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My Quilt

August 29, 2021
by the gentle author

While the Gentle Author takes a holiday, we are celebrating the joys of the season with a HARVEST SALE, selling all our books at half price so you can treat yourself and your friends and family. Simply add code ‘HARVEST’ at checkout to claim your discount.



My old cat on 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 on winter afternoons, I retreat to my bed to work, 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. When 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 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

31 Responses leave one →
  1. Claudia Fisk permalink
    August 29, 2021

    Thank you so much for this post! I have been longing to see the quilt and in all it’s details- wonderful!!

  2. Annabel Mallia permalink
    August 29, 2021

    Beautiful idea to do a commemorative quilt and very novel to choose tapestries. The result is stunning. Well done; it’s an absolute treasure!

  3. Sarah Johnson permalink
    August 29, 2021

    That was a wonderful way to channel your grief. I love the squirrels. I’m sure your mother approves.

  4. August 29, 2021

    What a beautiful quilt , made with love and full of meaning .

  5. Lorraine permalink
    August 29, 2021

    One of your gentlest lovely pieces yet, GA. And what a beautiful and fitting idea. My mother is still with us but in the same predicament as yours was and I shall think of this when the time comes. Have a pleasant and restful holiday.

  6. Lyn Smith permalink
    August 29, 2021

    What a wonderful creation. I have never thought of making a quilt from needlepoint but it is truly remarkable. I love it and now my brain is racing with possibilities!

  7. Ann V permalink
    August 29, 2021

    A beautiful quilt and a beautiful story. I too have no need to visit the place where we scattered the ashes of my parents, they are always in my heart and in a few things that I own that remind me of them. Thank you.

  8. Pauline Dufaur permalink
    August 29, 2021

    Loved your quilt and I found the memories of your mother very moving. Wonderful to see your sleepy cat snuggled up nice & cozy. Inspiration for us all.

  9. August 29, 2021

    I love this story of your quilt and if you have any tapestry left which didn’t make the finished quilt – I would be interested to buy them. I see the red squirrels didn’t make the cut.

    It is unique and beautiful, well done.

  10. Annie S permalink
    August 29, 2021

    That is so beautiful, an amazing project and tribute to your family.
    I imagine the makers of the tapestries would be so pleased to know that their work had been used this way.

  11. mlaiuppa permalink
    August 29, 2021

    Thank you so much, Gentle Author. I knew there would be a marvelous story behind such a lovely thing. I noticed right away that all of those different squares were needlepoint and now seeing the larger photos I suspect they were all kits to make pillows. You are correct in that the work and skill and love that went into those finished pieces is not reflected in the price you paid for them. But oh, the art you created by putting all of those pieces together. Not many people would think to gather so many finished needlepoint pieces and combining them into a patchwork coverlet. What a lovely memorial to your Mother. The choices and arrangements not only reflecting your memory of her but also your aesthetic. It makes it so precious. For that year you held your Mother close with each choice, each arrangement, each decision and each stitch.

    Now it is not only a memory of your Mother but of Mr. Pussy and Schroedinger. Leave it to cats to recline on something so precious and “own” it. So many of your photos of them also show the quilt in the background.

    It’s wool yarn on cotton canvas so I’m sure very warm and cozy. With that velvet backing make sure it is dry cleaned and never put in a washer. If you have any separation of the layers happening, you can take some embroidery floss and put it through the velvet from the back to where the four corners of the tapestries come together, catch them and then back out to the back and then tie it in a good square knot, leaving the ends a few inches long. That will keep the batting inside from shifting and clumping up. That is if you haven’t done so already.

    I love the squirrels. I hope they found a place somewhere.

    Now every time I see a bit of your quilt in the background of photos of Schroedinger, I will remember your lovely story of remembering your Mother and your tribute to her.

    Thank you.

  12. Patricia O'Sullivan permalink
    August 29, 2021

    I love both the quilt and the story about it, what a lovely way to remember your mother. As another lady mentioned here in the comments, you have inspired me too, thank you so much for sharing this, shame about the squirrel quilt, maybe a starter for another one, perhaps? 🙂 xxx

  13. Sue keenan permalink
    August 29, 2021

    Beautiful idea…Beautiful quilt…Beautiful sentiment ?

  14. Amanda permalink
    August 29, 2021

    A tender story and an inspiration for a unique way of encapsulating your treasured memories for always enveloped by your amazing quilt.

    I had a similar sad, long experience with my beloved Grandad and my mother – the hardest part when they no longer know who we are. The illness leaves us with very difficult memories. You are blessed by the mutual appreciation and love you gave one another.

    Cornwall has always been magical for me and was for my parents. My father shed tears coming home to London.
    l recently studied their Cornish photo album for August 1952.
    In every photo they were hand in hand or hugging and it suddenly dawned on me as l was born in the Spring of 1953. I am comforted to believe my life may have begun Falmouth.

  15. August 29, 2021

    I loved this post – like all your posts it was visually inspiring and interesting – made me wish I’d done the same! Have a good holiday dear gentle author

  16. sara midda permalink
    August 29, 2021

    Very beautiful story. Amazing quilt.

