iI only recently joined Cambridge Quilters but I've been quilting since I was about fifteen or sixteen years old. I'd always done a lot of crafts, inspired by family members and friends, but it was when I got ill with glandular fever aged 15 and was stuck in bed that I got properly into quilting. A friend of my mother designs and makes art quilts and that's one thing that inspired me to start. I hand pieced and quilted a simple double bed quilt and then did more
complicated things, usually still by hand as sitting up at a machine was hard. After I got rid of the glandular fever
virus I failed to get well and was misdiagnosed with M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for 13 years before discovering that I had a thyroid condition that was easily treated with a few tablets each
day. I'm now fully well day-to-day unless I mess up my medication for some reason.
During the years I was ill I spent most of my time in bed or a wheelchair: doing crafts - knitting, sewing - was one of the main things that gave me a chance to express myself. It meant I could see myself (and, importantly, be seen by others) as an active person rather than a passive victim. It was totally non-medical and I could pick it up and put it down according to how I was feeling: having something I had control over was very important to me when the rest of my plans were unravelling. It was also an effective way of distracting people from talking to me about my health all the time, and getting commissions to design and knit things for people was very confidence building.
I found I could often solve problems by sitting and hand sewing while I thought about them. Whilst studying with the Open University from bed during that time, I'd pick a new sewing or knitting project to do for each module so that I could have something creative to do while I thought about an essay that needed writing. When I headed off in my wheelchair to study at 'proper' uni I machine pieced a double bed quilt in a courthouse steps pattern before I went with the intention of quilting it while I was mulling over my essay topics. I think I finished the degree before I'd finished the quilt!
Crafts, in particular quilting, give me a lot of pleasure and balance in my life. Since I got well and had two children I've had less time for quilting, but a trip to California last year gave me a chance to visit some great fabric shops, and also to visit a wonderful exhibition at California Humanities put on by the African-American Quilters Guild of Oakland. I specially loved the work of Marion Coleman and Alice Beasley that I found through the AAQGO. I also saw pieces of the AIDS Memorial quilt, and met someone who had worked on a section of it.
I came back buzzing with ideas for lots of quilts I wanted to make but swore I'd just finish the projects I'd already started. To keep my motivation going I bought a copy of Quilting Arts magazine and there was a 'reader challenge' that I couldn't resist. I made a small (ten inches square) quilted wall hanging as a gift for my partner. A photo of it got published in the magazine, making me extremely chuffed.
I'm back to finishing my 'UFOs' now. I'm also running a small group project to create a piece of fabric art with the local Cambridge City Amnesty International group to commemorate the life of Giulio Regeni, a student from the University of Cambridge who was researching trade unions in Egypt and was killed, allegedly by the Egyptian security services. This will hopefully feature in campaigns for a proper investigation into his case, and justice for his family.
Joining Cambridge Quilters, seeing the wonderful work that others produce, seeing some interesting and inspiring talks, and experiencing the friendly welcome has helped me ring fence a bit of space and time in my life for quilting, a kind of promise to myself to 'keep at it'.