Monday, 20 August 2012

Festival of Quilts 2012


This weekend I went up to Birmingham NEC to explore the Festival of Quilts. It's reputedly the largest quilt festival in Europe and is an equal mix of quilt related exhibition and shopping. For me, it's both expensive and time-consuming to get to, but having been once I can now see that it will almost certainly become an annual treat for me.

Quilt by Brigitte Morgenroth

It's rare to return home from a day that involves nearly seven hours of commuting feeling invigorated, but somehow I did. I'm desperate to show you photographs of the quilts entries being exhibited, but as they were being judged the maker's names weren't shown and it doesn't feel right to post uncredited pictures. But it was delicious. The quilts were a sea of different textures, colours, patterns and sizes, meaning that the eyes and brain were constantly buzzing, unable to become weary from looking at row upon row of quilts. I especially loved the ones made of tiny, intricate pieces; the reproductions of quilts first made hundreds of years ago; and those that used a variety of fabrics to produce a tactile work that made you desperate to touch it. It's odd how instinctive is the need to touch, rather than merely look at, a quilt, but I satisfied my hungry fingers by pointing a camera at them instead.

Close up of quilt by Brigitte Morgenroth
One of the highlights of the festival for me was seeing Brigitte Morgenroth's quilts, which were breathtakingly lovely. Now in her late seventies, Brigitte has amassed an inspiring body of work, created predominately in silk and satin, fabrics which have an iridescence and playfulness which softens her geometric, structured use of colour and shape, resulting in my idea of quilty perfection.


Quilt by Brigitte Morgenroth

Exhibition aside, the list of stands at the festival was fantastic. My absolute highlight being the Quilt Mania stand, publisher of the eponymously named magazine and a select collection of quilting books produced in both French and English.

The Quilt Mania stand

I have lost countless hours to their website pondering over which books to buy and get shipped over from France, so to be able to flick through them in person, meet their lovely and enthusiastic publishers and leaf through the magazines was wonderful. I showed much restraint and purchased two books and three magazines, but the wishlist is long. The books are so utterly wonderful (I stayed up for much of the night studying them as I couldn't sleep) that they merit a post of their own, so I won't discuss them further here.


As well as Quilt Mania (in truth, they could have been the only stallholder and my day would have been complete) I had also been keen to see the much talked of Oakshott fabrics which are shot with different colours on the warp and weft. Their standard shot cotton is very similar to Kaffe Fassett's plain shot cottons, although perhaps with more body and a little more of a sheen (Kaffe's feel very soft and unstructured). They had a beautiful pastel set that it occurred to me afterwards would look amazing interspersed with soft Liberty print fabrics, but I chose a bundle from their range of more iridescent fabrics named Ruby Red, each colour shot with the same ruby red warp.


I have several ideas for them and I may combine some with this beautiful Liberty print which I picked out to match them. I had been wondering whether the Oakshott range of rubies was prone to fray as it is so similar in appearance to silk, but the Oakshott people assured me not. I'll let you know how I find them, as I've heard others say they are prone to fray and it's nice to know what to anticipate (on both of these instances of making silk quilts I found that either using a light iron-on interfacing or cutting them with a pinking blade in my rotary cutter solved any issue of fray).

I had also been keen to try out some Aurifil thread. Unfortunately the Aurifil stand was only selling it in large collection boxes, which seems like rather an investment if you're not convinced that the thread is superior in any other way than that it's fronted by Alex Veronelli, whose Twitter posts are so frequently amusing that his threads stick in your mind (the fact that he recently shared with his followers that an automatic toilet had flushed before he'd finished using it may have meant that I was smirking slightly when I spoke to him). However, I eventually found a single reel of Aurifil at Cotton Patch's stand. I'd also invested in some of Clover's popular Black/Gold needles too, so when I arrived home last night I decided to first try out the needles with my usual thread and then the Aurifil while I was doing some paper piecing, so that I could see where any marked difference may be coming from. Perhaps it's because you quickly become used to the needles that you regularly sew with, but the black/golds were no discernibly better than my usual Clover needles and felt as though they were dragging slightly. Mmmm. However, when I switched over to the Aurifil thread I was immediately impressed. When I'd asked Claire that morning about what it was that made Aurifil different from other threads she'd said: it just feels really nice when you're hand-sewing with it. She'd had a dreamy expression on her face when she said it. I was left wanting more. How was it nice? My own answer now, is that it just is (typed with dreamy facial expression) and I'm not sure why. It goes through the fabric easily and feels sort of buttery, a bit like Anna Maria Horner's voile slipping through your fingers. That sounds like a pervy thread moment though, so I'll stop there.


