Amish Quilts and the Welsh Connection

September 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Posted in Museums and Exhibitions, Patchwork, quilt | Leave a comment
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It seems to be becoming a tradition that every second year my summer holidays include a visit to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. This year, for the first time, I had booked a few lectures to mix up the days at the Festival and to have an opportunity to be entertained while sitting down in the middle of a long day on my feet.

The first lecture I attended was by Dorothy Osler, talking about her newest book “Amish Quilts and the Welsh connection“. I had selected this talk mainly because I was going to visit the exhibition of the same name at the Jen Jones Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter and was interested in hearing more about the topic. What I didn’t realize at that time was that the exhibition is actually inspired by the book, although given the identical titles, this is hardly surprising.

During her talk, Dorothy Osler shared a little bit of the story about how that book was conceived. We got to hear about her research successes as well as failures, and how the whole story came together. An absolutely fascinating mix of history and quilting! If you ever get a chance to hear her talk, it’s definitely worth it.

After that, I was looking forward to my visit to Wales even more. I took a train from Birmingham to Aberysthwyth, where I had to change to a bus to Lampeter. At first the weather was typically Welsh, with a bit of rain and some fog. But just in time for my arrival in Lampeter, the sun came out and it was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon. The museum is located in the old Town Hall, which very conveniently is right across the road from the bus stop.

The building has been lovingly restored and is now a perfect place for a quilt museum. The ground floor has the museum shop and entry on the left side and a very nice café on the right, where I enjoyed a great lunch. The main exhibition room is the old court room on the upper floor, and it’s absolutely magnificent. It’s not a big place, but the exhibition was lovely and I had all the peace and quiet I wanted to admire the quilts at leisure. In the hallways there was some more information about the history of Welsh immigrants to America, and in a few smaller rooms other temporary exhibitions were shown.

Back  downstairs at the shop, I did the inevitable: shop for souvenirs. Here’s my booty:

In front to the right, the catalogue for the exhibition. Behind that, a gorgeous bookmark with a detail from a red handquilted quilt. And at the back, a book about Welsh Quilting Patterns and how to design your own. The Welsh Quilting Pattern & Design Handbook is a special edition published by the Welsh Quilt Centre, and the proceeds go toward the conservation of the museum’s collection. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last time I’ll mention that book, since I feel a bit of sketching and quilting may be in the not-so-far future.

All in all, this is an amazing place, and I highly recommend a visit if you can make it there. The current exhibition still runs till November 3, 2012. A big thank you goes to Jen Jones and her team, who make the existence of this place possible. Their enthusiasm for the museum is highly contagious, and they did everything to make my stay there as enjoyable as possible. I might be back sooner rather than later even though the place is a bit off the beaten track!

A Quilt about Weaving

November 14, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Museums and Exhibitions, Patchwork, quilt, Weaving | 2 Comments

Almost a year after starting to think about this project, I can finally post about it. On the way home to my parents’ place just before Christmas last year, I came across an announcement for a challenge that immediately captivated me. It was about showcasing old samples of jacquard-woven fabrics in form of a textile object. As it happens, the museum is located quite near to my parents’ place, so I had a chance to go there during the holidays and have a look around. It’s an interesting place, combining two quite different subjects: Car and motorcycle racing on the ground floor with the history of textile production in Hohenstein-Ernstthal on the upper floors. So there’s something interesting there for everybody!

I had a good look around, admiring the working jacquard looms on display and taking quite a few pictures for inspiration. At the end, I asked about the challenge and was guided to the director of the museum, who took me to the backoffice where I was allowed to select my own selection of samples to work from. Better than getting them randomly in the mail, but given the pile of fabric and the few minutes I had to look, I think the result was still fairly random.

Back home, I started brewing ideas. What was clear from the beginning was that the technology of jacquard weaving should play a role in my quilt. After quite a bit of thought, I settled on the ring of punch cards that creates the pattern as the central topic of my work. Next was the challenge of finding a way to sew what was in my head, especially since the samples are as far from normal cotton patchwork fabric as you could imagine. Think heavy upholstery fabric instead. So anything small and exact was right out. Luckily I found a grey-brown fabric on sale that went well with the other fabrics, so things started to roll. A few false starts later, my ring of cards started to take shape:

In this state, what’s missing are the holes that create the pattern when weaving. Instead of finding a way to poke thousands of holes into my quilts, I used sequins and beads. Coming up with a pattern also took some time, since I wanted it to be something that could be woven, instead of just a random arrangement with no meaning. In the end, I drew up a very simplified picture of a weaving shuttle:

Putting all the sequins in the right places on the quilt was quite a bit of work, but I like the result. But even so, the quilt was still very abstract. The pattern that could be woven from those cards wasn’t visible anywhere, so crazy as I am, I got out my simple rigid heddle loom and proceded to weave the pattern by hand—twice.

