Note: This continuing series reposts some of the most memorable columns of Suzy’s Fancy, which ran from 2009-2020. This piece originally ran in April 2010.
I’m certainly not the first person to notice that many avid quilters are also avid gardeners. While the same does not always hold true the other way around—I know lots of gardeners who could not care less about quilts—most of the quilters I know have at least a passing interest in gardening. Even those quilters who probably wouldn’t admit to being gardeners, per se, usually share an appreciation for flowers or nature with their plant-loving cohorts.
I’ve been thinking about the link between gardening and quilting and wondering why the two activities are twin passions for so many people. Obviously both are creative, tactile endeavors that involve color and pattern, but there’s more to it than that. Both gardening and quilting engage the mind, the hands, and the eyes. Both nurture the body either through sustenance or warmth, both provide virtually endless possibilities for learning, and while both require time and skill to master, neither excludes the novice. Both gardening and quilting are efforts that can ease the mind, soothe the soul, and fill the heart.
As a member of the Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association, I am lucky enough to know many quilting gardeners. I decided to ask a few of them to share their thoughts about why growing things and making quilts are so interrelated. Here’s what they had to say:My grandmother, who instilled in me a love of gardening, was also a quilter, so the association was a very natural one for me. She was also my first quilting teacher. There are some traits that all gardeners and quilters have in common:
My grandmother, who instilled in me a love of gardening, was also a quilter, so the association was a very natural one for me. She was also my first quilting teacher. There are some traits that all gardeners and quilters have in common:
- They are creative and have great love of color, texture, and patterns. Both quilting and gardening are an artful expression of self.
- Both quilters and gardeners tend to have a great deal of patience and a desire to make every “failure” a lesson to move upward.
- Both quilting and gardening tend to produce a calming effect.
- I believe both gardeners and quilters are “thinkers” with a little “impulsive” thrown in, rather than the other way around.
- I think both quilters and gardeners are “givers” whose greatest joy is to make something better. A warm quilt or a beautiful flower (or salad)—how can the world be better than that?
I know that over half of my quilts have flowers or nature inspirations in the fabric, and many are garden-style quilts. I really feel that my garden is a living palette of colors, designs, shapes and inspiration, waiting there for me to explore. And it’s not only the flowers, plants, and trees that are there for inspiration, but all of the garden’s living creatures, large and small. Many of my quilts are full of dragonflies, bees, bugs, butterflies and birds. —Sue Kersey
The love of color and textures is probably primary as far as what ties quilting and gardening together for me. The process is also similar: planning the garden or quilt with drawings, the construction of rows, considering what looks good next to each other or what needs the most sun. Each has several stages of development, from planning to the binding or canning. Creativity is also a strong tie. Practice makes progress. Both quilters and gardeners are usually very nice, even people. The heritage of both activities goes way back in our history.
I think a lot of it has to do with how people grew up. Quilting and gardening were things that our mothers and grandmothers took pride in doing. Often both quilting and gardening were necessary to provide for their families. Both quilters and gardeners feel strongly about providing healthier, more meaningful things for their children. Both quilters and gardeners cannot be without something to do with their hands that is productive, enjoyable, and adds to the beauty of their family’s lives. My children laugh and say the only things they will fight over after I am gone are my quilts! They gave me a cross-stitch picture that says, “Blessed are the children of the piece-makers, for they shall inherit the quilts.”
Quilters often have needle-pricked fingers and gardeners often have dirty fingernails. Chances are, you may know someone whose hands display both features. And while they may be a manicurist’s challenge, in my view, quilting gardeners combine their two loves in ways that enrich the lives of everyone around them.