The origin of patchwork and quilting comes from a desire to recycle. Small pieces of fabric, from old worn clothes, were sewn together to make warm quilts. They were quilted – stitched through three layers – to make sure the wadding (the soft, warm middle layer) stayed in place. Quilting was also used to repair and reinforce garments.
Nowadays, we can buy beautiful cotton fabrics by the yard, along with a variety of waddings. I do, but in keeping with the spirit of P&Q, I do my best to save and reuse as much of my material as possible. I have a bag full of little scraps of fabric, and only throw bits away when they are absolutely too small to use.
I don’t make bed quilts, but my wall hangings are created using the same techniques – most of them feature applique and free-machine quilting.
A couple of years ago I made 5 different coloured blocks by layering tiny scraps of material onto a backing, and stitching all over them. These were used to make my wall-hanging “If Mondrian could Quilt”. But there were bits of these new blocks left over, so I used them to make “Cathedral Window” – leftover leftovers!
I bought a bag of silk pieces some 20 years ago, from a dress-maker who specialised in evening dresses. I am still using them up, and they appear in a lot of my more contemporary work where colour takes centre stage.
My Kandinsky-inspired Circles hangings are made with quilted pieces left over from “Colour Blocks”. I have also made a few small framed Circles pieces, including the pre-Covid “Circles behaving Irresponsibly” and the lockdown “Circles at a Social Distance”. The fabric for these circles all came out of the silk and scraps bag.
Last year’s Christmas wreath was made using red and green pieces from the scraps bag. And, I have to say, there were more red and green fabrics in the bag that I didn’t use – it’s fair to say that I was spoiled for choice.
A recent work is “Salmon Circle”. The salmon were stitched individually and then added to the background fabric. The wadding and backing for each fish was, again, left over from a previous project. I used fabrics from my stash for the salmon themselves, but made the corner fish motifs from the same pieces.
Last month I was rummaging through my fabrics drawers and found a small sample left over from my City&Guilds days, over 20 years ago. It was an experiment in Bondaweb painting – I painted the iron-on side of a piece of bondaweb with Brushos, in a random fashion, and ironed it onto white cotton. The adhesive fixed the paint to the fabric and I had a colourful result. (Fun to try, just remember not to iron it afterwards if you don’t want a sticky, colourful iron!). Finding it again sparked an idea, so I free-machine stitched over the fabric to create a fantasy landscape.
I love buying fabric, and take great care in choosing the right material for a piece. When I made memory pieces from trips abroad (when I could make trips abroad, that is), I bought as much of the fabric on site as I could. But I possibly get more satisfaction by creating from what I already have - the challenge is not to buy any new materials. I feel the P&Q spirits are nodding approvingly, and a scrap has to be very, very small before I can bring myself to put it in the bin.