I remember Christmas days when I was a child; I would be sat on the sofa with a pile of presents beside me, carefully deciding which one to open first, before ripping off the wrapping paper and throwing it across the room.
As the special parcels containing quilt squares began to pour in at the start of October, everyday began to feel like Christmas. I would arrive at the office to find a pile of parcels, with that same expectant feeling and uncertainty I experienced as a child. I wish I had taken photographs of the office filled with paper, bubble wrap, cardboard, after each quilt block was carefully and protectively wrapped and delivered to its new home.
Some of the squares arrived by hand, offering the chance for conversation and me to meet the participants, who up until that point have been faceless. Others were dropped off by the postman, and I found myself counting down waiting for our shop staff to burst in with another envelope.
Running creative projects, you always expect inspiring work to be produced, but every time I opened a parcel I was astounded at the diversity of ideas, talent and creativity. Each square is completely different and focuses on a different aspect of Jane Austen’s life. Some of the squares are traditionally quilted, for example a pineapple design, some were contemporary using only simple stitches to trace Jane Austen’s handwriting, some are pictorial focusing on the dress or homes of Jane Austen, whilst others use applique, machine embroidery or images reproduced and printed directly onto fabric.
We have been lucky to have responses from local groups, professional quilters, quilt groups, Jane Austen societies across the world and groups such as Fine Cell work, who using stitching as a form of rehabilitation in prisons, their finished work was beautiful and inspired by the letters of Jane Austen. Artist Caren Garfen explored the role of women during the Regency era, the Kent Jane Austen Society produced a square inspired by Godmersham, Edward Knight's home, Steventon sewing group created an image of the church where Jane Austen’s father was curate and Katrina Hadjmichael explored the homes of Jane Austen, to name but a few.
Accompanying every square were letters, notebooks, sketchbooks, moodboards or samples, showing everyone’s process for producing their contribution. It confirmed for me, the passion and enthusiasm which everyone has given towards this commemorative project.
Many of the respondents talked about the privilege of being part of the project, but I think the privilege really belongs to us, seeing and reading about all of these wonderful pieces. The next process will involve laying out all the squares and deciding on the arrangement, order and fabric for the sashing, which will not only draw together these wonderfully disparate elements, but nod to the original coverlet.