Thursday, 28 August 2014

Map quilt finished

This must be something of a record for me this year.  I have finished my map quilt!  The quilting was quite straight forward.  I made it pretty dense as I remembered the fields where we lived in Northamptonshire which is a big arable area.  The finished quilt is thirteen inches square which was a very manageable size. - really a journal quilt.  Now I have to think hard about how I can make map quilts that are more 'me' and less Alicia.  Changing the colours is easy but at this point I have not thought about the techniques.  Interestingly, my husband said he thought they were more 'aerial views' than maps so I am turning that over in my mind too.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Map quilts after Alicia Merrett

I may no longer be able to go to the Festival of Quilts but thanks to social media and people's blogs it is easy to see some of what I missed.  I also decided this year that as I am saving a lot of money by not going, I can afford to buy new books.  So I have bought three to start me off.

First up is Alicia Merrett's book to go with the exhibition she had at  This book is a brilliant idea.  It combines a catalogue of the exhibition, photographs of other map quilts she has made and a short workshop on how to make map quilts. And of course there are more in the galleries on her website.   As I am a map junkie I have loads of ideas for subject matter but it is a good idea to check out the techniques first.  I have studied with Alicia in the past so I am familiar with her method of curved piecing but I decided to make a trial piece to remind myself of the method.  A good idea this as it is very easy to lose track of what you are doing and that means you will not have a real map.

I began by going to my 'sweetie jars' of small scraps and found plenty of pieces for the houses.  It was a really good way to use up lots of leftover two inch pieces from bindings.

Then I turned to my large basket of green scraps to choose pieces for the fields.  I have done lots of work in green in the past but I realised that a lot of the scraps were patterned or had too much contrast of colour for this exercise.  Also I seem to have much more yellow green that blue green.  However, I was determined to make this piece from what I already have.  Following Alicia's instructions I laid all the pieces out, having done a drawing of a mythical village.

Then I promptly lost the plot of the design as I sewed them!  Finally I told myself firmly not to be such a perfectionist and remember this was just an exercise.  So here is the top.

I need to tidy up the edges and then it will be fourteen inches square.  As the weather forecast for the Bank Holiday tomorrow is dire I hope I can do the quilting tomorrow.  In my head I am asking how I can take Alicia's principles and make the technique mine.  This one would be instantly recognisable as 'hers' and I think that is one of the main problems with taking workshops.  I am wondering whether I should do something from an old map in 'old' colours.  I have plenty of rust dyed fabric which might work.  We live on a crossroads which is one of the oldest parts of the village and I know it was there well over a hundred years ago, so perhaps that should be my next one.  There are also the two villages we lived in before moving down here.  Then thee is the area where I spent the second part of my childhood which is now a suburb on Wellington but was originally a farming settlement and which has a wonderful straight road going right down the middle of it!  I can see I am not going to be short of subject matter.

I also noticed on Amazon that there are several books on map quilts so I am wondering if it is a bit 'flavour of the month'.  Certainly having access to things such as Google Earth and various map apps. means you could tell the story of your life in this form!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Modern quilting - what's in a name?

Every year at Festival of Quilts time there is a lot of discussion as to whether particular quilts have been entered in the right category.  This argument is often about the 'art' quilts and 'contemporary' quilts.  I know it is a dreadfully hard decision to make when entering the competition and I well remember way back in the early days phoning and changing the category of my entry after I had sent in the form!  I am sure you would not get away with that these days.  This discussion has gone on again this year but there is also another
discusssion that is wider than deciding which class a quilt belongs in.

The Modern Quilt movement started up in the USA a few years ago and there are a number of groups in the UK.  My understanding a couple of years ago was that the movement began among younger quilters who were looking for something different from established groups.  The aims were to make functional quilts that used lots of white, bright 'pure' colours and possibly traditional patterns but not slavishly.  For a definition of Modern Quilting go to  I remember being told that these new quilters were media savvy, liked blogging and used social media rather than going to meetings in church halls and adult education centres.  I could sympathise with where they were coming from as, like many of my generation who had demanding jobs, I had very little time for textiles (I originally did a lot of embroidery) and I did not have the demands of a family as well.

So when the Quilters Guild launched a specialist group for Modern Quilts at Festival of Quilts I did not think it was for me.  I joined the  Contemporary Quilt specialist group when it was first set up and these days I call myself an art quilter or a textile artist in places where people have a very narrow traditional view of quilting (this includes Cornwall).  However, mainly because I said I was keen to see more younger people in the Guild and because I would love there to be more members down here, I found myself signing up to their Yahoo group.  I was not the only one of 'mature years' and long experience and I am interested to see that I am also not the only one to be asking myself whether I am willy-nilly a modern quilter.  Go to Google images and search for 'modern quilt images'.  You may be surprised at what you find and, if you are a quilter, how many of your quilts would qualify.

