Ben Son Quilt by Patricia Belyea

ben son quilt

By Patricia Belyea

People everywhere observe May Day as a special time. In our family, we celebrate my nephew’s birthday on May 1. 

This year marks Ben’s 25th birthday. But there is no Ben. In 2020, my wonderful and brilliant nephew took his life.

Ben’s mom, my twin sister, brought me a bin of Ben’s clothes last summer. Recently I delved into the heap and sorted out the pants for a sew-and-flip jeans quilt.

I used scissors, not of a rotary cutter, to turn the clothes into flat pieces of fabrics. I didn't want to slash into Ben’s pants. Instead I thoughtfully snipped off the waistbands, flies, pockets, seams, and hems with my KAI pro shears.

Upcycling jeans and pants for Ben Son Quilt by Patricia Belyea

As I worked on the quilt project, I listened to classical cello music as Ben played the cello for most of his short life. 

I drafted a simple pattern for Ben’s name to be included in the 2.5 inch strips.

Sketch for Ben Son QuilBen Son Quilt by Patricia BeelyeaBen Son Quiilt by Patricia BelyeaBen Son Quilt by Patricia BelyeaBen Son Quilt by Patricia Belyea

For the backing, I chose a big piece of paste-dyed indigo cotton that I’d purchased in Tokyo's Fabric Town in early 2020. (Ben had taken Japanese lessons in elementary school.) I pre-washed the vintage fabric and hung it up to dry at the top of the stairs.

Instead of using the patterned side of the backing fabric, I turned it over. The back side was solid-colored with ghosts of the flower, star, and moon designs—giving the deep indigo a mottled look.

Working from right to left, I sewed the long jean strips onto the Japanese backing fabric. 

Ben Son Quilt by Patricia BelyeaBen Son Quilt by Patricia BelyeaBen Son Quilt by Patricia BelyeaBen Son Quilt by Patricia Belyea

I made the art for the quilt label in my computer and sent it off to a t-shirt company to silkscreen onto jersey cotton. It was cheaper than ordering a custom thermafax screen and buying my own printing ink. Also, there was no mess involved!

The yukata cotton I chose for the designer facing was amazing. Very old, the pattern was gyres—big indigo swirls. 

My husband reminded me of the poem by William Butler Yeats that starts:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

Ben Son Quilt by Patricia Belyea

This is the toughest quilt project I have ever made. Sometimes tears streamed down my face as I cut up Ben’s jeans—such a visceral act of finality. Instead of being happy as I engaged in my favorite activity, I was heartbroken.

The quilt is big enough to curl up under for a peaceful nap. And the heaviness of the clothes provides a weight that’s comforting.

Today I gave the quilt to Ben’s parents, Pam and Gary. Of course, more tears. And a happiness that comes from having something tangible to remember their beloved son.

Holding the memory of Benjamin James Faigin 1996 - 2020

Ben FaiginPhoto by Rosanne Olson

If you knew Ben: Please consider a donation to the Ben Faigin Music Opportunity Fund that provides young musicians, like Ben, with scholarship support for classical music training. For more info +click here

ABOUT US: Okan Arts, a petite family business, is co-owned by mother-daughter duo Patricia Belyea and Victoria Stone. Patricia and Victoria sell Japanese textiles online, host creative quilting experiences, and lead quilting & textile tours to Japan.