You can take the hearts off the quilt, but you can’t take the quilts out of the heart

Buttonhole applique on The Greek Slave Quilt
Buttonhole applique on The Greek Slave Quilt

Last night I went out with Becky, Alison and my Grate Friend Ceri, who has featured previously in this blog, for a quiet drink and a chat.  We talked about family and jobs and the realities of getting older, but we also talked a lot about the passion that brings us all together: sewing.  Becky is fantastic at recycling and cannot bear to throw anything away.  When she makes beautiful patchwork out of scraps it looks elegant and designed and covertable.  Alison makes beautiful quilts with the subtlest of colour schemes, and the lightest of touches of embellishments, and Ceri makes fabulous riots of colour which are both sophisticated and full of life.  For some reason, though, they seem to think I know more about patchwork and quilting than them, which is wrong.  The conversation turned to current projects and I started to talk about The Greek Slave Quilt, which has taken me by surprise because it is back to traditional pieced patchwork which I haven’t really done for years.  Suddenly, I have a desire to stitch pieces of fabric together.  It must be the recession.  We had all been to see the big quilt show at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year, and knowing that the Greek Slave had been inspired by that trip, Becky suggested that I enter it, when it’s finished, into the V&A’s competition for work inspired by a visit to the Museum.  I am a bit shy about this sort of thing, and so I demurred.  But, back at home and in bed, my mind started racing.  What would I have to do to turn it into an art quilt which might interest the V&A rather than just a ho-hum reproduction knock-off piece?

The answer seemed to me to combine the story elements from the Greek Slave Quilt, which I have blogged about before with the Changi Quilt which was also in the show.  The Changi Quilts have fascinated me for years.  Here’s a description from the Red Cross website about the quilts they own:

When Singapore surrendered to the invading Japanese army early in 1942, many service personnel and civilians from Allied countries – including women and children – were sent to an internment camp at Changi Prison.

Men were separated from the women and children, and there was little contact between them so families didn’t know if their loved ones had survived.

In the first six months of internment, women embroidered their names and an image that meant something to them on squares of fabric. The squares were sewn together to form quilts, which were given to the military hospital at Changi barracks. For many of the men, it was the first sign they had that their wives and daughters were alive.


Changi Quilt
Changi Quilt

I have often wondered if I were in that situation, with Pete not knowing if I were dead or alive, what would I embroider on my square of fabric?  What sums up my identity, his identity or our identity in our life together?  What would he feel like as he stood there and examined the quilts as they came through looking for some sign that I had survived?  What single image sums up a life together?

The upshot of all this is that I decided to try to bring the two narrative elements together in the quilt and to make a small collection of things that I associate with Pete.  I will incorporate them into the finished piece in some way.  Quite a challenge putting objects onto such a traditional ‘2D’ quilt.  There is much more to say on this subject which I will leave for other posts, but I am struck by how much of my involvement in quilting is work of the heart.

5 thoughts on “You can take the hearts off the quilt, but you can’t take the quilts out of the heart

  1. Enter the exhibition – it’s always worth it. The V&A exhibition was amazing wasn’t it. My favourite was the Duke of WellingTon quilt because for years my mother kept a postcard of it on her inboard – it was quite a shock to see the real thing.

    1. Again, thanks for this comment. What a wonderful story about your mother and her inboard. I am amazed at how quilts and narratives seem to be inseparable. I loved a lot of them, but I did wish the bed forms had been tilted a bit so that you could see all of the quilts without wishing for a step ladder.

      Thanks for your interest in my blog.

  2. Glad you are devising a plan for entering the V&A competition. By embracing challenges of this sort, we cultivate learning and growth. PS–I started reading The Lady and the Unicorn this morning. Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. That’s great. I hope you really enjoy it. Still not sure about the V&A. Will have to see how the quilt turns out first. How are those brown stars coming along?

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