Stitching a piece of history

Stitching a piece of history

Guest Post by Helen Sumner, a close family friend who has played a leading role in creating Khushi Kantha’s first collection of ultra-soft, multi-purpose baby kantha blankets.
The South London Scrubbers are an amazing group of volunteers who came together to produce Personal Protective  Equipment (PPE) for NHS.  I answered a call at the beginning of April to help. With a background in the fashion industry as well as teaching, I was able to make patterns and stitch sets of scrubs myself, as well as instruct others on how to sew them over the telephone. 
Just some of the many scrubs made by Helen

The diverse group grew to over 300 people, predominantly women, ranging in age from 16 to 96. There was an important role for everyone – beyond the sewers, we had cutters, drivers, fundraisers –  who raised £18,000 – and an amazing team of organisers who kept everyone busy and safe. Together, we delivered 3,000 sets of scrubs were delivered to hospitals and hospices around South London including St Georges, Kings and the Brompton Hospital. We also made 800 masks, 1,000 caps and 3,000 scrubs bags.  


Staff from King’s College hospital wearing scrubs stitched by the SLS – the dinosaur-print versions kept children smiling 😊


It was a truly wonderful experience to be part of such a supportive and cheerful group of people, some who had never ever sewn before, but who really wanted to help and support the NHS.  

Some members of the group, myself included, decided that it was important to celebrate the achievement of this amazing collective who came together during the Covid 19 pandemic.  We’ve decided to create a quilt that is made up of squares using a range of the fabrics that were used on the scrubs, bags, hats and masks.  Every square is unique, and many tell personal stories.  


Piecing the quilt together

My contribution to Khushi Kantha‘s journey

I’ve known Laura (Khushi Kantha’s founder) all her life – I met her mother Jill in antenatal classes and we’ve been close friends ever since.

I took Opi and Mahi to their first exhibition (Zandra Rhodes at the Fashion and Textiles Museum), when they were just two months old, and they’d often come up to the V&A Museum, where I volunteer, to take in the colourful kimonos, photographic exhibits and cultural treasurers, all in the amazing calm space of the museum.  It was during these visits that Laura would explain her Khushi Kantha vision.


Opi and Mahi were enchanted by Zandra Rhodes’ jazzy designs at the age of two months


Khushi Kantha Founder Laura Rana with her mother Jill and twin daughters Opi Mahi taking in the Kimono exhibition at the V&A


When Laura realised that she wasn’t going to be able to head over to Bangladesh to set up production as planned earlier this year, and it wasn’t going to be possible to involve the London-based British Bangladeshi community as she had hoped, I was delighted to become involved with creating the first set of kantha blankets.

We quickly sensed we would need help with sourcing fabric,  as we were struggling to get hold of vintage saris and deadstock cotton fabric, due to the supply chain challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. And with each quilt taking up to 20 hours to hand-embroider, it was clear that we also needed some extra hands to help create them!

A group of local mothers from the South London Scrubbers came to the rescue, donating fabric and contributing their stitching skills to bring Khushi Kantha’s designs to life.

The pandemic has made many people aware that communities around the world are all suffering, and we can all do something to help.  I look forward to the time when Laura can return to Bangladesh to launch this incredible initiative that will empower Bangladeshi mothers to provide their children with everything they deserve.


Laura and Helen collecting fabric from a fellow SLS member  some of the fabric donated to the group by John Lewis proved surplus to their requirements, so they very kindly passed it onto Khushi Kantha


About the author: Helen worked as a designer/pattern cutter in the fashion and textiles industry for eight years before taking a career break while her daughters were young. She returned to full-time study to become a Design Technology teacher. As a teacher, her passion was teaching her students how to recycle and restyle textile products. Now retired, Helen volunteers at the V&A Museum, and is a member of the South London Scrubbers.

You can read more about her incredible contribution to Khushi Kantha in an earlier blogpost, which explains how we used the collaborative power of a global community of mothers to respond to the challenges posed by Covid-19 and create our first collection of baby kantha blankets.

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