Quilting and Gardening: It’s All the Same to Me

I’ve heard it said that quilters are often drawn to gardening, as gardeners are to quilting.

Since I’ve been doing a LOT of both lately, I’ve had time to ponder this proposition and can see a million reasons why these two activities would appeal to the same people!

In fact, I’m a more experienced quilter than gardener and I’ve begun to see that, when I reach a problem in thinking about my gardens, I can draw on my quilter’s knowledge to help give me insight. I bet it works the other way around, too!

Here are my top five ways (out of a million) that quilting and gardening are aligned. Perhaps you can add others!

Planning—While there are improvisational ways to make a quilt, I think most quilters like the planning process, which draws on both the right and left sides of the brain. There’s a fair amount of math involved in quilt making and it was only when I started making quilts that I saw any point in having taken high school geometry.

Math isn’t so important in gardening but there are certainly rules to follow, in order to achieve success. I used to ignore that silly business about plants wanting full sun or shade, until the plants threatened to report me for torture. Similarly, those rules about growing zones really do provide valuable information!

Level of commitment—Both quilting and gardening demand quite a high level of commitment. Even a small quilt involves multiple stages and I’ve learned it’s possible to get hung up at any stage. Quilts do not finish themselves.

Along the same lines, you simply cannot have a garden without a gardener. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve been known to plant things and then walk away from them, and it never ends well.

Both quilting and gardening are easy to start and more difficult to see through to fruition. While quilters talk about UFOs (unfinished objects), gardeners are more likely to simply look at their weedy, undistinguished patches of earth and shake their heads sadly.

Patience and vision—Related to needing a fairly high level of commitment, both quilting and gardening demand real patience and the ability to envision how pieces will come together to form a whole. I suspect that folks who are exceedingly product-oriented have trouble as quilters and as gardeners.

When I start a quilt, I need to be aware that it will be months before I can really see the beauty in what I’m doing. I need to find pleasure in the doing because the start is often messy and uninspiring. I need to be able to see the finished project in my mind’s eye, to give me the trust that all the tedious early work is worthwhile.

It’s exactly the same with gardening. Nothing we plant really looks good at the start. I’ve spent days lately with crud under my fingernails and my flowers look small and insignificant. I tend to over-fill my perennial beds because I have trouble envisioning how big the plants will get in time. As I get slightly more experienced with both quilting and gardening, I get better at anticipating and seeing into the future, which helps me practice patience.

Color and Shape—Perhaps the most obvious similarity between quilting and gardening is the use of color and shapes to create a pleasing whole. I tend to like solid fabrics (or small prints that “read” as solid) in quilts, and get results from shading and use of lights and darks. This translates well to the garden, even though I’m still trying to figure out how to do it.

I like the way bright, saturated colors show up against dark backgrounds in my quilts and am trying to use bright plantings in shady areas—chartreuse foliage and hot orange and yellow flowers. I have definite preferences for color in both venues—you’ll find no purple in my quilts and the only purple in my gardens comes from one happy, healthy rhododendron that was here when we moved in and I haven’t the heart to uproot.

For quilters and gardeners, colors and shapes become the building blocks of their vision.

Individuality—One of the activities popular with quilt guilds is the so-called mystery quilt challenge. Quilters are told to buy, say, four fabrics in a color range of their choice. Then they are periodically given instructions of how to cut and join the fabrics. Eventually, the patterns develop and all the quilters bring their finished products together.

The amazing thing about this challenge is how different and individual the quilts are, even though they are made with the same design! The different choices people make in the fabrics create limitless possibilities in the finished quilts. You would get the same individual interpretation if you asked quilters to use the exact same fabrics but to choose their own quilt patterns.

Makers have always expressed their individuality through quilt design, so much so that certain quilts can be recognized as being made by certain quilters or by having been done in a particular region.

Gardening, too, offers the same endless possibilities with the same basic ingredients. We all use the same relatively small number of plants and flowers that work in our growing zone but the results are as varied as we are. If you and I both start with petunias and geraniums and creeping Jenny, my end product will look entirely different than yours!

So, quilters and gardeners are always achieving their own distinctive look, even while they carefully eye the work of others to provide new ideas. Whether I’m at a quilt show or walking through a new garden, I’m wondering what I can use of the ideas in front of me.

