Creating an heirloom

As well as being beautiful objects that demonstrate hours of handiwork quilts are also a fantastic way to collaborate on a one-of-a-kind object, full of meaning. All quilts are not created equal and this one is more than a little bit special. Not only does it use these gorgeous Higgs & Higgs FQ bundles and this adorable Llama fabric but there are embroidery contributions from eight different people, including three generations of women. But it doesn’t stop there – two of the blocks have travelled to the other side of the world – and back – so that Australian relatives could contribute. Not to get too soppy – but there is a hell of a lot of love stitched into the 504 pieces on this quilt top.

Making this quilt was an absolute pleasure. I love sewing but quite often it’s a solitary pursuit, yes that’s part of the appeal but it can also be quite demoralising, particularly when things don’t go according to plan! However, making this with a pregnant friend, Sarah for her baby made it so much more fun, we had a proper block production line going and I think she enjoyed the process too, even if I never let her advance past pressing! It was great to share in the excitement of each minute step, and have intense discussions about each pattern and colour placement decision.

The sewing bit – Catherine on construction

It’s a single (twin) bed size so all that hard work can still be used and loved when the baby outgrows a cot. Using a simple pattern which is a variation on a disappearing nine patch with 24 blocks. It’s quite an easy block to assemble but as you’ll be cutting up the nine patch it’s really important to be neat.

For each block I used 8 x 5 inch squares in this lovely Higgs and Higgs fabric, plus either a charm llama square from Pete’s Treasure Trove or a plain white square for the centre of each block – more on this later.

Sew your nine squares into rows of three, press the seems in opposite directions and then sew your three rows together to create typical nine patches. Pair your nine patch with another block and get ready for the scary bit!

Cut the top and button row in half, rotate and then cut the two side panels in half too. Repeat this process on both of your nine patches. Swap over the strips and reassemble to create these beautiful, intricate 21 piece blocks.

The quilt stayed in this state for quite a while as eight of the blocks headed off to different people to be embroidered. Once they were all back in the country assembling the top was quite straightforward. I didn’t want to over quilt this too much so the blanket stayed nice and snuggly. As there is a lot going on in this quilt I wanted to keep the actual quilting quite simple so just used the stitch-in-the-ditch method to help make the shapes of each block pop. I used the backing fabric to bind the edges as I find it easier and love the neat finish it gives to the project.

The heritage bit – over to Sarah

This project really has been a labour of love in every sense of the phrase. This is both my first quilt and my first pregnancy, and each have been an emotional ride. When Catherine first approached me with the idea of a baby quilt I was instantly in love. It felt like the perfect project to pour our friendship and energy into over the coming months and initially started as a fairly simple concept. But as my bump grew so did our confidence and ambitions and I’m unbelievably happy with the outcome.

To begin with when we discussed a baby quilt, I assumed the project would take the form of a blanket for a crib. However, after talking over what we wanted from this piece of bedding, it was clear that size really did matter and we needed space to really be able to turn our ideas into reality. And so, the embroidery squares were born.

I had two main aims for the design of the embroidery squares. To include some of the most important people to me in their making, and for it to be a pictorial representation of my husband and I’s identities both shared and individual. These aims helped turn a project based in Nottingham into a global undertaking, as two of my crafters my Aunty Sue and Nana George both live in Australia. They are an important part of my story and unfortunately due to the distance I haven’t been able to see them throughout my pregnancy. However, this seemed the perfect way to ensure they would always be close to baby, both now and long into the future. It was also crucial to me that my married family were heavily involved, and my lovely Sister and Mother-in-law both rose to the challenge of crafting a square representing baby’s paternal heritage. That left four squares remaining, completed by my wonderful Mum, myself, my husband (he learnt to embroider especially!) and of course Catherine.

In terms of the content of the squares I should provide the disclaimer that I actually work in museums and communicating heritage is a big part of my life. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that when it came to design, it was important that it had layers of meaning routed in both our family’s heritage. This came rather easy, as four of the squares cover mine and John’s parents surnames and maiden names. You might think it would be hard to make a heel spur a thing of beauty, but it’s something my mother managed effortlessly with some clever shading to represent my maiden name Spurrier (Spur maker). The other four squares were specifically about John and I’s love story. We met whilst studying at the University of Manchester and therefore nothing could be more appropriate then the Manchester worker bee, completed by Catherine whom we both shared a house with in those early days. We now live in Nottingham and the Nottingham Oak is a symbol synonymous with the area, hence the oak leaves and acorns which I eagerly snapped up. Finally, we married in the peak district and our lavender heart logo from the day has made it onto the piece, as well as an illustration of one of our favourite local views, Stanage edge completed by John. We sent bundles of matching threads and design briefs to all of the contributors and over Christmas they designed, embroidered and marvelled us with their interpretation and skill. One particularly lovely day was spent in a cottage in the Peak District, where myself, John, and my Sister and Mother in law all embroidered the day away by a warming AGA whilst eating mince pies, it doesn’t get more Christmas card then that. Receiving the package in the post from Australia with the completed squares was also particularly thrilling, knowing that the love and support for baby really does span continents – you are on lucky kid!

I have honed my own crafting skills along the way but the process of my family and friends coming together to support my newly forming family has been truly wonderful. It’s also been a great focus over several months when you can become prone to boughts of over shopping for baby paraphernalia. Having the quilt has given me a physical way to convey my emotions and channel my restless pregnancy energy, and it has meant many heart-warming evenings with Catherine where we pressed, sewed and laughed our way to the finish line of both this quilt and this pregnancy. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome and I truly feel that we’ve created a modern family heirloom which perfectly captures John and I’s story and I can’t wait to see what comes next on all fronts.

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