Now look at these.  They are quilts that I have made, a lot of them a long time ago, without giving a thought as to their 'type'.

This one was made about 1990 and is tied (badly) rather than quilted.

Early 2000s.  I made this one totally by hand as I wanted something to work on at the quilting group I went to.

Another one made around 2000. This one is still in use on a sofa and much appreciated by one of our cats.

I have made several quilts using designs by Jan Mullen in her book 'Cut Loose Quilts' and I suspect some of them would qualify as 'modern quilts'.

And I noticed one quilt on the Modern Quilt images site that was very similar to this cot quilt which I made in 2005.

Now, to see how this discussion is influencing us, go to Susan Briscoe's blog Sashiko and other stitching and find the entry for 14 August which is on the same subject as mine.

I cannot help but have another slant on all this, however.  My academic background is in social psychology and this leads me to ask myself why people want their quilting  to be labelled/put in a box such as traditional, modern or contemporary.  Is it because they need to identify with a particular group of like-minded people?  Is it about rejecting a different group?  Or rejecting certain techniques and approaches, e.g. wet work?  And is it possible to identify with more than one group?

In the end I wonder if it matters.  I learnt to do patchwork as a child and became serious when I realised quilting was a better occupation than embroidery if you were short-sighted.   I just knew that I wanted to 'paint' with fabric and that I did not have the patience to make sure all my points met and so I became a contemporary (art) quilter.  The different definitions hardly existed when I began and I think I have decided that you should just do what you want and not worry about which boxes you tick.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Current exhibition at Penlee House

There are two art galleries in Penzance; The Newlyn Orion and Penlee House
Penlee House has the country's main collections of paintings of the Newlyn School which operated in Newlyn at the beginning of the twentieth century. These are what I think of as 'genre' paintings because if you really study them you learn a lot about the society in which they were painted.  Although I am really a modern art person I do room stewarding at Penlee House which means I get to see the exhibitions several times.

The current exhibition which runs until early September, is called 'Model Citizens: Myths and Realities'.  I think it is a really interesting exhibition because it focuses on the people who modelled for the artists and on how the artists interpreted life in Newlyn in a way that would help them sell paintings.  So there is an element of myth and reality in the depictions of people and settings which means that 'artist's licence' operates and, for example, the women's dress is shown as more traditional than it really was.  Details of scenes are also altered so that the painting will appeal to a wide audience.

Stanhope Alexander Forbes 1857-1947
Gala Day at Newlyn, 1907
Oil on canvas, 106 x 136 cm
Hartlepool Art Gallery

© The Artist’s Estate / Bridgeman Art Library

This is a  painting that I know well but I had never thought about how the artist had changed the direction of the procession and removed the markers of Methodism, substituting a Union Jack for the Methodist Band of Hope banner.  Methodism was very important in Penwith society (I know:  My grandmother's father came from Penzance and was a staunch Methodist and many Methodist practices were passed down to us).  There are a number of other paintings of Methodist processions in Penlee House's collection.  They were obviously an important feature of life here and, although church based parades no longer happen, carnivals such as Galowan and Mazey Day in Penzance and Lafrowda in St Just are still a highlight of the year.

There is a second painting of Methodists in the exhibition: Primitive Methodists at Prayer.

William H Y Titcomb 1858 - 1930
Primitive Methodists at Prayer, 1889
Oil on canvas, 130 x 89 cm
Dudley Museum & Art Gallery

There are also lot of interior scenes in the exhibition and the point is made that interiors were 'women's territory' although this was a 'plein air' school and there are also many paintings of women working with fish or standing beside the harbour wall .

Edwin Harris 1855-1906
Mending the Nets, 1903
Oil on canvas, 86.5 x 102 cm
Bowerman Charitable Trust

Models were posed in the cottages in typical everyday scenes.  Women were heavily involved in fishing and the artists frequently posed them in traditional fisherwomens' dress, even though it was not longer worn.

Frank Bramley 1857 – 1915
Domino!, 1886
Oil on canvas, 89 x 112 cm
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

Here the whitewashed walls and stairway are also representative of the 'Newlyn interior' while the map of West Cornwall on the wall also places the painting geographically.  What I really like about this painting, though, is the white dress, tablecloth and paper in the front, all of which look like textiles you could almost touch.  They are painted in the square brush technique of which Frank Bramley was a particular master.

The exhibition has an excellent book to go with it: Cornwall's Fisherfolk: Art and Artifice by the curator Mary O'Neill.  The book is really a social history book with many of the Newlyn paintings reproduced in full colour.  I learnt a lot from it including the possible origins of my mother and grandmother's huge consumption of tea.  I had not realised that the fishermen and Methodists (who were teetotal) in this area were great tea drinkers so I suspect that is where it began! I also like having the paintings in one place rather than the collection of tatty postcards I have built up over the years. I would really recommend the book if this is your kind of exhibition.