I used those in a separate panel to be displayed above the ring of cards. A few details later, voilà, a finished wallhanging:

After the usual frantic quest for a good picture, and the waiting for the jury decision, I finally found out that my quilt was accepted for the exhibition. There was no way I would miss the opening, I was really curious what others had come up with! And I definitely wasn’t disappointed when I got there. Lots of creativity around, using those fabrics in all ways imaginable and then some. There’s now a website showing the quilts that got a special recognition from the jury, go check them out, they’re amazing! Yep, the last one on that list is mine. I guess nobody was more surprised about that than me, since it’s certainly not a pretty quilt in any sense of the word. The grand price: A copy of the catalog and a real wooden weaving shuttle. I’m currently trying to figure out how to include that one into a textile piece, otherwise it will get lost somewhere in the mountains of stuff around here.

1001 Nights

July 16, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Posted in Patchwork, quilt | 9 Comments
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I finished the quilt for the challenge from my quilt group! It’s due in November, so I have no idea how that could have happened. Usually I barely make the deadline! So, here it is in all its glory:

The topic was “Blue”, and the required size somewhere around 40*40 cm. Since that’s my standard pillow size and I’m not very likely to use it as a wallhanging, I used my usual pillow closure at the back, so I can actually use it as a pillow cover after the exhibition. I’m calling it “1001 Nights” after the Arabian Fairytale collection, because the dark blue (actually much darker than in this image) reminds me of the night sky and the gold thread weaves a traditional islamic pattern on that sky.

Maybe it’s interesting to have a look at how I achieved that effect. The gold thread is couched onto the fabric using a sewing machine stitch, as you can see in this detail:

Since marking that dark fabric would have been difficult, I used a little trick: The background fabric is a light blue, and I drew the pattern on the background fabric using the tried-and-tested “tape it to the window” method. I then made the quilt sandwich and sewed over the drawing lines with a straight stitch on the backside. Here you can see the marked background with the sewing partly done:

After that part was finished, I turned the thing around and couched the gold thread over all the straight lines. You can see the sewing better at the back:

I’m happy with the result and saved myself a lot of trouble because I didn’t have to try and mark that dark blue fabric. A bit more sewing, since I had to sew over every line twice, but well worth it in my book.

The Lure of Islamic Patterns

April 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Posted in Patchwork, quilt | 4 Comments

Sorry it’s been so quiet around here, I was kind of busy with a project I can’t post about, and my knitting seems to accomplish not very much, either. But the secret project is almost finished (and yes, I will post it as soon as I can), and I was looking for inspiration for something new.

I’ve always been fascinated with the geometric, line-based patterns used in Islamic art. A few deceptively simple lines, when woven into each other, build up complex geometric forms. I spent quite a while last year at the V&A looking at this panel, even trying a small sketch of it, picking out the elements of the pattern. I knew back then that I wanted to do a quilt inpired by this, one day.

So back home, I started a first try to reconstruct the pattern using ruler and pencil on a piece of paper, but soon realized that even if I got things right, I could never reach the precision needed to construct the whole pattern this way. Another way was needed, so I remembered GeoGebra, a nifty little piece of software intended for maths teaching and learning. I was originally made aware of it via Jon’s blog, which is all about interesting things you can do with relatively basic maths. A perfect tool for somebody who was always too clumsy in school to have her geometry constructions come out quite right.

Using GeoGebra, I started to draw the pattern from scratch. After a couple of false starts, things started to come together, and I ended up with an apparent mess like this:

A bit of cleanup later, you can pretty much see the pattern:

Nice, and because I can’t get enough of it, I’m going to make two quite different quilts starting from the same pattern: the first one will emphasize the linearity of the pattern, using gold thread on a dark blue background to show how the pattern is built up from lines. Here’s the sample I made for this:

The second one will emphasize the different geometric forms that are created by those intersecting lines. This is going to be my first attempt at English paper piecing, and I also made a sample for this to make sure it would be actually possible to sew this:

The colours for both quilts will be a bit different, since I tried the pattern out on scrap fabric, but I think you get the idea. After a bit of looking I’ve found all the supplies I need for both quilts, and am looking forward to actually starting to sew. I hope I’ll be able to show you something for real soon!

