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My Quilt

October 7, 2022
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for my Spitalfields tour throughout October & November


My old cat on my quilt

The majority of my stories were written beneath this quilt that I made seventeen 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 skilful 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 artefacts that had been created at the expense of so much labour and expertise, mostly – I suspected – by older 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

25 Responses leave one →
  1. Janet Cheffings permalink
    October 7, 2022

    So beautiful and an astonishing accomplishment.

  2. Alison Felstead permalink
    October 7, 2022

    What a beautiful creation! It’s lovely to see Mr Pussy again, and I hope the red squirrels found a good home.

  3. Amanda Bush permalink
    October 7, 2022

    Gorgeous work. A shame that those squirrels were rejected, though.

  4. October 7, 2022

    Thank you for sharing the story of your quilt. The making of it clearly came from somewhere deep within which says a lot about you as well as your mother. How she would have loved it.

  5. Andy permalink
    October 7, 2022

    Wow! An amazing story with sublime puctures.

  6. October 7, 2022

    This story about childhood with the parents is very moving. I have similar memories. When my father died last year, my brother and I had to had to clear out the flat. I took over all his archives, which mean a lot to me and are eternal memories.

    On my couch in the living room is a woollen blanket — with a black and white fifties pattern. I have been lying on it since I was a baby. How time marches on…

    Love & Peace

  7. Jane Boughton permalink
    October 7, 2022

    Wow! How did you reduce the stitchings all to the same size and shape?

  8. Marcia Howard permalink
    October 7, 2022

    A beautiful and moving story

  9. Jenny permalink
    October 7, 2022

    How lovely. I wonder if you cut them to size and if so how you sealed the edges of each piece so they don’t unravel. Perhaps you can give more detail in a future post ? Thanks.

  10. October 7, 2022

    What a wonderful story. I am a quilt maker and hadn’t thought of making one with previously loved tapestries. What a beautiful idea. It provokes your own memories while saving those of others. Thank you so much for sharing your story and inspiration. Helen

  11. Virginia Heaven permalink
    October 7, 2022

    I love this story, and when I first read a version of it years ago it inspired me to collect old needlepoints to make a quilt of my own. At first I fervently acquired until I thought I had enough. Now they all lie together tucked up and protected in a black zipped bag, waiting until I retire before they get made into a quilt. Not long now. I love seeing Mr Pussy and wonder if Schrödinger is as fond of the wooly luxury.

  12. Kim permalink
    October 7, 2022

    How wonderful to see the beautiful Mr Pussy again. I still miss him so much.

  13. Anne Lokken permalink
    October 7, 2022

    As you, I appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry that went into making these needlepoint pictures. What a brilliant idea to save them from the rag pile and turn them into something that you use and treasure every day. I must say, you’ve given me an idea and I’ll keep this in mind! What a lovely tribute to the memory of your mother. I enjoy your posts everyday, you bring a sense of beauty and calm to this world.

  14. October 7, 2022

    This is a beautiful quilt, and what a tribute to your mother. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Linda Granfield permalink
    October 7, 2022

    Thank you for repeating this lovely story of that gorgeous quilt. No day can be a gloomy one when you awake to such beauty, colour, and loving memories.

  16. Sally Baldwin permalink
    October 7, 2022

    So much love here. So much love.

    And so nice to see Mr Pussy too.

    Thank you for being who you are, and especially for sharing it all with us.


  17. October 7, 2022

    Many years ago, I took a day-long workshop with a noted quilt maker. Our topic for exploration that day was shrine-building; and (as requested) we came prepared with a general concept as well as some supplies. I recall that after a brief intro, we each became hyper-focused on the personal task at hand and the room filled with a kind of significant purposeful murmur. Although it was understood that the quilter was available if we needed her, she took a seat at the front of the class and told us about her life. Her husband (gasp!) was an Elvis impersonator who had spent quite a LOT of their tight budget on a human-hair Elvis wig. She revealed other things too — family “complications”, etc. It was a quiet recitation that somehow befitted a day spent making personal shrines/edifices. Eventually, she started talking about her process of quilting and how that had become her lifelong artform. I still recall how she described hand-stitching a quilt, the jumbled pile of pieced fabrics in her lap, and how all her emotions became incorporated into the completed work. The happiness, the sadness, the irritation of everyday life, the joys and woes of the crazy Elvis man, etc. It was all present in her quilts.
    Thank you for sharing this singular memory quilt with us today, GA. You are a gem.

