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Memorial Quilt Project

by Ali Biddiscombe (nee Gracie), Pigot House 1971 - 1976 & Jenny Winkless (nee Gray), Wilson House 1971 - 1975

Below is the full history of the making of the St Elphin's Memorial Quilt which is now available to see on the first landing (Head Mistress/Master's landing to many of us) in Front Hall at St Elphin's Park. Please click on the photo below to see those who have had their photos taken with the Quilt so far!

  • Image 1 of 9: Liz Bailey-Donlan & Lizzy Atwell-Dickie - 1st February, 2014


Making a quilt is a wonderful way of giving new life to old things. It is also a way of preserving history and memory; recognising that these things do indeed need to be preserved however intangible that concept may seem.

A couple of years ago I got in touch with Elizabeth Dickie (nee Atwell) on Facebook and my own sad and quite negative school experience took a significant turn for the better as I was reunited with not only Lizzy (who was in my house and whom I remember as being a very kind person to me at school) but many others as well.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my memories of SE school days would one day result in such wonderful positive friendships with women across the world but that is exactly what happened thanks to me eventually making that initial contact with the SE old girl network on the www.

Our international reunions are well documented and I am forever grateful for the extraordinary, wonderful, ongoing new friendships I have made and for the old ones which have been rekindled with kindness, understanding, affection, love and gratitude by you all. It was great to no longer feel alone in my own school experience either!

As I ventured into the Facebook world (initially only to reconnect with SE) I shared my own life and one day I posted about my quilt making. The conversations begun and before long I was suggesting that somehow we get materials together for a memorial quilt which I offered to piece together in time for the 2013 reunion. A quilt can take at least a year to make and is an intense and intricate art form but one that I stitch love and reconciliation into if you get my drift!

Actually it was my gorgeous friend Gill Haywood (nee Prescott) that suggested we have a school quilt .. how could I say no! Then the idea gathered momentum. Thanks Gill and thanks Lizzy.

Over the last 18 months I have amassed quite a stash and this now includes items very generously donated by SE girls from across the globe. Big and little parcels arrived at my house or found their way back to my home in Fremantle Western Australia after visits to Blighty and beyond by friends and myself.

For this girls, I am grateful, as it enables me to make a start on the first stages of the quilt which I hope will find itself at many a reunion. This week (January 2012) Jenny Winkless (nee Gray) – my wonderful friend and neighbour and I have started to unpick the donated items so that we can use the materials to create a quilt.

The back of the quilt will be a blank canvas in the design of a folded school sheet and on that sheet over the years of forthcoming reunions I do hope sincerely that as many old girls as possible will sign.

The front will evolve as the work on it takes place over the next few months in my sewing room. I am very grateful that my lovely friend Jenny has offered to help me make the quilt. It will be a project of love and one to the whole SE community. It is quite a strange experience to feel and to see the items that have arrived and to be their custodian is a responsibility we do not take on lightly.

There are blazers, skirts, a Sunday Silk, ties, badges, linen bags, a choir head cover, socks, baggy britches (grey bags), gloves, a sheet, summer dress belts, a shoe polish bag and more that will find their way into the quilt.

When this project is realised and there is indeed a quilt at the end of the day there will be no one custodian or owner of the quilt as it belongs to us all.

By this I mean that its’ provenance will demand that it is transferred to the next reunion from the last by someone willing to store it safely and bring it out, with marker pen, for more girls to sign. These reunions can be between two girls or fifty.. it doesn’t matter but whatever you do .. document this quilt’s journey on the sheet on the back and keep the history alive and moving forward.

And now Jenny and I have some serious unpicking to get on with!

Quilt-Making Log.....

Log 1: 5th January, 2012
I started unpicking ties, pockets, shirts and uniforms donated for the memorial school quilt. Once everything is unpicked then it will be washed and ironed. This gives me fabric to work with. I might need a new unpicker at this rate! My trusty schoolfriend and neighbour, Jenny Winkless (nee Gray), is giving me a hand. The photo above shows the pile of donated uniform and school gear ready for the great unpick!

