Friendship Quilt: Community Sewing Heals Isolation

Swansea Asylum Seekers Support have organised a community sewing project for asylum seekers, refugees, friends, and supporters. The design on each square is based on the theme of friendship. What a wonderful way to get together during the lockdown and reunite with friends from over the fields. No matter where you from as long as you share the same interest – in this case is sewing. Emily’s project was popular among sanctuary seeking women and girls in Swansea who have contributed with some lovely pieces of sewing. 

November 2022

Community sewing project helps heal the isolation of lockdown for asylum seekers and their supporters

Before the Pandemic put an end to large groups of people getting together, Hay Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees, organised and hosted Away Days in their locality, for refugees and asylum seekers living in South Wales. The charity has strong links with Swansea Asylum Seekers Support and every month or so, groups would be invited to village and school halls, where they would take part in various activities and share a meal cooked by members of the local community.

At one such event in Hay-on-Wye, in January 2020, Emily Hedges and two of her friends, Jenny Chippendale and Julia Joplin, ran a sewing group where refugees and asylum seekers sat round a table with a local volunteers and made hand-sewn brooches. Emily remembers:

“It was wonderful, everyone really enjoyed themselves and absorbed in this simple activity, opened up and began to talk about their previous sewing experiences. One lady had been a tailor in Basra and another chap had been taught to sew by his mother, we really had a giggle.”

Safe stitching during lockdown

As COVID took hold and lockdown led to long periods of isolation for many, Emily began to think of a plan to help people connect once again, through stitching. The idea of a Friendship Quilt grew and she devised a series of packs to be sent out individually to refugees and asylum seekers as well as their friends and supporters in the Swansea area and in Hay where she lives. Each pack contained a square of linen and some embroidery thread and needles as well as simple instructions to embroider a design on the theme of Friendship. There was also a stamped addressed envelope so that each finished square could be posted to back to Emily.

With the support of SASS trustees Beverly Dobson and Margaret Lamb, who sent the packs out to members of the refugee community, the project quickly grew, to Emily’s delight:

“I made eighty packs in total and have been really thrilled with how the project has taken off. It’s been lovely to think of everyone stitching away at home and that the individual squares will be joined together to make a quilt. Most days now a finished square drops through my letterbox and I’m so thrilled with the results. We’ve had lots of hearts and lots of flowers. They’re all so different and so beautiful.

Together again

Once the finished squares are sewn together, the hope is for the everyone to be able to gather together once again, COVID permitting, to begin the process of hand-quilting. That the conversations and friendships that began back around the sewing table in Hay can be picked up once again. Eventually the quilt will be sold to raise money for SASS and the refugee community they support.  

SASS Trustee and volunteer, Margaret Lamb, has seen how the project it has helped people who have felt isolated during the difficult months of lockdown:

“It’s been really positive working on this project and getting to know everyone involved. Two ladies, who between them have completed six beautiful squares, said how much pleasure they have had from stitching.”

If you would like to see some more of the squares and follow the progress of the Friendship Quilt project, please follow on Instagram: sass_friendship_quilt

Editor’s notes:

Swansea Asylum Seekers Support (SASS) is a registered charity set up in 1999. It is run and managed by its members, who include asylum seekers, refugees and other local people. SASS offers practical support, educational and recreational opportunities to those seeking sanctuary in Swansea and the surrounding area.

Hay Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees (HBTSR) formed in September 2015 and joined City of Sanctuary soon afterwards. It is a group of volunteers welcoming people seeking sanctuary, raising funds to help them and encouraging political representatives to put policies in place for a kind and fair immigration system