Next, meet Alice, of Backstitch - I was delighted to finally do so. Her stand looked beautiful and within the context of the festival felt completely unique - it was the only stand I saw selling some of the more contemporary ranges, such as Cloud 9's Simpatico. She also showed me the rainbow of linen which she's now stocking after I'd admired her quilt of purples, reds and blues that you can see to the left of the photo on the wall. It's beautiful and gives a completely different, heavier feel to a quilt. As a teenager I had a very amusing boyfriend who once, upon seeing my mother wearing a linen dress, cheekily remarked: Oh Mrs B! Delightful. Linen: so cool on your skin in the summer and providing of so much warmth in the winter. I thought of his observations when I saw Alice's quilt...it sounds like its properties may be excellent for blanketry as well as clothing.

Fabrics from Petra Prins of Holland, bought at the quilt festival

Finally, I was given a copy of The Quilter by the Quilters' Guild of the British Isles just as I was leaving. I was already aware of them as I've recently been stalking the online collection archives of their Quilt Museum and Gallery based in York (they have some amazing quilts, which I'd love to go and see at some point). I read their magazine on the train home. It looked rather dry, but it was full of well-written, interesting articles by people with a genuine love and enthusiasm for quilting and all that surrounds it. Both by the Guild and several times at the festival it was expressed how lovely it was to see 'a young person' interested in quilting and what a worry it was for older quilters keen to keep alive the skills and knowledge they're so keen to pass on. This surprised me. Firstly, to be described as 'young': within the bubble of the internet, it seems as though quilting is an interest beloved and very much embraced both by my generation and the subsequent one. Secondly, because sewing is currently undergoing such a revival, it always amazes me that anyone would worry over its health. However, in the context of the festival, I did feel like one of the younger ones and it made me wonder if my impression of the average age of the quilting population is skewed. In the 1990s Barbara Bailey (a Guild member) left her estate to the Guild and over a decade later, the collection they had amassed was moved to a permanent home in York where it could be viewed by visitors. However, visitor predictions fell far short of their expectations and the Guild recently faced the idea of giving up the premises due to the shortfall in income (it's since been given three years' respite). I was surprised to read this - looking at their collection online it's an impressive one that would merit my hurling myself north again had I not spent all my money at the quilt festival. What do you think?

Florence x

44 comments:

  1. I was there on Saturday, Florence and you're right about the demographic. Monica and I were wondering why after some 10 years or so of visiting quilt exhibitions, we were still 'the young ones' mooching about. Where's the next generation?

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    1. I missed so many people I would have loved to have met by not going on the Saturday! Sunday was quite quiet though, so more space to look at the quilts.

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  2. I've been really put off by the long, long commute up there, but it sounds great, maybe next year?

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    1. I know - I'd intended to go on the Saturday and then just couldn't quite make myself do it as it felt too far. However, the journey is not nearly as hellish as I'd expected and I had my EPP with me, so it was almost enjoyable!

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  3. I went on Thursday and thought there were more "young uns" than in previous years.Still not a lot, but more than two years ago when I took my son's girlfriend and she was the ONLY one under twenty five, I reckon! Seeing your purchases make me feel envious. I restrained from buy from QuiltMania, and now regret it - still, you can't buy everything, can you.

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    1. I tried to remind myself of that! Well actually, I didn't. Whenever I go anywhere I tend to buy nothing and regret it when I get home, so this time I went with spending courage and even my husband was impressed by my haul (he normally finds my lack-of-spending-remorse rather confusing).