Log 2: 22nd January, 2012
Jenny Winkless (nee Gray) is a total star and despite the heat this end of the world she is still unpicking and washing the stash of precious 'fabrics' which is what the pile of uniform and donations is now becoming. We also have also had a great find and have summer dress fabric in red and blue stripes from my sewing cupboard ... green to go ... which we will introduce into the quilt. Meanwhile ... whilst I have done very little unpicking (shame!) I am beginning the design process and some inspiration is coming from the image to the right. We are still hoping for house ties to be donated. If not then we will introduce plain fabrics to represent the house colours we don't already have.

Log 3: 1st March 2012
It was a long and arduous task, but someone had to do it! Namely me, Jenny Winkless (nee Gray), and I'm pleased to say the washing and 'deconstruction' (love that word) of the donated clothing items is now complete with the exception of one rather thick and woolly grey blazer which states 'Dry clean only!" so I was loathe to wash that one! It is actually rather clean except for one spot of wax on the sleeve which I innocently tried to eradicate before I read Laura Bennett's articulate notes which lovingly detailed the various uniform items and their combinations and stated that the wax on the sleeve was from her days as Head Sacristan! Whoops! Don't worry Laura, it's mostly still there!!!

Anyway, the materials are now ready to be cut and prepared for artistic arrangement and I will be dropping into Ali Biddiscombe's (nee Gracie) place very soon to add my touch to the design and we can get our creative juices flowing as we start to put it all together. Exciting stuff hey?

PS Looks like we will need to visit an OP shop or two to source those elusive tie colours! Any excuse to go shopping!

Log 4: 15th April 2012
Quilting is such a lovely journey when you are enmeshed it in. You never know quite how the blocks will end up particularly when the materials you have to work with are so varied in texture, weight, colour and condition.

Jenny and I have got off to a really good start and this weekend we decided how to create the quilt and our design plan is in place.

Essentially the quilt will be made up of several blocks that we will create one by one.

We have had to introduce some fabrics so that we can represent all the house colours throughout the quilt. This is because we weren't able to secure something from every house and we do want every house represented in the quilt.

Ali has a huge stash of old fabrics that she has collected from garage sales and OP shops over the years - so they are not new fabrics and are probably the right vintage as it happens! Luckily that stash had almost all the additional colours we needed. We only have to find two more remnants to make up for what we are missing so we are both happy about that.

This weekend Ali stitched and pieced the first two blocks (not in any particular order). They will end up being sewn together to create the finished quilt top and reverse side - but that is a long way off yet!
We thought we would tease you with images which will be just sections of the blocks as we finish them and we will supply an image of part of the block with a caption so that you can think about what has been used and what the block means - at the end of the process you will be able to see where all the parts have ended up!

It's wonderful stitching history into something that I hope between us will be loved and treasured by many St Elphinian's.

All for now from the quilting bees down under!
Jen and Ali (Mrs Barling would be SO proud of us!)






FIVE PHOTOS TO THE RIGHT (Starting from the top):
1. & 2. Apple Pie Beds
3. & 4. Winter time
5. Hats off to school





Log 5: 12th May, 2012
Just an update this time, rather than a Log, with a photograph entitled 'Summer Loving!'. Slow but steady progress.






Log 6: 16th June, 2012
The quilt continues block by block! Below are photos of part of a block which Ali has made, entitled "Stripey Summers"!


Log 7: 7th July, 2012
Today, Ali finished the 5th block of the quilt which is one of two blocks that she is making with the theme "house colours" so you should be able to pick out Willowdene, Powys, Selwyn, Kennedy, Gresford, Wilson and Pigot in the photograph which is just a part of the finished block. She is now working on the next house block which is going to be quite different in design and quite a bit of fun too!

Jenny is busy transferring photographs to white school sheeting at the moment - the photographs will be used in other blocks. The first image she has already done is of the school from the front drive and there will be one of two other memorable images too if all goes to plan.

