Family history quilts #MyWritingInspirations

Blog post

As I get closer to releasing Janet’s Yellow Butterflies, I have been reflecting on some of the literature, media and memories that inspired ideas for it. 

Today’s writing inspiration is my Mum’s quilting. She has been quilting for decades, and enjoys experimenting with new ideas to try with different fabrics and patterns. It was always interesting growing up surrounded by fabrics. 

Stevenson family quilt by Khristel Johnson

I love the creative expression of quilting as an artform that can be used to capture stories visually through the medium of textiles. Textiles are robust so they can be passed down through generations, and they can be easily passed between families. In Janet’s Yellow Butterflies a character in the 1700s creates a quilt, and stitches her family tree onto it. In image 1, American quilter Khristel Johnson has used modern technology to take this idea to the next level, incorporating family panels and photos into her Stevenson family quilt to capture a more detailed family history. 

Memory quilt

Quilts can be sustainable – they can be created by upcycling and repurposing all kinds of fabrics, creating a unique combination of memories. The second photo shows a work-in-progress of my Mum’s – a ‘memory quilt’ she is creating entirely from pieces leftover from sewing projects she has made for family and friends over the years, for example, other quilts, bags, baby items, and furniture coverings. In Janet’s Yellow Butterflies, the character creates her quilt using offcuts from fabrics that tell stories of her day-to-day life – such as a skirt she hemmed for a neighbour (she is a seamstress), a dress a relative made for her, a piece of lace from her daughter’s bonnet, and tartan from her husband’s hat. She enjoys sharing the stories of each piece with family and friends. 

Rahah quilt

Quilts have a way of connecting people, both during the process of creation, and for those who admire the finished piece over time. An interesting example of this is the Rajah quilt, shown in image 3. This quilt was created in 1841 by female convicts during their transportation from London to Australia, on board the Rajah. Their sewing skills varied from beginner to highly experienced, and it is lovely to think of the more skilled ladies helping the learners to master the various stiching techniques used. What a wonderful way to bond, express creativity, and feel like they were each contributing to something worthwhile, while passing the hours on what must have been a very arduous journey with no pleasant end in sight. It would be nice to think the quilters somehow knew that their creation has stood the test of time, and is now preserved at the National Gallery of Australia for future generations. 

In Janet’s Yellow Butterflies, the character who made the quilt decides to begin a new tradition of passing it down through the family. Each generation adds their own names in turn, so it becomes a family heirloom for future generations to treasure. The quilt plays a pivotal role in Tahlia and Annie’s modern day exploration into the story of Janet Horne and her daughter.



  1. Khristel Johnson’s Stevenson family quilt
  2. My Mum’s memory quilt in progress
  3. Rajah Quilt – National Gallery of Australia