From the outset I had a vague idea for my contribution to the Quilt of Care, mostly stemming from #OER19 and reading about the Irish border quilt at the time. Some elements easily translated to a quilt square some more tricky.
It was important to me not to use or buy anything new for my square, everything was unearthed from my sewing box, hidden stores of material and my girls’ old baby clothes. Repurposing was therefore a core element, pushing back against the drive for new and shiny as a solution to society’s pressures, as well as seeing the clothes take on a whole new life. Also, care for me is mainly a free endeavour; walking in the park, cycling, gardening, baking or crafting and this is what I wanted to capture.
Whilst I do have a sewing machine it remains a mystery to me and it takes me so long to get it set up and ready to go that I much prefer the slow approach, curled up on the sofa. The results certainly lack uniformity/perfection and went at snail’s pace, but it was more portable, personal and therapeutic to complete by hand. Something reflected in my work life, considering when to use learning technology and when not to. The thread throughout is mostly silver to add a touch of shiny but the large pocket is attached by hidden gold thread stitches (others have written more about gold thread in their squares); invisible bonds, invisible labour.
The inclusion of pockets was always going to be a must. The symbol of feminist endeavour being of course a practical must in our lives, yet even now getting a dress or skirt with pockets is something to celebrate rather than expect. Although these pockets were small, they could hold all sorts of treasure – a penguin*, a LEGO figure, one of my daughter’s gymnastics medals, a photo/QR code – all each with their own story. The remainder of the square had three main elements:
Living on a small island that remains two separate countries makes life complex and is rarely understood by those on the outside. I specifically didn’t put a border between the two countries and left the top of the pocket as an approximate invisible line. I remain hopeful that the turmoil of the past few years will settle and a new version of Ireland will emerge one way or another.
The snowdrop in the snow, the oak leaf and acorn, and the feathers all depict hope. Self-care by being in the garden or out in nature is core to my survival. Watching seeds you sow, emerge, grow and flower is a privilege and a joy. Navigating the hurdles, working with nature rather than against is a lifelong learning curve.
“And thus the snowdrop, like the bow
That spans the cloudy sky,
Becomes a symbol whence we know
That brighter days are nigh ; ”
Through reading The Mayfly in On Balance by a local poet, Sinéad Morrisey, I discovered Lilian Bland a woman who whilst living in Northern Ireland not only designed a plane but went on to build and fly it, becoming perhaps the first woman aviator in 1910. Doing research, I imagined her defying convention at every turn, including wearing trousers (which I do hope had extra deep pockets) and taking on adventure after adventure.
“Conspicuously mis-christened – what chink
in the general atmosphere, what sudden
lift of bones and breath
allowed you to stand up straight in mechanic’s overalls
(skirts are out of the question) and plot
your escape route into the sky?”
There was even the joy of discovering a life-sized sculpture of the Mayfly in a park only minutes from my office – a quick visit allowed me to get a photo to add to Wikimedia Commons and her Wiki pages. After weeks of trying to work out how to create her plane in thread and material I changed tack and went for an actual mayfly. I think the name for Lilian however, was a play on ‘it may fly or it may not’, but fly it did, over the Carnmoney hills.
It can be so tempting to believe the grass is always greener elsewhere. As we look on others’ lives it is so easy to think that they have it sorted/easier/better than our own and Lilian did have many connections and privileges to help her achieve. She was a photographer, farmer, gardener, journalist as well as aviator, living into her nineties. Yet, overcoming the hurdles, difficulties and setbacks is as much an inspiration as the achievements. Lilian also faced sadness and adversity, losing her only child at age sixteen, divorce and financial struggles. Heroes come in many guises and as each element took shape, I began to realise that there was a common thread – strength.
It felt fitting therefore that my final touches for the last two spaces on my square was given over to two different Irish words for strength: neart and misneach to cover both the physical and mental aspects. The strength that keeps us going day to day and the strength that community affords us through the ups and downs; both online and locally. You can listen to how these sound at this website.
Squeezing in my square around a busy schedule remained a work of joy that I could easily have kept going for longer if I could have. Adding more embellishments and fixing things – the stitches for misneach once finished are pulled too tight – but I am lucky to be going to the conference and will be taking time there to attach my pocket treasures to the square permanently with ribbon. All in all I almost kept to the original sketch that I initially tweeted and I can’t wait to see it amongst all the other global creations.
* My youngest has insisted that the penguin be called Jeffrey and you all have to call him Jeff.
— Clare Thomson (@slowtech2000) January 11, 2020
Shared by: Clare Thomson
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