A Pinch of Mothering Quilt – Part 1

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 Block and Bible Verse Coverlet, The Quilters’ Guild Collection, image from http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk

Usually I post about a quilt once its finished but my plan is that this quilt is a long term make, and i’ve had quite a few questions about it so I thought i’d post a Part 1 to be going on with to explore the original inspiration quilt and my plans for my version.

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You can see the original quilt and many more at http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk

My quilt is inspired by one of my favourite quilts in The Quilters’ Guild Collection. This quilt is called the Block and Bible Verse Coverlet and it is attributed to primary school children in 1872. That fact always blows my mind, the spidery hand written religious quotes are embroidered in red floss and the content is pretty hard going. in places.  The fabrics are so soft and delicate, its such a light quilt – the look so at odds with the message.  The quotes messages are very instructive and somewhat doom laden, I imagine the little kids working so diligently on them.

Last year I was involved in a BBC Radio 4 Programme called Moving Pictures where we explored a quilt, this time probably made for children, rather than by them. The quilt was the Ann West Coverlet and it too shared a theme of bible verse and instructive warning biblical stories shown in applique pictures. Whilst the style of the quilts were very different, this idea of a quilt being the perfect medium to instruct children has been something that i’ve been turning over in my mind.

I guess quilts ( in houses where there is a quilter) are an item that lives alongside kids, on beds and sofas, in dens and scrunched corners, as play house roofs and as part of their games. The very softness of a finished quilt belies the huge amount of hard diligent toil that has gone into its making. I’m fascinated by the compulsion of the makers ( and designers in the case of the Bible Block quilt – the teachers) of these quilts to put so much time and effort into these instructive quilts.

As parents today we probably share some parenting traits with the Victorians who made my source quilts, whilst we’d hate to admit it. In a time of helicopter parenting, draconian school tests at every turn, against a backdrop of societal belief that kids are doing everything wrong from screen time to stabbing statistics. As a society we often judge and condemn kids, and as parents we’re told we worriedly guard our kids from supposed harm, limiting screen time, taxiing them in the car, tracking their mobile phones.

I was a child of the 1970s, a much freer time to be a kid and, I think, a parent. A lovely sewing friend ( the mother of one of my friends) once said to me that they had a much easier time raising kids in that decade – she charmingly called their slightly hippy dippy parenting style ‘benign neglect’ – that sense of kids running free in the fields and streets with friends, in by supper when the street lights came on, endless summers of no homework and the educational ethos of free expression, creativity and risk taking, so at odds with the weird 1950’s throwback that we seem to have adopted today when its clear that creativity and resilience is exactly what we should be encouraging for their post AI futures?

I try and walk a line between these extremes, and as my older kids move into teenage years this is even more crucial to achieve. I want to raise kids who knew that they were trusted to make good decisions but we all want to pass on words of wisdom to our kids. I decided to make a quilt inspired by this 1870s original with a much lighter touch of instruction for my kids. I decided to call it A Pinch of Mothering Quilt. This phrase is one i’ve always loved, its attributed to a Spanish phrase ‘A pinch of mothering is worth a pound of priest’ – the sense that a mother can influence with a light touch where others would need to be much more heavy handed to get the same effect. It felt perfect for this quilt and its original with its heavy handed fire and brimstone.

IMG_5486This year i’ve been making a lot of work about my life as a mother. I suffered the traumatic loss of my unborn forth child and afterwards sewing has helped me to grieve. I’m incredibly grateful for the balm that making quilts gives me. The simple fact is that loss makes you dwell on legacy. I wanted to make quilts that will mean something to my kids when i’m gone. I want to make quilts that are a reflection of my love of being a mother and the joy that raising my children gives me. In a hard edged modern world of me time and self actualisation, I wanted to celebrate the old fashioned satisfaction of mothering. The pottering time rather than ‘quality time’, the idle joy of spending all day with your kids, the magic moments that occur like a sunbeam in the fractious times. For me, raising my kids has been a profound satisfaction, and a privilege to be able to be there for these moments and I wanted my kids to still be able to feel that when they pick up these quilts in the future.

I figured out a block size and a basic recipe for making them, based around the outer frame of each piece. I then set to my stash, pulling every piece of fabric with that same light pretty feel as the original. I want this quilt to be really scrappy and full of fabric variation. The blocks are 9″ squares, the fabrics are a bit of everything from Tilda to Liberty, reproduction to modern.

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Choosing words to add has been, and continues to be, a fabulously fun endeavour.  A mixture of proverb and song lyric, wise words and Insta-insight … i’m not picky about my source material. I’m still adding to my list and editing as I go. I often just choose something that has good advice for whatever is happening that week in our lives, its remarkably soothing to embroider a good piece of advice on a day when you need it – it’s almost like an incantation – I almost always feel more at peace and better equipped to tackle whatever is at hand afterwards.

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I’ve started with some of my favourites –

Good manners don’t notice bad – I can’t abide jobsworth people who take it upon themselves to point out others failings from grammar to manners – surely the best manners float over other’s harmless gaffs (although I’m very aware that I’m contradicting that very instruction by pointing out the jobsworths )?

Enough is as good as a feast  and Count Your Blessings – this thought is so important i’ve covered it twice. Don’t you think that the secret of a happy life is as simple as knowing when things are good and making sure you appreciate those times, rather that thinking that there should always be more of everything?

Work hard, be nice – my two most highly prized attributes in life.

People throw rocks at things that shine – this is a Taylor Swift lyric and she should know. This is to remind my kids that when others criticise you hurtfully it often says more about how they are feeling than anything about you? If you shine, you draw attention and that’s not always positive but you have to take heart that you shone and something sad in them made them want to put out your light.

Be a radiator, not a drain – another biggie – in life you can pretty much split the world into the radiators and the drains, no? I always try and maximise the radiation in our lives – people who are sunbeams make everyone else feel warm – the drains drag you down with them.

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Lots of friends are offering me their words of wisdom too – I love to hear yours! I’m EPPing these blocks then embroidering afterwards so its a slow make and i’m enjoying the time in making them – each block is portable and easy to work on here and there so i’m making good progress and i’m in the 20’s of around 60-70 blocks I plan to make in the end – i’m on course to make it last the year….i’ll post more progress in the autumn probably.

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