It was long in the making. What is now Finches quilt was started four years before he was born. Cutting out the pieces, one by one, surrounded by little children, covering squares of cardboard with cloth; for years the little basket of prepared patches lay dormant, waiting, unfinished. Sometimes I get frozen when the task is too important , too big, too overwhelming. It wasn’t physical dimensions that were the issue, it was always going to be a small quilt, given the amount of fabric available; but the memories behind each square.
All the fabric for the quilt was from my daughter Lily’s clothing. Now some people could not understand how I could cut up her clothes, one of the few tangible possessions which she had for me to look at and remember. And for a while I resisted. Desecrating her dresses and skirts seemed too violating, too distressing, too disrespectful. I folded her things, the rosebud pyjamas she had worn when she had chicken pox aged three, the flouncy blue dress she wore at two and a half to the Mayday celebrations, the brown skirt which she pretty much lived in in the time just before the accident. I folded them all, and wrapped each one in tissue, laying them carefully with lavender in a box under my bed. And there they stayed. Inert, slightly musty, unused.
And that didn’t feel right either. And so the box came out again, and I tentatively started to cut. I wasn’t going for anything complex or fancy, (although I did initially have a beautiful sketch involving appliqued doves and unicorns and trees worked out) because I knew the reality of my days with three young kids would make it almost unattainable. Just squares. Coloured squares.
As a kid, my mother spent the majority of her free time making quilts. Usually pieced together out of tiny hexagonal patches which she cut in card first, from old cereal packets, before covering each one with fabric, to form a rigid shape to make sewing together easier. Sometimes I was allowed to help pull out all the card patches when the quilt was finished. And she made big double bed sized quilts, all ablaze with Laura Ashley and Liberty fabrics. She still has stacks of them all neatly folded away in the closet. So I had the background. But I wasn’t trying to compete with the intricate geometric designs of my mother’s quilts (this might, I realise now, have been another reason for my delay in getting on with this. Fear of unfavourable comparison…) I just knew what to do with all the cardboard business.
Over a few weeks, I assembled a neat basket of fabric covered squares. And then they just stayed in their basket. A combination of busy family life, procrastination, fear, who knows, but eventually the little basket made its way to our workshop/storage while we moved house and each time I saw it I felt a pang of sadness that I hadn’t made the quilt. And then our house burnt down and the patches were safe in storage. Most of Lily’s other things burnt, her pottery horses, scraps of knitting and crochet, still attached to the needles, her jewellry box, notebooks, her crystal collection in a little box covered in roses. But there they were, the patches. And I newly…and slightly unexpectedly, pregnant with Finch. I took the little basket back to the house we were staying in after the fire, and looked at them for a while. And it became very clear and beautiful what their destination should be.
A quilt for the baby.
I was really excited and started at once, although a combination of being newly pregnant, home educating Tansy and Leo, moving from temporary home to temporary home four times, meant that I only finished it for his first Christmas, when he was 6 months old.
It felt like a blessing from Lily to the little brother she never got to meet on earth. The hours of play and sleep, tears and laughter that had been lived in those clothes, the love for her baby brother as he slept enfolded in her clothes. It seemed important symbolically that some tangible physical connection be made between them . I am sure that they already had a connection before Finch was even born, so I realise that it was mostly for me and the other kids that I made it, to see the physical reality of something that had once been worn by Lily remade into something warm and nurturing for Finch.
Leo still wears one of her sweaters…in a suitably masculine sage green….Tansy wears the slippers I knitted her for Class one. A few days ago, having lost my gloves, I wore hers, a little tight but just right. It was as if all the memories of what she had done in those gloves were still, somehow, entwined in the yarn , snatches of shouts snowballs and blue fingers. It wasn’t easy to wear them, and it was the first time I had ever done that, but feeling something is always better than feeling nothing. It’s easy to avoid grief and shy away from doing things that will make me sad. But joy and grief are two sides of the same coin, and shunning one dulls my life to a monotonous depression. Laughter and tears are so close. And they are such good medicine.