Patchwork is a traditional needlework craft, still enjoyed throughout the country. Essentially comprising sewing patches or pieces of fabric together, it can be as simple or innovative in design as you are able for. As such, it’s ideal for beginners or people with more experience who want to create something unique.
Deirdre Carroll teaches one of the few Patchwork night classes in the country. Each term at St Colmcille’s Community School, in Knocklyon, Dublin 16, she teaches three classes – on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights – for 10 weeks.
“People come in on the first Monday night and, when I show them what they will produce, their reaction is, ‘Oh, I’ll never be able to make that!’ So, there’s a great sense of satisfaction when they have produced a small quilt or cushion at the end,” says Deirdre, who claims she can help anyone to learn to do patchwork.
“I remember one woman asking me, ‘How does the thread stick to the needle?’ I had to show her the hole in the needle, but she went on to make a quilt!”
Deirdre Carroll, the Patchwork tutor at St Colmcille's Community School, providing guidance to two of her course participants (left)
and an almost complete sampler quilt produced in the beginners' class by Linda Price (right).
The quilts, large or small, or the cushions produced are wonderful keepsakes or gifts. “People can incorporate personal items in the quilt, part of a husband’s shirt or part of a daughter’s First Communion dress, or the line of a poem. In one case, on a hen night, each hen was asked to write a message for the bride on a piece of fabric. Then, my student made the messages into a quilt and gave it to the bride on the morning of her wedding – that’s probably the most unusual quilt we’ve produced.
“You can really turn the quilts into an heirloom, even with a simple label that says, ‘Made with love by Nana’. So, for me, it’s nice to think that the quilts produced will be passed down, as a lot of work goes into them.”
A keepsake quilt made from old baby clothes (left) and a wedding quilt (right) with special messages for the bride from each of her hens, made by Yvonne Coleman for Ruth.
Tutoring this class for about 10 years, Deirdre has seen the age profile change, with many younger women attending the class in the last few years. “There are so many benefits, people come along for the chat and friendship, to share a common interest doing something creative, and enjoy a social outlet. And, outside the class, sewing is a great way to destress.”
Indeed, this has been a lifelong interest for Deirdre herself. “I always liked sewing and used to make dolls’ clothes as a child and my own clothes later on. I moved away from that but always loved to sew so patchwork was my way of connecting to sewing.”
And as a former adult learner herself, she’s well attuned to the needs of her night class participants. “After doing a beginners’ course in patchwork with the Irish Patchwork Society, I went on to do a City & Guilds Certificate and Diploma in patchwork. When I completed these, I studied Fibre Art and Textile Design in Ballyfermot College of Further Education where I achieved a H. Diploma and, in 2016, I graduated from NCAD with an Honours Degree in Textile Art and Artefact (Embroidery).”
Now, she teaches about 25-30 night class students per term to produce everything from bags and cushions to small wall-hanging quilts and larger quilts. “We keep it fresh and do new things all the time, we’ve just started contemporary embroidery – I’m led by the class and always looking for new ideas!”
It's not all about the quilts! Patchwork class participants in Knocklyon also make cushions, bags, pictures and a variety of other items.
Patchwork classes also run at Coolmine Community School in Dublin and Boyne Community School in Trim.