NZ Quilt Symposium - The Comfort of Stitch

The Comfort of Stitch, by Lee-Ann Newton entered into the NZ National Quilt Symposium 2013 Amateur Art Quilt Category.................WON Best Non Traditional Quilt!

Totally thrilled and as a result thought I should resurrect an old blog.....

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Today just found out it won Viewers choice also! Not bad for a $5 charity shop find and perhaps means I can justify my op shopping to my husband??

Thanks to Horn Cabinets and Wright Fabrics for my fabulous prizes and to everyone for their viewers votes- very humbling!

There seemed quite  bit of interest in the story behind my quilt ( I was told the white gloved ladies were constantly turning the quilt over so people could read the story) so I have posted the story that I attached as a quilt label here:


I purchased this plain cream and ‘strangely’ appliqued quilt top in a hospice charity shop. I was looking for some drop sheets for a bathroom painting job when I saw this quilt top I thought it cried out to be used as a textural canvas for a whole painted cloth art quilt.

As this was a hospice charity shop I wondered if someone had made this while they had a terminal illness? I reflected on how the simple act of stitch gives comfort to many……..for example: 

The elderly who love to stitch or need to keep busy, even those with arthritic hands, hands that seem to remember how to stitch even when the body or mind fails them. The distraction stitch gives to those who are grieving, lonely, living alone, suffering depression or needing a change in pace to slow down. The joy of getting together with others who share the same craft such as in guilds and stitching groups.

Some people make livings from handicrafts, while others just share and teach their skills.

We make functional objects like quilts as objects of comfort to envelop new babies, family friends, and even the dearly departed. We make things to pass on as heirlooms or we pass on our skills to others, like the grandmother who teaches her grandchild to knit, stitch or weave. All of this becomes an act of comfort.

Many women (and some men) can be found giving comfort to those more unfortunate: making quilts or handicrafts for sick children and neonatal babies in hospitals, overseas orphaned children, disaster victims and terminal patients. Some women teach small groups of women in third world countries— those who are widowed, ill, disabled, affected by discrimination of having HIV, refugees, unmarried mothers etc and teach them quilt and crafts to become self sufficient and have a way to earn incomes. They teach women in prisons the art of quilting, giving them something to work towards - showing them a  long term task begins with a simple singular stitch and giving them something to enjoy for themselves and be proud of. In turn they can give some comfort to a loved one on the outside with a gift of a quilt.

 Quilts give comfort to sparse homes of refugee immigrants or safely caress frightened and battered souls in women refugees. Busy hands don’t allow anyone to dwell on the unimportant or harder things in life, they are busy stitching for the comfort of others.

Before applying paint I too needed a level of comfort on the provenance of my blank quilt canvas. The kind ladies at my Quilt Group pointed me towards Indonesia. Was my story of a discarded heirloom or the act of stitch being a healing or medicinal distraction fading?

I found out that my quilt top was Hmong Applique (pronounced Mung and meaning free). I understand understand the Hmong were a mountain tribe from China, displaced around the mid 1800’s who then sought a free land of their own. They ended up in many countries like Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Many spent life in refugee camps in Thailand when they became supporters of the US during the Vietnam war. The Hmong produce highly narrative work commonly called story cloth and the type of applique on my quilt is called Pa nDau or Paj ntaub, meaning flower cloth. This type of intricate reverse applique apparently takes years to master. Both types of handiwork allow the Hmong to retain and pass down their identity and traditions through generations. I thought about how the Hmong’s quilting craft gave them the ability, when displaced from their land, to easily transport and keep alive their traditions and identity, and indeed earn an income from it — both comforting factors.

The two central whorl patterns on this quilt are commonly called elephant's foot and symbolise family. In times of need or trouble we often seek out family for comfort. The whorls also represent for me, a koru shape, meaning new life or rebirth. At this stage I felt it was important for me to rebirth this discarded quilt top, to tell a story about the simple act of stitch giving comfort. I thought this would honour the original creator of the quilt top.


 It has given me comfort to produce it. At the time of painting it I was due to have my second child and it made me slow down, be creative and take things easy. Since my son’s birth it has given me something other than nappies, nursing and all that neediness that babies and toddlers have for their mother.

I paint intuitively– directly onto canvas/fabric to impart my interpretation of things. I wanted a triangle composition of items with surrounding all came together item by item really - some things didn't work and were painted over! An hour a week is all I had with two small children—it took well over a year to paint and quilt.

I wanted to pay homage to the original maker and the cream quilt, even though the quilt itself was solely for a textured background to my wholecloth painted quilt, but the maker’s elements have inspired my story. There is a small patch of cream cloth  in the right of the quilt. I also have not squared/blocked my quilt. It was not square when I started and I thought about how my quilting could bring “it in” but felt the history of the cloth needed to remain so left as is when binding.


There is a range of symbolic imagery on this quilt other than sewing related paraphernalia, like Minerva’s spider (the animal for the Goddess of Craft), circles, stars, butterflies etc that represent things like hope, future, faith, eternity, life cycles and karma and quilting  designs to represent energy and creativity bubbles. I wanted to inject some fun, vibrancy and a lot of creativity that I think sewing and stitch brings into our lives.


However for me a picture is like poem without words, this is only my story behind my creation of “the comfort of stitch’. The viewer may see a whole new story and symbolism I had not intended or foreseen...threads important to them that will weave a story close to theirs hearts and minds.

Lee-Ann Newton 2012 /2013