About a year ago, my friend Berni showed me an article she'd read in The Guardian about quilter Cassandra Ellis. Cassandra had been contacted by the widow of a man who had recently died, and asked if she could make quilts for her children from her late husband's clothes. The lady wanted to be able to give her children something that would hold precious memories of their father, that they would treasure forever. The article was extremely pertinent as Berni's brother Steve had also recently died, at the tragically young age of 46. She asked me if I knew anything about quilting and if I could help her make a quilt from Steve's clothes. As you know, I'm not a quilter, but I had just finished making my first simple quilt for my son, so had a rough idea of how to go about it. The only slight obstacle was the fact that Berni had never sewn anything before. This didn't bother us at all - she was determined to make a quilt and I was more than happy to help her!
The work involved in making a quilt can appear quite daunting, so what we did was break down all of the steps into manageable chunks. We would meet up, I would demonstrate a particular step and Berni would practise it until we were both satisfied that she could do it herself. She would then go off and work on it until she was ready to move on to the next stage. It also meant I wasn't breathing down her neck the whole time and she could achieve each step at her own pace.
One of the more time consuming steps was cutting the squares out and deciding what to include. Steve's quilt is much bigger than the one I'd made - about twice the size in fact - so there was a lot more work involved. The quilt is made up of five inch squares from Steve's shirts (the checked squares) and shorts (the solid squares) as that was his signature look. Berni also managed to include a few squares that contained a pocket. This is because Steve would only wear shirts with pockets, as he needed somewhere to keep his notebook and pen!
Squares with secret pockets
I think that's what makes this quilt so special; each square holds a personal memory for Berni and will be a precious reminder of a much loved brother. Not surprisingly, the whole process was very emotional and there was barely a session without tears, but the end result is definitely worth it.
What really touches me about this project is Berni's determination. Yes, I might have shown her how to sew a few squares together and let her borrow some machine feet etc, but the work on this quilt is all hers. From never having sewn anything in her life, she's managed to sew AN ENTIRE QUILT, all by herself. Despite the unbearably sad origins, this is a phenomenal achievement, and it was an absolute privilege to have been able to help her achieve her goal. It really goes to show that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
For a finishing touch, Berni sewed specially ordered labels inside each pocket. Beloved - because he was. x