Monday, 27 August 2012

Festival of Quilts

I spent a great day at the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham last Sunday 19 August. It was a self-indulgent day spent looking at beautiful work, of surveying what was for sale - and of buying. I can never resist temptation when I see the colours close up and feel the fabric and thread between my fingers.

The work I saw was varied in style, content, execution - and quality - but all inspiring in its way. I am not a quilter as I find the firm-edged square or rectangular space within which most seem to be contained restricting but I very much like looking at the techniques used and love the 'plump' surface effect given by quilting.

I especially enjoyed the huge one-off quilts and wall hung textiles of Pauline Burbidge. These were shown in a large retrospective of her work - more than 35 years of development summarised by around 30 pieces, everyone beautiful and making enormous impact - amazing. I found it hard to tear myself away.

My favourite piece is shown below but much more of  Pauline's work can be seen on - I really recommend a look if you haven't already explored the site.

Pauline Burbidge Horizon (2012)

The influence of Pauline's Art and Design training are obvious everywhere in her wonderfully crisp designs. I especially enjoyed her more recent landscape pieces - an impressive lesson in economy of design. For me, their impact came from the use of monochrome - black and white mostly - with only the occasional use of gentle colour. The hidden surprises came in looking up close at these works to see the complex surfaces and clever use of machine and hand stitch.

I stood and watched Pauline stitching using her fantastic Avante long-arm quilting machine. What a wonderful way to be able to work - really free machining like drawing with a pencil - but sadly at an impossible price for the small-scale stitcher.

I also very much enjoyed the juried exhibition, European Art Quilts VII. The variety of the work was wonderful and, for a non-quilter like me, very thought-provoking. Much of the work on show explored what is meant by a quilt and pushed the boundaries. I especially enjoyed You are Here by Els van Baarle, Twist by Anco Brouwers-Branderhorst, and Detritus Venice by Fenella Davies but there were many other clever and innovative pieces on show. If nothing else, I now have lots of new textile artists to explore.
Fenella Davies Detritus Venice

There was also a host of individual quilt entries to enjoy. These as always ranged from the huge to the tiny and from the gloriously colourful to the quiet and subdued. I took lots of photos and now realise that I didn't always include the attribution. Below are photos of several that I can attribute and they represent a cross- section of those I most enjoyed.

Christine Seager
Ten x Tin                      

                Dorothy Caldwell  

  Kate Dowty Cliff Textures          Karen Farmer Broken Pathways    

I bought books - particularly the lovely one to accompany Pauline's retrospective, the book of the European Art Quilts VII exhibition, and also the latest book on textile design by Sandra Meech.

I have found Sandra's previous books excellent in helping me to develop designs and I always benefit from working through the lessons in her book. I find these especially useful when I get stuck and can't think where to go next. Right now, as I begin a new focus, I feel the need to work my way in via some taught work and will complete some of the lessons in this latest book.

I also purchased some lovely materials, including a length of the Dream Cotton 100% cotton batting as used by Pauline Burbidge, and threads, fabrics and space-dyed scrim for up-coming projects - and I left the NEC with inspiration and a clearer idea of how I wanted to work next.

All this lovely work and the pleasure in seeing the interplay of texture, colour and stitch makes me think perhaps I should try harder to use quilting techniques in a free way in my work and not feel that I have to be confined by that rectangular space.

Above all, I think I should sometimes aim to simplify my designs and to try be more selective when choosing the surface interest I include in one piece. If I've learnt one thing from looking at the most successful work at FoQ, it is that less is certainly more.

And gosh, how I would like to be able to produce work of the quality and design of Pauline Burbidge.  What a delight that would be ...... but not even the miracle batting will produce that end ...

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