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Family History in an Object: Patchwork Cushion of Family Fabrics and Furnishings for the Famous


Family history is important to me. I have cherished objects which hold stories, historical events and so many memories.

Patchwork Cushion

How many of us have a box or drawer containing off-cuts from old clothes or furnishings? My mother was a seamstress and had a good stock of such things, some of which I’ve inherited. Once in a while I’ve added to them when a favourite garment has run its course or my own children have outgrown theirs. I have pieces of shot silk and intricate lace from my grandmothers.

Many enjoy creating quilts, sometimes for the first grandchild as a family heirloom. Family memories are thus preserved, handed down, in this hexagonal history.

Original Quilt

The above cushion cover was taken from a quilt made by my mother, who then recycled part of the original to replace a worn cover. Looking at the remains here, various parts reminded me of large flower-heads; I decided to unpick my favourite pattern combinations, to create a separate picture or decoration. I’ll tell you later how that panned out.

Parts of Original Quilt & 'Flower-heads'

Original pieces, including the cornflower dress and  'rag-doll' material

Original pieces, including the cornflower dress and 'rag-doll' material

Jade Green for a long halter-neck Dress & bright orange flowers for '70s curtains!

Jade Green for a long halter-neck Dress & bright orange flowers for '70s curtains!

4 of the 'flower-heads'

4 of the 'flower-heads'


For me, several of these small pieces instantly recall dresses I had in my teens and early twenties, all of which my Mum made for me, often without a pattern, just conjured up from her expertise and imagination. By association, my mind’s eye transports me back in time to people and events. Even the sound of my sewing machine reminds me of sitting by while she worked. At one stage, she had a treadle machine which was marvellous!

There’s a cornflower pattern from my bridesmaid’s dress, for my then sister-in-law’s wedding. She loved cornflowers and so did I. I time-travel to that day and the location, along with all sorts of memories of my lovely sister-in-law, whom I still see from time to time.

A bright turquoise geometric pattern (see top picture) came from an A-line mini-dress which I wore until it literally fell apart; another of Mum’s creations.

One hexagon of denim-blue with rag-dolls in blue and red was from a top I had as a child. Then a bright jade green reminds me of a long halter-neck ball gown which Mum made for a going-down ball at college. How I loved that dress and it caught a few eyes!

Mum also had some pretty clothes of soft pastels and great colour combinations. She had a good eye for blends and compilations of design. I enjoyed shopping with her as we had similar tastes and any day out was a day of fun and giggles.

Material Remnants

Broderie Anglaise, Shot Silk, Linen & Lace

Broderie Anglaise, Shot Silk, Linen & Lace

Treadle Sewing Machine

Treadle Machine just like my mother's

Treadle Machine just like my mother's


Not only did Mum make curtains and covers for our sofas and chairs at home, but she also had a job at an interior designer’s in Brighton. They made bespoke interiors for the rich and famous.

Laurence Olivier had a flat on Brighton seafront, high above Marine Parade overlooking the sea. My Mum’s handiwork graced his rooms and windows.

Dora Bryan, an actress with a distinctive voice, also had a terrace house there and she too commissioned custom-made drapes and decorations.

Mum was allowed to keep some of the offcuts for use at home, so the thicker, shinier pieces in the quilt were part of that connection to the high life! Some also remind me of my own bedroom curtains in various houses.

Full Circle

I return to the hexagonal histories! It took a while to decide how to use the ‘flowers’ I mentioned above. It’s unusual for me to sew, having inherited none of my Mum’s talents on that score, but my latest project was to sew two of those memory flowers, both chosen by my (half-)sister, onto some material so that she now has a cushion cover to remind her of my mother. We share our father but she and my Mum were always close. We all had fantastic holiday times together; she and I still see each other often and always have fun. Now she will have a permanent reminder of my Mum, in her home.

