Fragments is a new series of work inspired by quilts and their histories made specifically for the summer exhibition at Minerva Art Centre, Llanidloes, Wales until 16th September 2017. The exhibition includes other related works too. The new pieces for this exhibition in textile and paper have been developed following research into the collections of the Quilt Association and building on years of considering antique textiles and the stories they hold.
For me, the real treasures of the Quilt Association’s collections are the rescued quilts saved from charity shops, from life as dust sheets and from languishing forgotten and unloved in unsuitable storage. The stories which these quilts embody interest me as much as the weave or print of the cloth and the quality of the stitching and it is these stories I aims to share through my new quilt-related work.
The quilts in the collection speak of poverty and extravagance, of luxury and desperation, of comfort and of tragedy. They tell stories not just of their making but of their long lives. Many were abandoned or abused when handmade quilts had no charm or value. Some were made from the humblest of materials to keep loved ones warm and were never intended to be preserved, admired or studied. Others have had harder lives in the more recent past – repaired and hacked about or nearly ruined by machine washing with the best of intentions but with the most damaging effects.
I am fascinated by the stories behind the quilts and of their survival and damage and takes these ideas into new work where quilts are deconstructed, remade, reimagined into new ideas of quilts.
Click through the images below for details of each piece and additional close up photos. New pieces appear first with older pieces at the end of the page.
Tracery. Machine sewn patchwork. 2017
Tracery is a direct response to the quilts in this collection and on display alongside my work. When I came to view the quilts I was entranced by the damaged ones and chose to make work which reflected this. Tracery has been made and unmade to create a quilt purely of seams holding the remaining threads together, just like the quilting stitches holding together quilts which would otherwise fall to pieces. To quilt lovers, my preference for the discoloured reverse, the wrecked by laundering, the paint-spattered and the pieced army blankets may be puzzling but I love the stories held in damaged or ordinary cloth. The humbler the better for me. I am interested in what it says about those who made it, bought it, sold it, used it, abused it, preserved it and mended it. My training in museum work taught me to look at objects from every angle, exploring every possible story to understand the thing as a whole, not purely as a visual object. As an artist I choose to look from one very specific angle and to explore that rich seam of narrative in as much detail as I can. 100cm x 100cm £800
Patchwork Prints. Monoprint on paper with hand stitched detail. 2017
The prints are part of a continuing research project to find ways to preserve and record textile processes. I use print as a way of taking a record of the patchwork with the tacking and papers still in place. The sepia ink gives the print a feeling of an x-ray and the details of loose threads, weave and paper texture invite you to look closely and see patchwork in a different way.
Large Hexagons (50x50cm framed) £400, Small Hexagons £250 each (30x30cm framed), Large Star (50x50cm framed) £400
Rebuilt Quilt. Recycled second-hand quilt, machine sewn, 2017.
The re-use of quilts over time is well known and this collection includes quilts made from samples and scraps, remade from older things, quilts re-used as dust sheets and quilts recycled into new quilts. This cycle of remaking fascinates me. Rebuilt Quilt started from an anonymous small machine pieced quilt made from cotton dress fabrics (1970s or 80s) which I bought on eBay. I took it apart with care and documented each stage including keeping all the threads and separated the rectangular patches back into colour groups. As a quilting rebel I enjoy making things which are not flat, straight-sided and would not ‘work’ as proper quilts. I have used darts and curved seams taken from dressmaking to make non-quilts. The techniques use reflect the history of using dressmaking fabric scraps to make quilts and also my own sewing history which began with making clothes. £450
Ghost Quilt, Vintage patchwork, paper pieced patchwork, netting, hand stitch, 2017
One of my favourite pieces in the Quilt Association collection is a quilt made from an older quilt. Over time the top newer layer has worn away revealing the older quilt beneath, giving a image of a ghost quilt hidden and rediscovered. This Ghost Quilt is made from three different quilts, starting with a 1950s-60s hexagon patchwork on the back, overlaid with my own construction of hexagons made with a fine, semi-sheer vintage cotton lawn. The top layer is a ghost quilt with fragments of badly damaged and worn modern quilt block, trapped in layers of netting with hand stitch. This technique is one I have used before for fragmentary garments and references textile conservation practice of repair using netting. The three layers of quilt all tell different stories of textile makers past and present. 50 x 50cm on hanging brackets. £1000
The Beauty of Stains : patchwork, Vintage cotton sheet, natural dye, machine pieced, 2017.
I love of stains on cloth and often use found marks (such as tea stains on old linen) in my own work. Many of the quilts I studied in developing this exhibition had suffered from damp, spillage or more dramatic mis-use and carry the stains and stories of this history. Stained Blocks is made from a double-size cotton sheet with CC41 Utility label. I chose to use this sheet because of its inbuilt history of domestic lives during wartime. This reflects some of the functional quilts seen in this collection, particularly the one made from army blankets which partially inspired this piece.
After cutting, I dyed the cloth with weld, an ancient natural dye plant which I gather on wasteland and building sites in Leicester where I live. After dyeing I stained each piece with iron mordant which turns the yellow weld into khaki green. I then reformed the sheet into pieces of patchwork, matching up the stains and creating new found shapes from the random splashes and blotches I created with the mordant. In this way the stains become both pattern and camouflage. The construction, with raw edges and seams showing is inspired by the reverse of an unfinished log cabin patchwork piece from this collection. 9 pieces, total width 1.5m.
Quilt Blocks, Recycled quilt, natural dye, wooden blocks, 2017.
When researching the stories behind some of the quilts in the collection, I found histories of quilts as a commercial enterprise, made to sell and put food on the table. There are also quilts made purely for keeping warm using the limited resources available. There were stories about the homes of the families who made the quilts which made me think of quilted houses and the idea of quilts as protection and security. Quilt Blocks takes this idea further by making building blocks out of pieces of recycled quilt. I used a modern second-hand machine pieced quilt, reworked with tea dye and rust stains wrapped with care and attention around scrap wood from my own wood store… which I may come to regret in the winter when stocks are low!
This piece is interactive and visitors are welcome to play with the blocks and create a new design. Size variable. Blocks each approx 12-20cm long.
Criminal Quilts : Hanging. Silk organza, reverse applique and hand stitch, 2015.
Star Quilt. English paper pieced patchwork in a variety of fabrics with hand stitch & silk organza, 2014.
This quilt grew from a collaboration with paper artist Sharyn Dunn and her use of geometric shapes in white and off-white paper. It was an experiment in making hand sewn paper pieced patchwork to show the texture and translucency of fabrics which reveal the construction. I often work with transparent and sheer fabrics to create depth and texture and to give a sense of seeing through into the past. 100cm wide. £1500. More information about this piece here.
Paper Piecing. Collaboration with Sharyn Dunn. Paper, silk organza, natural dye, silk thread, 2014.
This piece was made in collaboration with paper sculptor Sharyn Dunn. Sharyn often uses geometric shapes in white paper to construct her work. For our collaboration I chose to extend this idea into using her shapes as patchwork templates. This piece was made alongside Star Quilt. Framed in natural wood approx 40x40cm. £150.
Sewn Up. Recycled paper, machine stitch, 2011 – 13
Sewn Up (1) is made from 665 folded squares cut from the proof pages of my book Sew It Up, machine stitched together. I chose to use not just any old recycled paper, but something with real significance to me, something personal. This book was so significant to me in so many ways, and is now enjoyed all over world that I wanted to create something new from it. Sewn Up (2) and (3) are developments in the process on a smaller scale. Sewn Up (1 – large) £800, Sewn Up (2 medium) £250, Sew Up (3 small) £150