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Saturday, April 25, 2015

An Anzac Day tribute: Poppies for JPC

Anzac Day, April 25, has a special significance this year as it marks the centenary of when the Australian and New Zealand troops joined the battle for Gallipoli in Turkey during the Great War of 1914 - 1918. Regular readers of my blog will know that I have been working on a quilt since January 2014 that focuses on World War I and wanted to blog about it on this day.

I apologise in advance for the size of this post but I kept thinking of things to add...

For those who need a refresher please go back and reread the first blog posting about it written on March 22, 2014. This was a block of the month project presented by Denniele Bohannon and Janice Britz and focused on the wartime service of Denniele's Great Grandfather, Almo O'Keefe,  a medic with field hospital no. 3 of the First Division commanded by General John J. Pershing for the US Army. The project, as presented by Denniele, was a stirring piece in a patriotic red, white and blue colorway with a dramatic setting. She turned her project into a book that includes several other projects.

My paternal Grandfather, Jame Patrick Coughlan, enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at the age of 25 yrs on September 1, 1914 and sailed for Europe on October 15, 1914. He was one of the fortunate ones and did return to New Zealand and was discharged on May 21, 1919. During his war service he spent many months on the Gallipoli campaign; a battle that was disastrous for the ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) troops. The overall casualty date for NZ troops during WWI was 58% - making it one of the highest rates per capita at a time when the total population of our fledgling nation was only just over one million.
 This photo of James Patrick Coughlan (aka Grandpop) was taken towards the end of the war when he was posted to Officer Training School at Magdalen College in Oxford England

Thus I decided to make my quilt in honor of the service of my Grandfather and now present it to you on this historic anniversary.

Keen eyes will note that I have not yet got the binding on. I'll get to it but I so wanted to show this today that I decided to go ahead and publish without the final finish of the binding. The quilt measures 57" x 57"; each block is a 9" one, the center panel is 20" square.

Rather than use the red, white and blue colorway of Denniele's original I chose to use the colors of the ANZAC's uniforms and set myself a challenge in locating a variety of fabrics in the khaki/taupe colorway. All blocks were to use the same background fabric, P & B Textiles Suede range in the color Light Moss and had to feature at the center a poppy sourced from a fabric in my stash, "Through the Garden Gate" inspired by the photography of Valori Wells for Quilters Only. Aside from those fabrics all other fabrics could appear only in one block. Had I known in advance how difficult this colorway would be to find in fabric much less how difficult to photograph and show the color accurately I may well have abandoned my color plan!

Early on I decided that my setting would be a medallion style and the centerpiece would be an applique block although quite what that pattern would be remained unknown for most of the year. I had sent a request to my sister in New Zealand to forward to me some items suitable to use for my project and I was thrilled to receive a small selection of photographs and pins/badges to use for inspiration.Some of these I used to illustrate blog posts during the year but one I had not used was a pair of "collar dogs" (small pins that were used on either side of the collar of the dress uniform jacket).  My centerpiece for the quilt is thus a pattern I created using that badge and enlarging it; this was a challenge to my abilities but I am pleased I persevered.

This is a well known badge used by the New Zealand forces during WWI.

I wanted to incorporate certain words about my Grandpop's service details right here on the face of the quilt. Su and I decided those would be best achieved by her longarm quilting machine. But the word ONWARD I hand embroidered.

For my quilt border I wanted to acknowledge the huge number of  servicemen who surged ashore with thoughts of victory in their hearts but who never saw that wish fulfilled. They gave their lives so we might never have to go to war. Many of them are buried far from home in the military cemeteries there at Gallipoli. My border of sombre crosses is to acknowledge their ultimate sacrifice.
The photo above is of the RSA area in the Te Awamutu cemetery and I include it here to show the crosses with their poppies (specially decorated like this each year on Anzac Day) and it is my sister's hometown. This photo is by Mike Subritzky who kindly makes it freely available.

My quilt was longarm quilted by Su Gardner of Fairfax. I gave Su a research project when I asked her to quilt ferns in the border; the silver fern is an oft used symbol of our country as it reminds us of the many ferns that grow in the bush areas of New Zealand. Although the silver fern symbol was not nearly as widely used one hundred years ago I wanted my quilt to be both historic and contemporary to represent both my Grandfather as he was in his wartime service years and me as a quilter in 2015 working half a world away from the country of my birth. Thank you to Su for all her diligent work in giving this quilt a very unique finish.

The photo of the ferns I took in New Zealand a few years back shows you some of the design inspiration for Su to create her quilt motifs.

One more touch of New Zealand was my request that wool batting be used. As the daughter and grand-daughter of a sheep farmer this one was a no brainer!
These sheep were wondering why I was bothering them with the camera when I was visiting my sister in Te Awamutu in January - they were grazing in her back paddock.

Grandpop liked to write poems and below I am showing you one he wrote about Gallipoli in 1970. he was in hospital at the time and a nurse very kindly wrote down his words for him and typed them up. To read this you'll need to place your cursor over the photo and left click to enlarge it and, hopefully, you will be able to read his poem.

Finally, some closeups :
the lower left hand side (above)
the lower right hand side (above)
the upper left hand side (above)
and, lastly, the upper right hand side.

This has been a sixteen month marathon but, personally, it has been  a very satisfying quilt to make. It would be great to be able to exhibit it and there is a chance of that in June. However in the meantime I have to finish applying the binding and then create a well documented label for the back of my quilt.

Thank you for reading this long post about my project. Thank you to Denniele for creating your quilt which inspired me to make my own based on your ideas. Thank you to my friend Cheryl who also made a quilt using Denniele's patterns - we had a lot of fun each month comparing notes and photos. You can see Cheryl's quilt on her blog Reems Creek Chronicles (click on the words Reems Creek Chronicles underlined). Thank you to Su for your patience in quilting my quilt. Thank you to Diane, a very skilled applique artiste, for your kind tips when I was attempting to begin the center panel.

But most of all, a posthumous thank you to my Grandpop, James Patrick Coughlan, and all his military brothers for their great sacrifices and courage to go to war to make a better life for those who would come after them.

To close I wanted to share with you a stanza from a poem Moina Michael wrote in November 1918 and titled "We Shall Keep the Faith" .

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

Lest we forget...