WHEN Clare Worthy began quilting, using dresses her daughter had grown out of, little did she know that her pastime would wrap around the world.
From her home in the Dordogne, Clare has called on a network of quilters to help raise awareness of Leukaemia research after her brother-in-law was diagnosed with the illness.
Here Clare tells of her arrival in France and how her enjoyment of quilting has brought together people from the four corners of the globe.
What brought you to France?
We moved to France in August 1998. We had been searching for some years and visiting a different part of France each summer and spending time in that region, looking at immobiliers, researching and discovering the area.
We finally decide upon the Cote d’Or/Burgundy. However, even then (circa 1990) we could not find a house that suited our requirements and was within our budget. In 1995 along came our daughter who threw a completely different light on the situation, so moving to France was put on hold.
In June 1997 we started the search again, this time concentrating on the Loire Valley and drawing a straight line down from there to Montpellier, back up through the Ardeche to the Loire. Nothing appealed to us, and it rained for a whole month.
We visited the French Property Exhibition at Hammersmith and there it was, our dream home. However, the drawback was it was in the Dordogne, which was definitely a no-no. But we visited the house in April 1998 in a middle of a hailstorm, signed on the dotted line, no seven day let out clause in those days, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The reason why we moved was, basically, to give our daughter a better life. We wanted a good education for her and we wanted to give her a life with no hassles, where she could run free.
Alexandra is now 11. She is nearly top of the class in school, has had an idyllic childhood with none of the hassles of living in the UK. She is so laid back she is virtually horizontal.
I’d say that the only lesson we learnt was not to ‘judge the book by its cover’. Our part of the Dordogne is lovely and certainly not what the UK media made us think it was like. France is such a huge country in comparison to the UK, so each area needs to be researched very carefully. There are pitfalls and we have certainly made some mistakes, but we got through it and have lived to tell the tale.
How did you get started with the quilting?
I started quilting in 2003 as I had loads of Alex’s old dresses and skirts but didn’t know what to do with them. Some of them I couldn’t bear to part with so I decided to make a quilt out of them for her bed. It took nearly a year.
The batting/wadding was too thick and it took an age to hand quilt it. Even now it is still not quite right, but, hey, it was made with love and to be used. Just don’t look too closely.
I then read about making quilts out of old blue jeans and made a Blue Jean wall hanging for our bedroom and then started on Blue Jeans Windows (see left). This is to be finished at some point. I suppose it classifies as my first UFO, an Unfinished Object.
Quilting is big in France and there are loads of quilting groups. However, I am self-taught and lean towards free piecing – no ‘quilt police’, no guidelines, just go with flow. I have been greatly influenced by Tonya’s Lazy Gal Quilting website. I haven’t really made any connections with French people through quilting but my English neighbour quilts and through her I hope to meet a French lady in the next village. A Dutch friend living close by helped me a great deal at the start and has been very supportive.
My designs are in my head, not written down in a book, but I haven’t got the patience to do a Dresden Plate, Ohio Star or any of those beautiful, but very fiddly quilt designs.
Quilting material is relatively easy to get hold of, but at a price. That is why most of the quilters I know buy online from the US or the UK. We are lucky to have near our home a huge material warehouse and I spend most of my time rummaging in the ‘coupons’ box. If I see material that I know I will use again and again, I tend to buy by the metre. Like all things French, if you see something you like, buy it, don’t deliberate because it won’t be there when you go back the following week.
What is the background to Quilts for Leukaemia?
I moderate two France Yahoo Groups and from these we decided to start a group especially for expatriate crafters.
It was during this that I hit upon the idea of making quilts for Leukaemia Research in the hope that they could auction them off to raise funds. I only had one taker – a fellow Francophile living in the Limousin. I then started my Dordogne Quilter blog and asked the question again. No takers.
A few months went by and I came up with the idea that if all these quilters didn’t want to make a quilt, then why not a block for a quilt. A fellow blogger took up the challenge and mentioned it on her site and the offers then came flooding in. There has also been a bit of bribery – make me a block and I’ll send you a recyclable French carrier bag.
My sister Sophie’s then boyfriend, Matt Julians, who is known as Floyd and plays in a rock band, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in September 2005 and he was treated with four courses of aggressive chemotherapy as unfortunately a bone marrow biopsy was out of the question.
Floyd’s chances of successfully beating the cancer are 50/50 but he is currently in remission and him and Sophie are now married, but he still has a long way to go before he is clear.
Almost every weekend they visit hospitals, mostly the children’s wards, and have raised about £25,000 through charity concerts and are now on a second bout of funding raising.
So we changed the reason behind making the quilts and instead of auctioning them off, the blocks, numbering 55 at the last count, will be made into single bed or cot sized quilts and donated to children’s wards and hospices of Sophie and Floyd’s choice to ‘give a bit of love to someone to cuddle’.
Where do the blocks come from and what do people send?
People send me a block which is 8½ inches unfinished, and is made up of red and white material, the colours of Leukaemia Research, in any design the contributor likes – basic quilt block design, free piecing, anything. Some of them are stunning.
I will then stitch them together, before making up the batting/wadding, then the back and the quilt. I was hoping to hand quilt them, but this will take an age. So I am on the hunt for someone in the region who has a long arm quilting machine and is prepared to quilt them for me out of the kindness of their heart.
And I have had contributions from around the world, mainly from the US, but also from Finland, Germany, Australia, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Canada, France naturally, and the UK. This cause is truly ‘wrapped around the world’.
To see more examples of the quilt blocks people have sent Clare visit her Quilts for Leukaemia website.