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My Quilt Of Many Colours

November 17, 2015
by the gentle author

In response to recent news and the nights closing in, I have been spending more time under my quilt

The great majority of my stories were written beneath this quilt that I made a few years ago and which has special meaning for me. Once dusk gathers, I retreat to my bed to work each afternoon, abandoning my desk that has become piled with layers of paper and taking consolation in the warmth and comfort under my quilt, as the ideal snug location to devise my daily compositions. While the autumn enfolds the city and rain falls outside, I am happy in my secure private space, writing to you through the long dark nights in Spitalfields.

This is the only quilt I ever made and I make no claims for my ability as a stitcher which is functional rather than demonstrating any special skill. Once I made a shirt that I sewed by hand, copying the pattern from one I already had, and it took me a week, with innumerable unpicking and resewing as I took the pieces apart and reassembled them until I achieved something wearable. It was a beautiful way to spend a week, sitting cross-legged sewing on the floor and although I am proud of the shirt I made, I shall not attempt it again.

My quilt is significant because I made it to incarnate the memory of my mother, and as a means to manifest the warmth I drew from her, and illustrated with the lyrical imagery that I associate with her – something soft and rich in colour that I could enfold myself with, and something that would be present in my daily life to connect me to my childhood, when I existed solely within the tender cocoon of my parents’ affections. My sweetest memories are of being tucked up in bed as a child and of my parents climbing onto the bed to lie beside me for ten minutes until I drifted off.

For several years, after the death of my father, I nursed my mother as she succumbed to the dementia that paralysed her, took away her nature, her mind, her faculties and her eventually her life. It was an all-consuming task, both physically and emotionally, being a housewife, washing bed sheets constantly, cooking food, and feeding and tending to her as she declined slowly over months and years. And when it was over, at first I did not know what to do next.

One day, I saw a woollen tapestry at a market of a fisherman in a sou-wester. This sentimental image spoke to me, like a picture in a children’s book, and evoking Cornwall where my mother was born. It was made from a kit and entailed hours of skillful work yet was on sale for a couple of pounds, and so I bought it. At once, I realised that were lots of these tapestries around that no-one wanted and I was drawn to collect them. Many were in stilted designs and crude colours but it did not matter to me because I realised they look better the more you have, and it satisfied me to gather these unloved artifacts that had been created at the expense of so much labour and expertise, mostly – I suspected – by old women.

I have taught myself to be unsentimental about death itself, and I believe that human remains are merely the remains – of no greater meaning than toenails or hair clippings. After their demise, the quality of a person does not reside within the body – and so I chose to have no tombstone for my parents and I shall not return to their grave. Instead, through making a quilt, I found an active way to engage with my emotion at the loss of a parent and create something I can keep by me in fond remembrance for always.

I laid out the tapestries upon the floor and arranged them. I realised I needed many more and I discovered there were hundreds for sale online. And soon they began to arrive in the mail every day. And the more I searched, the more discriminating I became to find the most beautiful and those with pictures which I could arrange to create a visual poem of all the things my mother loved – even the work of her favourite artists, Vermeer, Millet, Degas and Lowry, as well as animals, especially birds, and flowers, and the fishing boats and seascapes of her childhood beside the Cornish coast.

Over months, as the quilt came together, there with plenty of rejections and substitutions in the pursuit of my obsession to create the most beautiful arrangement possible. A room of the house was devoted to the quilt, where my cat Mr Pussy came to lie upon the fragments each day, to keep me company while I sat there alone for hours contemplating all the tapestries – shuffling them to discover new juxtapositions of picture and colour, as each new arrival in the mail engendered new possibilities.

The natural tones of the woollen dyes gave the quilt a rich luminous glow of colour and I was always aware of the hundreds of hours of work employed by those whose needlecraft was of a far greater quality than mine. After consideration, a soft lemon yellow velvet was sought out to line it, and a thin wadding was inserted to give it substance and warmth but not to be too heavy for a Summer night.

