Valerie Grove Artist

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Nature Strikes Back 
  
KELLY HICKEY

1. IN MEMORIAM

I am a seamstress and own a Reloved Textile business. One aspect of my business is making commissioned quilts for families from clothes left behind after a family member has died. As difficult as some of these deaths are the stories that weave and unfold as the clothes are transformed to an object of comfort is bewitching. 

I learn so many intimate details about the deceased - from whether they found security in deeply pushing hands through a series of trouser pockets or discovering fingerprints in house paint across a thinning T-shirt. My relationship with death is actually a gift of rebirth as I pass the comfort of what someone left behind back to their loved ones.

The quilts are the most challenging yet the most fulfilling textile work I have ever done. I came to this work through the death of my own best friend 10 years ago. She was killed in a freak bicycle accident in her 30’s. She and I shared a love of sewing and as a gift her mother gave me much of what remained in her sewing closet. I made this lovely quilt for myself and use it often - I know her hand touched it and her personality chose the materials - and when I wrap her around me ... there lies the gift.  
When I sew these quilts for others who have lost loved ones I spend time getting to know who the person was through the stories the family shares about them. When I have prepared the materials they have given me I invite the family to make adjustments before sewing. At each step more stories pour out.  It is quite therapeutic both for them and me to hold their loved one in the present and not allow death to hide what they added to the universe.

I have deep reverence for this work and it can be emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s important that I let those close to me know what I’m working on so that I don’t go down a dark road and remember that I am celebrating life. That joy is in my hands and my attitude towards each piece of work adds to the quilts blessings. 

The step between my first meeting and cutting the clothing is my favourite. When I meet with families I ask them to place all of the things they’d like included into a basket. I bring the basket home and spend time inviting the person who has passed to guide me in stitching an authentic story of their physical life.
​​The quilts above were made for a family who lost their son to a terrible tragedy several years ago. It was a difficult process for the mother to wash the smell of her child from the loved items, yet as an anniversary of his death approached she desired a physical way for her other children to have a piece of their brother present in their daily lives.  ​​
This is how I begin the process, often using a two card Tarot reading. The basket contains the clothing of a young man. His brother asked for a quilt to be made for their mother with a design that includes a butterfly. The idea of existence as an ever changing process is not lost on me.