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Ouma’s quilt

Ouma's Quilt // made from candlewicking samples and a lot of love

There are some projects that are easy, and some that are hard, and not necessarily because the sewing is difficult. For me, quilts are always hard. They’re emotionally charged, full of meaning, and lead me down a long path of my own thoughts. It’s my fault for always sewing quilts that are essentially stitched memories. But maybe that’s the magic of a quilt.

This quilt was no different for me, and in fact I think it was my hardest quilt to date. I found it very emotionally taxing. Every cut and every stitch made me feel i would almost cry. Which i realise sounds quite dramatic, but this quilt just means so much to me.

Ouma's Quilt // made from candlewicking samples and a lot of love
Ouma's Quilt // made from candlewicking samples and a lot of love

My Ouma passed away at 54 after a stroke. It was sudden and unexpected, and as an only child it was hard on my mom. Since we already lived in Australia at that point, and my Ouma lived in South Africa, my mom flew back to arrange the funeral, be the strong one for everyone else, and choose a few special things to bring back home with her as memories.

Ouma was an incredibly talented seamstress and embroider, but sadly none of her dressmaking could be found. My mom found some candlewicking samplers which were stitched to small rectangles of cotton and trimmed with ruffles. We really didn’t know what they were supposed to be (maybe very small curtains for very small windows?), and though they were incredibly precious to her, they sat in a cupboard for many years.

Ouma's Quilt // made from candlewicking samples and a lot of love

But this past year my mom found them again, coincidentally in the year that she herself turned a happy healthy 54. And that’s when the idea for this quilt was born.

My mom asked me if I could take them and turn them into something she could actually use and appreciate, and I was so excited to do this for her. She really doesn’t have many things to remember her mom by, and I knew i wanted to make her something really special. I thought a quilt would be brilliant because she could use it on her bed, or on the couch watching tv or picnicing or whatever! But of course thinking about the high stakes of cutting up the careful embroidery of someone i love to make someone else i love a gift, made me feel quite stressed. I spent many months fussing over exactly how to cut all the samples out so that I didn’t damage any or leave any out. The larger motifs took up an entire square, but smaller ones i grouped into either two rectangle pairs, or four small squares. I took my time, and I was careful, I was terrified of destroying them.

There are floral patterns, bouquets of flowers, intricate vines, seashells, and little mushrooms. I like to think she was just sewing things she loved. The mushrooms are my favourite, because they are the only ones sewn with glittery metallic thread, which leads me to think they were her favourite. Some designs still had the pen marks of details she had planned to sew and hadn’t quite gotten to yet. I like that they didn’t come out in the wash.

When it came time to sew them all together, I felt that sewing all the squares directly to each other was resulting in a sea of cream, and somehow each motif was being lost a little bit. That’s when I decided to add sashing to between all the squares, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision! I didn’t want to detract from the embroidery itself, so I used a lovely neutral linen from The Fabric Store (i think it’s this one?) and i really am amazed by how much that made the squares of candle wicking stand out! This was my first time sewing sashing, so i spent a long time trying to make sure all the lines matched up perfectly. I’m really glad i did because if one was out it would drive me crazy!

Ouma's Quilt // made from candlewicking samples and a lot of love

For the backing I had originally planned on using a very pretty Liberty of London print from The Fabric Store in my mom’s favourite colours (purple and maroon), but when it arrived it looked very pink to me, and it was so bright it felt like it was taking over the quilt. I really love the fabric, it just wasn’t feeling right for this project. So i headed over to local Potter Textiles and they helped me pick out this lovely brocade linen, which is tonally the same as the rest of the quilt, and I feel gives it quite a polished look.

But here my friends is where i got a little tired. So instead of doing a traditional binding, i did lazy binding – i’m not sure that’s even a term. But basically i cut the backing larger than the quilt top, and then folded it over the edges and topstitched. But I did make very pretty mitred corners, so can i be forgiven?

The last thing i did was to wash it, and let it dry in the sun. Partly to try and remove some of the yellowing that had happened to the fabric with age (which it did, thank you sunshine for fixing that for me) and partly to give the quilt that nice crinkly wrinkly texture that i love in quilts. Is it just me or is a quilt just so much better once it’s nice and wrinkled?

Ouma's Quilt // made from candlewicking samples and a lot of love

I am so pleased to have finished this special quilt, and been able to give it to my mom this past christmas.

I feel like my Ouma and I almost sewed this quilt together, more than 20 years apart, and am honoured to have taken her stitches and added my own for my mom to enjoy. If every quilt holds a memory, then this one binds hers, and mine, and my mother’s all together. I love that about it.

