Last year, several things came together for me.
I found myself spending much more time sewing than I had for many years.
I was inspired by a blogpost I read by Rebecca of Needle and Spindle in which she wrote about the Needleworks Collective and their GiveWrap idea. In brief, they aspire to reduce the horrific throwaway culture of Christmas and present wrapping paper by replacing it with beautiful handmade fabric wrappers which could be used and re-used many times.
As it happened, my cousin Polly and I were looking for a project that we might work on together. In her spare time from music and Alexander teaching, Polly is a part-time printmaker. Together we evolved a system of making joint GiveWraps with her printed fabric scraps incorporated in my surrounding patchwork. We had such fun! Here is our first GiveWrap (you can see Polly’s inclining printed ladies in the centre bands).We made a lot of GiveWraps last Christmas. And I realised with a start that I was using up all my special fabric treasures on GiveWraps that I would probably never see again (the central tenet of GiveWrappery is that you pass it on, and then the GiveWrap is passed on again and again).
Further inspiration came at Christmas when Polly gave me the powerful novel, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This is a story of slavery in America’s deep south. One of the slaves, Charlotte, is a fine seamstress, and makes a quilt to record her life story for her daughter. Aha!! My quilt is nothing like Charlotte’s quilt (it’s arrogant of me even to compare them), but the seed of an idea was sewn, and I embarked on my own story quilt, sewing the odd fabric pieces together in the same way that I had made my GiveWraps.To give some sense of structure to what was really rather a haphazard quilt, I decided to restrict myself to the red, orange, yellow colour spectrum on one side, and blues and greens on the other. Purples and browns, blacks and whites crept in unbidden everywhere.
I started with a mess. So many fabrics, so many scraps, so many memories – just so much to put in.In the end, I had to be strict with myself. After I had completed the central body of each side of the quilt, I allowed myself to put in only one piece of each of the fabrics that were left in the mitred edges. Here the blue/green side is being built up to match the completed red/orange/yellow side.I added the polyester wadding to the red/orange/yellow side first. You can see my basting threads holding the two layers together. Our cat Poe thinks it is a new play place, and is not helping with the next step: adding the blue/green layer to complete the whole. While all this piecing was going on, I was researching quilting methods – after all, this was my very first quilt. I watched youtube training videos, searched the internet for advice, dug out my mother’s old quilting and patchwork books. I invested in thimbles and a curious thing called Aunt Becky’s finger protector (which helps prevent you ending up with sore, needle-pricked fingers). With all three layers well-basted together, I set to with my thimble, Aunt Becky’s finger protector and needle.
Disaster! I really am very bad at quilting! My nice level running stitches on one side were completely wonky on the other. Nothing for it but to ditch the hand-sewing and turn to the man and the machine.
The man is the measurer and calculator – absolutely essential if you are as dodgy with numbers as I am. Here he ruminates and studies my wonky efforts. It’s going to be tricky to get straight measurements here……. But with old-fashioned rulers and long metal tape-measures, we did get straightish white chalk lines on the quilt. They are 6.5 inches apart. I managed to machine it up – just! I’m not sure my machine would have been able to cope with a larger or thicker piece of work.The machine quilting worked surprisingly well, and it looks good – I now had a proper quilt! Time for the edging. I’d originally planned to use a single strip of brown and purple fabrics for the edging, but it soon became clear this wasn’t going to work. The purples and browns planned for the red/orange side were far too strong and intense in colour for the lighter-toned blue/green side. So I had to make a special binding, combining suitable toned colours for each side.Then the bindings were hand-stitched onto the quilt. So what have I put in my quilt? Well, all sorts really. There are fabrics that have come from clothes I have worn, my sisters and mother have worn, and my grandmother wore too. There are little bits of projects I have started or done as test pieces. The fabrics used include silks, satins, cottons, tweed, towelling and jersey. (You can click on all these images to see the text more clearly).There are new fabrics, fabrics that have come from much-loved clothes, fabrics that have just been in the family for so long that I don’t know where they came from.
I have added my name to the quilt and the date and place. A little bit of Latin (and elsewhere Greek) since I was a student of Greek and Latin at university. There are knitting sheep at either end of my name – new fabric, representing my fleecy knitting interests. Then there are the hearts. I put the first heart in because it was a left-over from one of my mother’s sewing projects. Then I realised that I had the perfect use for all those extra bits of fabric that I badly wanted to include but no longer had any room for.This heart is from an exquisitely embroidered Serbian blouse – it’s probably 50 years old as my grandmother wore it before me. The rest of the garment is yellowed and perished but the embroidered panels are still in good condition. There are bits of poetry too. The words in this photograph have come from one of Stephen’s poems. The squirrel in a go-kart in this photographic is fabric I used to make bedheads and pillow cases for my children when they were young.I don’t think my quilt will ever really be finished. This bit of text that I’m currently working on acknowledges Stephen’s help with maths and measuring: Mathematics by Stephen!It’s a great pleasure to lie in bed under the quilt and look at all the pieces, to remember stories and people, events and places. What I did not expect to enjoy so much is the handle of a quilt – it is so light and comfortably squishy. Perhaps I’ll just wear it for a while.
12 thoughts on “My story quilt”
I find your writing so poignant and inspiring, as I found the actual quilt last week. The layers of meaning, both literally through the fabrics and through the whole concept of piecing together strands and colours of a life. Such a meaningful project! Liked the background story too.
Thank you, Polly! – it’s strange that our GiveWraps have led on to this, isn’t it? I think they have opened new doors for both of us. It is true that for me making this quilt has meant a journey back through old places. Best said by the poet, Edna Eglinton: “What I am now is made from this rich compost, deep-stirred with fellowship and love…”
She sounds like a poet I should know………. Meant to say I specially liked the pictures of you-with-quilt at beginning and end, red hair and red quilt, and oh SO cosy.
Edna’s Daughter Patsy would be delighted to see her late mother quoted.
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What a fun adventure! Nice job. Thanks for showing us all the bits and pieces 🙂
WOW! The quilt is beautiful!
Thank you for your generous comments! I’ve so enjoyed making this quilt – and it’s such a bonus to share it with others and hear their comments.
How very nice, Tony, that you have found my quote from Edna Eglinton! I treasure the few poems of hers that I know – which I discovered in 2003 copies of Quaker Life.