This quilt is based on a quilt in The Quilters’ Guild Collection called The Mary and Edwin Bloomfield Coverlet, named after the makers who embroidered their names in the centre.
Image from The Quilters Guild Collection. http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk
The original quilt shares this unusual layout of hexagon and diamond shapes and is surrounded by text panels, as is mine. The original’s text panels are cross-stitch biblical and religious texts, mostly relating to the death of a child.
I made my version of this quilt at a difficult time after the loss of my 4th child. The huge comfort to me was the need to go on for my other 3 children and to show them that our family could still be whole, even with the huge hole of loss. I heard the phrase ‘Listening to the Whispers of our Sisters’ in relation to this poignant quilt as a working title for this years Festival of Quilts exhibition of new interpretations of this quilt. That sense of another woman’s grief, so far away in time but so rawly felt through her careful meticulous sewing was very touching. Another friend who had suffered a similar tragedy told me that the only way to deal with the sheer overpowering nature of her grief was to set it in the context of something big – huge arching landscapes or the stretch of time passing. I found the reassuring shadow of another woman, 150 years ago, nursing a crushing grief, but using the repetition of stitch as a soothing balm was a prescription for my slow recovery.
As well as the much vaunted benefits of sewing as a mindfulness technique to calm the brain and sooth the ragged soul, I was also driven by a need to mark the life of my baby. I’ve since discovered that this powerful urge is common when babies are lost close to, during, or soon after birth. A baby is such an anticipated event, 9 months of excited waiting and planning, its whole life wondered and dreamt about. When that future is stolen the world suddenly falls very silent.
With the best of intentions so many feel like they shouldn’t mention what’s happened. It’s a particularly awkward loss, all grief is characterised by avoidance, people don’t want to upset you, don’t want to say the wrong thing. But everyone i’ve met on this journey who have lost a baby want only to talk about their baby, to make their life real, to acknowledge that however brief that life mattered. Making something as concrete as a quilt marks that reality of a life lived. I was comforted by the thought that we were still considering the lost child of Mary and Edwin Bloomfield 150 years later because of this quilt. A quilt is inexorably linked to motherhood. It’s makers over the years often female, sewing for their families warmth and comfort. The quilt, like a mother, offers practical use alongside warmth and comfort, utility and beauty in one item. Making a quilt to honor my baby was inevitable for me.
I decided to make two versions of this quilt. This large family sized quilt was to be a celebration rather than a lament – a testimony to the blessing that is my other children and the joy that they bring me. I decided that to honor the text of the original I need to think about what words would reflect that. My children and I share a love of words and books. I decided to fill my text boxes with the phrases and quotes from our families favourite story books. I chose the quotes that had made it into our common family parlance – the shortcuts to pinpoint a particular emotion, the catchphrases and jokes we use when we talk to each other. As my older children move into a new teen phase it felt important to capture this now. We spent many happy hours agruging about which made the final quilt and flicking through our favourite books for correct quotes rather than the variations we had evolved.
The original quilt fills the background spaces with fussy cut patterns from a chinz fabric. I decided to fill mine with small hexagons fussy cutting pictures from the fabrics I’d used for quilts for each of my 4 children.
I’m hand quilting this quilt, taking time and enjoying each fabric and text as I sew. This will always be a special quilt to me.
The back of the quilt.
My kids still love books more than quilts on barns!