Why quilting gives you a sense of wellbeing

Behind the Headlines

Monday June 13 2011

This small study surveyed 29 women

"Quilting improves your health in ways even exercise can’t manage,” according to the Daily Mail. The newspaper said that making quilts is “uniquely good for you”.

This news story was based on a small survey that interviewed 29 women who belonged to a quilting group. The survey asked them about the satisfaction they got from quilting. The women, the majority of whom were retired, explained that they felt a sense of satisfaction from the creative process and, in particular, problem solving, working with colours and being able to lose themselves in their work. They also said that they enjoyed the social side of the activity, sharing tips and the inspiration they got from seeing other people’s work.

The research found that these people felt they benefited from their creating activity, but it did not objectively measure health or wellbeing. While it may inspire people to try this particular activity, it does not necessarily mean that quilting is more likely to have positive psychological effects than any other hobby or exercise. Overall, the design of this small study allows only limited conclusions to be drawn.

 

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Glasgow. No source of funding was listed for this study. The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Public Health.

In its headline, the Daily Mail suggested that this study had looked at the effects of quilting on health. The study interviewed a group of women who made quilts, but did not objectively measure any aspect of their physical or mental health, or compare quilt making to any other type of hobby.

 

What kind of research was this?

This was a qualitative survey of women in a quilting group in Glasgow. The survey asked the participants about their experiences of quilting in relation to their wellbeing.

 

What did the research involve?

The researchers contacted women who were members of a quilting group in Glasgow. The group had existed for eight years. The 55 members were all women, and most were white, British, middle-aged or older, and middle class. The group met monthly in the evenings.

The researchers gave a preliminary questionnaire to two people, which they intended to refine for use in the wider group. However, only minimal changes were made so they included these people’s answers in their analysis.

The researchers interviewed 29 people, which they recorded using tapes or notes. The interviews lasted between 26 and 100 minutes. The transcripts of each interview were analysed by two researchers to develop connections and overarching themes present within the responses.

 

What were the basic results?

Nine of the participants were under 60 years of age and the remaining 20 were between 60 and 80. Twenty people were retired, seven were employed, one was a student and one person was partially retired. Ten people had less than 10 years’ quilting experience, eleven people had between 11 and 20 years’ quilting experience, and eight had over 20 years’ experience.

The themes that emerged concerned the practical process of quilting, the social side and the end product.

Some of the qualitative reports of quilting included:

  • Quilting was an accessible way for participants to be creative, incorporating different colours and textures and work with their hands to produce a tangible product. The women said that this offered a sense of wellbeing that they did not find in their jobs.
  • Participants identified that the use of bright colours had uplifting effects on mood and that this was particularly important in winter.
  • The majority of participants said that they became captivated by the creative process, which they likened to a “flow” - losing themselves in their quilting, displacing their anxieties and relaxing them. Participants said that these psychological benefits continued after they had stopped quilting.
  • The participants said that quilting required problem solving, such as designing new patterns and incorporating shapes. Even those with more years’ experience reported that they continued to find new challenges.
  • The participants reported that quilting was good for keeping busy, developing skills while being able to produce something at the end.
  • The participants appreciated the social side of quilting, and although the majority also made quilts alone, they enjoyed sharing ideas and skills with others. They said that seeing other people’s quilts was an inspiration to develop skills, and that receiving a quilt and receiving praise from others boosted their confidence.

 

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers said that “quilting seemed to possess some distinct properties for enhancing wellbeing that would not be replicable through physical/outdoor activities”. They say that “modern life may be seen as suppressing creativity and yet creativity may be something that humans intrinsically desire”. They said that “creative crafts also offer important choices for people who either are not interested in outdoor activities or who have problems which make this difficult. Quilting (and probably other creative hobbies) appears to be useful in maintaining well-being in older people, which may become increasingly important as our nation ages further”.

 

Conclusion

This qualitative research asked 29 quilters about their experience of producing quilts and why they enjoyed it. The study did not measure any aspect of health or compare quilting to other hobbies. It is not possible to conclude that quilting has benefits for health. However, this study is useful in that it describes people’s positive experiences from pursuing a creative hobby and the social benefits they felt it provided. As the researchers pointed out, this is an accessible hobby for people of every age, and this qualitative research may inspire people to try quilting or other creative hobbies.

This research was conducted from a public health perspective, looking for activities that promote wellbeing among the population. However, since this research asked people in a long-standing quilting group about whether they felt quilting had benefits, the results are unsurprising. It’s possible that the positive effects experienced within the group may not be felt by everyone. That said, it seems plausible that creative hobbies, such as quilting, would bring some sense of fulfilment or relaxation. For example, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) already recommends arts therapy for the treatment of certain mental health problems.

Further research is needed to see whether quilting and other hobbies are good for mood, wellbeing and health. Ideally, studies in this area would take the form of a randomised control trial, perhaps measuring changes in factors such as blood pressure or wellbeing scores in groups assigned to try a new hobby, and comparing these changes to people performing no activity.

Links to the headlines

Why quilting improves your health in ways even exercise can't manageDaily Mail, June 13 2011

Links to the science

Burt EL, Atkinson J. The relationship between quilting and wellbeing. Journal of Public Health, June 5 2011 (first published online)  

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Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices