Workshops, Quilting and Knitting

Sacha Jenkyn

For many years, I believed that you couldn’t be creative if you were not artistic. Having poor drawing skills, and little ability to express myself, my exploration of the world of art was confined to visiting museums and exhibition and reading books. My childhood dreams of becoming a painter had long evaporated and as time passed, I found out that my inner critical voice was hindering me. If I wasn’t good at it, why persevere?

My adventures and experiments as a mother opened a new horizon. I first drew crude pictures for my children who wanted me to represent cats and dogs, trains and cars, or princesses. (I have sons and daughters with all specific and different tastes and interests.) I was frustrated and dismayed by my poor illustrations, but my kids’ appraisal appeared genuine. Not that I was good at it really – they just appreciated the time and effort I had put in, and the likeness of my subjects was good enough for them. It was a lesson in humility. The second thing I learned from them was all about the joy of creativeness. I have seen children struggle with technicalities, but they are always enthralled by their activities, and their creativity knows no bound. Even the most inept students blossom when they embark on a creative endeavour. The third thing I learned from my children is that they learn by watching you do things. Spend some time with them reading, watching movies, knitting scarves, and they will have a hobby for life.

So my own journey into the arts and crafts started really with my children. I first knitted them scarves and jumpers. They wore them until they turned to shreds, and embroidered some baby sheets, resurrecting childhood memories of some very rare teaching moments from my grandmother. Then my daughters wanted “princess dresses” – which were actually the type of dresses you used to see in children’s books in the fifties and seventies, with pleats and smocks, and nice little collars. These dresses were expensive, so I bought a sewing machine, and went on to learn how to make them. My efforts were producing great joy to my daughters, and I started to take pride in my work. That’s when I decided that the next step would be making a patchwork quilt.

Having spent my youth in Switzerland, I hadn’t had many opportunities to learn about that particular hobby. It seemed to be more an American craft than a Swiss one – or so I thought, as the only books I could find at the time were from the US. I was particularly attracted to the Baltimore style, completely oblivious of the amount of work they require. I asked my sewing teacher about it. She sent me to the now long gone Quilters Haven shop in Wickham Market (England) where I started to follow workshops on quilting. I never looked back.

Finally, in 2018, I was invited to participate in a competition at the Suffolk Show. The theme was to create a baby blanket. It sounded like the perfect challenge to me. My brother-in-law and his wife were expecting a baby for the spring – it could be a nice present while being an opportunity to finally learn about applique. I designed a classic blanket with baby features such as milk bottles and sleeping babies’ images and went on to work while following YouTube videos on applique techniques. A fortunate encounter with the wonderful (and retired) Shirley Bloomfield, who gave me an impromptu lesson at a local craft exhibition launched my efforts. Inspiration from Yukari Takahara lead my imagination. But my niece, Matilda, who was born on the 12th March 2018, died a few minutes later. The shock of her loss was incomprehensible, the sadness unbearable. I had no will to continue my quilt. I considered withdrawing from the competition – but a part of me felt that by doing so I would be negating what this little girl had represented in our lives.

I still had in mind Yukari Takahara’s designs in mind, an found two which I combined and used for inspiration. The theme would still be appropriate for the competition, the message ambiguous enough to be interpreted in different ways.

Sweet dreams, applique technique. Inspiration from Yukari Takahara

In it, you can see a little girl swimming in a starry night towards a hot air balloon. Two little children with blue hair are welcoming her. It’s the stuff that dreams are made off. I am not a religious person, but in my mind these little blue -hair people can be angels or from the afterlife. It’s intolerable to imagine the small coffin of a baby put into the ground, let alone watch it. There is, I have no doubt, no greater loss than the loss a child. I couldn’t, in my mind, leave Matilda behind. I needed to know that somewhere, even fleetingly, she wouldn’t be alone. The only place I could do that was in my imagination, because reality was too absurd, too cruel, to bluntly accept it. This quilt was the only way I found to express my feelings at the time. It wasn’t cathartic, it was therapeutic, but it was necessary. A lot of love, sorrow and broken dreams went into this clumsy piece of work.

Sweet Dreams, detail. Inspiration from Yukari Takahara
Sweet Dreams, details. Inspiration from Yukari Takahara

This is how I came to believe that I could express myself into my craft. It needn’t be an open message; it needn’t have an obvious reason. I could use pictures to tell a story, to depict a moment, to draw attention. I decided that applique was a good medium for me. I wanted to learn more about it and master the technique better. The next step, naturally, was to google a course nearby – and that’s how I came across the Creative stitch courses, held by the Women’s institute, in Suffolk. I registered for the Creative patchwork and Quilting course, and under the wonderful guidance of Diane Tompkins, went on to learn more than I expected to learn. The course covered design work on shape and line, colour and texture, architecture and urbanisation, but also dipped into different ethnicities sewing techniques and compositions as well as traditional British techniques.

There I learned that my limitations could be creative triggers: when something looked impossible, I had to find a new way to represent what I had in mind. The shared lessons and ingenuity of my co-learners opened horizons I hadn’t considered before. I thoroughly enjoyed the following two years which were an incredible source of inspiration.