Quilting Through Grief

Today is going to be a little different than usual. No fun tutorial, exciting pattern release, or witty ideas. I think it’s time to share a little bit of my heart, what’s been going on in my life, and what I’ve been working on in my personal time. If nothing else, I want to help anyone who has been through something hard. If you’re in a similar situation to me I’m hoping that you’ll find hope, or spark an idea—or, at the very least, know that you’re not alone.

I haven’t talked about it much—if at all—but this past year has been the most difficult of my life. My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year and despite an incredible effort and numerous treatments, we lost her this April.

Grieving is a different beast than I thought it would be. It’s not wailing on the floor or being sad all the time. It’s a sort of creeping numbness that sneaks in when you think that you might just be doing alright.

Then it turns into something else.

…and then something else.

…and then something else.

I remember during my mom’s treatments, my husband encouraged me to feel deeply whatever feelings came along. It was a time of deep sadness and struggle with my mom, but it was also a great time of excitement and expectation for our daughter’s birth. Those two opposite extremes clashed over and over again—and still do today. But my husband’s advice is the most valuable piece of advice that I have received during this dreadful journey, and I’m still trying to follow it. So, today I am sharing a personal project of mine: I plan to not have a plan. I plan to design as these feelings crash over me, be it ugly, beautiful, sad, or silly. I don’t plan on sharing everything, but I want to encourage those of you who have suffered loss in your lives.

Quilts aren’t just for keeping warm-sometimes they are art, sometimes they are therapy, sometimes they are meant to be anything but comfortable.

It doesn’t really matter to me if anyone reads this post, or listens to me blubber through my presentation of this piece at the Quilt Guild tomorrow night. This isn’t for them. This is mine. I’ve never been good with words—this is how I feel that I can communicate the racing thoughts, the anxiety, the confusion, and (Lord willing) someday clarity.

Sewing Therapy

If you take nothing else from this post, take this: find something that helps you communicate the tangled mess that’s inside. It won’t fix everything, but something about feeling heard is healing.

First, I thought I’d sew.

But sewing wasn’t as therapeutic as I thought. It was a nice way to get away from everything and think, and it reminded me of the sweet gift my mother and I shared. But it didn’t give me the comfort I was seeking.

So I thought I’d design.

There was a great tension relieved in designing to communicate my feelings. It didn’t matter what the message was or even if it looked good—it was a simple drawing in my sketch book. No commitment, just scribbles on a page. Those pages and pages of drawings brought me to tears, but they also made a lot of sense to me.

The reds and blues attempt to capture the ebb and flow of emotions that have been running through me during this past year.

Then I thought I’d sew those designs.

So here I am, staying up late at night, sewing and sewing until the world makes a little more sense.

This is the beginning of what might be a lifelong series…or it could be the only piece in the series—I’m not sure. I don’t know where this is headed, but it feels good to be heard, to be understood, and to just get it out there in a way that makes sense to me.

This chain block reminds me of caning, especially the caning on my Mom’s favorite chair. It had a hole in it that she was always meaning to repair–she never did. But how she loved that chair. How beautiful it was.

This first quilt, which I have titled Vacuum was inspired by the words of my mother’s pastor at her funeral service. He said that her death would leave those who loved her most with a vacuum in their life. And it’s completely true. As I’ve been making this, the meaning has evolved somewhat, but the feeling has remained the same.

It reminded me of how each various part of my life looks stable and good and orderly, but this one giant missing piece affects all the rest—even if they look fine on their own. The quilt as whole is changed.

It reminded me that something vital was missing. Something that once made me whole has been lost.

It reminded me of the wonderful gift of sewing and quilting that my mother gave to me. All the precious memories we shared.

It reminded me that, somehow, just as this quilt is beautiful despite its brokenness, that life can still have beauty.

“Grief starts to become indulgent, and it doesn’t serve anyone, and it’s painful. But if you transform it into remembrance, then you’re magnifying the person you lost and also giving something of that person to other people, so they can experience something of that person.”


  1. The quilt is beautiful. As soon as I saw it my first thought was about how there’s a void in your life, something important is missing, and of course I knew instantly it is your mom. I know your thoughts will touch and encourage others. Thank you for your courage in sharing your journey.

  2. You made perfect sense to me. The quilt is BEAUTIFUL..Bless your heart, you were heard and understood!!. We all grieve in our own way in our own time… and you have made yours into something magnificent today. I think your Momma is proud of you..

  3. I saw this quilt at LMQG in July when you were ripping out parts.
    I hope you will share it with the whole group when you are ready.
    Bring tissues. Your husband is very wise. I love the quote at the end of your post; so true. Peace

  4. Before I read your explanation of your quilt, I looked at it and thought – that’s grief, it tears out clumps of your heart and mind and soul. And it’s a never-ending journey. At first you’re afraid you will never feel joy again, but you will. I feel your sorrow at your mother’s loss but I assure you that you will come to know her more than you ever thought possible. You will miss her forever and it will make you a better mom. Peace, joy, and love.

  5. I just stumbled on your blog and was amazed by your beautiful work. I pray that God grants you unimaginable peace and strength at this point in time.
    Psalm 34 v 18-The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

  6. Just wanted you to know you are heard and that your sharing has helped. We are in the final stages of my mom’s terminal brain cancer. I’ve just started quilting; I don’t know why I decided to try it, but I felt driven to. Now I wonder if it wasn’t the good Lord’s way of setting me up to work thru my grief via creative means. And goodness, doesn’t it feel good to write it all out? When I get mentally stuck, if I can convince myself to write what I’m feeling, I usually make a few discoveries and feel better afterward. Keep writing what your feeling and using your creative gift to work thru your grief, thereby encouraging others to do the same.
    Peace and Comfort,

    • Hi Sarah,

      I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve had to go through this journey as well. There is something about creating that makes you feel heard—I supposed it’s all the unspeakable things that finally make themselves heard through shape, color, and form. I’m so glad that sharing my journey has helped in some small way.

      Thank you for your encouraging words!

  7. Hi Rachel, I feel for your loss, I also lost my Mother, but in an instant (car accident). It does leave a numbness and s big void. But I have learned that time and memories soften the hurt. And sometimes when remembering the special times we spent together, or something she said comes back to me, I talk to her like she is standing beside me. I understand your pain and share your loss. I will include you in my prayers . God bless you!

    • Thanks for your comment, Ben. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m so encouraged by others, like yourself, who have encouraged me through this loss after losing their own mothers. God bless!

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