Forty Six Feet of Wolf Hall

Quilted strips, showing words and images, including circles, a falcon, a needle and thread. Fabric in cream, grey, black and cream is visible.
Wrestling the Wolf Hall Quilt together

When I started working on the Cromwell Trilogy Quilt project, I had the intention of making one single piece to convey my interpretation of the whole of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy. But – best laid plans and all that – I didn’t realise how long the Wolf Hall section alone would turn out. Forty six feet of quilting later, and having faced the difficulties inherent in managing such a long textile piece, I have revised my plans.

Pieces of quilted and decorated textile in pieces, with a join ready to be made with some grey fabric.
Parts One and Two, still in separate sections, 14 August 2021

I stitched the Wolf Hall quilt in sections – one section for each of the six parts of the book. As each section was stitched, I drew myself a key to show the elements I had included. Once that was ready – at the very end of the making – I had the slightly nightmarish job of joining the sections together to make a single piece.

An open notebook containing a diagram showing chapter titles from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and notes written in orange text, with scribbled sketches and words.
The Wolf Hall Quilt key – parts Five and Six

I joined each section with a placefinder bar, quilting the book title and part number at each join. As the piece got longer and longer and heavier and heavier, I found I was grappling with something that twisted and writhed like the snake that bit Cromwell in Italy. And as it grew, I became increasingly afraid to move in case I twisted it further.

The day that I finished the Wolf Hall quilt was odd. I was very tired, and my hands and wrists hurt from manipulating 46 feet of quilt. It had taken five days to join the sections together, and hours were spent just trimming off excess wadding. On the last day, I sat for hours ploughing on, which was very bad for the hands and the back. But finally, it was done.

Pieces of quilted fabric in cream with decoration; a dark grey strip joining two pieces with blue text stitching and a needle and thread ready to set a stitch.
The very last stitch going in, 19 August 2021

I finished all the joins at 3 minutes past 1 on 19 August 2021. I was exhausted but also exhilarated as I rolled it up as one piece. This all-consuming project had reached a significant milestone – the first large piece was complete.

A woman in a blue dress and grey trousers holds up a long pieces of quilted work against a backdrop of a brown fence.
A woman in a blue dress and grey trousers holds up a long pieces of quilted work against a backdrop of a brown fence. The quilted lettering reads “To Wolf Hall”

Last week, for the first time in months, I unrolled all 46 feet of the Wolf Hall quilt. I was giving a talk about the project, and the audience of quilters was keen to see the stitching close up – and to experience the scale of this unwieldy textile piece. Given that I rarely get a chance to see the quilt in one go – its length makes it difficult to view – it was very exciting.

I had completely forgotten that I’d left an unfinished grey placefinder bar at the end – after “To Wolf Hall” – thus leaving my options open. In August 2021, I clearly intended to join similar quilted pieces interpreting Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror and the Light to the Wolf Hall piece. But the challenges of 46 feet of quilting made me rethink this idea. Now I am pleased that the ending of the first Wolf Hall quilt is still open to further possibilities. As Hilary Mantel writes at the very end of Bring Up the Bodies:

There are no endings. If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. Here is one.

3 thoughts on “Forty Six Feet of Wolf Hall

  1. I truly love that partially unpicked pomegranate. I hope I can see the quilt in person one day- being able to feel the weight and textures would be brilliant.

    Liked by 2 people

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