Six years ago I bought a sewing machine with no idea what I was going to do with it. I was utterly lost. A few months previously my beautiful daughter had taken her own life at 16 .How do you live after that? How do you find meaning or hope in anything? My friend took me to a local sewing machine shop and informed me that taking up sewing would give me something to do while I tried to make sense of everything and I blindly went along with it. She was right, I sat in my craft room and made clothes, quilts, bags, blinds ; with Radio 4 on in the background I escaped into a little world of my own and found some peace. I can never get over losing Elspeth and nor do I want to but in that little sanctuary now crammed with fabric, several sewing machines and piles of "stuff", I get to relax.
Now here I am six years on putting together the squares for the * Speak Their Name - Greater Manchester Suicide Memorial Quilt , . We began the project in March whilst the country was in lockdown wondering if anyone would take part. A project we thought would teach people those same skills I learnt to help me through the darkest times but also bring together families bereaved by suicide in mutual support aiming to create something beautiful to treasure, to create understanding .Would we have enough squares for a cushion let alone a quilt??
We set up a Facebook Group to share ideas and my husband filmed me making workshops like a somewhat neurotic Valerie Singleton. A few people joined the group, I continued to panic about a quilt whilst the nation were bulk buying toilet roll and a pandemic was in full force. This was not how I had things planned.
Slowly people started chatting in the group, sharing things they were making, posting pictures of their squares and telling stories of their mums, brothers, children, dads, friends all lost to suicide. We became a little army of stitchers, encouraging each other and exchanging ideas, friendships began to form and I began to think this could be larger than a cushion cover.
The quilt will be ready for September 10th which is World Suicide Awareness Day. We have an incredible 78 people taking part in the project. Some are seasoned crafters, some have never sewn a button on before. Each square is totally different but each square tells a story of someone who is loved and has left a huge hole in someone's life, some were children some grandparents. There is beautiful intricate embroidery, painting, collage, bright jewelled colours, pieces of clothing, momentos, precious memories. What is most special is that every inch is made from pure love.
Over the last couple of weeks people are sharing their experiences of taking part in the project and what is clear is that the act of sitting down and doing some quiet contemplative stitching has helped so many people process thoughts and soothe anxiety. For some it has allowed conversations to start and for many it is their first time to engage with other people who have lost someone to suicide. The project is coming to an end but the group will keep going and keep crafting for those who want to. It has been a huge honour to be part of this incredible group of stitchers and although the final sewing together is a little bit scary, it has been an incredible journey. Seeing each square and watching the individual pieces develop really does take my breath away.
Now is the coming together, the interlocking of threads and the joining of all our stories. We are all bereaved by suicide and we all carry this incredible love. Sometimes it is so difficult to express in words but I do believe the Speak Their Name Quilt will carry this message in a far more powerful way. Maybe it will be a compass of where we are and how together we found some hope on a difficult path
*The Speak Their Name Greater Manchester Suicide Memorial Quilt was a Community Arts Project commissioned by Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership to provide support for people across the region bereaved by suicide