THE STORY OF THE RAFA HISTORICAL QUILT
In January 2018, a locum nurse, Shirley Stant, came to work in the Regional Medical Centre at RAF Halton. Shirley mentioned that she had a lot of fabric that she had been collecting and would like to learn how to quilt. She suggested making a quilt to raise money for the RAF Association, something that would benefit RAF personnel past and present and those still to come.
With many years of quilting experience, I offered to teach Shirley; however, after much discussion, we decided that very little of the fabric she had was appropriate to make a quilt suitable for the RAFA.
Shirley very kindly offered to fund all the fabric and materials required to make the quilt, so we set about designing it and choosing colours and fabric. By this time, the seed was well and truly sown for making a quilt for RAFA and excitement and interest was rapidly growing from members of the RMC staff who wanted to be involved so the ideas started to flow.
I had made a quilt for a charity in the past, so we based the design template on the same basic pattern theme that I had used then. We found some great fabric pictures of aircraft; however, the variety was limited so we searched the internet and found a company that were able to print pictures onto fabric. We gathered many pictures of aircraft and significant places relevant to the RAF and had them printed onto 12-inch fabric squares.
As the pictures arrived and we started to look closely at what we had, the theme emerged of making a historical quilt about the timeline of the RAF starting with the joining of the Royal Flying Corps and the Naval Air Service, right up until RAF100.
Each 12-inch square picture was sewn onto a piece of plain blue fabric, to provide continuity of colour, and a piece of muslin was then sewn on the back. Small quilting stitches were then sewn around the outline shape of the main feature of the picture to give it definition and then stuffed from the back through the muslin with wadding, to give a 3D effect; an ancient Japanese sewing process called Trapunto. This technique really bought the aircraft and pictures alive, creating much more interest and giving a very pleasing effect.
Strips of dark blue fabric were then sewn to the top and bottom of each square and then the squares were joined with long strips of the same dark blue making long rows of picture squares. These were then sewn together to complete the top layer of the quilt. The top layer was then backed with wadding and the final backing fabric was attached. Tacking the three layers together took many hours of hand sewing, a vital part of the process, to keep all three layers secure before the quilting began. Once the three layers were secure, each square was ‘quilted in the ditch’ with small stitches; a term used for stitching in all the seams to again ‘lift’ the pictures. This part of creating the quilt took many hours of dedicated stitching due to sewing through the three layers of fabric.
Every single stitch on the quilt is hand sewn!
During the course of creating the quilt, there have been many fun and happy times (with the odd bottle of wine) and easy camaraderie working on a joint project for a good cause. As the quilt evolved, changes were made involving unpicking, moving pictures to different places, replacing some pictures with ones that were more suitable and then resewing until the true story naturally flowed.
We wanted it to be perfect and meaningful in every way possible.
The Covid-19 bought its challenges as we had to stop the joint work as we could not get together to sew and more importantly, we could not sell any raffle tickets. A date had been set for the raffle draw but the event was cancelled; therefore, despite us letting a lot of people know that the draw did not take place, there are still some people who have bought tickets who may not know they still have a chance of winning it. It has been an amazing experience for all those involved in its creation at RAF Halton Medical Centre and we are extremely proud of the quilt and all that it has given to us too in the creating of it.
Needless to say in the two to three years since we started the quilt, many members of staff have left the RMC and new staff members arrived and joined the work when they could, so it has had a lot of input from many service personnel and civilian staff making it even more special.
The pandemic has given us a chance to continue to talk about the quilt and we were able to exhibit it at the RAF Halton Families Fete and we wish to continue to show it to as many people as possible in order to raise more money for a very worthy cause.
We still do not have another date for the Quilt raffle draw.
Raffle tickets are available the RMC and will continue to be sold until the date of the draw whenever that will be.