Therapy Sewing


I began therapy sewing long before I knew what it was.

In preparation for a class at Empty Spools, given by the gracious and joyful pair Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran, I followed the advice in my class prep sheet, to produce “parts” and begin a “Parts Department”. Parts were…strips of sashing, pieced or otherwise (I pieced black and white half square triangles into strips), small blocks which for this class were probably going to be constructed along wonky lines, flying geese units, half square and half rectangle units, strip sets, nine patches, sixteen patches.

Parts DepartmentThe idea was to generate a stockpile of elements and just throw them up on the design wall, composing the quilt directly on the wall. Bright, spontaneous, fun! Their books on collaborative quilting are inspiring.

Once home, I began cutting 1″  and 1 1/2″ strips off all fabrics before putting them in the stash, and in quiet moments when I wanted a bit of sewing time, or had a dearth of sewing time, I would pull out strips (mostly at random, as per Marston and Moran’s cheery advice), sew them together and generate 9 and 16 patches.

The process, it turned out, was meditative. And the pinning together of the strip sets was something I could keep in a workbag and take with me to places that required I wait and fill my time; doctor, dentist, airplane. I liked the quiet work involved in patiently pinning my strips together, and spent many hours while nursing a sick but napping relative quietly working away at this simple task; it was restorative.

Strip set created for a 2013 Round Robin project.

Strip set created for a 2013 Round Robin project.

That practice, and the idea of non-directed quilting led me to the delightful Rayna Gillman and her book “Create Your Own Free Form Quilts”…and another class at Empty Spools, one with the enticing title “What If?”. Rayna encouraged us to compose parts as well, this time by making strip sets in a free form way, no rulers, guided only by what colours and patterns created pleasing compositions. She too had discovered what she called “therapy sewing” while caring for her husband in his last illness. On days when she was drained, she turned to the creation of pleasing strip sets as a way to relax and regenerate. Rayna threw her strip sets into a box, and much later, when the storm had passed, returned to the box, and began cutting and resewing  her strip sets into new elements. And she too recommended assembling the quilt free form, up on the design wall.

For Sale or Rent, by Rayna Gillman

For Sale or Rent, by Rayna Gillman


And so, in times when I am tired, but crave the comfort of a quiet bit of sewing, and the balm of putting pretty fabrics together, I turn to this simple and soothing method of creation…therapy sewing.

It can be as simple as printing off a few sheets of half square triangle papers from my beloved Triangulations DVD. I can choose two fabrics that will make lovely half square triangle elements. The act of sewing up the Triangulations sheets is simple, easy and fun. Cutting the half square units apart is a favourite tv watching activity. And also makes a nice addition to that waiting room workbag!

Sample sheet from the Triangulations DVD...I love using these! Gives accurate and very speeding HST units.

Sample sheet from the Triangulations DVD…I love using these! Gives accurate and very speedy HST units.

And then there is the lovely activity of just picking up a fabric that delights you, cutting a nice strip from it, and hunting through the stash for a great companion. THE great companion! One that makes each of the fabrics somehow more than the sum of their parts. Last week I was struggling with fatigue and anxiety….what my friend Lorna calls “the collywobbles”. Suffering from a larger than usual dose of those, I longed to sew, but my brain and heart were not up to anything involving concentration.

Therapy sewing to the rescue: I trolled through my stash (easy, since an entire wire shelving unit had collapsed, strewing half the stash all over the studio floor), and found myself drawn to this fabulous fabric, by Laura van Horne:

Nature's Treasures, by Laura van Horne

Nature’s Treasures, by Laura van Horne

I needed to find a companion, and chose this batik print, something I had bought a yard of from an online fabric house, just for fun. At the time I had no purpose in mind for this fabric, but it had come in handy in a recent collage quilt class with Freddy Moran. Here it paired in a pleasing and dramatic way with Laura’s spheres (batik fabric is from the Atlantis collection by Timeless Treasures):

Atlantis Packed Shells Timeless TreasuresI liked the way these fabrics played well with others. Initially bought on spec, I decided to order a few more yards of each…they will be great stash treasures and will find their way into compositions for years to come!

Then it was time to audition and select a few more fabrics and cut a strip of each:

1 Choosing Fabrics

Sew them together into a strip set (you don’t even need to worry about straight seams):

3 Sewn

Cut the sets themselves into strips, your choice on even or uneven…today I felt like uneven!

4 Cutting strips

I recut the strips, like so:

5 recutting strips

And reassembled them into a block, in a way that pleased me:

6 block design 1

7 Block Design 2

At this point you can add more fabric, or combine strips to make the strips roughly equal lengths, or just sew them all together.

Below are two blocks made up and trimmed effort to make them anything but roughly the same size:

8 Two Blocks

You can just stockpile blocks made this way, and when you have a bunch, you can…..

….throw them up on the design wall and see where they take you….

…make packets and send them to friends to begin a round robin project……

…sash them in any way that pleases you and sew them together for a quick quilt…

…make them into mug rugs, or a table runner…

…overstitch in wools or colourful crochet cottons…

…post your idea!

I hope therapy sewing gives you as much comfort and pleasure as it has me…it is a great way to revisit your stash (where you will always find some forgotten gems that ignite your imagination and fuel your creative drive). Using therapy sewing units is  great practice for your colour and design skills, , and in the process you create a parts department of your own.

It’s a lovely way to find refuge and regeneration in the studio.


Auditioning sashings...hmmmm.

Auditioning sashings…hmmmm.


About westernwilson

I live in the Pacific Northwest, in Tsawwassen, BC, Canada, a small bedroom suburb of Vancouver, BC.

One response to “Therapy Sewing

  1. Lorna Millard

    Who knew the collywobbles could inspire something gorgeous?

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