A quilt and part of a group of friends

Let me tell you a story. It is about a quilt and a group of friends. But the story changes – it eventually becomes a story about one friend.

We are a group of quilting friends. Two of those friends (Elaine and Ruth) had been quilting for some time and set about teaching others locally. This is how we all got together, and became firm friends.

Elaine had machine pieced a Welsh style patchwork top, and suddenly someone came up with a slightly hare brained scheme to hand quilt a wholecloth quilt on the back of this patchwork, with the idea of it becoming a tribute to our mothers, grandmothers and their mothers and all of the women of the community who did this very thing years ago, out of necessity rather than for pleasure.

It should, of course, be remembered that in those days the patchwork side was the ‘everyday’ side, made up of old shirts, petticoats and whatever came to hand. The wholecloth side (if you could afford or find a suitable piece of fabric large enough) was where the hand quilting showed, and was the posh bit, which you would show if you could afford to get the doctor to call!

So the patchwork top was donated and acquired some batting and a wholecloth backing. One of our group (who has an excellent eye for these things) drew out a design on the wholecloth, including spirals which are deemed to be one of the distinguishing features of Welsh hand quilting.

The sandwich was tacked together, and was slowly quilted. There was no hurry – it started out as evening sessions, when a regular group of us just sat for a couple of hours and quilted. Then many other people contributed, including passers-by when we took it to community events – the idea was that members of the community would each contribute a few stitches to the community quilt. The evening sessions stopped, so regular weekly sessions were set up on a Friday morning in the community cafe of the local Miner’s Welfare Hall. These sessions were somewhat more difficult for parts of the group to get to, what with work and family commitments etc, so the regular group was whittled down to 3, which included Ruth. This group of 3 spent many hours “joining the dots”, filling in the separate areas that had been previously completed, and continuing with the rest of the quilt.

But let me tell you about Ruth. Ruth was one of those people who gave. She gave in her working life (she was in the medical profession), and after she retired early, although she had no immediate family, she gave to her extended family and she gave to the community.

Ours is now a vibrant community where people are making great strides in reinvigorating a once somewhat run down mining village. Ruth was involved in everything! The groups that reinvigorate the community – Ruth was treasurer or on the committee. Local schools – Ruth was a governor of more than one. The newly formed local WI – a founder member. Our quilting group – Ruth was a founder member and the treasurer. The list goes on. Ruth was also a serial crafter and loved her quilting. At our monthly quilt group meetings, Ruth was always there, head down with her sewing machine going. The community quilt kept on going in the background.

Then, in September, Ruth told us that she had some “serious health issues” so she wouldn’t be with us at quilting for a bit. Everybody was, of course, concerned, but we assumed that she wouldn’t be with us for the October session and would be back soon.

But it wasn’t to happen. She told some of us in late September that tests said she appeared to have late stage ovarian cancer. By late October she had died. We were stunned – both at the simple fact that she had died and the sheer speed of it.

Our quilt group meetings are held the first Sunday of the month. Our November group was a very sombre one. Elaine brought the community quilt to group that day, and those of us who knew Ruth best just sat and did some hand quilting. It was hugely sad but also massively therapeutic – just sitting there with people who knew Ruth, doing something she loved, and talking about Ruth. At that point, it was decided that the quilt should become “Ruth’s Quilt”. She was so well known and well-loved in the community that we felt that there ought to be some memorial for her.

Before Ruth died, she arranged for the disposal of her stash – well, you would wouldn’t you? Her crafting friends have each had a portion of that stash, and we will treasure it when we use it. She had also arranged a party for her friends – she even paid for it all, the only thing she could not arrange was the date. We decided that, if we could, the quilt should be displayed at “Ruth’s party”. Which meant getting a wriggle on to finish it.

The open party for her friends was arranged for November 27th. It could have been a very sombre affair, but somehow it wasn’t. She had even paid for all the drinks – there was a quote that she wanted the party “so her friends could get pissed on her behalf”! There were many tributes from the organisations that Ruth was involved with, and yes, we did manage to get the quilt finished and displayed, with Elaine doing the finishing up and the final wash to take all of the markings out.

The quilt is not perfect, but it was never meant to be. It is currently being displayed in St Cynog’s church in Ystradgynlais, with the following explanation:

The Ystradgynlais & District Quilt

The Ystradgynlais Quilt was the brainchild of Ruth Long & Elaine Williams, who also founded The Ystradgynlais Quilters/Cwiltwyr Ystradgynlais; Ruth as Treasurer and Elaine as Chairperson.

The “Ystradgynlais & District Quilt” is based on a local quilt design “The Breconshire Star” and is dedicated to the memory of Ruth Long in recognition of all the hard work and long hours she spent on projects to benefit the wider community. Ruth put many hours into this quilt. Friday mornings would see Ruth alongside Elaine and Ann Marsh at the Ystradgynlais Welfare Hall hand-stitching the quilt. Anyone from the Ystradgynlais area was encouraged to sit and quilt at this and other community events, thereby making this a “people’s quilt”.

This quilt is also a tribute to the women of Ystradgynlais, who would have spent many an evening sewing by candlelight with limited resources at their disposal. The patchwork in this quilt could be described as far from perfect, however this is even more poignant at present; we are, after all, constantly bombarded by the press and social media that everything and everyone should look and be perfect!

……this quilt goes a long way to prove imperfect can look pretty darned good!”

The quilt will eventually be permanently displayed in the village, as a lasting memorial to Ruth. I think she would be surprised that anyone felt she was worthy of a memorial. But she was.

So you see, this quilt story does become a story about one particular friend.

We miss you Ruth. Xx