It took me a year to make the quilt. From the first night, it has delighted me and I have slept beneath it ever since. I love to wake to see its colours and the pictures that I know so well, and it means so much to know that I shall have my beautiful quilt of memories of my mother to keep me warm and safe for the rest of my life.

The first tapestry I bought.

Seventies silk butterflies from Florida.

From Thailand.

My grandmother had a print of Millet’s “The Angelus” in her dining room for more than sixty years.

Note the tiny stitches giving detail to the lion’s head in this menagerie.

A unique tapestry from a painting of a Cornish fishing village.

From the Czech Republic.

These squirrels never made it into the quilt.

I could not take this wonderful seascape from its frame, it hangs on my bedroom wall today

You may like to read about Mr Pussy in Winter

47 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Green permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I found this to be such a touching story that I am not the slightest bit embarrassed to openly admit that it made me cry, having had the pleasure to have met you on many occasions GA, certainly enough times to have formed what I believe to be an accurate opinion of you I can say in all honesty, you really are a VERY nice > PERSON < (a ubiquitous term so as not to give away your identity) , And that is a very lovely quilt.

  2. Pete permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I imagine making it with the moggy present was a challenge, they always want to lie on / play with just the bit you want..
    It’s a splendid piece of work indeed !

  3. November 17, 2015

    Lovely quilt. Isn’t it fun to puzzle out which bits belong together? I see that Mr. Pussy approves of the project and was there to help you in making selections.

  4. November 17, 2015

    a beauty! and the pleasure it must bring, night after night…
    i have a cupboard half filled with recovered and washed gobelins myself, and have covered two foot stools. your quilt convinces me to go on and stitch up a pair of winter’s curtains. thank you for the vote of confidence! n

  5. November 17, 2015

    Very beautiful post indeed, and what a memorial to your mother. Mr. Pussy, whom I remember knew her, obviously feels the same. Wonderful picture of him juxtaposed with the needlework cat…and oh, I love the squirrels madly, but I can see why you did not include them; they might have taken over the quilt! I would like to be reassured however that those vital little red animals will have a proper home, even if not in the quilt. Will you frame them?

  6. Judy Stewart permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Simply this: that your quilt is lovely. Also (as a new reader) I just read the link you provided to Mr. Pussy In Winter….reminding me so of our Malcolm. Wonderful. Thank you.

  7. Rosemary Wilmot permalink
    November 17, 2015

    What a wonderful heart warming story about love, childhood, loss and creating a wonderful lasting memory. Thank you for sharing this I loved it.
    Thank you also for all of your hard work and the posts you share.

  8. Victoria permalink
    November 17, 2015

    The perfect story to wake up to on a dark wintry morning made even darker by last Friday’s event. The tale of your quilt and the individual squares brings light to the shade and a reminder that there is still a quiet humanity, brought to life through your words and stitches.

  9. November 17, 2015

    What a lovely project, I like it very much x

  10. Doreen Fletcher permalink
    November 17, 2015

    As someone who used to stitch tapestry cushions hour after hour as a comforting antidote to a very stressful job, it is so heartening that you recognise the love and care that goes into this apparent repetitive mundane activity and transformed your collection into a work of art. It is lovely to look at. I agree with Robert Green.

  11. November 17, 2015

    Such a beautiful and moving piece, thank you. What patience to make the quilt – I am not a sewer – but amazing pleasure and comfort derived from it. I love Mr Pussy too – what a handsome cat!

  12. Marie permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Such a beautiful quilted story, very poignant. You evoke so many ideas, connections and memories in the way you write, like the delicate pieces you have sewn together here. It’s a novel of a quilt with your edited finale and your rejected sections remaining valid for their own worth. I hope to attend one of your blogging courses. Warm wishes, Marie A

  13. November 17, 2015

    Dear Gentle Author,
    I love the abstract movement of the dark and light shapes that your artistic juxtapositionings and rearrangements have created. Like passages of music, the dark/light patterns offer an emotional subtext to the literal story-squares. Wish I might have been a quiet kitty in the corner witnessing the unfolding process over the many months. ~ What an artist you are ~
    Constance

  14. Greg Tingey permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Warm, human company, I can extend my claws! I can nest properly.
    Yes cats do like quilts, don’t they – Mr Pussy obviously does

  15. Beatrice permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I was very moved – you are such a special person. Thank you, GA.
    Beatrice

  16. Madeleine permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Beautiful! I am sure Mr Pussy thinks that you made it especially for him.