From the Past to the Future

These hexagonal glimpses into choices of fabric and colours not only remind us of people, events and old times, but they serve as a conversation piece, a history lesson for children and grandchildren, bringing that history to life. We recall the faces, names, places and events where these were worn or used. Who were the characters? What did they look like? Where were they? What did they do? What sort of house did they live in? How were they important to you and me?

They can help to teach colour combinations, types of fabric used at certain times or for particular styles. Which colours do you prefer? Which 'flowers' appeal to you? In fact, they are a catalyst for a myriad of discussions.

Little pieces of cloth become a visual representation of family as well as national history. Visual stimulus can work so well; it's great fun and might even kick-start an interest in genealogy or history in general.

Objects large and small, cloth, metal, china or wood, ages old or more recent, all of them can evoke faces, times, events and emotions. We don’t forget easily but these reminders bring us closer, rekindle the thoughts and feelings, make us smile or make us cry, or both. Nostalgia and sentimentality perhaps, but I see nothing wrong with that. If we don’t cherish our objects and through them our memories, then how do we keep our history alive, our stories to pass down to the young ones, to fire their imaginations and awaken their sense of family, of heritage, of far-off stories, all of which are a part of who they are and who they will become.

What about you?

Do you have remnants in a box? Do you use them? What kind of memories do they evoke and have you passed those down to any of your family?

It's worth a rummage in the attic, or a sort out through the drawers, just to see what gems you have to represent your family history in fabric.

© 2021 Ann Carr


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 12, 2021:

Hello Flourish! Glad you enjoyed this. Yes, the added memories make it so precious, rather than something bought off the shelf.

Great that you've got your mother's treadle. I wish I knew what my Mum did with hers but I never will....

Lovely to see you today! Keep safe and well.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 12, 2021:

Thank you Mary. I know lots of people who have at least a few remnants but I don't know many who do something with them. For me, it has to be the right time and the right mood!

Glad to have jogged your memory. Sounds like your mother was a very clever lady too. Stay safe.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 12, 2021:

Hello Ruby! How lovely to have all those memories too. I always admire anyone who's good at any craft but sewing adds a touch of beauty too. I'm glad this brought back some memories for you. Thanks for popping by.

Take care.


FlourishAnyway from USA on January 12, 2021:

I love what you've done with your fabric scraps. It's so much more meaningful when the fabric evokes memories because it's from clothes you used to wear, etc. I have that same sewing machine from my great grandmother!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 11, 2021:

I always have remnants. I can't seem to get rid of them. I remembered the blankets my mother made from those remnants. Nothing remained now but the know-how of making it. The cushions were a nice way of upcycling your old remnants.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on January 11, 2021:

Ann. your article brought back memories of my mother's ability to sew anything. She made beautiful dresses, overalls for my brothers, coats, plus beautiful needlework. I must admit I can't sew, although I took 2 years of home economics in high school. My sisters all could sew really well too. I treasure some needlework done by my sister Bea.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 11, 2021:

Thanks, Jo! Glad you have similar memories, and also of the treadle machine. I think Mum and I used to keep just about everything, just in case!

Good to see you here.


Jo Miller from Tennessee on January 11, 2021:

Lovely article, Ann. I have many memories of my mom sewing for me and my sisters, but don't have remnants of those clothes--just the memories and some photos. She used a treadle machine also, and kept even after she purchased her electric machine.

I have boxes of remnants from my sewing, but none from my clothing.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 11, 2021:

Thank you, Lora. It's great that you took up needlepoint, having your grandmother's tablecloths and pillow cases. It's a dying art as decorations are done by machines these days, though we can't buy the special designs and work that make the memories.

I appreciate your support, Lora, and thanks for the compliment.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 11, 2021:

Linda: I'm glad I've prompted you to go through your Mum's sewing stuff. Maybe you'll be inspired to create something too!

Thanks for reading and commenting.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 11, 2021:

Hi John! Thanks for your generous comments. It's great that your wife is so clever and has a treadle too. An electric one must save a lot of pedalling! I guess it's good exercise, though as one gets older it's not so easy to move the legs at speed.

