ST KNICKERLESS DAY (2015)
I was quite stunned when Ana emailed to ask me to take part once again in her Advent Calendar.
Stunned, because I couldn’t believe it was a whole year since the last one. “How can that be?” I thought to myself. “Has time suddenly looped and caused me to miss a year?”
Anyhow, having agreed, once again, to contribute a pair of knickers for one of Ana’s poor, old, knickerless friends, I girded my loins and sallied forth into the town to search all the very best knicker shops. Sadly I had not realized it was something called “Black Friday”. Eeeek! So many people!
I had dragged Dan along for the journey and a bit of moral support, but he gave up after a bit, said I was mad, and so was Ana, and disappeared into a local hostelry in search of something to warm him up.
At one point I knelt on the floor of a lingerie department, entirely surrounded by a myriad of frothy bits of silk and lace, almost throwing up my hands in despair. What to choose?!
However, you will be both happy and relieved to hear that a lovely prize awaits the winner!
People who know me, will know that as well as writing stories, my big interest is making old-fashioned patchwork quilts. I have around five of them on the go at the moment, and am scrambling around trying to get one finished for Christmas. I quilt by hand and only use a machine to join the pieces of fabric, so each quilt takes a very long time to complete, and is quite unique.
Everyone who quilts, accrues a huge “stash” of fabric. Quilting is addictive, and you find that you cannot enter an establishment that sells fabric without coming away having spent a vast fortune. Dan has been known to physically prevent me from putting a foot over the threshold. Snort!
Of course, in the past, women would never throw garments away like we do nowadays. Everything was “up-cycled”. If it was no good for anyone else, or to be passed down or on, then it was cut up and made into quilts. Everything. Not only dresses and blouses, but jackets, under garments, and even men’s shirts and jeans.
So it came about that I was up in our loft, foraging for our Christmas decorations, which are usually hoisted up there at the end of January, and then forgotten until the next December.
Our loft can be likened to an ancient, dusty Tardis. Most of the beams up there still retain their bark. The floor creaks as you step from areas that have been boarded over, to areas which are bare joists, and you have to negotiate not only the sloping roof, but the chimney stacks and the huge disused water tank.
There are boxes and trunks, an entire range of suitcases and travel bags, curtain rails and old lamp stands, boxes of discarded toys and books, and even spare car parts. Each generation disposes of its unwanted possessions by hiding them up in the loft, like in the archives of a museum.
I’m not good up loft ladders. When Dan is around, he forbids me from climbing them. He says I am a hazard and a liability.
I generally find it’s not so bad going up, but the turning round in order to search for the top rung with your foot, when you want to descend once again, is a tad unnerving, both to do and to watch.
I found most of the boxes of decorations easy enough. They had the words “Fragile” and “Christmas Decorations” written on them in felt-tip, and had been stacked only a yard or so from the top of the ladder. But I had it in my mind that I wanted to find some old paper globes and bells that had belonged to my grandmother. They had fallen out of fashion and some helpful family member had probably shoved them in a back corner somewhere.
I crept gingerly round the main chimney stack, brushing cobwebs, both imaginary and otherwise, from my hair, and barked my shin on the corner of a large, old tin trunk. The corner was sharp and my jeans offered no protection to my tibia. It made my eyes water and I swore as loudly and vociferously as I could, adding several permutations to the words “bloody” and “buggering” and “shitting hell”.
I sat down on the edge of the aforesaid trunk, and rubbed my shin madly, trying to dispel the pain. I couldn’t remember seeing the trunk before. But then, I had never crawled round that particular part of the loft-space before.
I bent and studied the trunk more closely. It was littered with old labels of the “going on a voyage” variety: “Cunard Line”, “P & O”, and even a label that said “Hong Kong Steam Packet – wanted on voyage.”
I scratched at one of them, but the dust lay thickly and although I damped a finger and dabbed it where the name was written, the writing was too spidery and faded for me to see properly.
Intrigued, and scraped shin forgotten, I dropped down on my knees facing the trunk, and tried to lift the lid. But the catch was rusty, and I had to work at it for a time, adding scraped fingers to the shin.
At last it consented to move and I worked it upwards sufficiently for me to try once again to lift the lid. It was very stiff, and I pushed and pushed. It came open suddenly in a huge cloud of dust. It took me by surprise, and I collapsed sideways coughing and choking and fanning madly with both hands.
When the dust had settled I was able to look inside, not sure whether or not the trunk was empty and just hurled up there out of the way like we do with our modern suitcases, or whether there might be any long-forgotten contents.
There was certainly something.
I could see a thick covering of tissue paper. Once pristine white, it had gone grey with age, but it was doing a good job as the item it covered seemed as clean and fresh as the day it was stored therein.
A patchwork quilt.
Someone had folded it neatly and placed it within the tissue paper, together with a liberal amount of dried lavender. To keep out the moths, no doubt.
