The first memory quilt I ever made came into being almost by accident.
My mum was moving, from the home we grew up in – a much extended 5 bedroom semi halfway up a hill, to a smaller 2 bedroom house at the bottom of the hill. Our gran, Mum’s mum – was a woman who kept EVERYTHING that might have some importance or use to someone in the future. When she died, the contents of her house moved to our loft, to sit in the dusty dark amongst all the things our family put there, and with us having inherited the M.B.U.S gene (Might Be Useful Someday) you can imagine it was a very FULL loft. Sorting through that loft was no mean feat, and one of the most difficult things to process was all the clothes. Bags and bags of clothes. First outfits, beloved pjs, great granny’s aprons, wedding dresses and oh so many items of clothing that were nigh on impossible to throw away. Sitting in the loft, in the glow of a bare light bulb, I realised very quickly that we needed a plan. A way to keep the soft, cloth memories, without needing to hire storage space for the very many black bins bag of clothing we were faced with. So I made my mum a promise. I told her that the clothes she just couldn’t part with, I would take home and make into a memory quilt. As we put each item into the bags to store them, she told me their story. The turquoise silk, handmade dress she left her wedding dance in. My father’s favourite golfing shirt. My gran’s house coat. My late brother’s best pyjamas. Bridesmaids dresses in green velvet and floral pink. The dress that was made out of parachute silk that she wore to our Great Aunt’s wedding in the late 1940s. So many memories in every single fibre. So very many stories.
Making the promise was the easy part. Making the quilt so much harder. I don’t mind admitting that I cried my eyes out as I cut the seams from my late brother’s pjs, and my late dad’s shirts. Cutting up the clothes that had carried and sheltered and warmed beloved members of our family was such a hard thing to do that I laid down my scissors many times as I worked through the big rubble sacks we’d filled with garments. Holding fabric that often still smelt vaguely of it’s last wearer was almost too much to bear. There was an acute sense of sacrilege to it, particularly when it came to garments that had been handmade by family members, rather than shop bought ones. A sadness, that their old life was finished now and they’d never more clothe the people who had gone. The children who had grown and the ones who hadn’t.
And yet in spite of all that, I cut and pieced and stitched and stitched and it came into being almost organically, as though the fabric knew that it’s destiny was to be this blanket of remembrance and the pieces all found their place, side by side, memory sitting next to memory in a tangle of tales.
I look at the quilt I made then – at the fabric and the colours – and all the stories are there, all the memories, all woven together with the bright, clear voices of the people who have gone, and the people that we were, before we grew. I think of my lovely mum, being cared for through the last stages of her life, bravely facing dementia and motor neurone disease, with smiles and strength. Sleeping each night with all the threads of our family’s collective memories to keep her warm. And I think of how important it is to share our stories while we can, in voice and in song, in the written word and the flow of paint and the soft, strong threads of the fabric that binds us all together. For by sharing these threads, the warp and the weft of our lives, we allow it to be woven into the lives of all those that come after us. And when our stories are spoken, little parts of our lives live on, forever.