Yes, she was part of a great team in a small shop and Brighton is only 50 miles south of London so has always been a place popular with the stars.

Thanks for popping by and for your valuable input, as always.


Lora Hollings on January 10, 2021:

Such lovely memories you beautifully express in your article, Ann. How nice it is that you have these treasures made from fabric that you can give and share with your family. Each one bringing back a memory that you have growing up and spent with your loved ones. I inherited some beautiful table cloths and pillow cases that were all embroidered by my grandmother and I only use them for very special occasions. It encouraged me to learn to do needlepoint. I learned how to do french knots and the whipped spider stitch which can be pretty tricky but I finally mastered it. Although I don't have much time to do it, I find it challenging yet relaxing too. I must have inherited her love of embroidering. Your mother must have been a very creative and outstanding seamstress. And what a wonderful gift you made for your sister! Thanks for sharing.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 10, 2021:

Thank you for sharing your lovely memories, Ann. My mother loved sewing as well. I intend to go through her fabric and sewing kits now that I've read your article.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 10, 2021:

What wonderful memories all these pieces of fabric retain, Ann. My wife is a quilter and fibre artist we have a lot of fabric pieces (all sorted according colours or patterns.) she also has an old Singer treadle sewing machine that can be used manually but also has been converted so it can be used electrically as well. It was a good that you reused some of the fabric from the quilt to make a cushion.

Your mother must have been a super talented seamstress to have her creations grace the homes of such famous people.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Hello Denise! I loved that Singer treadle of my mother's. It fascinated me to see how she regulated the flow by treading the platform. I have no idea what happened to it, otherwise I would have kept it.

You're clever to have sewn all your clothes and even underwear!

It's great to read about everyone's memories.

Thanks for your comments and input, Denise.


Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 10, 2021:

My grandmother used to have a treadle machine like that. I wish I could have inherited it. My first electric sewing machine (at the age of 12) was my grandmother's cast-off Singer when she wanted a newer one with the zig-zag attachments. Those machines were made to last back in the day. I still do some sewing, but I used to sew all our clothes, quilts, and even underwear. Thanks for this walk down memory lane.



Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Hello, Pamela!

Yes, she was skilled. I was in awe of the speed with which she created all those things. My friends were quite in awe of my dresses that she made. She did make some for others in the family too.

Great that you made your own when you were younger. It's lovely to choose particular colours and patterns isn't it? Glad I've rekindled some memories for you.

Keep safe and well!


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Thank you, Dora, for your valued input.

It is a great connection, being able to use some of the old quilt for the new cushion. I've had them all for ages but only just found a purpose for them - funny how time makes its own decisions!

I hope all's well with you.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Thanks, Sha! Yes, it's great that Mum kept all these bits and pieces. Nothing went to waste. I'm just using up the old ones and then my daughter can use the more recent ones in due course.

So many used to make their own clothes, didn't they? It was because clothes were much more expensive then. Now, it's the other way round. Buying material for one's own sewing is really expensive here. Shame, as it doesn't encourage doing one's own thing.

Mum was very proud, in her own unassuming way. And rightly so, I think. Yes, I hope any of the things I make are handed down too, for as long as they remain intact! I also made some 'worry' dolls for the girls out of some of the hexagons. They love them, as they helped make them too.

I greatly appreciate your comments and your support, Sha.

Keep safe and well.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Ah yes, Linda, I have a hexagonal piece of cardboard that she used as a template. I'd forgotten about that! Thanks.


Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 10, 2021:

Your mother was obviously a very skilled seamstress, Ann. I love anything that reminds me of happy times. I actually made my own clothes when I was younger.

I got rid of so much that I couldn't make anything like your described. I really like the flower design, and the pillow is beautiful.