I lifted it almost reverently, and paper decorations forgotten, I staggered back around the chimney stack and made my way back across the loft to the ladder. The quilt was large, and I decided to stuff it through the hatch, let it drop to the floor below, and then follow it down.
It took me a while. It sounds easier than it actually was, and there was a time when I thought I would be following it headfirst instead of turning round and going carefully back down the ladder. However, I eventually made it, and heart thumping, I took it into our bedroom and spread most of it out on our bed.
The colours were, for the most part, bright and clear as the day the shapes were sewn together. I was able to pick out some of the patterns. There was the wedding ring, the Rose of Sharon, the Dresden plate, lots of flying geese and tumbling blocks, and even a Carolina lily.
But the fabrics! The fabrics were incredible. I could see that some of them looked woven by hand, not by machine, and I wondered idly how long ago the Industrial Revolution had been, and tried to imagine my ancestors sitting at a loom for hours on end.
I gazed at the glowing colours as one gazes at a stained glass window in a church. With awe.
I had loosely folded the quilt in half in so that it would fit on the top of the bed, and now I turned it to look at the other half. That was when I realized it was unfinished. There were only three blocks in the last row.
I looked more closely. I had another surprise. I recognized some of the fabrics in that final row. They were mine.
I sat on the edge of the bed running my hand lightly over the quilt. I remembered the fabrics well. Every one of them.
Some of them belonged to the dresses I had made to take away on our honeymoon. There were some belonging to my bridesmaid dresses. There were several pieces of material that looked strangely like some of Dan’s old shirts, and a beautiful Celtic Knot contained fabric from my wedding dress.
I looked further up the rows. There was a red material sprigged with small blue flowers that I remembered my mother wearing, and a leaf green with yellow roses that looked familiar too. There were flying geese made from my father’s shirt fabrics, and a piece of pale grey organdie that I thought could have been from a ball gown I remembered, and still further up I recognized fabric from dresses my grandmother wore.
My eyes lifted to the rows of beautifully quilted fabric. Each block different. Each block unique. I couldn’t hazard a guess at how old the first blocks were. I could only guess that here before me was an ongoing history of my family. Generation upon generation nimbly sewn into an arrangement of colours and shapes, to be lovingly kept and enjoyed down the years, by each successive family. History played out before my eyes.
The sunshine glanced through the window and the colours came alive like a heap of jewels thrown carelessly across our bed. My eyes watered once more, and not due to my barked shin.
My mother had patiently kept the scraps, remnants and discarded clothing from the years of my life up until my marriage, and then she had continued until her fingers grew stiff and as illness took her, she was no longer able to sew. She had carefully put away the quilt for the next generation, in the hope that there would be someone to take up the challenge. She had never told me about it. It had lain there in the old travel trunk, waiting for the day when the lid would be thrown open, and daylight and the rays of the sun would lift its colours and reveal its beauty.
Now it was my turn. It was time for me to add the final five blocks, and complete the sashing and borders. When I had done that, I would be able to attach the binding and then the quilt would be complete. Never again would it need to be hidden away in an old trunk in the depths of the loft-space. It would take its place on our large bed in the master bedroom. It would look beautiful, it would keep us warm on cold nights, and it would take up-cycling to the next level.
I glanced around the room. The air shimmered, and a curtain moved slightly in an unseen breeze.
My ancestors smiled, and I smiled back.
Think of me quilting madly in the lead up to Christmas! So much to do and so little time. Two anxious grandkids who come and drive me mad one day a week, quilted Advent stockings to be finished and hung from the inglenook complete with candy canes, and the sequel of my book Beating the Bounds to get finished and in to my editor. (In case you are wondering, it is called the Midnight Geese!)
Ana and I are both busy people who don’t get to connect with each other as much as they would like to do. She has been my help and inspiration in the past, and it was quite difficult to be pushed out of the nest and told to “Go write and get on with it!” (No, she didn’t say that really. She just equipped me to take those first scary steps.) I promise you, Ana, that we will be in touch more often in the coming year.
You probably know by now that Dan will pick the winner of the St Knickerless Day prize out of a large pudding bowl. I should be grateful if, when you are notified that you are the winner, you will email me with your initials and address, plus size from the following list: Extra small, small, medium, large, extra large. Our sizes are completely different here from the US, so this way it enables me to be more accurate.
I can be contacted at email@example.com
Many thanks once again, Ana, for all your hard work and for making our lead up to Christmas so very enjoyable.
I do hope that lots of you will take part and make this a year to be remembered.
- Day 1: Welcome and Christmas Expectations
- Day 2: Christmas at my House
- Day 3: Giving Tuesday
- Day 4: Pizza and Poker/Holiday Recipe Exchange
- Day 5: Little Lynnie’s Christmas Crackers
- Day 6: Blue Christmas
- Day 7: Take your Child to the Bookstore
Download this participation sheet to keep track of your daily visits. Or, if you don’t have MS Word, access the Google sheet here (choose “yes” to make a copy).