This is my Ouma’s quilt.

Ouma's Quilt // made from candlewicking samples and a lot of love
About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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Sue
Sue
4 years ago

This post wrung so many emotions from me – it made me feel sad but made my heart sing, all at once! This is a magnificent quilt and you have done the women in your life proud!

Sheryl
Sheryl
4 years ago
Reply to  Sue

Beautiful. Loved it

Elizabeth G Jones
Elizabeth G Jones
4 years ago

So sweet and a lovely project. My grandmother (who taught me to sew) also did the “lazy” binding method too. It’s perfecty legitimate!

Let’s Get Sewing
4 years ago

This is such a wonderful story and such a stunning quilt. You will be able to admire her work for many years thanks to this quilt

Emily Gutman
4 years ago

Such a beautiful story! You did a fantastic job putting it all together. I know that stress too- a friend’s mother asked me to finish up a couple quilts that her great grandmother started- these things were 150ish years old! So nervous to start, but so happy with how they turned out. But I love how yours has that added layer of familial bond. <3

Bronwyn
Bronwyn
4 years ago

This is beautiful <3

LK
LK
4 years ago

You made me tear up too. Beautiful beautiful piece.

CATHERINE HOGAN
CATHERINE HOGAN
4 years ago

My favorite kind of quilt–so deeply personal. I teared up just reading your experience. Well done.

Bethany Gardner
Bethany Gardner
4 years ago

I never leave blog post comments (well, almost never), but I had to reply to this. This is such a beautiful story, and these lines gave me chills: “I feel like my Ouma and I almost sewed this quilt together, more than 20 years apart, and am honoured to have taken her stitches and added my own for my mom to enjoy. If every quilt holds a memory, then this one binds hers, and mine, and my mother’s all together”. Sewing is magical. Your mom must have been blown away by this gift.

Mary Kay
Mary Kay
4 years ago

A lovely story and lovely quilt. We sew for so many reasons, but this is a most beautiful one.

Made Marion
Made Marion
4 years ago

You both made a beautiful quilt with many memories. A lovely gift for your mum which will be treasured forever.

Jacqueline Galleymore
Jacqueline Galleymore
4 years ago

Thank you for sharing. We are from South Africa, I used to teach candlewicking, so your story was especially poignant.
The quilt is lovely. A family heirloom.
Take care.

Sarah Tastard
Sarah Tastard
4 years ago

That’s so beautiful – I’m sure your Ouma would be very proud. I treasure the quilts I have, and can totally understand why you find them emotionally difficult to make! Recently, I found some beautiful pieces of someone’s half-finished quilt in a bag of fabric at an op-shop. I feel compelled to finish it and honour the time somebody spent sewing all those little tiny squares and triangles together. There is something very special about quilts, isn’t there?

Tammy
4 years ago

A thoughtfully sewn family heirloom with a wonderful story.

Renee
Renee
4 years ago

What a brilliant and touching story. Likewise, I am from South Africa. My Mom and the rest of our families are all still there. My Mom does candlewicking, how I wish I could have brought her with me to Australia but she is happy where she is in her retirement home with all her friends. I’m flying back for her 90th birthday in November. She runs a craft group and a little second hand shop to raise funds for their frail care unit (and has done for the past 20 years), still smocks, knits and occasionally sews. You so are lucky to have your Mom with you. Beautiful story. I am building memories here with my own granddaughters who are just learning to sew now.

Pam @Threading My Way
4 years ago

Beautiful – both the quilt and the story behind it!!!

Gloria
Gloria
4 years ago

You have done a wonderful job – your quilt is beautiful and certainly showcases your oma’s handwork perfectly. She would be extremely proud of you. Well done!

Di Ross
Di Ross
4 years ago

Fabulous job Megan,you should be very proud ?

Muriel
Muriel
4 years ago

Hey Meg – love it and appreciate you so much and love love love my special Ouma quilt, your Mum (the new Ouma) oxox

Cynthia
4 years ago

Your quilt is very beautiful and the story behind it is even more beautiful, thanks for sharing it. I really like the idea of it linking your Grandmother, your Mother and you, it’s a very special quilt indeed.

Celeste Morris
Celeste Morris
4 years ago

So very beautiful!! Well, done!

Amanda
Amanda
4 years ago

It’s a beautiful quilt! If you don’t like hand binding you can also do machine binding. Basically you stitch the binding to the front, then fold over and zig zag it down on the back. I wouldn’t do that binding method on a lovely and delicate quilt like yours, but it’s great for kid quilts.