I’ve been working on my Cromwell Trilogy stitching project for nearly two years now. During that time, my approach to the project and the techniques I am using have changed, the format of the piece has altered, and I am in no doubt that these will evolve further. One thing remains constant however: the inspiration I find in the three novels by Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light – which makes me want to stitch my response.
I’m writing this post in April 2022: a time at which I have already completed a large scale quilted piece based on Wolf Hall, presented a paper about both stitching in and stitching the Cromwell trilogy to a conference about Hilary Mantel, held at the Huntington in October 2021, made some smaller standalone pieces, and have started work on stitchery related to The Mirror and the Light.
Now that time has passed, I can see that the approach I took to my first Wolf Hall quilt was very specific to the time and conditions in which it was made: it was sewn during the Covid-19 pandemic while I was isolating. I realise that the form of the piece itself is very restricting: a long and narrow quilted strip, giving equal space to all the chapters regardless of length or complexity. I put various rules in place for the project: working in strict order according to the novel, not skipping ahead, deliberately limiting stitch choice. No-one saw the piece in progress until the very final stages, and I was working in a small space, so I couldn’t really see what I had produced until I had it photographed. And it was not what I had expected. I am still not quite sure what I have made.
That experience has informed the project going forward. I felt a sense of achievement at having completed work on the Wolf Hall quilt, but I soon realised it was a studio piece, an experiment, a trial run. I was happy with individual elements of it, but not the whole thing.
So I am currently at a really interesting stage of the project. I have been reflecting on methods, process, and form. When I started preparatory work for my stitchery of Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror and the Light I knew I needed a different format. Maybe a stitched book? Maybe a series of smaller individual pieces? Maybe they didn’t all need to be quilted? And – a big question – should I continue working book by book, chapter by chapter? Or should I work thematically across all three books? I haven’t quite decided yet, but I keep remembering how the River Thames runs through the entire Cromwell Trilogy, and I think there’s a hint there.