Log 8: August 2012
Ali and Jenny have been busy again during a happy afternoon spent at Jenny’s place. This time they have completed the first of the ‘Chapel’ blocks for the quilt using an interior photo from a 1970’s information booklet that Jenny had - aptly titled "Sunday Chapel"!  As you can see it came up rather well and it was surrounded appropriately with blue ‘Sunday Silk’ and choir veil material with a bit of a creative checker-board pattern.  We now have a few other photos to incorporate into other blocks with, one being a design for a chapel kneeler which can be seen in the pic with Ali (below). Stand by for more samples of our progress!

Above: Jenny Winkless (nee Gray) hard at work on the Quilt!

Log 9: February 2013
Ali and Jen have been busy, putting their heads together to dream up the next stage of the Quilt's progress and recently have pulled all the stops out to get the last four 'blocks' completed. After a marathon event, they have now planned all four and stitched three of them!

Wooden Classrooms
This one took some time with layout as they were trying to incorporate the essence of the old 'temporary' classrooms. They used Jenny's old brown book bag (complete with 'enhanced' graffiti) as the wooden weatherboard walls and added 'Linen bag' windows, 'Cloak hood' felt roof and a 'Powys' green door as pictured in one of Marianne Stewart's photos from the 1970's. (Marianne was, of course, in Powys House!)


Front of School
Another of the photographs, this one of the Main School building (possibly taken in 2005 by Jenny Mitra). They edited it (removed a green car from the image) and had it transferred onto an old white school sheet. They used some school blue material for the sky and an old school tie, a piece of pleated skirt and a border along the bottom of Sunday suit interspersed with black cloak and, finally, added the school crest badge from a blazer.

Boaters and Kneelers
Another colourful one designed around the intricate detailed plans for a tapestry kneeler for the school chapel. This one was supplied by Carrie Wareham's Mum, who was a pupil in the 1940s. It was never completed but was sent with the tapestry wool, however Ali and Jen thought it too challenging to tackle so opted to photocopy the plan onto school sheeting for incorporation into the quilt. They enhanced the colours in it with school house colours and topped it off with a photo of Rachel Kerwick's boater!

Now for the last block which is being created with sports clothing; tennis whites, blue aertex and even a pair of grey bags will find their way into this quilt!

Jolly hockey sticks!

Left: Ali Gracie-Biddiscombe thinking "hurrah, only one more block to go"!!




Log 10: March 2013

Finally the last block of the quilt was completed during another marathon quilting session. Entitled 'Sports Day', we were lucky enough to have received into our 'stash', a blue sweatshirt with St Elphin's name and crest along with a few other choice pieces of our varied sports attire. Carefully created (with a surprise element) we had great fun with this one. We also stitched the whole top layer together and added a border. All that needs to be done now is to add the reverse side and then finish it off with the quilting process. We are both thrilled with the result.

Log 11: July/Aug 2013
The reverse side is not nearly so complex as the top of the quilt, but it still took us a couple of sessions to work it out and finally stitch it all together.

One of the very first pieces Ali hand-stitched back in March 2012 was an old school bed sheet. She embellished it with some of the wool yarn that came with the chapel kneeler instructions and used all the house colours to create a checker pattern across the top of the folded down sheet. See picture at the top of this blog entitled Apple Pie beds.

Today it became the centre-piece of the reverse side of the quilt, complete with 'linen bag' pillow and yellow check 'apron' material. Remember those aprons we all had to make in needlework back in the 70's?

We added strips of tartan and grey to fill in the gaps and a swatch of blue check summer dress. A specially made label surrounded by a piece of 1940’s floral blue silk dress completed it.

We also wanted to incorporate the school song, so have printed the four verses and included them. The words are still significant and indeed there were a few tears when we all sang it last year at the St Elphin's Reunion 2012 in the newly finished St Elphin's House. The words of the song can be found on the Memorabilia page. In Feb this year we discovered the author of this song, Elisabeth Ward, was a former pupil and it was written in 1959/60. Elisabeth contacted Liz Donlan after finding it on the website, much to her surprise.

