Sewing precious memories — the shirt-quilt started for Daíthí and finished for Susanna
By TONY GALVIN
MOST artists strive to encapsulate their skill, creativity and self-expression in their work, and some succeed, but when love, friendship and the poignancy of a salute to a lost mother, friend and neighbour is added to the mix, the work takes on a very special dimension. Such is the case with a touching tribute to the late Susanna Hennessy Silke now on display at Tuam Town Hall as part of the exhibition by Ready, Thready, Sew, Tuam’s patchwork and quilting group, in the Tuam Arts Festival.
The work was begun by Susanna as a gift for her son Daíthí and was completed after her death last December by her friends in the quilting group as a tribute to her. The patchwork quilt consists of remnants of Daíthí’s shirts collected over the years, and is the focal point of the exhibition, which aims to raise funds for Tuam Cancer Care.
Susanna’s husband Mick Silke, a native of Glinsk, explained that Susanna discovered worrying lumps about six years ago, but the lymphoma which ended her life before Christmas was not properly diagnosed for some time. Susanna eventually made her own diagnosis through checking out her symptoms on the internet. The family realised there was no outright cure but were told the disease could be managed. Sadly, this proved not to be the case.
When Susanna had first left home as a young woman, her mother gave her a crocheted quilt and this was always one of her most cherished possessions.
She in turn crocheted two quilts for her eldest girls, Sorcha (19) and Méabh (18). When the Ready, Thready, Sew quilting group was established, she crafted a patchwork quilt for her youngest daughter Saidbh (14).
Determined to ensure all her children had something that she had made by hand to remember her by, Susanna began work in 2010 on the quilt for her son Daíthí (16). The project had been many years in gestation and Susanna had kept all of Daíthí’s old shirts — quite a collection, as with any growing boy.
Mick and Susanna met in Germany and returned to Ireland in 1990 to start their family. They established a successful crepe stall at the Galway Saturday market and moved to Woodquay, near Tuam, 13 years ago.
Ger Clohissey, a Woodquay neighbour and close friend of Susanna, recalls that Susanna loved her involvement with their Ready, Thready, Sew group, and they all took an active interest in the progress of the Daíthí shirt-quilt project.
“This was a big piece involving a lot of fabric. She would spread it on the floor of the Mercy library where we meet and lose herself in it. We’d leave her at it as she was obviously so happy and absorbed in her work.
“She got the outer part completed before she died on December 6. We all loved her and felt an attachment to her unfinished work. The pieces were ready and as an act of love and in memory of our good friend, we completed it and are absolutely delighted with the result. Susanna and I were very close and I was shattered when she died. This was part of the healing process for me and it was the same for the others involved. Many of those who knew her added a stitch or two just to be part of something linked to her.”
Mick says his family are overjoyed with the result and the interest shown in the quilt.
“She hoped she would finish it before she died but she went very suddenly in the end. Daíthí will get the quilt after the exhibition and then the set will be complete.
“The kids are thrilled. They were all very close to her. She was a great mother. Now they’ll all sleep under something made by Susanna. It’s like their mother tucking them in at night.”