This is a wonderful article that bings back memories of things my mother sewed for us when we were young. I remember my grandmother's treadle sewing machine.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 10, 2021:

I remember the old Singer machine. Thanks for sharing your nostalgia arriving from the sight of these old but cherished patchwork cushions. Being able to re-use even two patches from the old cushions probably provides a special connection to the past.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on January 10, 2021:

Ann the EPP method uses cardboard (or now plastic shapes). I will write to you and send a pattern or two for you.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 10, 2021:

Ann, your cushion covers are so pretty! I'm in awe that you actually have fabric from clothing you wore decades ago. Wow!

My mom made all our clothes when we were little. Curtains, too. I never did take an interest in sewing, though. Mom gave it up once she and my dad made enough money to buy what we needed from the stores.

It's so cool that your mom's creations graced the rooms of Laurence Olivier and Dora Bryan. She must have been so proud and honored!

Creating something new from scraps of the past is a wonderful way to hand down a family's legacy. They are sure to be treasured pieces for generations to come.

Well done, my friend!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Hello, Audrey! Thank you for your kind comments.

I think quilting was the thing to do in the 'olden days', more as a necessity than anything else, to keep everyone warm! These days, it's regarded more as a 'craft' I suppose.

Yes, I am very lucky to have the memories handed down in such a way.

You keep safe and well too.


Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on January 10, 2021:

My grandmother made quilts like this. I like the hexagon shape and variety of patterns and colors. Your mum was very talented with sewing. So much history lives within these quilts...stories to tell. Wonderful!

Thank you, Ann, for sharing this beautiful article. Lucky you, to grow up with these memories.

Stay safe..

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Hi Linda! Never heard of English Paper Piecing, though now you say that I do remember her using tissue paper for something - is that what you mean? Can you let me know exactly what that technique is, please? I just cut out chunks of her quilt to make the flowers but I think when actually quilting she used tissue paper to pad things out - is that it?

Yes, such little things can hold so much magic!

Thank you, I enjoy my writing but I know my own shortcomings! But we can't be good at everything which is as it should be.

Lovely to hear from you, as always. Thanks, Linda.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Glad to have inspired you, Chitrangada. It's sounds as though you have learnt much from your mother. My mother didn't press her expertise upon me, and now I'm ashamed I didn't learn more from her, though I did watch a lot and can remember some techniques which I now try to imitate, though sadly not to her standard!

I'm sure you will come up with something outstanding - I hope we hear about it in an article!

I appreciate your support.


Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on January 10, 2021:

What lovely memories--isnt it amazing (and wonderful) how so much of life can be stored, like a microchip, in just a 3x5 inch recipe card, a bar of music, or a scrap of wool?

I love English Paper Piecing (that's the technique your mom used to make those flowers). I hope someday to make a quilt of them.

Thank you for sharing, and don't downplay your own talent. You are a gifted story teller.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 10, 2021:

Great article, which gave me nostalgic feelings. I have learnt stitching, knitting, crochet, coooking and so many skills from my mother. A multi talented lady and a perfectionist, I feel good when my family says that I am like her. Though, I know I am not as good as her.

Your cushions and patchwork is amazing. I have many old fabric cuttings, remaining wool etc. Now, I know what I have to do after reading your wonderful article.

Thank you for sharing.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

That's exactly what I love to hear about, Peggy. I too have buttons in tins and boxes, many of which I remember from several garments and some have a naval or army connection. Strange, isn't it, how such seemingly insignificant little objects can mean so much?

Thank you for popping in today, Peggy; it's great to see you and listen to your contribution. I hope you're keeping safe and well.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

I'm glad this jogged your memory, bill. I was hoping it might make a few people have a look in their lofts! I like to spark some activity in people's lives!

Family history is so important to me and, yes, it does bring me comfort. I feel the connection with so many of them. I'm lucky to have a load of photos that my Dad took and also collected from his parents and other family members, and also a sister who has delved into the ancestry and come up with all sorts of things. I think we make a good team, she and I. The best thing of all is that we both have granddaughters who are fascinated by it too.

