Sunday 23 June 2013

The Anniversary Quilt: Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the University of Chester

Fiona Roberts, the Alumni and Development Manager at the University of Chester, recently gathered together a group of volunteers to discuss the possibility of working together to create a quilt. She explained:

“In 2014, the University of Chester will be celebrating its 175th anniversary, which makes it one of the longest established higher education institutions in the country.  There will be a calendar of events throughout the year, welcoming many alumni to return to their alma mater.  These will range from a service in Chester Cathedral, to sports tournaments to balls with music and fireworks: something for everyone, reflecting the diversity of our students over the years.

However, parties and performances will pass and it has been acknowledged that a more lasting testament to the University is required: something which can be seen for many years ahead. 

The concept of a quilted commemorative wall hanging was suggested and approved, so I invited staff and students interested in quilting to get together and pool ideas.  An informal group was formed in April 2013, planning to create a commemorative quilt depicting aspects of the institution and influences over the 175 years.  Alumni and local quilters have also been invited, and it is anticipated that the quilt will comprise a variety of textiles, depending on the skills and interpretations made by the contributors. In total, there are nearly 20 people willing to give their time and talent to our project!


Each member has made their own decision on what they would like to do, and how they wish to interpret the theme.  Some are focusing on campus buildings or activities, others on the city and other local influencing factors.  There are few rules, though everyone needs to produce a block which measures 14 inches when completed!  The quilt will feature the coat of arms in the centre, meaning there must be an odd number of blocks. 

The crest is a very detailed image, and will therefore be represented in cross-stitch.  The sashing and posts will be decided when the blocks have been assembled, but everyone agreed that they would like to incorporate the University colours, black, red and white.

The project is scheduled to be completed by June 2014 and the quilt will be exhibited at the various campuses of the University of Chester during the anniversary year (2014-15).  When taking into account interpretation, and wanting visitors to enjoy our efforts, each contributor will be invited to write a short passage about their design – why they chose it, how they designed and stitched it which will be accompanied by a photograph of their block. We envisage a little booklet to accompany the quilt, sharing what we have created and the journey that we took to achieve our goal.”

Fiona gave everyone an idea of the challenges ahead as she showed the work she’d done on a patchwork quilt, explaining how the design had developed and indicating some of the difficulties of getting the dimensions right!
Some members of the quilting group explain what they have chosen to sew, and why:
Felicity Davies:  Briefly, the story of my block choice – I originally chose the River Dee because it is an iconic part of Chester and I felt it would provide a good subject for a panel, but I also wanted to include something that would represent the department within which I work, which is Careers and Employability.

As I drew out my design sketch, using the Old Dee Bridge as a design element, I realised that the bridge symbolises how the Careers and Employability department is like a bridge in the way it helps students to cross over from studying to employment.

Felicity felt inspired to begin work immediately with the following result:

Amy Jones:  I plan to design a square based on the Amber ‘Peace’ cross which was designed by one of our alumni, Frederick Starkey. I published a story in the first edition of The Cestrian that I worked on, called ‘The amber cross: a peaceful reminder’ so I know all about its history. I also think it ties in nicely within my role within the University, as I deal with alumni and alumni stories daily.

I wanted to incorporate flowers into my design as many of the alumni that I speak to, always recall how well the gardens and grounds were maintained on campus. I’ve never done any sewing or quilting before, as my crafting interests lie within card making and scrapbooking, so I’ve no idea how it will pan out! I’ve bought myself a sewing machine and I have some scraps of material…I just need some thread and I can get started!

Liz Johnson:   Karen Boyle and I spent several lunchtimes putting ideas together around the Warrington campus and Warrington the town. We came up with lots of ideas; then tried to sketch mock-ups of the ones we thought would have the most visual impact. As the Warrington Wolves train on the campus (literally outside my window) we decided their emblem would make a good strong square with primrose and blue as the main colours.

We talked about making the block as a quilt but decided that cross-stitch would make a clearer image. I had been to see the Lewis Carroll windows at Daresbury Church a few weekends ago, and that also used lots of blue and yellow in the designs. One of the ideas we had was to use silk painting for one of the squares. We thought the stained glass would work really well as a silk square and so we have incorporated three of the Alice in Wonderland figures into the block.
Wendy Fiander:   I am currently thinking about the designs for 2 squares for the quilt – whether I manage to produce 2, or even 1, remains to be seen, of course.  The themes of these squares are sustainability and international, both of which seem to me to be important areas of growth and development for the University at the moment – so these squares are recording features which have prominence now, rather than historically, so that trends in these areas can be followed in the future from as they have been portrayed at this point in time.

I have been involved in several initiatives to contribute to the sustainability agenda for the University, notably the managed printing strategy, videoconferencing, power saving for computers and the Green Impact Scheme, so have an interest and some insight into activity in the area.  I don’t want my design to just be a collection of generic logos, but would like it to reflect the actual work being done at Chester, which is proving a challenge.  I think the design will develop further, am keen to welcome feedback and good ideas from other people and will, of course, liaise closely with the University Sustainability Manager to ensure that the current activity is portrayed correctly.

The international square seemed quite an easy concept to work with, and a fairly obvious design to do, which was its attraction to me.  I consulted with the Dean of the International Office to ensure that our ideas aligned, and will continue to do so over the work on the square.  I have experimented with light sensitive fabric to see if this would be a way of getting a world and UK outline onto fabric as the basis for the design, but have now decided to purchase fabric which is already printed with the world map in the correct scale to fit on the square and embellish this with detail about the University partnerships and other connections worldwide.

Deborah Wynne is charting the progress of the quilt and will post updates as the story develops....

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