What are Essential Oils?

There’s no denying that essential oils are quickly becoming “on trend,” but what are they and what’s all the hype about?

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What are Essential Oils? with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

To be perfectly honest, I started dabbling in essential oils before I knew what they were. I knew they came from plants. I figured they were kind of like an extract. And, perhaps most interestingly, I never thought they could interact with my body on a chemical level to help restore balance. I just figured eucalyptus and peppermint made me feel better when I had a runny nose because that’s just kind of how it works. And it really never occurred to me that there are dozens and dozens of plants that yield essential oils. I wasn’t asking the right questions, and I was missing out on all kinds of interesting information.

What are essential oils, and where do they come from?

Essential Oils are natural, volatile, aromatic compounds that occur in plants (leaves, stems, flowers, seeds, bark, etc). They give plants their distinctive scents and play roles in protecting the plant and in plant pollination. If you’ve ever peeled an orange and seen the fine mist that comes out of the peel as you pull it back and smelled that fresh, bright orange aroma, then you’ve experienced essential oils.

“Volatile Aromatic Compound” means that essential oils are made up of chemical constituents that are unique to the plant of origin, and that move quickly from a liquid to a gas in the open air. This is why you can immediately smell essential oils when you open the bottle. They are extremely concentrated, so they have powerful aromas. The plants used to make essential oils are extremely diverse. Ideally, the plants should be sourced from their native habitat for the best chemical make up and effectiveness.

How are Essential Oils Extracted?

There are two primary ways to extract high quality essential oils (like doTERRAs) from the plants— steam distillation and cold pressing. When done properly, the result is a totally pure, therapeutic grade oil. Lower grade essential oils use other methods of extraction that include chemical processes. Chemical extraction makes “more” oil, but it is polluted with solvents and the oils are at best less effective and at worst toxic.

How do Essential Oils Work?

I saw this post on Instagram recently comparing people to houseplants. My first reaction was, “Yep, sounds about right” (especially as someone who craves sunshine and water constantly). My second thought was, “Hey now, that’s oversimplifying the value of humanity a bit.” While this is, of course, an oversimplification in many ways, it is also true and is a great way to understand how essential oils work.

Both plants and humans are carbon based organisms, and essential oils are part of the plant’s immune system. This means that essential oils are molecularly compatible with our bodies. In plainer terms, our bodies recognize essential oils as natural compounds that are “friend” rather than “foe,” so the oils are able to come alongside our immune system and other bodily systems to provide support. Essential oil molecules are also very, very small which means our body can easily absorb them so they work very fast to help us feel our best. So, circling back to the house plant analogy, drinking water, getting some sunlight, and using essential oils is a great way to deal with those “more complicated emotions” and a whole host of other things, too.

Why Quilters Should Care About Wellness & Health

Let’s take a journey to be our strongest, brightest, most healthy selves by not only practicing healthy self-talk when we’re quilting, but by developing a whole host of healthy habits to enable us to live with confidence.

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Why Quilters Should Care About Wellness & Health with HollyAnne Knight of String & Story

Physical and mental health are topics I run into around the edges of the quilting world a lot (Instagram stories of food here, ladies out for a run there, a yoga class at QuiltCon, etc), but I haven’t seen anyone talk directly about why wellness should be a key conversation among quilters or make wellness a key conversation. I myself have been dabbling in understanding wellness for a long time, but, while I still have lots to learn, I decided that it’s high time I brought y’all in on the journey.

I’ve been quilting for about 4 years now and doing so professionally for about two. In that time, I’ve made two key observations that inform my firm belief that quilters need to talk more about personal health. This first one is really a shocker, so hold on to your hats:

Quilters are people (mostly women)

With all the curation, editing, and the like on social media, it can be easy to forget that all of us, including those of us who make quilting our job rather than a hobby, are people with a life away from the sewing machine. We have kids, spouses, pets, insecurities, hopes and dreams, etc. This means that we have all the usual worries about wellness that anyone else has:

“I wish I could lose 20 pounds.”

“I hate being sick all the time when it’s cold out.”

“Stupid bum hip (knee, elbow, etc).”

“Oi, I’m sore after all that free motion quilting.”

“I don’t even know how to start eating healthy; much less stick with it.”

“I’m just so stressed out.”

“I haven’t felt the same since baby was born.”

“Is it hot in here??”

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And I don’t know about you, but feeling anxious about all this stuff takes away a lot of quilting energy, and then I’m frustrated not only because I don't feel my best but also because I didn’t get any sewing done (or, maybe even worse, tried to sew and couldn’t seem to do anything right).

Many of us turn to quilting to cope

It could be grief, overwhelm, stress, cancer, anxiety, depression, or just about anything else, but most of us consider our sewing to be a haven (why do you think so many quilting groups, including my own, prefer to put the kibosh on topics like politics?). In a wild and uncertain world, quilting is, probably for all of us to varying degrees, very much therapy. But what about when our health concerns or other struggles interfere with our quilting? Or when we just keep feeling hopeless that change is coming but we so.desperately. want to make changes in our health?

If you are a member of the Quilting Rockstars, you’ve had a front row seat to my passion for “doing life together” as quilters. The focus of the group is quilting, certainly, but I count it a blessing when you choose to share other parts of your lives with me too— both griefs and joys— and I love sharing with y’all. I’ve noticed some themes among the Rockstars, and a huge theme is how many of us use quilting to support our mental health.


I’ve talked openly about my journey through postpartum depression after Ian was born here, here, and here. While these posts only talk about the first six months, if you’ve been around lately, then you know it was a dark two years before I felt like I made any progress out of the shadows at all, even though from the outside all seemed well. Healthy habits— fresh air and exercise, community, healthy food, drinking lots of water, creativity, gratitude practice, essential oils, and more— were all crucial to my journey through that time and for the rest of my life. As I’ve talked with more and more quilters who have been effected by depression, anxiety, and a variety of other mental health challenges, I have realized that I cannot ignore these real challenges we face nor can I pretend that quilting can fix it all (quilting is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but there are a lot more pieces to the mental health puzzle). Thus, I’ve added this Live with Confidence blog.

Here you will find a lot about essential oils (a vital component to both physical and mental health in any home) as well as posts about eating well, moving your body, positive self-talk, and more. I’m not a doctor, a therapist, a nutritionist, or a guru, so I’ll simply be sharing from my experiences and inviting you to join me as I seek to and seek to guide you to quilt and LIVE with confidence!