Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Mother's Heart

Each quilt we make has a story; who it is for, the choice of colour, design and other creative influences.  When I started this project I had no idea how it would turn out.  It’s not a stunning quilt or one with the “wow” factor.  Its formation became a journey for me both emotionally and creatively.
It started off with the Theme of Pinestream Quilting club’s upcoming exhibition (Expressions Art Gallery in Upper Hutt New Zealand) which is warmth.  The challenge theme is Women in WW1, both at home and abroad.

I spent a lot of time reading letters (available on line) written by soldiers to their families during WW1 (both NZ and Australian).  One wrote about having his 21st in the trenches, others wrote about mischief they would get up to when on leave and finally the handwritten telegram their families received advising them of their son’s death.  I read these with tears in my eyes.  My son had just turned 21 and it got me thinking about how much these soldiers’ mothers and families must have suffered.  They were unable to protect their sons - everything was out of their control and they felt helpless.
“Knitter Get Busy! War chest wants socks.  Appeal for 150,000 pairs.”

Sock May Day was held in 1915.  It was a call to all New Zealanders to assist with this appeal.  Each soldier was issued a new pair of socks every two weeks to prevent them from getting trench foot.  It wasn’t only socks, balaclavas, scarves and gloves were also included in parcels to troops.

Knitting really became a world event – Grandmothers, Mothers, Sisters and Aunts of men on both sides of the trenches were knitting – all doing their part for the war.
Having never knitted a sock, I found a pattern published in the Evening Post 27th November 1915 Ladies Column. (Ref Paperspast, Ladies Column, Volume XC, Issue 129, 27 November 915, Page 11) and proceeded to knit my first sock.  I wondered how others would have fared using this pattern.  I found the language and instruction difficult to follow.

My next resource was a small instruction book for knitting soldiers socks known as “The Grey Sock” book.  This was available in Australia.  I located a copy online – Library of NSW search Manuscripts.  Very easy to follow with row by row instruction – success.  Finished my first sock.  Wow and it was huge and this changed the direction of my quilt – it could not fit into the challenge category dimensions.
I started thinking about other New Zealand heroes, men and women that have influenced us and have made an impact to our country.  They all filled their mother’s hearts (and ours) with pride, joy and sorrow – these were our heroes.    I decided to use the same sock knitting pattern to represent each of my selected heroes and given the size they needed to be male. 

My next sock represents the All Blacks (ABs).  For the 80% of my blog readers outside of New Zealand, the All Blacks are our Rugby team which is one of our main national sports.  Black and white are our national colours.  Although I have selected the ABs – I felt that this sock could really represent any of our national sporting heroes.
Sir Edmund Hillary (beige tramping sock).  He was the first man to climb to the Summit of Mt Everest.  He was a RNZAF navigator, mountaineer, explorer, and philanthropist and is featured on our (New Zealand) $5 note.

Possum Bourne – our kiwi rally hero and best known for his exploits behind the wheel of Subaru cars – thus the blue sock (Subaru colour).  Possum’s mother and my mother-in-law were childhood friends.  I guess his selection comes back to the “mother’s heart” theme of my quilt and family connection.
Sir Peter Blake – Yachting legend, Cousteau Society head of expeditions and passionate environmentalist.  Sir Peter was given a pair of red socks by his wife for good luck during the America’s Cup Challenge in 1995.  Since then New Zealanders would support him in his races by wearing red socks.  

Quilt construction and representation.
Once I knitted each sock, it was cut in half length wise and felted into the woollen background then further stitched into place during quilting.  The quilt is completely made from wool (top, batting and backing) – thus keeping with the theme of “warmth”.

The ripples of the quilting depict the challenges of our heroes:
WW1 soldiers (ANZACS) – the sands of Egypt and Turkey

All Blacks (ABs) – the rugged sports fields

Sir Edmund Hillary – the rocky terrain of the mountains

Possum Bourne – speed

Sir Peter Blake – the ocean waves.

 I have embroidered this Canadian chant into my quilt which was popular in NZ (source  It has been embroidered lightly so the viewer needs to move close to the quilt to read it thus drawing into the emotion.

Knitting, Knitting, Knitting with a Prayer in every row,

That the ones they hold in their hearts so dear

May be guarded as they go.

 The stars in the top left corner represent the Southern Cross which appears in our southern hemisphere sky and is featured on the New Zealand flag.  They are coloured yellow to represent the yellow stars painted on Possum Bourne’s Subaru’s.
Felted NZ (top right corner) – Silverfern on the South Island and Koru on the North Island – these are symbols represented on the clothing of our national sports men and women.

The soldier silhouette (bottom left corner) – represents our WW1 heroes (ANZACS)
Mt Everest (bottom right corner) – Sir Edmund Hillary

A yacht – (top right corner below NZ) – Sir Peter Blake

And finally instead of binding the edge of my quilt I have blanket stitched the outside edge with a heavy embroidery thread.  This represents our mothers tucking their boys in at night knowing that they are safe.



  1. Wow Shirley, what a lovely story to the quilt making - with so much relevance to all of us at all levels. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thanks June. It was an emotional journey. I also now admire anyone who can knit matching pairs of socks. Definitely a challenge.

  2. Catching up on your blog what an amazing idea I look forward to seeing your quilt at the exhibition.


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