The Quilt Group has now been in existence for 19 years, nearly as long as ACET has been in existence in Dublin. More notably, the core group of members are still in place, meeting together bi-weekly in St. Andrew’s Hall, premises of the Rialto Community Drug Team.
The Quilt Group was originally formed to create memorial quilts for those who had died from AIDS, or from a drug related illness. Though only a small group in the heart of Dublin, their quilts, alongside thousands famously made around the globe, now stand as an iconic symbol of the uniting of support for those affected by HIV and as a historical marker in the development of the fight against the pandemic.
ACET’s Quilt Group have since moved on to tell other stories through their quilting – stories of their community and its development, of historic Dublin, and to focus on a story of hope in a future less affected by poverty, drugs, lack of education, illness and grief. Their quilts have been displayed in a variety of settings, from schools to churches and cathedrals, as well as throughout the members’ local communities. However, more than the actual production of aesthetically attractive and meaningful quilts, the Quilt Group exists as a place where people share their life experiences and are supported through the grieving process.
Below are reflections and memories from some of the original members as they themselves approach their 20th Anniversary together.
My first memory of the quilt group was Tony MacCarthaigh introducing a few of us to Terrie in St. Andrews’ Hall in 1993. He came in and said, “This is Terrie from ACET.” In the beginning we didn’t know what to do as a group, but we decided on quilts. We met every Wednesday and there were loads of people coming – there was a great crowd in it! At the start though we had nothing – we used to go to different factories and get the leftover waste for our materials. One man was very generous and kept giving us bags of beautiful fabric as a donation, which meant a lot. At one stage we couldn’t use Terrie’s machine because she had run out of bobbins, so my husband robbed a few in the local supermarket so we could keep working!
I was a paid machinist but I stopped working to be a part of the Quilt Group. Even though I wasn’t being
paid for working at the quilts, I enjoyed the sewing so much more. It was tough but good fun. We made the first quilt with the names of family and friends who
had died. We had to be careful though, because of
the stigma and shame – a lot of families didn’t want
to be associated with drugs or AIDS, so we had to get permission and a signature from at least one family member each time a name was added to the list for being put on a quilt. The first memorial quilt and the quilts that followed went everywhere. We showed them in local schools, community centres, Trinity College and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
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The group has always been a place where you could bring your kids. I remember the kids used to come in and have fights with the teabags while we were quilting– they grew up in the group. There would be weekends away for them with ACET as well, which was a great support and it meant I could get a break. That’s what was great – ACET were there for all the family. For me, the group helped a lot when my husband was sick.
He was an original member of the group so everyone knew him and they were a great support, visiting when he was in hospital. That’s always meant a lot.
We all have the odd day out for a breakfast or something, as well and I always look forward to that. Every year we also get a Christmas hamper. Even when ACET have had nothing, we get a hamper and there’s enough in them for you and your family.
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It’s always been a closely knit group and it’s a great place to go and talk. What you say in the group stays in the group and that’s something you need. There’s confidentiality there so I can come in and say, “my son’s after robbing something,” or, “he’s on something,” and have confidence that that won’t leave. It’s a safe place. It’s a lifesaver.
Being in the group motivates you to see where you’ve come from and it helps you to move on. It’s a lot easier now. We had to struggle at the start. We would have blisters on our hands from the work. Some days we’d laugh, some days, Jesus, we’d be sobbin’. But after over 19 years in the quilt group, everyone’s confidence has grown and their bitterness faded.