It’s not unusual that we encounter a story about quilters using their craft to help others, whether it’s raising money (as in the AAQI piece you can read about in this issue), or donating finished quilts to provide a sense of warmth and comfort to someone who needs it.
And certainly, we’ve also heard accounts of people using quilting as a therapeutic tool, both medically and psychologically. But it’s not as common that we get the story directly from someone for whom quilting has been a life-changing discovery and a means to both physical and emotional recovery, as in the case of Patricia Silva of Mexico City.
Above—Silva with quilting instructor Pam Holland
A little over a decade ago, Silva was diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. She was blind, couldn’t sit, and was forced to lie on her back, had no coordination, and some other “not-so-nice details.” After being there for a full two months, she was given a final—and heartbreaking—diagnosis. She would never walk again.
“They gave me a wheelchair and I was treated with cortisone for a long time—about a year,” she continues. “When I came back home [to Mexico City], a doctor here told me that, it would not be easy, but they wanted to make me walk again.”
Although the doctor was, in fact, able to help Silva walk again, she was left with terrible pain in her ankles. Initial x-rays seemed to show that nothing was wrong, but it was ultimately determined that the long-term and intensive cortisone treatment had damaged her bones, and she would have to learn to live with the pain.
It was on a trip to the U.S. that Silva first encountered quilting. “I was looking for yarn to knit with and went into a quilting store. I saw what they were doing and loved it. I had never heard about quilting before, and I told my sister, ‘Someday, I’m going to learn how to do that!’” she says.
It wasn’t until five years later that Silva sought out a quilting teacher in Mexico City, where she found a woman teaching in her garage with just a few fabrics. That was 2007, and quilting had just begun to gain interest in her area. Though, Silva notes that the teacher she took that first class from now owns a “big and beautiful” quilting store in Mexico City, where quilting continues to grow.
“I started with a lot of limitations,” she says. “I wasn’t able to cut, sew, or go to the ironing board [which required a lot of up and down movement]. But the teacher and classmates all helped me—they became my angels. I kept quilting. It made me feel useful and helped me improve on my therapies.”
About four months after, well-known quilting instructor Pam Holland came to Mexico City to teach, where Silva met her for the first time. It was during a class with Holland that Silva’s quilting moved to a new level. “It was my first hand free quilting work,” she says of the Hens piece she created during the class. “But even more than my quilt, I loved the way that Pam is, and she became a very important person for me.”
Around the time that Silva started quilting, her daughter got married and moved out of their home. She attributes quilting with helping her to reestablish a social life, something she had largely abandoned due to her handicap.
“It wasn’t easy for me to come and go, and I didn’t want to, because I didn’t want people to see me,” she says. “But as I got involved in quilting, I stopped caring as much, and just kept going, at the same time improving my physical therapy and—most importantly—my spirit. The wonderful friendships with my classmates were doing miracles day by day.
“Today, I do not feel lonely at all. I have no time to. My sewing machine, fabrics, new ideas, and having fun with other quilters takes all my time,” she continues. “Quilting has also really improved my therapy, because I needed to move to do better.”
At that time, Silva still needed to use crutches to get around. This year, she’s able to walk and even run by herself (only relying upon crutches on days when her pain is worse). This has also allowed Silva to attend International Quilt Festival in Houston, where, she says, she loves seeing “all of those beauties” and finding her “good friend Pam” to say hello in person.
It was also at this year’s Festival in Houston that a member of our Education team encountered Silva—while waiting for Holland outside of her lecture room—and heard of her story. Silva had brought a work along with her (a Jacaranda Tree quilt) to show Holland. And while Silva’s daughter (there with her for the first time) attempted to take a photo of Silva, her work, and Holland outside of the classroom, Silva realized she’d left her glasses inside. As she ran in to look for them, the Education member remarked, “She’s in good shape.”
Her daughter quickly responded, “What if I told you that, not long ago, she was told she wouldn’t walk again? I am so happy she has a passion that now makes her run!”
Photos at left: Silva’s various quilted works
© 2014. A publication of Quintessential Quilt Media. No portion may be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Quilts, Inc.