The Tale of the Little Red Box—Continued

November 28, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Posted in Patchwork, quilt | 1 Comment

The first part of the tale.

After a long, long sleep, the little box finally got woken up. Her new dress was finished at last! She just couldn’t wait any longer to try it on. So within a single evening, the dress got fitted, and there was a very happy little box admiring herself in every mirror she could find. Not only that, but of course she needed to show off for the camera!

First from one side:

Then from the other side:

With the lid off to show the inside:

And even upside down to show off her pretty feet:

When she had finished admiring herself and dancing in front of the camera, she suddenly got very quiet. “What’s going to happen now? I don’t want to go back to sleeping all the time!” Her maker comforted her: “Don’t worry, you’ll be a Christmas present for a little girl that I’m sure will like you, and be proud to keep her little treasures inside you!” The little box was very glad to hear that she was going to have company soon, and maybe some secrets to guard. So she happily went back to sleep with the promise to be woken up on Christmas Eve and being able to show off her sparkling dress under the tree.

The End.

Whole-cloth Pillow Cover

September 13, 2009 at 8:30 am | Posted in Patchwork, quilt | Leave a comment

Having taken a course in hand-quilting a while ago, I finished the course project, but let the craft slide afterwards, although I liked both the process and the result. But when I needed a portable project to take to quilt group this year, I remembered I have a couple of unused pillows in need of a cover lying around, and decided to make one up as a practice project for hand quilting. And I found out that hand quilting is definitely something that needs continuous practice:

Round Pillow Cover

The stitches in the middle are way bigger and more unregular than they should be, but I got back into the swing of things pretty quickly and am quite happy with the result. The motif is taken from this book, which is full of inspiration suitable for any craft you could be looking for a design for. Here’s a detail of the cover to show the quilting better:

Round Pillow Cover - Detail

It was a fun little project, and I already started the next hand quilting project, which will be another pillow cover, using fabric and a pattern I bought in Birmingham. But pictures of that will have to wait until I actually have something to show!

The Tale of the Little Red Box

February 22, 2009 at 11:56 am | Posted in Patchwork, quilt | 1 Comment
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Once upon a time, there was a little red box:

Little Red Box

The little box was very sad, because she turned out to be just a tiny little bit too small for the beautiful dress that was made especially for her:

Too Small Box

So her big sister got to wear the dress instead, and she was left with nothing at all to wear. 😦 The woman who had created the little box felt responsible for the sadness of the box, and started to think about what to do about it. Then she remembered the big box of fabric scraps that she had collected over the years and showed the contents to the little box, to see if there’s anything there that would strike her fancy. Together they came up with the parts of a dress for the little box:

Lid for Little Box

Sides for Little Box

The little box really liked the bright reds and yellows that fit so well with her red coverings, and she was very happy with the result. But a few minutes later, she became sad again. The woman who made her didn’t want to see her so sad and asked her what the problem is. It turned out that she was envious of all the pretty embroidery threads and beads on her big sister’s dress. “Don’t worry, little box,” said the woman, “you’re going to be a crazy quilt box,” and she showed her the boxes full of embroidery thread and beads and lace trimmings she had collected over time. Now the little box was smiling again, and went to sleep dreaming of the sparkly dress she was to wear one day.

To Be Continued…

Hexagons for Quilters

September 20, 2008 at 6:52 pm | Posted in Patchwork, quilt | 3 Comments
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Jon Ingram wrote an interesting post on his blog on using a simple hexagonal shape to study different tiling patterns. The results of his playful approach are really nice, and immediately led me to think about the possibilities this kind of patterned tile would present for quilters. So I requested a pattern file that wasn’t in the black and white Jon used for his printouts, but just the simple lines, printed and cut out 30 of them and started to play.

My first try was to create a big circle using a ring of 6 tiles. The result gives a nice motif of a circle with a meandering band weaving in and out of the circle. The difficult part was then to create a symmetric tiling pattern that can repeat indefinitely, but after a bit of fiddling I quite like the result.


I could easily imagine one of those big circle motifs as a quilting pattern for hand-quilting, so I drew one out to try the effect:

I’m not really convinced of this one, I think those tilings are stronger when used to fill a whole area, which leads to the next idea: When designing for machine-quilting, it’s nice to have continuous-line patterns so you don’t have to start and stop sewing all the time. So my next step was to try to create patterns that don’t have any closed loops. The first one has a strong horizontal design:


Next I was just randomly placing the tiles, the only rule being not to create a closed loop. This seems to be quite easy to achieve, so there’s definitely room to achieve a lot of different pattern ranging from very regular to almost chaotic. For this one I used a 3×3 pattern of tiles that repeat horizontally and vertically:

So there’s no shortage of possible designs, even while using just one tile and no colours. Any patterns created in this manner could be easily used as designs for either hand or machine quilting. Now, what about colours? The circle design reminds me a bit of celtic knotwork, which could be appliquéd using bias tape. This would be easy to achieve with this design.

