Amy Gibson of Stitchery Dickory Dock, is the quilt designer, instructor and author of For Keeps: Meaningful Patchwork for Everyday Living. A seasoned Craftsy instructor, Amy is perhaps most well known for hosting the very first– and very popular– Craftsy Block of the Month series.

From the publisher:

    This book features quilts that soak up meaning through our family times together; [quilts] that become heirlooms, not because of their meticulous construction, but because of the stories they tell and the stories they inspire.

    Some of the projects in the book are inspired by specific activities in which stories can be created and memories made. Other projects fall into more of an inspirational category. They are beautiful, unique quilts that have been inspired by traditions that are meaningful to the author’s own family. These are lovely versatile patterns, but the inspiration accompanying each of them is meant to encourage and inspire readers to ponder new and fun ways to tighten and build their own relationships with loved ones.

Amy is here with 10 Ways to Incorporate More Meaning into Your Patchwork, plus a few glimpses of the projects in her book. What about you? How do you incorporate meaning into your quilt making? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments…

10 Ways to Incorporate More Meaning into Your Patchwork

Why do we sew? Because we love beautiful fabric? Because it’s relaxing? Challenging? It allows us to express ourselves? Maybe it gives us the chance to be part of a positive community? Even if you run a sewing-related business that brings in money to support your family, chances are you still chose to pursue that dream for many of these same reasons… Sewing brings us joy because it feels good to make things with our hands and share them with those we love. Isn’t it the best?! I can’t think of a more meaningful gift to give than something that has been carefully and lovingly crafted by hand.

If you’re active in a quilting community– whether it be online or locally– and, like me, are in a constant state of plotting and making your next thrilling project, sometimes it can be easy to lose sight of our “why we quilt” reasons. We may focus instead on what we make and how quickly we can make it. Gotta get those swap projects out, finish that quilt before show and tell, make the challenge deadline, enter that contest, finish that tutorial… These are all wonderful, healthy things to take part in, but I also think it’s helpful to pause once in awhile, take a step back and ask ourselves: Is this meaningful? Could it be more meaningful?

How do we do that, exactly, and what does it even mean to “quilt with meaning?” Well, Webster defines “meaningful” as “full of meaning, significance, purpose or value.” I think I can safely say that we all want our quilts to fall into this category! We dream about the perfect pattern, agonize over the perfect fabrics, we prick our fingers and rip out seams… Why? Because we want quilts that are significant, purposeful, valuable… In a nutshell, we want our quilts to be meaningful.

There are loads of ways to infuse quilts with more meaning, but here are my ten favorites to help get your creative juices flowing:

1. Use your quilts. This might seem obvious, but it can be easy to forget if we get wrapped up in protecting our precious works from the grime of daily living. At the end of the day, I’d rather have a quilt with a few stains plus loads of memories, than a perfect, spotless, tucked-away quilt with no memories attached. So use and enjoy!

2. Include a care package with your gift quilts. In the same vein of using our own quilts at home, it’s equally important to let our loved ones know that they can and should use their quilt gifts daily as well. One fun way to do this is to include a care package with washing instructions, some gentle detergent, a Color Catcher (to absorb loose dyes in the first wash) and a sweet note. You’ll help the recipient to feel more confident about using and enjoying the gift, knowing that washing is simple and easy.

3. Use special fabrics. Whether it’s incorporating cute cat fabric for a cat lover, choosing some nostalgic vintage fabrics, or using scraps from meaningful clothing or linens, incorporating particularly meaningful fabrics into your project helps give it even more impact and significance. I made dresses from strawberry fabric for all of the little girls to wear at my grandmother’s memorial service because my grandmother was known for her love of strawberries (not to mention her kind, gentle nature). I recently used some of this same fabric in a small patchwork piece, so that every time I look at it I think of her.

4. Get the family involved. Anytime you can involve loved ones in your quilt-making process– especially kiddos– do it. From choosing fabric to laying out squares to taking out pins, choose an age-appropriate steps you think will excite your helper. It will give them a sense of ownership and value in the process, and when you look back on the finished project you’ll both have priceless memories of that time spent together.

5. Add some handwork. Hand stitched details, however simple, can add even more meaning and care to a piece of patchwork. From hand quilting or Sashiko stitching, to embroidery and hand piecing, there are loads of ways to add some thoughtful hand stitching to a quilt. I added street names of past homes we’ve lived in to make this house quilt extra-personal.

6. Include a thoughtful quilt label. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s often a bypassed step. Adding a custom label to your finished piece adds longevity and value. After all, how meaningful can a quilt be if no one knows who made it, for whom, and why? You can include a personal note, details about your inspiration, the date and even wash instructions for an impactful label. Browse the web for your own preferred method, or check out the printing on fabric section on Page 114 of my book, For Keeps: Meaningful Patchwork for Everyday Living, for instructions on several simple ways to create custom quilt labels.

7. Use the world around you for inspiration. Sometimes the special, personal meaning that goes along with a quilt has less to do with the specific fabrics or techniques used and more to do with the inspiration behind it. Use meaningful, beautiful or impactful items around you to inspire color combinations, shapes and layouts in your quilts; this gives them a special background story. The sky’s the limit! You could use a special garment, a favorite painting or sculpture or even a word or phrase that means something special to you.

8. Make it a group project. Sometimes the most special quilts are the ones that our sweet friends and family have added their special touch to. Every time I look at my Popped hexagon quilt, it brings back such joyful memories to recall just how many hands helped to make it… My Aunt Sally and great friend Karen O’Connor helped me hand piece the hexagons, my dear friend Susan Santisteven quilted it and my mother and grandmother helped me hand stitch the binding down. So many woman who mean so much to me had a hand in this quilt, and that makes it so incredibly meaningful to me.

9. Create a card or journal to go along with your quilt. I recently participated in a traveling quilt bee with several friends. We each sent a blank journal along with our starter quilt block, and then as the quilt was passed around and each friend added to it, they used the journal to make note of their inspirations, process or intention. Some stapled or stitched in fabric scraps while others doodled or added fun little notes with washi tape. The result was a delightful journal to accompany each quilt, filled with priceless tidbits of sweetness from special friends.

10. Use the back. I’ll admit, I’ve not always been one to go crazy with extra piecing on a quilt back. I mean, let’s get real… Sometimes I barely have time to get the front pieced, and now you want me to piece another quilt for the back? Thanks, but no thanks. Truly, it’s taken quite a bit of simmering, and dozens– even hundreds of quilts– for me to finally land on my thoughts about quilt backings. So here’s where I’m at: If I’m in a time crunch, I forgo an elaborate pieced backing in favor of whole cloth with absolutely no guilt whatsoever. However, if I do have the time, then I push myself to use the back as somewhat of an experimental space where I can have some fun and try something new. After all there’s little risk because I still have a gorgeous top on the other side, so even if I don’t love my “experiment” I can easily ignore it if I want to. Try using scraps from the front to test out a new technique, or have fun finding new ways to use leftover blocks. The result is a quilt like no other, with a back like no other; it’s unique in every way.

I’m sure you have other fun ideas for creative and fun ways to add meaning to a quilt and I’d love to hear them, so please leave a comment with your favorite idea!