  17. Phil C permalink
    August 29, 2021

    I haven’t adequate words to express how emotional I felt reading your text and viewing the images of Mr Pussy on your quilt. ‘My Quilt’ is the most poignant of all your writing that I’ve read; perhaps because it reminded me of my parents, and of our past cats, together with my wife’s making a rug out of her previously knitted squares for our last cat in her final weeks. Your quilt is a joy to see and hold close.

  18. Linda Granfield permalink
    August 29, 2021

    HOORAY!! The quilt has been a tantalizing backdrop in your blog–thank you for sharing the touching story behind its creation.

    As a ‘needle-pointer,’ I realize how long it takes to complete just one of those blocks. I’m assuming that the women (maybe a couple of men, too) who stitched them were as thought-full as you while doing so. Their families released these blocks to the world and you were inspired.

    Technical question that comes to mind–how did you ever stitch those blocks together? By hand? Near impossible to push that much ‘fabric’ through a standard sewing machine. Kudos to you for completing such a task. I like the photos showing how you rearranged the blocks–the ballerina reaches to the fisherman, the ocean waves in opposite corners–lovely and considered design.

    I’m glad you are comforted by this piece of remembrance and art. It must have given you much solace during your Covid days. As ever, thank you!

  19. Dudley Diaper permalink
    August 29, 2021

    That is a beautiful quilt, and a very fine cat. I feel the same about parents’ memorials – they never went near such places themselves, nor would I ever visit them. But in life we were very close, and I remember them many times a day.

  20. Marnie Sweet permalink
    August 29, 2021

    The quilt is beautiful and a delight to the eyes,

    but the best part of each photo is seeing

    Mr. Pussy, your comfortable and content best friend.

    RIP, Mr. Pussy. You are fondly remembered by many.

  21. August 29, 2021

    I had noticed and admired this artistic, colourful quilt under your photo of Schrodinger in your last post. A great idea to give life to these forgotten little gems!

  22. Pen Thompson CBE permalink
    August 29, 2021

    What a powerful personal story you have entrusted us with . As others have said, its such a creative , yet practical tribute to your family and the loving care you shared.
    Hope you are well. Pen x

  23. Jill Wilson permalink
    August 30, 2021

    I echo all of the sentiments and comments above – your unique quilt is a truly wonderful creation, and beautifully written about evoking loving memories of your beloved mother.

    I have a patchwork quilt on my bed which was made by my Mum using lots of ‘old friends’ – scraps of familiar dress fabrics and curtains materials which all have special memories. I am lucky enough to still have her with me, but I’m sure that when she is gone it will have even more meaning.

    It also occurred to me that this is a classic case of where the blog format comes into its own.
    If this were an article in a magazine or featured in a book there probably would have only been one or two accompanying pictures whereas the blog allows you to show so much more – the finished quit from different angles, work in progress, up close details of individual squares, rejected squirrels (what happened to them?), and lots of lovely pictures of Mr Pussy.

    And of course allows us to show our appreciation in all our comments!

  24. Marcus Setchell permalink
    August 30, 2021

    It is a very fine quilt IN DEED & THOUGHT!


  25. August 30, 2021

    What an astonishing, extremely beautiful and unique quilt. Your gathering of these marvellous rich tapestries to remember your Mother by, is so incredibly inspired, and so moving.
    And to have so many images that evokes your Mother’s loves in life, and memories of your loving childhood and her love for you, is the most moving memorial I’ve ever seen. Thank you so much for sharing this all with us.
    Your Mothers great kindness and curiosity, and love of life, is transferred everyday, through her sons daily generosity, giving the most astonishing and human stories, to his very lucky and very grateful readers ❤️

  26. Sofía permalink
    August 30, 2021

    Love the many layers of meaning behind your warm quilt.

  27. August 31, 2021

    Lovely quilt-I’ve not see one made with tapestries before. The heartwarming story of your family is touching. Thank you

  28. August 31, 2021

    Dear GA
    A dear friend of mine died just over a week ago. Quite unexpectedly. Your words and Mr Pussy have given great comfort to me this grey morning.

  29. August 31, 2021

    Dear GA,

    In your personal reflections and observations you share your anxieties and delights.

    I know I’m reading words from a kindred spirit which is more than pleasurable.

  30. Richard Slugge-Pelet permalink
    September 1, 2021

    You looked after your mother and made this original quilt
    I’m sure it would get into the Summer Exhibition if you entered it, from what I’ve seen there!

  31. September 3, 2021

    It has been an age since I visited your site. Bad girl. Lovely Chris at Moments in Time blog directed me here. Oh my goodness. I have just started quilting again and have been thinking about how to design a heritage quilt, as it were, that commemorated all my family tree findings. Early days yet this end but I just love how your quilt evolved quite organically and then very beautifully and has so much work in it. And then black cats are just the best. The crowning glory as it were. BEST BLOG POST I have read in a while. Why did I expect anything less???? Thank you.

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