  17. linda salter permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Thank you so much for this very personal insight.

  18. November 17, 2015

    I love your thoughts here and the way you’ve expressed your love for your mother. Heart-warming, sad and evocative … so good to read and see – thank you – Hilary

  19. Heather permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Sitting on the bus crying! Such a beautiful story, thank you.

  20. Beatrice Frei permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I was very moved – you are such a special person. Thank you GA.

  21. November 17, 2015

    “One day, I saw a woollen tapestry at a market of a fisherman in a sou-wester. This sentimental image spoke to me, like a picture in a children’s book”

    Yes, there is definitely something about children books that speak powerfully to us. As we accompany our parents towards the exit they remind us of how they accompanied us out of the entrance. For me it was the Arthur Ransome story ‘We didn’t mean to go to sea’. A group of children finding themselves on a bigger journey than they expected it to be and finding grown up courage inside themselves to do it. It was my mothers courage, defiance and humour while she was slowly overwhelmed by cancer that taught me so much about how to be a grown up.

  22. Harper Fox permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Your quilt is beautiful and the story behind it truly moving. As others have observed, it is comforting to hear stories of deep, enduring affection in such dark times.

  23. November 17, 2015

    Beautiful story; beautiful quilt.

  24. Patricia Blalock permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I so enjoyed reading this. I do tapestry myself.. although technically it is needlepoint… tapestry is woven… but everyone calls these tapestries. I think the quilt you made is absolutely beautiful. I know how much work goes into these … hours and hours… and wonderful that you have saved these ones. I sometimes wonder what will happen to mine when I die. I hope someone like you saves them.
    The actual stitching is very relaxing. I’m disabled and don’t get out much, but never happier than when I am sitting stitching a canvas. It’s like a mediation.
    Thank you for this… it made my day.

  25. November 17, 2015

    What a wonderful project, stitched with love and memories.

  26. William permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Beautiful. Good to see Mr. Pushy was so helpful. :)

  27. November 17, 2015

    Mr Pussy is a connoisseur, as one can see!

    Love & Peace for Paris
    ACHIM

  28. November 17, 2015

    Lovely ♥

  29. Alex Knisely permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Charming. Thank you.

  30. November 17, 2015

    Love it!

  31. Jane Pearce permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I eagerly await all your columns but this one had special meaning for me. My beloved mother died in November 1997 but shortly before, she managed to compose and mail out her annual Christmas letter. As an RCAF wife, her friends were located all over the world. Shortly after Christmas, one of the envelopes was returned unopened and marked “addressee unfound”. I was curious as to what my mother had written and so opened the envelope. She had made no mention of her illness at all, instead writing that she was busy making quilts for all her loved ones so that we could feel her constant embrace. Thank you for reminding me.

  32. Mary Connolly permalink
    November 17, 2015

    What a beautiful quilt,and a wonderful script. So many lovely memories that you shared with us. Thank you so much

  33. Glynna Bowood permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Very nice piece of personal history that you have shared! Mr Pussy has a twin here with me as I read and though he much more retiring than your cat, he will growl and run to the window when someone approaches!

  34. Susannah Williams permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I always enjoy reading your posts, but I think this might be my favourite. Such moving words, and such beautifully bright pictures. Thank you for this and for all the others.

  35. Susie permalink
    November 17, 2015

    Thank you for a really warming and wonderful description of your quilt-making. I love that it evokes such happy memories . It brought me much pleasure today.