How about creating a game out of those tiles? Using three colours on each tile, a different one for each line segment, there are six different ways to colour our tile. Making an equal number of tiles of each colour combination, those tiles could be used to create your own patterns. A game could for example consist of the task to only connect sides with the same colour, and whoever manages to create a closed loop wins. Something like this already exists as Tantrix.

Or we could make a variable wall-hanging: Make a plain quilt for the back divided into hexagons the size of the tiles by lines of quilting. Put the underside of a button or a piece of velcro in the middle of each hexagon. Make your tiles and put the other side of the button or velcro on the back. Now you can change the design of your wall-decoration as often as you want!

To try out the practicalities of sewing tiles like this, I decided to run a trial today. Here’s the result:

Each side of the tiles is about 4.5cm long. The long strips were appliquéd using 12mm bias tape. The strip for the small segment couldn’t be done that way because the curvature is just too strong. So I cut out the fabric in the correct form and appliquéd it down. The sides are closed with a simple zig-zag-stitch. Of course it would also be possible to sew the hexagons together from the left side and then turn them, but for today’s trial I decided that was too much hassle. All in all the result looks pretty nice, but I think I need to figure out a better way to sew the small circle segment.

Sending off a Quilt

August 31, 2008 at 8:34 pm | Posted in Museums and Exhibitions, Patchwork, quilt | Leave a comment

Remember this beauty?

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the judges seemed to like my snowflakes/stars as well, because it was choosen to be displayed in the “Mathematical Quilts” exhibition. From 93 submitted quilts for this challenge, 24 were selected for exhibition. 🙂 So a couple of days ago, I carefully wrapped it up, put it in a parcel and sent it away to have some fun and travel for the next months together with 23 of its brethren. When I get it back, it certainly will be a well-travelled quilt!

The first stop will be at Erlangen at the German Mathematician’s Association’s conference from September 15 till September 19. There will be further places where the exhibition will be shown next spring, but the details are not completely clear yet. I’ll keep you updated as soon as I find things out!

A visit to Bath (and not for the spa)

August 6, 2008 at 7:35 pm | Posted in Embroidery, Museums and Exhibitions, Patchwork, quilt | 1 Comment
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Bath, Royal Crescent

Bath, Royal Crescent

Bath was one of the places on my must-see list. Due to the price of accommodation I only stayed one night and thus had to fit both museums into one day, which isn’t easy since the opening times are skewed towards the afternoon.

The Fashion Museum was said to open at 11am on the guide I got at the hotel, but luckily when I found it after having a walk around town at shortly before 10:30, it said on the door that it would be open by 10:30. That’s half an hour saved already! The museum concentrates on fashion in different contexts, thus not giving a strictly historical account but mixing things up, setting i.e. evening dresses or swim-wear from different periods next to each other. I had the feeling that the older exhibits got lost on occasion in the middle of the 20th century stuff. But there was a big room showing dresses from the Elizabethan, Regency, and Victorian periods sorted by period as well, which I really enjoyed.

But the grand prize definitely goes to a rather small exhibition of 17th century gloves currently on display. The gloves on display have richly embroidered gauntlets and were surely not worn in everyday life. They were used as representative presents, and for example worn when getting one’s portrait painted. The embroidery is exquisite, and one of the souvenirs I brought home is a set of postcards from this exhibition.

It was lunchtime when I finished there, and then I was off to go find my way to the American Museum. I enjoyed the whole museum very much, there were a few highlights for textile lovers. The American Heritage Exhibition on the lower level has quite a few craft objects made by the native peoples. The Period Rooms are of course having quilts in all the places where they would have been in the real houses. And the Textile Room is ingeniously set up in a way that allows as many quilts as possible to be shown in a rather small space. Let me see if I can explain this: There are two half-round columns installed at opposite walls, and on each of those are numerous wooden frames fixed like book pages, each with a quilt or rug mounted under a protective cover on both sides. So you can just flip through the quilts like book pages, and have a close look at a lot of them. Just great!

So, the day was a big success in terms of the museums. Time to move on. My next stop was to meet a friend in Cardiff, and then it was off to London! Lots of things to see there, and I’ll probably need more than one post to cover it all.

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