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.
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.
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!
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?
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.