Giant sunflower quilt destined for bombed buildings, muddy graveyards of Ukraine


Like the famous artist Christo, who wrapped some of the world’s most iconic landmarks in silk, an Australian artist wants to wrap the bombed buildings and muddy graveyards of Ukraine in fabric. 

But not just any fabric. It will be a quilt of sunflower patches.

“It’s like a giant hug for Ukraine, especially for the children,” artist Janno McLaughlin said as she sat in her WWII army depot home in Scone, in the NSW Hunter Valley.

McLaughlin, who has connections all over the world, said her heart shattered as the news of Russia’s invasion reverberated around the globe nearly three months ago.

But in a bid to turn something so horrible into a bright burst of hope, she’s now on the hunt for about 1,000 quilt patches to form a huge art installation.

“I want it as big as we can get,” McLaughlin said.

“The more patches we can get the better.

She said a creation that would cover “an acre block” would send a message.

“They need to feel like the outside world is looking at them and they are not alone,” she said.

She said Ukraine’s national flower, the sunflower, was her inspiration.

“There’s something about finding a symbol that the people of Ukraine can associate with,” McLaughlin said.

A close up image of a patchwork quilt featuring images of sunflowers
Scone artist Janno McLaughin has received hundreds of squares from all corners of the world.(ABC Upper Hunter: Bridget Murphy)

She said the quilt patches also symbolised hope and new growth.

“I envisage that the quilt will be a huge 100m by 100m at least, that people can stand around and hold in an art event,” McLaughlin said.

Global artwork in the making

Fuelled by tea and scones, the local Country Women’s Association is also on board.

Scone and District president Lyn Tout said the association was all about helping people to offer comfort and support.

“People’s wellbeing is so important,” she said.

“If we can send some little messages of support and love and just embrace Ukraine, that’s what the project is all about.”

Ms Tout rallied more keen quilters at the recent NSW CWA Conference, where the organisation celebrated its 100th birthday.

a woman working on a patch at a sewing machine
The Scone Country Women’s Association branch has been helping with the sewing.(ABC Upper Hunter: Bridget Murphy)

She said patches were coming from all over the world.

“I’m waiting on some from South Africa, we’ve had some from Massachusetts, New York, England, church groups, artists everywhere, New Zealand and all over Australia,” Ms Tout said.

‘They’re going to win this’

On the other side of the world is Iryna Pyrtko-Morozis, the founder of cultural development and charity fund, Sincere Education.

She lives in London but has family in Ukraine.

She met McLaughlin last year.

“We cannot all go to actually fight in Ukraine, not even be volunteers, but we all can do our own part and that is what brings us closer to each other as humans and brings us closer to the victory of justice, truth and independence.”

A woman, wearing brightly colour clothes, inspects large sunflower quilt squares.
Artist Janno McLaughlin has big hopes for the massive sunflower quilt.(ABC Upper Hunter: Bridget Murphy)

McLaughlin said it was hard as adults to fully understand what was happening in Ukraine but harder still for young minds.

“The way that they described it at Scone and District preschool was that people in Ukraine were sad and they wanted to do something that was going to lift their spirits, so that’s how they explained it to the littlies there,” she said.

“The Ukrainians really do believe they’re going to win this.

“It’s not a war they asked for. They’re protecting their homeland and protecting their right to freedom.

“When all this horror is done, I can see [the quilt] being laid down … people coming together. Maybe we’ll cry, sing … however, we are going to move forward.”

Handmade quilt patches, one reads 'love and peace for Ukraine'.
Children have also been contributing with messages of hope.(ABC Upper Hunter: Bridget Murphy)

How will it all come together? 

McLaughlin and her team are assembling the patches in sections to make travel a little easier.

She hopes to get it into the war-torn country by its Independence Day on August 24.

“The main goal is to make it first, then get it to Ukraine somehow,” she said.

“If worst comes to worst, I’ll just get on a plane and take it to London to [Iryna].”

She said what started as a little gesture had grown beyond expectations.

“Art is really powerful … you don’t need to speak a language but you can be moved by it,” she said.

“And in the making of the patches, there’s something about it, while you’re watching the news … It actually gives the maker a feeling of purpose, of empathy, it feels like you are doing something.

Blue, yellow, and gold thread.
McLaughlin hopes to have the finished quilt in Ukraine by the country’s Independence Day in August.(ABC Upper Hunter: Bridget Murphy)

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