Actually, it is likely to be somewhat more than a thousand stitches. I guess it would be several thousand, but as I didn’t count them whilst I was making this wholecloth quilt, I will never know the exact number of times the needle entered the soft peachy cotton fabric.
I have always been fascinated when I have come across old quilts or coverlets in museums or books. I always find myself craning over the rope barriers in museums to take a closer look, to find out more about the maker.
My mind sets off wondering how those women managed to create such beautiful, intricate and timeless treasures without the luxury of a fabric store with all its choice of fine cottons, without a ‘daylight’ bulb and without all the notions and mechanical aids of today’s modern world. How different it was for those women of my past who didn’t have a fabric ‘stash’. It is nothing short of miraculous how they did it and I love how their strength and tenacity is preserved in the fibres of those beautiful hand made quilts.
These are some of the things that I pondered as I stitched ‘Morning Star’ and in my own way I felt connected to those women as my hands busied themselves with the rocking motion of the needle. I yearned to create something timeless as they had done, to create my own little piece to enchant the eye with intricate patterns.
The journey began with a sketch on squared paper, doing my best to draw out a ‘scaled down’ version of the actual thing.
I knew that if I could come up with a design for just one quarter of the quilt, then I could mirror and flip the pattern to create a whole quilt. I started with a design for the centre star; I practiced drawing feathers and gathered quilting templates from magazines and books.
I ‘scaled up’ the design to a life size version and I transferred it on to fabric, mirroring and flipping the pattern until the whole top was marked out.
I tried out several different thimbles, but the one that I found suited me best was a Clover leather thimble with a metal centre on the pad. By the time I had finished quilting ‘Morning Star’ I had worn a hole right through the metal on two thimbles and was on my third!
Whilst the thimble protected my finger on top of the quilt, the finger on the underside took quite a battering and I was forced to stop on many an occasion when it would start to bleed from repeated stabbings. I didn’t want to risk getting blood on the quilt! Someone recommended that I use ‘udder cream’ on the afflicted finger which I found a highly amusing notion at the time, but I have to say it did help to sooth my chapped skin
It delighted me to work simply with just the cloth and the frame. It was a real escape, simply to sit with the gentle rhythm of the needle as it gathered all those tiny stitches and lulled my racing thoughts. I was able to lose myself in the doing of it and I loved it.
I stitched ‘Morning Star’ back in 2005, so it is already a few years old and my hope is that I might get to hand it down to a grandchild at some point in the future and tell them the story behind the stitches.
I would like to tell them about those strong women who have gone before us, who stitched by candle light, making do with the materials that they had. I would like to tell them about how every stitch in a quilt represents a moment in time in the life of it’s maker and I would like to explain to them that, although every tiny stitch stands alone, it is also part of the whole; connected to the rest.
Just like a family.