Glad to have brought back a few memories. A happy Sunday to you too, bill.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Thank you, Brenda, for your lovely words. Yes, she was very loving - quiet and unassuming but great fun and always busy with whatever skill she was drawn to at the time, apart from some work too.

My grandchildren are already interested in family history so I'm thrilled about that.

I'm so glad you enjoyed this.


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 10, 2021:

What wonderful memories you have of dresses you wore on special occasions, curtains in windows, etc. I loved reading this! My grandmother had that sewing talent and could make just about anything after viewing it in a store. She made not only dresses and coats, but also did needlepoint and more. I have boxes of buttons that she saved, and I still have threads of various shades on wooden spools. I had some pillows made from some of her needlepoint, and I have used buttons to embellish a soft fabric Christmas tree. When my mother was alive, she remembered buttons worn on different pieces of attire, so it brought back happy memories for her. It does so now for me just knowing the history.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 10, 2021:

You reminded me, I do think we have a container full of remnants up in the attic. I had forgotten we had them until this article. For sure, growing up, I remember the large box in the spare bedroom, which Mom always went to for sewing jobs. Great memory, that, and I thank you for it.

I love your love of family history, and the fact you have kept so much of it, reused it, and will for sure pass it all on. That kind of connection with the past brings me comfort, as I'm sure it does for you.

Lovely article, my friend. Thank you for sharing, and Happy Sunday to you.


BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 10, 2021:


This is a wonderful article. I think it is great that you have such good memories of your mother.

The way she made handmade dresses just for you..never needing to worry if some other gal would be wearing the same dress is awesome.

Your mother sounds like she was truly loving & talented.

My mother has a great heart...but sewing was never her thing. She can't sew a button so I am left on my own for this one.

I do dabble with hems & buttons but all by hand.

Quilting has always appealed to me.

Maybe someday I will hive it a try.

I am glad you have these quilts to pass down in generations.

It will keep the conversation going.

Thanks for sharing.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Thank you, Liz, for your great comment. Yes, Olivier was quite a heart-throb in his time, I think.

My Mum was brilliant with anything to do with fabric, as well as being able to draw and paint and, most of all, she was a talented pianist. I do the drawing and writing but that's it!

I hope the new year is treating you well.


Liz Westwood from UK on January 10, 2021:

This is a fascinating article. It's a lovely idea to be able to keep a fabric history of family and memories like this. Laurence Olivier was a big star of stage and screen in his time and I recall Dora Bryan too. Your mother must have been very talented.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Thank you, manatita, for your lovely comment. How kind of you. I know what you mean about some of the current hubs. I try to keep to the everyday and hopeful side of life.

I've no doubt your spiritual documents are worth a spiritual fortune, for you and for others.

Yes, life is good. All the best to you, in peace.


manatita44 from london on January 10, 2021:

There are several reasons why I should adore and welcome your article: The colour makes me wish that my sitting room looks like that, even once in my life. Haha. Of course you express yourself exquisitely and it's a breath of fresh air from all these untidy Hubs coming in thick and fast these days via Religion and Philosophy.

I already feel that your mom was a super-talented woman and she reminds me of my mother's sister, who was perhaps the best seamstress I ever knew. She did all sorts of wedding dresses for all kinds of people. Like your mom, she was creative and innovative too.

I have nothing here of note. Some old coins, perhaps. I already gave my wedding ring to my daughter. That's about it. Poor me, yet with a wealth of spiritual documents.

Sending you and family love and after all, you're not so far away. We are at one in our current endeavours to be optimistic amidst challenges and life is good. Peace.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on January 10, 2021:

Thank you, Louise, for reading and for your comment. I've never attempted quilting myself - I just left it all to Mum! Sadly, she died in 2008 so there will be no more. However, one of my daughters has inherited her practicality and ability to 'craft' so maybe she'll do one someday! I'm glad you like the cushion.


Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on January 10, 2021:

I'm afraid quilting is something I'm not very good at lol, but a friend of mine has made some lovely quilts. It's good that you've inherited some of your mothers' material. I do love the cushion.

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