Carole Day

What Next?


Mending the Coverlet

Some things cannot be mended. Some can.

When my sister’s husband, Nick, died following a motorcycle accident, a kind of chaotic miasma descended on our family. It felt like a beautiful tapestry unravelling, something that before was firmly knit and strong was now dishevelled and broken.

It seems that all my life I have been trying to mend what was broken, trying to find what was lost.

I was born in my grandparents’ house in Teddington. I lived there with my mother, father and older brother, Michael, in a little flat off the first floor landing.

My mother often told me the story of how upset she was when Michael drew all over her new dressing table with one of her bright red lipsticks. Her grandmother, my great- grandmother, told her, “Doreen, don’t fret over this, worse things will happen in your life.” Of course, she was right.

When my brother, Michael, was seven and I was three, we both caught the measles. Michael died in hospital from a rare complication, bacterial Meningitis, which infected his brain. I survived, with slightly impaired vision. The night before his death my mother’s pearl necklace broke, and the beads scattered all over the floor of my grandmother’s kitchen. My mother never wore pearls again. Years later, a pearl necklace I was wearing broke at a party; the beads rolled away, lost in the floor-boards, and I could not retrieve them. The next day my boyfriend left me – I never wore pearls again.

Some things cannot be mended, but some can.

When my sister, Gill, asked me if I could repair her coverlet, of course, I did not hesitate to take the opportunity to mend something that was broken. My grandmother made the coverlet, she was always making things. In her house in Teddington the back room was always filled with huge bell jars of fruit, vegetables, pickles and jams. In a small room off the stairs to the basement was the sewing area, full of scraps of fabric, cottons, buttons, lace and sewing equipment; it was a treasure trove that I inherited as part of my mind- set without really knowing it.

My grandmother gave the coverlet to my mother, I remember it as a child, and my mother passed it on to my sister, Gill. Gill and her husband, Nick, both artists, had used the coverlet well; paint stains were splattered all over it, and several sections were frayed or corroded. I considered the best way to renovate this piece that represented the heritage of my family and the continuity of generations. In my mind this was my chance to mend the damage and to bind all of us together again across the ages.

I wanted to rejuvenate the piece but also preserve what my grandmother had created and, at the same time, reveal the process she had used.

Mending the coverlet gave me more pleasure than I could have imagined and gave me more opportunity for reflection than I had anticipated.

As I worked I uncovered the tacking stitches my grandmother had made, securing the underlying quilted sections together. To see these stiches and the material she had chosen to create the internal padding gave me deep pleasure. I felt I could see her mind working, I could see her expertise, intelligence, judgement and artistry in making, which, I think, our whole family has inherited. The way she had juxtaposed the different types and designs of the material showed her artistic flair as well as her craftsmanship.

In my work I sought to reveal the work of my grandmother and the creative choices she had made. At the same time I endeavoured to complement what she had designed with my own creativity. In renovating this composite piece I felt I was drawing together four generations in an expression of our love, skill and creativity.

Some things cannot be mended, but some can.