When Sian Nunn lost two of her closest friends, she wanted their children to each have a very special reminder of their mum – something they could cuddle that was full of memories.
“I wanted to give them a tangible reminder,” says Sian, who was inspired to make the memory quilts now treasured by her friend Catherine’s two children, Bevis and Hannah, and pal Geri’s boys, Olly and Henry.
##A patchwork of memories
With the help of other friends, neighbours and the families and after longs days and nights sewing, Sian gifted each child a memory quilt made up of patchwork squares inspired by their favourite colours, hobbies and special memories of their mum.
The beautiful patchwork quilts
Sian, Geri and Catherine formed a close bond when their children started the village school together.
“Catherine was a wonderful mother, excellent company and we always found something to talk about, quite often the children, which brought out her wonderful smile right to the end,” says Sian, who held hands with her friend during a courageous five-year battle with ovarian cancer.
##An unforgettable friend
“She was my best friend and like a sister to me. She was a truly inspirational friend.”
When mum-of-four Sian, who is from Ledbury in Herefordshire, told friends and neighbours she was going to make quilts in Catherine’s memory, everyone who knew her donated a ‘fat quarter’ – a square of patchwork material.
“I wanted to do something for her and her friends all wanted to donate,” says Sian.
“I asked the children what their favourite colours were – although I found out when you say ‘blue and green’ you’re given so many varieties, that getting them all to go together was a challenge!”
Quite a few people came just to share memories
Sian made the quilts over many long days and nights – “it was a labour of love,” she laughs.
Although she’d always liked to sew, this was an entirely new challenge for her – and she invited friends and neighbours to join in.
“A couple of times, we set up three or four sewing machines, so anyone who wanted to help could come along,” she says.
“Not everyone was a quilter, but were able to sew a hem or a seam. Quite a few other people came just to give us moral support, or chat, share memories and made us cups of tea.”
Friends and neighbours kept the cups of tea coming
Sian also asked everyone who donated material to make Catherine’s quilts to contribute a memory that made them think of her.
She is compiling this special patchwork of memories into a book, so the children not only keep their own memories alive, but keep their mum close through other people’s memories.
“When you’re just 11, you won’t know why your mum was remembered by other people and what they thought of her,” she says, adding that the book is nearly complete.
Sian had supported hospice-worker Geri through successful treatment for breast cancer. When Catherine became ill, Geri was there for her two friends.
“She was a fantastic support for me, when I cared for Catherine during her illness,” says Sian. “All this bought me very close to these two inspirational ladies.”
Sian and her three youngest boys
Sian has had much experience caring for someone through cancer. Her husband was diagnosed with a high grade frontal lobe brain tumour. Despite an operation to remove it, they were told he was likely to only have between five and 10 years to live.
That was 20 years ago, but the treatment has had a profound effect on his memory, personality and behaviour, which makes it difficult for him to cope with family life. The couple now live separately, but Sian continues to visit and look after him.
“I lost my husband after his treatment,” she says simply. “Although he is still here physically, he is not the person I married.”
Sewing gave me space and time to think about Catherine and Geri
Sian had also supported good friend Geri through treatment for breast cancer. Then, heartbreakingly, not long after getting the all-clear, Geri was killed in a horse-riding accident.
An exhilarating ride along the beach had been among the things she’d vowed to do, to fully embrace and make the most of life.
“Geri’s death came out of the blue and took a long time to take in,” says Sian.
“Catherine's death was a release in the end, but it didn't make it any easier.”
##Making and memories
“Making the quilts for the children was very cathartic. I found the actual physical sewing gave me space and allowed me to think of Catherine and Geri, so the activity was very therapeutic,” adds Sian.
“I did at times get tearful but it felt good and a release to be doing something practical for the children.”
Geri’s quilts included some squares from clothes she wore. A favourite pair of pyjamas and a couple of blouses are among the patchwork pieces in her memory quilts that are treasured by her boys.
The four special memory quilts Sian made
“One very difficult part was opening up the suitcase Geri's clothes which her husband, Tim, had given me, to choose some to be included in the quilts,” says Sian.
“The memories of Geri wearing them and the smell of her was very powerful and probably the hardest part.
“It was also quite a wrench to part with the quilts once finished as I had put so much of myself into them.
“It was like saying goodbye to my friends, but I was very happy and comforted that they will be wrapped around the children like a hug from their mums.”
All four children treasure their memory quilts in different ways.
“Olly and Henry have used theirs all the time. When they’d come home from school, they’d wrap themselves and the dog in them in front of the TV. You can tell they are very used, but I want them to be used exactly how they want to – because they are a reminder of their mum.
“Catherine’s children are allowed to have theirs on their bed when they tidy their rooms – their dad doesn’t want them to get ruined, so they can keep them all their lives.”
In a twist of fate, making the quilts has led to a new path for Sian. Searching for a quilting frame – which helps complete the decorative top stitching that holds the quilts together – she found the local supplier was closing down due to retirement. So she bought the small business, which she now runs from home and has called Cotton Orchard.
“I blame my friends for getting me into it,” she laughs.
Daredevil Sian is set to take part in a sponsored husky sled challenge
Sian is a person who loves a challenge – in April, she’ll be journeying to the Arctic with a friend on a sponsored 250-kilometer Husky-sled trek to raise money for Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice, a charity that’s become close to their hearts.
Sian now also makes memory quilts and patchwork keepsakes for other families.
She is currently working on a project for a family who lost their dad and it’s going to include patches from some of his old shirts, to remember him by.
Sian also runs workshops to help people get started making their own memory quilts, as well as create bespoke make-at-home-kits.
What could your memories make?
If you’re inspired to make a memory quilt but unsure how to get started, you can send Sian the materials you want to use. She then makes a pattern and cuts the fabric into the right shapes, which she sends back with instructions on putting it all together.
Sian’s first memory quilts took months of work, but included the love of many people who wanted to help her create something special, warm and reassuring for four children who miss their mums.
A patchwork of memories can create something familiar to hold onto, and also something new and beautiful to treasure.