy seemingly at odds with the overall positive and promotional tone of the magazines…[the findings] demonstrate that the concept of addiction is exploited within the magazines to reinforce the quilter's creative drive, her communal belonging and her vocation”.
In a more recent 2014 paper in the journal TEXT, Dr. Williamson reprised the same findings:
“Both the turning towards and the intensity of commitment to quilts may be expressed through metaphors of addiction, illness or affliction. The rhetoric of addiction is well established among quilters generally, and has occurred in [Australian quilting magazines] since their inception…Profiles from 2010 to 2013 contain references to, for example, catching ‘the quilting bug’…or other phrases that translate commitment into popular clichés of addiction (‘Jenny began a creative journey that soon became an addiction, as is so often the case’)…Frequent references in profiles to quilters’ passion for what they do, even if expressed in clichés of addiction, connote personal commitment and satisfaction as driving forces for career development that is organic and responsive to, and accommodating of, personal circumstances”.
In reading the academic papers on quilting, I got the sense that the word ‘addiction’ was being used in a non-clinical sense and as a metaphor for justifying the amount of time that quilters engaged in their passion and pastime. There was little evidence of negative detriment although some quilters clearly feel they need to lie about or hide away aspects of their hobby.
References and further reading
Bratich, J. Z., & Brush, H. M. (2011). Fabricating activism: Craft-work, popular culture, gender. Utopian Studies, 22(2), 233-260.
Gainor, R. (2011). Hobby quilting websites and voluntary provision of information. New Directions in Folklore, 9(1/2), 41-67.
King, F.L. (2001). Social dynamics of quilting. World Leisure Journal, 43(2), 26-29.
Peldunas-Harter, R. (2014). Are you addicted to quilting? Take the quiz. Schiffer Publishing, December 15. Located at: http://schifferpublishing.tumblr.com/post/105289542106/are-you-addicted-...
Sayasane, J.H. (2011). My quilting addiction explained. Quilters Newsletter, March 2. Located at: http://www.quiltersnewsletter.com/blogs/insideqn/2011/03/02/my-quilting-...
Stalp, M. C. (2006). Hiding the (fabric) stash: Collecting, hoarding, and hiding strategies of contemporary US quilters. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 4(1), 104-124.
Stalp, M. C., & Winge, T. M. (2008). My collection is bigger than yours: Tales from the handcrafter's stash. Home Cultures, 5(2), 197-218.
Stebbins, R. (2007). Serious Leisure: A Perspective for Our Time. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Williamson, R. (2008). Obsession, guilt, subterfuge and penury: The rhetoric of addiction and the construction of creative identity in Australian quilters’ magazines. The International Journal of the Humanities, 5(11), 163-70.
Williamson, R. (2014). Modelling the creative and professional self: The magazine profile as narrative of transition and transformation. TEXT, Special Issue 25. Australasian magazines: new perspectives on writing and publishing. http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue25/Williamson.pdf