  18. Sue permalink
    October 7, 2022

    Not only lovely memories of your mother but if only all those sewers could know that their work lives on and is now being seen by hundreds of people around the world.

  19. Cherub permalink
    October 7, 2022

    So very beautiful, I adore the feeling of safety it gives. Many years ago I was seriously ill and spent a lot of time sleeping. I had a comfort blanket on my bed, it made me feel everything would turn out fine and I’d be well again.

  20. October 7, 2022

    A beautiful quilt, really lovely. And I think Mr. Pussy really knew how to appreciate it.

  21. Ursula permalink
    October 7, 2022

    What a visual feast! Thankyou for letting me take part!

  22. Debra. E. Sewell permalink
    October 7, 2022

    the quilt is beautiful !! kitty too. Yes both my elderly patents are gone now. Never went to nursing home as we Promised them they would be home in own bed. Yes..ones spirit and soul energy is whom we really are. Our hody is just a shell we inhabit. then discard. A free spirit..NOT laying in a cemetary. Body turns to dust..spirit is free.

    Enjoy fall, and kitty. I live love your channel and all the stories you share about places and people’s lives

  23. October 9, 2022

    A lovely piece of work. It must have been all the more difficult using tapestries rather than cotton rectangles. I am wondering if you sewed by hand?
    (I have pieces of fabric which belonged once to my grand parents & parents, so it will be in part a memory quilt too. but also I have pieces bought in fabric sales)
    Thank you for sharing the photographs & the story behind the making of your quilt.

  24. Sandra permalink
    October 10, 2022

    The fisherman in a sou’wester must have been popular theme in needlepoint kits at one time. About 15 years ago, I was at a neighbour’s garage sale with my then 10 year old son. He was drawn to a framed needlepoint similar to yours of a fisherman. My neighbour told the story that the needlepoint had been done by her uncle. He had been an RCAF pilot during WW2, and had been injured at some point during the war. Needlepoint was something that was given to a lot of the service men in the UK to help them with their recovery, and this had been one of the ones he did then.

  25. mlaiuppa permalink
    October 14, 2022

    Such a lovely and fitting tribute to your Mother. While a gravestone is something you occasionally visit, this quilt serves a better purpose. You thought of her all the while carefully choosing each needlepoint square and after it was done, every time you snuggle under it and feel it’s warmth, you think of her.

    I took consider the body just a shell and when the spirit departs, there is nothing special about that which remains. I have the cremains of my previous dog, Ramses, and will likely keep those of Diana pawPrints and Freyja Grey when they pass, but it is not the remains that are significant. I look at their photos often. Those of Caesar, Goliath and Ramses and I take photos of Diana and Freyja, mostly because I am aware that no matter how many I take, it is not enough and will never be enough.

    My parents are still with me, both just turned 93, but their memories are fading. My Mother has difficulty remembering what day it is and my Father’s memory is going quicker. His is coupled with anger as he is also quite deaf and his hearing aids are not working. He is frustrated to be left out of conversations. I am printing out photos from over the years for an album my Mother can flip through to remember and reminisce about family, friends and even pets from over her life.

    I am currently making my Mother dresses and jumpsuits with fabric that reflects her favorite things: peacocks, flowers, hummingbirds, watermelon, the galaxy. I am keeping the scraps left from sewing them so that I will have pieces I can put together to make a quilt as a reminder of this time we’ve had together. I go over and stay for four days and three nights a week. Occasionally a bit longer. I shall likely keep the worn out clothing these new outfits are replacing to cut pieces from them to add to the scraps.

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