We had one more school tie in our stash so we decided to hand stitch it strategically onto the sheet. It was our original intention that the sheet would be left blank so that ex-students could sign it, however since so many of us have become reunited over the past five years, we felt there might not be enough room for all our names, so we will provide a Visitor's Book which will be kept with the quilt at St Elphin's House so that visiting ex-students, ex-teachers, indeed anyone who sees the quilt will be able to leave a comment.

To say we are thrilled to bits with the end result would be an under-statement. In fact, when we took it to Ali's quilting friend today to be 'finished', she was almost lost for words and full of admiration for our historic collaboration.

We can't wait to share it with you at the St Elphin's Memorial Quilt Reunion on 12th October, 2013.
NB: If you are able to join us for the day or maybe even stay overnight, please ensure you have paid your money for the buffet lunch and/or afternoon tea presentation by the deadline of 9th August to

Log 12: October 2013 – The Penultimate Blog!

This penultimate quilt log is being published on completion of the St Elphin’s Memorial Quilt with less than a week (on the Australian clock anyway) until it is unveiled at the reunion! At this moment in time it is in a special quilt bag in Ali’s suitcase waiting to board an Emirates flight to the UK in the early hours of Tuesday October 8 2013. By this weekend the guest book will also be packed. Right now a lovely friend is scrapbooking a cover for it and special thanks go to Meredith Lane.

The final leg of the quilt happened when we picked it up from the professional quilter about a month ago. She was charged with bringing the three layers of the quilt together (the patch worked front, the back and the pure wool wadding insert). At first we thought the quilt would go through her long arm quilting machine but that wasn’t to be and she ended up sewing it together by hand (!) using house coloured threads to do this so beautifully and to this end we acknowledge Brenda Ford.

When we collected the quilt after this had been completed, we set to work embellishing the front and the back with a few finishing touches which include a teddy bear on the bed on the back of the quilt and a belt, buttons and gloves on the front.

We would particularly like you to donate any school badges you have and to pin them on the quilt as we don’t have very many at this stage so if you have any please bring them with you.
Now all that is left is for you girls to enjoy it and for the quilt to find a permanent home (we will let you know in the final blog where that is) so that in the future it can be seen, talked about and touched by former St Elphin’s girls and teachers.

We both agree that the quilt will provoke all kinds of memories and emotions and we have a feeling that it will also start many conversations, some of which we hope you will mention in the comments section of the guest book so that other people can read these and add theirs to it. This collection of thoughts and observations contributes to what is called the provenance of the quilt and this is duly recorded for girls, staff and visitors to see and add to. This log is also part of that provenance and it records the journey of how the quilt idea eventuated into the finished item to be unveiled at the St Elphin’s Memorial Quilt Reunion 2013 next weekend.

Thanks girls but especially to Gillian Prescott-Haywood (Kennedy House, 1968-1978) for the original idea to make the quilt and to Elizabeth Atwell-Dickie (Pigot House, 1968-1975) for her unending energy in organising and in ensuring we have a reunion to reveal the quilt to you all. Both these girls were instrumental in getting this project off the ground, encouraging us throughout the process of collecting materials and sewing and inspiring us to bring it to fruition. Thank you too for all the amazing contributions of uniform and accessories from girls across the world.  

Log 13: October 2013 – The Ultimate Blog

It seems fitting that this last blog be written just a few days after the unveiling of the memorial quilt at what was an absolutely fabulous weekend with nearly 70 girls and a few teachers too. Special thanks must go to Elizabeth Dickie (nee Atwell) for superbly coordinating this reunion which started at Audley St Elphin’s with a coffee morning and moved to Hartington Hall for lunch and the unveiling in the afternoon and provided ample opportunity to chat and catch up with old and new friends.