  36. Ken permalink
    November 17, 2015

    What a lovely thing, pieced together like the lives that make a city.

  37. Pauline Taylor permalink
    November 17, 2015

    All the comments here echo exactly how I feel, your love for your mother comes through loud and clear, and I understand just how much comfort this delightful quilt brings to you. Much more satisfactory than a tombstone, and I am sure that she would approve, as does Mr Pussy obviously!! I shall now make more effort to finish a piece of needle point that I have packed away somewhere. Thank you for the inspiration.

  38. Sally Hirst permalink
    November 17, 2015

    I loved hearing more about the making of this quilt. I have several cross stitch pieces done by my mother and, on reading about your quilt on a previous occasion, saved them for the same purpose. It seems you cut them up, was that a problem in the making? I fear them unraveling.
    Thank you for sharing this story and revealing something of your life. I follow your blog. It is a gift.

  39. November 17, 2015

    As everyone has said, a really moving piece. Lovely to see these tapestries and hear the story behind them. When my mother died I arranged a headstone for her because that is what convention demands and I often feel guilty about not visiting her grave regularly but your piece sums up my own feelings.

    Looking at my memory box of my parents photographs and correspondence evokes much stronger memories than looking at a stone in a graveyard. The quilt is a lovely way of remembering your mother.

  40. Miriam Delorie permalink
    November 18, 2015

    What a beautiful loving and touching idea – to do a quilt that must be filled with memories of loved ones brought close. An absolute masterpiece – congratulations for all your effort that went into it.

  41. Alison permalink
    November 18, 2015

    What a lovely and touching post! Like others, I am sure, I cried a bit while reading it: then went back, read it again, and cried a bit again. Your post is beautifully written. Perhaps even better, your tribute to your mother, and your realization of the importance of the “unwanted” tapestries, are wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

    Plus, any post with multiple pictures of Mr. Pussy is a winner for me!

  42. Pauline Taylor permalink
    November 18, 2015

    Forgot to say that we had a print of Millet’s The Angelus in our kitchen when I was growing up, I remember it very clearly.

  43. Suzy permalink
    November 19, 2015

    Dear GA, you have written before about this patchwork quilt. I remember because it was without doubt one of my firm favorites. So it was loooovely to revisit your quilt and the deeply touching meaning and personal history behind it.

    I think I’ve said this before but I’ll tell you again…I love all of your posts but when we gain a little bit of insight into the poetic soul of TGA, oh they are my absolute favorites!

    The following question may be a defamation on TGA but I’m thinking that on your lengthy forays about London you must see all manner of inspiring and splendiferous sights…how about an Instagram account??

    Also (sorry!), I was at the Paper and Cup last week in Shoreditch. What a wonder of a place!! I know you’ve mentioned this cafe in passing in a post but how about a post dedicated to it? It’s special because it’s non-profit but it’s soooo lovely and good quality to boot.

    And what of those work shops behind the Paper and Cup?! They are little more than sheds up a back alley but oh my! What delightful things are occurring up that back alley! :o )

    Ahh I flippin’ love being in The Big Shhhhmoke. I’m currently suffering post-London-melancholia. :o (

  44. Rachel permalink
    November 20, 2015

    Such a moving story and a wonderful tribute to the memories of family life past.

  45. Miriam permalink
    November 22, 2015

    What a marvelous work of art! The perfect combination of head, heart and hand.

  46. November 23, 2015

    What a lovely post, your words are woven with the same love and care that went into the stitching of the tapestries you created your quilt from…and so great to see Mr Pussy enjoying the warmth and comfort too! As an aside… I was reading the book about David Rodinsky recently and he too had the Millet print on his attic wall above thePrincelet Street synagogue!

  47. Sandy permalink
    January 6, 2016

    Thanks so much for this post, just rediscovered . So eloquent as a memorial for you, but also evocative of my own childhood in which I used to make such tapestries, leading to my own knitted pictures.
    Wonderful. Thanks again

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