Egonne Roth



view:  full / summary

On making a Quilt

Posted by Egonne Roth on September 1, 2012 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

On making a Quilt

I made a quilt for my first granddaughter. I had made quilts for my children: I had used the log-cabin design for one, the nine-block design for another, random blocks in blue and red for a third. They were not master pieces fancifully stitched but simple quilts, under which my children slept and on which they played until the fabric fell apart. The kids grew up and life became too busy and important for a fun silly activity such as making a quilt.

But then Elle announced her imminent arrival. I was going to become a granny, a safta, an ouma. Oumas make quilts and so I did. It is pretty in soft shades of dusty pink and teal blue. Made of little square tiles a flowery heart emerges that tells Elle exactly how her safta feels about her – full of love and compassion and as my friend Willie says, “Ek voel so jammer vir haar, so innig jammer vir haar. Die lewe is so swaar!”

One quilt led to another. In a moment of excitement at their new cottage by the beach I told a dear friend that what she needed on the bed was a simple quilt made by me. A week later she responded, “Was that a real offer?” she asked in amazement. “Yes, why not?” I responded clearly out of touch with the reality of my life as visitor to the country – no machines, no scissors, no huge old dining room table on which those quilts of yesteryear had been made. “Sure, I’d love nothing better!” From Germany my beloved asked, “Have you gone crazy?” My hostess in whose lovely elegant but small townhouse I was staying asked, “Have you gone crazy?” My beautiful daughter asked, “Are you crazy? You’re supposed to be writing a doctorate!”

But that was exactly the point: I was supposed to be doing a myriad intelligent responsible things – research, interviews, proposals etc etc but what I wanted to be doing was something basic and creative and having fun. I wanted to make a quilt but had no use of one. My friend wanted it, could use it beautifully. A perfect marriage of desires. She brought the material – beautiful African prints in designs of brown and dark blue. I instantly loved the fabric – its distinctive smell and texture. I could not sleep. My mind was whirling with ideas and designs and the problems of making something so big, of borrowing machines, finding space to work, time to make it and technical problems connected to constructing something that needed to be both beautiful and functional. I needed to find ways that would make the process faster than it had been with baby Elle’s pretty little quilt. I had five weeks left in the country and an already full program.

I created suitable graft paper on the computer, studied techniques on google. At night while my hostess slept blissfully I quietly cut the strips of fabric. I had settled on random blocks but with a heart subtly hidden in the design - this was, after all, an act of love. The squares would be 11centimetre big when stitched. Why eleven? I have no idea. I coded my random design on my special graph paper and pinned the strips together to sew bands of fabric once I had the machines another friend was lending me.

Friday evening, the tenth of August, I moved with machines and fabrics, a new pair of scissors and lots of strips of fabric into the house with my daughter and her kind boyfriend, Dishen. Tamar made tea and coffee on demand; Dishen made endlessly delicious meals and when not taking care of my culinary needs, they both sat working on their laptops on the other side of the table. Never once did they complain about the whir and vibrations of a sewing machine and an overlocker running for their lives. A sheet was put on the spare bed and as the quilt progressed, sections were being pinned onto it so that slowly, slowly the design emerged. By the time I had to return to Cape Town on Sunday evening the top was eighty percent completed. I would have to finish it before I returned to the kids the following weekend when we would connect top and bottom – how? I was still not quite sure. Then I saw an Indian silk quilt where the layers were connected by simple hand-done running stitches – that would be my solution. I forgot to buy a thimble.

The second weekend Dishen moved the living room furniture to one side. We lay out the thick fleece-backing we had decided to use instead of the normal batting and fabric. Then, carefully, we put the now completed top – 190 cm by 170 cm – on top of it. I pinned top and bottom together with safety pins so that on the busy design I could see where they were. Kneeling on the quilt on the floor I began hand-sewing it together using the Indian Gudri technique, working in concentric squares. When it was securely attached I folded the fleece backing over the front creating a fleece frame and this was sewn on the machine. By now my index and middle fingers were red and painful but just before midnight I asked Tamar, “Any champagne in the house? It’s done!” A beautiful earthy quilt lay on the floor – a crazy creative expression of love.

I handed the quilt over in the parking lot of the Somerset Mall. “You actually made this for us?!” said my friend and I think she really liked it. “Come. I am taking you for lunch!” and off we went to Ocean Basket so that I could, for the fifth or sixth time this holiday, indulge my passion for grilled fish and chips!

On Having a Daughter

Posted by Egonne Roth on August 22, 2012 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (0)

We all need a mother. But not necessarily the one we have. We want a mother that is a like our best friend’s mother and she probably wants ours.

I remember when I was a teenager – gauche, pimply, desperate, struggling to be like but also not like my mother, who was beautiful, articulate, well-presented, successful. All I wanted was for her to be in the kitchen doing something motherly, comforting so that there would be a space for me on the stage of life but it was an option that was not open to her. As single parent, divorced at a time when this was shameful and a woman like her was treated with suspicion, she did the best she could – worked, forged ahead, stood tall and independent.

Olga Kirsch described my feelings as teenager exactly in a Hebrew poem written at the time of her mother’s death: “… my mother, the hated and the beloved.” But life is not static and slowly grace came. Things changed. I had less pimples and found a little confidence; my mother became older, wiser and softer. She drew me into her spotlight and made of me a friend, a confidante, at times even a guide. We began to talk as equals; we socialized in similar circles where the overlap was spontaneous and fun. Often in the mornings as I heard my husband’s car disappear around the corner, I would call her so that we could touch base before our day started.

Then she was gone. Snatched away by Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I could no longer turn to her; she did not answer when I called to say “Have a good day”. I had lost my best friend, my children their beloved grandmother and suddenly I was the older generation. I discovered what a strange balancing act being a mother was. I struggled to find my equilibrium.

After some time I turned in the other direction, looked towards my children, especially my daughter and found she was waiting for me. My mother had taught me how to be a mother, who is both mother and friend, mentor and follower. I learnt how to apply these lessons in a way that was all ours. So that when I decided to immigrate, my daughter was brave enough to choose not to come with me. People stared at me in horror. They attacked me with angry words or stony silence. “How can you leave your DAUGHTER? Your husband, sure. Your sons, maybe. But your daughter? Never!” I waivered but through our tears she told me, “GO! If you don’t, I can never follow my dreams.”

So I came to Israel. I followed my dream.

Now we talk on the phone, on skype, write little letters, send sms’s, bbm when we are apart; and when we are together we talk some more, we shop, go for coffees or cocktails, we argue but never for long and we laugh a great deal. We have grown closer over the years, share friends and plan holidays. She has allowed me to be the only mother I can be and I honour her for it.


Tamar, a date palm in Hebrew

tall and slender, feet deeply rooted in water

Tamar, rich sweet fruit growing in bunches

symbol of life, of nourishment, of hope

Tamar, oasis of rest in the wilderness

Tamar, a cuddly little child who enchanted us all

the girl with her golden hair always in her food

Tamar, growing into womanhood on a distant shore

Tamar, my friend, my guide, my mentor

my child, my daughter, my princess

Tamar, my love, why must you be so far?