It occurs to me that the points I’m making about quilting and gardening may very well apply to other endeavors as well. Do you garden? How does it relate to your other artistic undertakings? Are there similarities? Do you learn how to approach one from the other? Do tell!


As I wait to hear from you, I’m going back to my quilting. Or my gardening. Or maybe both!


23 thoughts on “Quilting and Gardening: It’s All the Same to Me

  1. You did an excellent job with this comparison. I do garden, if you can call trying to control all the invasive vines and perennials gardening. However, unlike you, I don’t have other artistic endeavors. So what have you got against purple?

    • I think you’re doing a great job with your garden–all your photos look so green and lush! I’m not sure what my problem is with purple . . . I just can’t embrace it.

  2. What a fabulous post! I love how you drew those parallels and I could really see how it works for you.

    While I have always understood how the comparisons you made work with me in creating a home, you made me think about my own creative process and gardening – I saw that the thing I really love in both is that ‘vision’ thing – and while I may have a picture in my head of what I want to create, the process is what absorbs me and the ability with both plants and paint to add in, move around, layer, and embellish is obvious in my art work and my garden. 🙂 Who knew!!

    Great post!

  3. Interesting post. Assuming that those photos of both quilts and flowers are from your own creations, you’re amazingly talented. Those quilts, in particular, are absolutely gorgeous.

  4. You make excellent points in comparing the two endeavors. I quilted a long time ago and haven’t picked it up since. There was too much math for me and I found myself hurrying to get done instead of enjoying the process. As for my perennial garden, I’ve achieved the goal of “lots of green” after multiple seasons but now it’s become so big that it overwhelms me. That, and the fact that I contracted Lyme disease two summers ago, has kept me from digging in like I used to. Now I find myself interested in small projects or just reaching for a book instead. I applaud your persistence and creativity. Brava!

    • If you’re dealing with Lyme disease, I can see why the garden is no longer an appealing place to be–how awful! I find myself more interested in process, than product, these days–not sure when that happened or why!

      • I recovered from Lyme but it was a scary situation. Read my post titled “My Bout With Lyme Disease” and you’ll see I was near death with a shockingly low BP. Thus, my hesitation to dig into that perennial garden I worked so hard on for years. Now I garden in little patches, fully covered at all times!

  5. I love the flowers in the stump – so pretty! I recently (within the last 4-5 years) began to focus on gardening — but it’s still hard for me. I wasn’t born with a green thumb and so I often struggle. And I have to dig up a few bulbs this fall and replant them b/c I didn’t believe the full sun thing either. Quilting seems even more intimidating, it’s such a long process. I’m always in awe of people that are so good at it.

    • I’m like you–still learning, every year, about what works in the garden–I’m always a little surprised when plants actually survive! Quilting doesn’t have to be intimidating if you start small. But it sounds like you have a lot of others things to keep you busy right now!

  6. I am a messy gardener so I expect I would make a messy, therefore, not very good quilter. Your garden/quilt thoughts would apply to your weaving, too, I expect. Love the photos of the quilts and the flowers.

    • I think some of the comparisons I made would apply to a lot of crafts or creative endeavors. Have you noticed how wonderfully malleable metaphors are?! And, by the way, I’ve seen some improvisational quilts that I guess would be called “messy” but that are also so energetic and fun!

  7. Excellent! Now I know why I have spent 4hours cutting back Ivy on the fence. I never plan my designs or my garden. I let nature take its course, much as the materials in my hands lead to my designs when I am sewing. Sometimes it’s joyful….. Sometimes it’s Ivy gone mad!!! X

    • Focus on the joyful! I spend an awful lot of time digging up plants that have gotten out of control, too! Funny, because I am very precise with the quilting but not the plants!

  8. I love this analogy! I am trying to learn to garden, and I’ve never made a quilt (although I am currently crocheting a large blanket, maybe that counts!) my gardening’s not gone so well in the past – I’m not very good at learning the rules, and I guess I have that approach to most things since I’m so impatient! I like the thought, though, that gardening’s an art form – it certainly can be colourful! xx

    • Crocheting a large blanket definitely counts for lots! The more success I had as a gardener, the more it made me want to follow the rules a little better so I could have even more success. But I learn something new every year!

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