A pile of uncut fabric in shades of coral and pink.

Quilting Makes You Feel Good: the Effort-Driven Rewards Circuit

Have you ever noticed how great it feels to practice your craft?  Whatever the craft is, from knitting and quilting, to woodwork, pottery, painting and scrapbooking, doing it makes you feel good doesn’t it?  Since we are quilters and sewists, that’s the language I’ll use to showcase this feeling that Dr. Kelly Lambert called the Effort-Driven Rewards Circuit.

That’s the name for the good feeling you get when you’re quilting or sewing.  It’s a real thing that affects our brain when we create something “tangible, visible and meaningful.”

Want to hear something even more amazing? The more you activate the Effort-Driven Rewards Circuit, the more you affect your sense of well-being.

Making quilts had that effect on me more than any other craft that I’d practiced in the past.  I think it may be because as soon as I’d completed just one block I could imagine the finished product and could imagine someone using and enjoying it.  Making others happy makes me happy.

Regardless of whether you are quilting or making iron sculptures, using your hands activates this circuit every time.  One of the things noted by Dr. Lambert was that using our hands requires a lot more area of our brain than moving our legs or arms.

Creating things like beautiful quilts does something more for us than release happy chemicals into our bloodstream though.  Creating things by hand means that they will have imperfections.  What non-quilters might call a mistake.

What you might have guessed if you’ve had a hobby like quilting and sewing is that you learn far more from your mistakes than you ever do from successes.  Imperfections in our craft bring about innovations and solutions to the challenges we all face when learning any new skill.  Our hobbies make us trailblazers and innovators because we have to solve challenges in order to learn new techniques or skills.

Think of all the different techniques you’ve learned through the years.  Foundation paper piecing, English paper piecing, applique, curved piecing, y-seams…and the list goes on.  Even when you throw your hands up in frustration and shut down your sewing machine in frustration, your brain is working hard to find a solution.  Why?  Because that circuit wants to be activated.  Every time we are unsatisfied with our finished product, our brain pushes us to try again.

So next time you find yourself deep in the rabbit hole and hours have gone by, and you have no idea where your children are or if your husband is still at home, just know that your brain and the Effort-Driven Rewards Circuit are at work. 

I encourage you to learn a new technique.  Try to change a pattern you’ve made several times or create your own.  Sew a garment if you’re a quilter.  Are you a tailor or garment maker?  Try making a handbag or a piece of jewelry. 

For me, I think I’ll just use that excuse to justify my fabric stash! 

Whether it’s quilting, sewing or whatever your crafty jam is…have at it, and have fun!

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