Our special guest of  honour was former needlework teacher Mrs Mary Barling who unveiled the quilt on Saturday, 12th October, 2013. The quilt is made up of nine blocks on the front which are representational of the school winter uniforms, summer dresses, the hats we wore, the chapel and Sunday silks, the main school building, house colours, the “temporary” wooden huts where we had our school lessons and our sports uniform. The reverse side of the quilt features an original school sheet and reminds us of the fun we had making apple pie beds and the soft toys we had on our beds for a little bit of home comfort. 

At the bottom of the reverse side, the school song is printed and placed either side of the embroidered quilt label which is surrounded by the oldest piece of uniform we received, a blue floral Sunday Silk from the 1940s.

We are both very proud that we have made it, delivered it to you safely (phew!) and that so many of you came to the reunion for the unveiling. We were thrilled too about the comments you all made in the guest book, sharing your reactions to the quilt and how it evoked some memories for you.

Finally, it just remains for Jenny and I to thank a few people. Firstly, thank you to everyone who donated items that enabled the quilt to materialise (ha ha), thank you to Gill and Lizzy for sowing (another ha ha!) the idea and to Lizzy for arranging a brilliant venue for us to officially unveil it with Mrs Barling present to do the honours.

Below: LtoR: Mrs Barling, Jen Gray-Winkless and Ali Gracie-Biddiscombe

Jenny and I would like to say thank you too for our beautiful school colours certificates and engraved crystal paper weights. We had incredible fun making what we feel is an important piece of history and are so very happy indeed that it has found a home at the old school where it truly belongs. Special thanks to Audley St Elphin’s for their support and for allowing us to visit repeatedly over the past few years.

Please encourage your family and friends to visit St Elphin’s House and to sign the Quilt Guest Book is nowavailable near the trophy cabinet in the front hall.

We hope this Quilt will be enjoyed and treasured by ex students and new residents alike.

For now we can officially say that J.A.Quilting is taking a holiday!

Jenny and Ali


January 2014
We are pleased to announce that the St Elphin's Memorial Quilt is now proudly hanging on the wall on the first landing going up Front Stairs in St Elphin's House – on what was the Head Mistresses/ Master's landing. Lizzy Atwell-Dickie and I were the first Old Elphinians to view the Quilt on 1st February, 2014 when we were also joined by Morag Forsyth-Harrison. Morag was the first old girl to sign the Guest Book and we all agreed that the Quilt looks magnificent and we hope that residents, visitors and Old Elphinians will all take great pleasure out of viewing it over the years to come.

Once again, thanks go to Audley St Elphin's for allowing us to site the quilt at St Elphin's and, finally, thanks to Ali Gracie-Biddiscombe and Jenny Gray-Winkless for a magnificent creation – well done girls!

Please feel free to go and view the Quilt at any time but make sure you ask permission to go up Front Stairs first as we have to remember that it now belongs to residents! Also, make sure you sign the Guest Book and, if possible, have a photo of yourself taken at the side of the Quilt and/or signing the book.

Liz Donlan

Please click on the image below to see the Photo Gallery

  • The St Elphin's Memorial Quilt made by Ali Gracie-Biddiscombe & Jenny Gray-Winkless












Memorial Quilt goes to the races!
The St Elphin's School Memorial Quilt was entered in its first competition - the National Quilt Championships being held at Sandown Exhibition Centre (Sandown Park Racecourse, Portsmouth Road, KT10 9AJ) from 20th to 22nd June, 2014.

It was entered in a class entitled 'Memories' and the entry fees were donated to the Alzheimers Society. TOE have kindly sponsored the entry fee.

Lizzy Atwell-Dickie collected and returned the Quilt from and to St Elphin's in order that she could personally deliver the it to the Racecourse on 17th June although the show itself didn't open until the 20th June. She also took the Guest Book with her.

The quilt was awarded a Merit and now has a rosette attached to it for all to see when viewing it at St Elphin's.

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