01/07/2018 § 7 Comments
Trefin is a village on the north coast of Pembrokeshire. My great-grandfather James Price, stonemason, lived there with his wife Rachel and raised his family there. My grandfather, William Price was his eldest son and at the time of James’ death, aged just 42, Will was working as his apprentice.
I’ve grown up always knowing that ‘my great-grandfather built the slate gateposts for Capel Trefin’. Whenever we visited Pembrokeshire we would stop and ‘touch the gateposts’. Over the years, the Chapel began to fall into disrepair but a few years ago, on a trip with my father, we saw a sign saying the Chapel was open to the public.
It is now a heritage centre for the village of Trefin and the doors are often open to allow everyone some peace and tranquility and to glimpse this imposing building’s glory. The outer shell has undergone extensive work and inside, the lime plaster and restoration has breathed new life into the once very tired building. As I walked around, I had an idea to make a quilt for the Chapel and approached the owner. As we chatted via email, he mentioned the frame behind the pulpit and my mind began whirring with ideas for a textile collage, instead of a quilt.
The plaster frame is long – over 1.5m and narrow – about 0.5m. That’s a difficult shape to work with but almost immediately I could imagine what I wanted to do. The owner and I agreed a target date by which the panel should be on display and this gave me many months, though in truth I like a deadline so I can focus over a shorter period. I always have a deadline, and then a few weeks before that, my own date for completion. I met both, with some serious stitching on my little Janome 525S. As regular readers will know I have 2 big Janome Horizon machines that I (and my students) absolutely love but they don’t like doing freehand, however, the little 525 took on the job and stitched along very merrily – literally millions of stitches.
Fibre art, or textile collage is my new favourite sewing pastime. For a panel of this size, it takes a lot of planning – and a lot of scraps. The process is complicated –
- To begin, I drew the shape and then simply ‘colour-blocked’ it with scrap fabric.
- The next stage took longer – every section was covered with minute scraps and then covered with a soluble film and stitched – tiny, tiny freehand stitching on machine (photo 1 above). It looked like a misty, washed-out mess. Then it was soaked in the bath to remove the soluble film and to tell the truth, it then looked even worse!
- As I started to add the details, the buildings and landscape took shape, building the gateposts in exactly the same pattern as my great-grandfather (I’d taken lots of photos), even adding in a few mossy bits where they grow. This part of the project was both satisfying and painstaking.
- I wanted the door of the Capel to be open, and the gate too. I needed to add colour and some words from the famous poem Melin Trefin, written about the old ruined mill, where the millstone still sits. Sharon Larkin Jones, who describes herself as ‘passionate about Wales, its language, literature and history’ has written a wonderful post about the Welsh poem, with translation and photographs.
There are some very personal details – the slate bench above the beach where Dad and I have enjoyed many a sit down and the stunning view out to sea, the village pump where Dad as a little boy would fetch water for his family who lived in the house by the pump. The family house in the top left of the collage, is speckled with tiny yellow crocus flowers. James and Rachel’s headstone in a nearby cemetery is an imposing red marble memorial, carved with crocus flowers. I wonder whether that’s because he passed away in February 1906 when the flowers are in bloom.
My father, who spent all his school holidays in Trefin with his family, tells the story that as a tiny baby his mother made up a cot from a large chest drawer, in which he slept in the upstairs room on the left. His aunt kept the village Post Office from the front room of the house, with her sister keeping a small-holding on the fields behind. There are lots more family stories and we hope to record Dad retelling them on our next visit.
I hope the locals and visitors like the panel. Although it now lives in Capel Trefin, I couldn’t quite bear to just hand it over, so it’s on permanent loan to the heritage centre. If you’re visiting Pembrokeshire, in west Wales, do pop in and see it.