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Peace is a thing of shreds and patches

By Paul Titus

A community craft project underway in Auckland seeks to express a truth many women hold – peace begins at home. It is embodied in the skills and cooperative efforts of everyday life.

The peace quilt is the initiative of Rev Gillian Watkin, presbyter in the Auckland Central parish. She began it as her personal response to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“The superintendent of the parish asked how we should respond to the war. The parish made a response, and I decided to start the peace quilt through my circle of contacts,” Gillian says.

“When the broadcast of George Bush came through announcing the invasion of Iraq I was in rest home lounge surrounded by dementia patients. I was struck by the incongruence, and I was looking for a response that would connect with people who couldn’t get engaged in a large project.”

Gillian calls her project ‘For the Healing of the World’. She has stitched one of 28cm squares that will make up the quilt and the others have been donated. She requires four more panels to complete the quilt.

“Squares have come from women all over the country – from Whangarei to Riverton – and they reflect a variety of skills. Each small piece is a testimony to the belief that the earth can be patched. The project has taken a long time but I equate that with our efforts to find peace. It takes forever.

“Some have come from women who say they have never done anything else like this before. Others have come from skilled craftswomen or church groups.”

Gillian says she did not dictate the materials used to make the panel or their design. Most of the panels are appliqu?d, some are woven, and one lady embroidered hers in cross stitch.

Among the symbols people have used to express their understanding of peace the dove with olive branch is the clear winner. The lion and the lamb are popular, and so are hands.

A woman who wove one of panel wrote to Gillian that she created it after a Walk to Emmaus weekend. It is made of many textures and colours intertwined in one great tapestry, the way Christ weaves us together in the unity of love.

At present the panels have not been stitched together. Centre stage in the finished quilt will probably go to a panel contributed by Rainbow Preschool in Dunedin. The children really took to the theme of healing the world and their panel features animals, fish, and creation.

Some panels have been used as a focus for mediation on a Women’s Fellowship retreat. When it is completed Gillian would like to see the quilt travel the country so people can use it as a resource to think and strategise about what peace really is.

She says one reason she initiated the quilt is that many crafts are now professionalized.

“People feel if they haven’t got a $5000 quilting machine they shouldn’t be quilting. We are loosing capacity for ordinary people to do things. I want people to feel they can begin somewhere.

“Many women who go to church are very thoughtful but they don’t say a lot. Some have gifts and talents but don’t know how to start finding them. The quilt is a way they can express themselves.

“Events like the invasion of Iraq become the wall paper in our lives. We have to pay attention to the ordinary stuff of life to counterbalance all that. We can underestimate the power of ordinary life. Ordinary friendships and people going about their business make a difference.

“That’s the Jesus stuff. He took everyday food and wine look what where it has ended.”

To contribute to the peace quilt contact Gillian Watkin, 17 Havelle Avenue, Titirangi, 09-817-5268,