In the days before my children were born, when I longed for them so much it was palpable, I dreamt of tucking them up at night under patchwork quilts. I dreamt of sitting, propping my sewing up over my full belly, and stitching long into the night to make blankets for my babies to snuggle under. I dreamt of the safety and security they might feel sleeping under rainbows stitched together by their blissfully happy mama. Tucking them in at night and seeing their faces peeking out from behind a myriad of colours and patterns.
The reality of motherhood was, of course, somewhat different. Those early days, when my youngest was in nursery full time, and I was working all the hours to keep a roof over us, dragging myself home on the bus hoping to see her before she went to bed, and falling asleep with her under a polyester filled duvet were hard. She was four and a half before she had her rainbow quilt.
These days, life has a gentle rhythm that I’ve worked hard to carve out for us. No more do I leave the house at 7am, kissing the soft snuffling faces of my babies, returning under streetlamp glow to tired cuddles, a sink full of dishes and the hollow ache in my stomach for a life of more. Now a single, self-employed, home educating mama, it’s as hard as it ever was before, but what we have now that was always missing before, is balance. Balance, and time. A delicate balance where everyone’s needs can be met, where time inside to rest can be offset by time in the wild to reconnect with nature. Where learning happens at our own pace. We have time to follow interests and allow the inspiration of life to settle around us. Time to heal properly when we are felled by a cold, time to spend out in nature whenever we want. And for me, time to stitch. Patchwork quilts have become our bread and butter, and for me, a time for creativity and meditation. A place for me to make a difference.
When my second child was born, amidst the exhaustion of breastfeeding and that huge, life altering shift of going from a mother of one, to a mother of two, I quit my full-time job, went self-employed and rediscovered my activist shoes, tentatively stepping back in. My youngest will be six this Autumn, and I still feel, like most people I imagine, that I am not doing enough to protect the planet my girls will inherit.
But these days, I tuck my children up at night under quilts made from recycled materials – quilts I have made or gathered or that have been handed down. Quilts made from scraps of fabric that alone would be considered waste. One quilt that I made for my late mother from all the special family clothes she couldn’t bear to part with, is a favourite of my youngest daughter. She loves to hear the stories of the family members each patch represents, from my dad’s old golfing shirts, my grannie’s baking apron, my late brother’s pjs and the patches that came from the chopped off hem of my mother’s going away outfit. Connecting her with her ancestors, many of whom she never met, it’s a quilt I imagine her snuggling her babies under too.
At a time when so much of the bedding available to buy, especially for those of us who are watching our budgets, is made from plastic, I want to shine a light on the older ways of keeping cosy at night. Growing up we had sheets and blankets that layered up in the winter, long before hollow fibre quilts and polyester fleece became The Things to adorn your bed with. Blankets that could be washed and dried out on the line in the sun. Quilts made from old clothes. Quilts made from old quilts recovered for a longer life. I’d like to see a return to this simpler option for bedding that has less impact on our environment. A return to bedding that’s made from recycled materials, with blankets and quilts that support a re-use of already existing materials, could make such a difference in a world that desperately needs more circular economies not less.
Caught up in the zero-waste movement and the #fridaysforfuture tide that is turning heads and seems to be getting people to listen, finally, it feels like the balance between individual change and governmental/industry change is a little closer. Tiny steps closer, but hopeful, still. Yet until Ecocide becomes law, and both industry and government are forced to adopt “first do no harm” policies, we must continue to do what we can to make differences in our own homes and communities, showing our children as we go that there are better, kinder ways to exist on this beautiful planet. Tonight, when I kiss my girls good night and tuck their rainbow quilts around them, I will wish them sweet dreams, and send out my own hopes for ever more people around the world to awaken to the climate crisis and take their own small actions to help heal the world my children will grow old in.
Kate Stuart is a practising artist, craftswoman and writer, juggling single motherhood, home education and environmental activism. Based in the North East of England, Kate enjoys gardening, daydreaming, creating herbal remedies and stitching patchwork quilts. Kate dislikes ironing, icy Monday mornings, watching the news, and Twitter.
Follow her blog at www.thephoenixgreenstore.org