This project is somewhat out of the ordinary for me, but then it’s not often that a dear friend passes her PhD viva with flying colours. So this is a combination Solstice/birthday/PhD completion present for Rhiannon, my erstwhile housemate and very good friend, who blogs at Brigid, Fox and Buddha.
I wanted to make something that would be both beautiful and useful; but also for its beauty to have thought in it, and for its construction to be solid enough to withstand proper use. So I made a quilt. Only a little one, but big enough to use as a lap quilt, or wall-hanging, or table centrepiece, or any number of things.
Confession time: I had the idea for this quilt all of nine days before it would need to be handed over. I sketched a vague idea in my notebook at work, then worked out the final design on squared paper at home.
The cutting took most of an evening, the appliqué panels another, then I put the front and back together in an all-day-Saturday sewing session, quilted it on the Sunday, and did the binding on the Monday night.
The central symbol is a simplified Brigid’s cross. Brigid – also spelt Brighid, Brighde or Brig – is a Celtic goddess of poetry, craftsmanship, and healing. With the advent of Christianity in Ireland, some of her symbols and traditions got grafted onto the legend of St Brigid of Kildare. The skewed cross is associated with both the Goddess Brigid and with Saint Brigid, and with their festival day of 1 February (Imbolc.) Traditionally it protects a house from fire and malign influences.
Traditional Brigid’s crosses are made from lots of pieces of straw, woven together. I opted for only one bar in each direction for ease of construction, but then roughly appliquéd on various oddments of trim to create longways stripes, and ribbon near the end of each spoke to ‘tie’ them together.
Around the cross are four panels with appliqué motifs for the four seasons: growing plants for spring, a beach and some turtles for summer, red leaves for autumn, and a Tintagel-esque rocky cliff for winter. They all face different directions: as long as the quilt is positioned with a corner downwards rather than a straight edge, one of the panels will be the right way up.
I stuck down the appliqué sections with tiny bits of hemming tape first, so they would stay put while I zigzagged the edges. For some pieces, like the waves in the winter section, I didn’t stitch over the raw edge but left it to fray over time.
The corners are patterned for earth, air, fire and water. If you orient Earth to the top, the elements match the associations used by a lot of (most?) British pagans for the four cardinal directions – Earth in the North, Air in the East, Fire in the South and Water in the West.
The inner corners are black, black/white, white, and white/black, and loosely represent the phases of the moon – new, waxing, full, waning. The only white fabric I had was completely plain, so I used some eyelet trims to add interest and texture to those sections.
The back is a simple brick-type pattern using a purple tonal, two rainbow prints and a Celtic knotwork pattern. The Celtic knotwork was a late addition when I came up short, but seemed appropriate enough. The purple and rainbows are a nod to the colours of the modern LGBT+ rights movement.
There are 26 different fabrics in this piece, and eight kinds of trim. (I do not have a note of what they all are; if you are particularly interested in getting some of a particular print, leave a comment and I’ll try and look up where I got it.) All of them came out of my stash drawer; I specifically wanted to use up material I already had. I buy new fabric for garments which require it in quantity, but for small projects or ones with a lot of pieces, I try to use up my scraps rather than waste them.
I have a lot of quilting cotton for someone who isn’t a quilter. The original pile of candidate fabrics that I pulled out was much larger …
I pieced it from inside to outside, starting with the cross, then working outwards. I didn’t use batting as I didn’t want it to be blanket-squishy; instead, there’s a chunk of leftover suiting fabric in there to give it some weight. I pinned everything together and started quilting, again from the centre, changing the top thread to match each individual section. Below you can make out brown, red and black threads in and bordering the autumn panel. The bobbin thread stayed purple all the way through.
The finished product is about 65cm along a side – just over two feet – and pleasingly weighty. It’s solidly made, and should last, hopefully for many turns of the wheel.