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  4. If you want to get more Aurifil thread, New Threads Quilt Shop stock the whole range of threads in all available colours (including the box sets)... http://www.new-threads.com/aurifil-thread-15-c.asp
    I had about 6 hour round trip on the train & I live in the East Midlands. Journey involved 3 trains each way. Maybe next year I will stay at a nearby hotel.

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    1. Yes, I'm considering doing the same next year - two days would definitely be double fun.

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  5. Hi Florence,
    I was there Thursday and Friday and certainly felt like a youngster (at 37) but I chatted to lots of people a lot older than me and felt we were all on the same wave length as if age didn't matter. Like you, I find Clover's regular needles just as good as the gold-blacks, in fact the gold-blacks snap too easily for me (given the cost). I find the Aurifil stand frustrating. Last year, I bought a large cone from them (and I love it) but they had hardly any choice so I couldn't buy more thank the one spool. This year.,I headed straight there on Thursday morning only to find, just as you say, you could only buy large sets. Another lady was there who was also unimpressed. It's as if they don't want to sell anything! All in all, it's a fab event, though. If only I could be more restrained; I have spent a good while today trying to find new homes for my purchases amongst the stash shelves! My head is whirring with ideas, now I just need to find the time.
    Hen x

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    1. The needles are now warming on me, although I have had two snap, which is odd as I'm not used to snapping needles.

      Apparently the issue with the Aurifil stand was so that they don't tread on the toes of their stockists who were selling it at the festival. However, I don't think this really works as their stockists were selling it in such a limited number of colours that it meant compromising on choice.

      Good luck with all your ideas, Hen. It's both exhilerating and panic-inducing to have so many in there that you're eager to commit to fabric, isn't it?

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  6. Great post! I went on thursday and dragged my sister and mum along (both non-quilters but textile enthusiasts). I also made a bee-line for the Oakshotts... and thought they were lovely but not quite sure what I'd do with them so I resisted purchasing... for now! That Liberty print you chose is gorgeous. I picked up a pack of pre-cut Liberty hexxies that I can't wait to start stitching!

    Blogland feels so full of young quilters that I was really hoping there might be more younger people there (I'm in my 30's so not particularly young!). I suppose I should have known better. I've found it difficult to find a group to attend locally that isn't all about traditional quilting although that isn't to say that I haven't really appreciated learning from the pro's at my local evening class :-)

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    1. Oh lucky you with your evening class - that sounds lovely.

      I didn't mind the age distribution at the quilt festival - I think in some ways I find it more comfortable that way, but I don't think I'd really been aware of the imbalance until the older quilters commented on it. It's odd how perception of age and youth can change in such a setting!

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  7. Hello Florence.

    I feel as though I've spent hours in front of my computer screen, as I followed thread after thread of your wonderful post.

    Three years ago I commuted, with husband in tow, to Birmingham from Australia. Well, in fact from London where we had arrived a couple of days earlier, but it was one of the side trips top of my agenda and one I will never regret.

    On the question of the older quilter, I guess I am typical of that group, having caught the quilting bug in the mid-Eighties and never finding a cure. However, one group I have joined since returning to Sydney last year meets every first Saturday of the month and I am heartened by the number of (from my perspective) young quilters - enthusiastic young women under forty. They blend in seamlessly with us older folk and the age difference is not an issue. I am confident that there is a bright future for the quilting movement.

    Thank you for starting my day with such wonderful words. And now I have to get ready to meet up with my Tuesday quilting group. Bliss.

    .

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    1. I'm so pleased you loved the links and found time to follow them and also that you've, at one time, had the chance to visit the festival!

      Your Saturday group sounds heavenly - I wish I could come along.

      x

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  8. Hi thanks for sharing your wonderful day. I use the black clover needles combined with aurifil and love them. I do alot of paper pieicing and the trick with the clover black needle is to wear it in and after an hour or two the drag disappears and the needle glides like no other. I also have never had one snap unlike the other clover needles. Don't give up. Caroline in Sydney.

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    1. After reading your comment I persevered with the needles and you're right - they do wear in and the drag goes after a few hours. However, perhaps it takes some time to adjust to their strength as to me they still feel oddly brittle and I've snapped two!

      Thank you so much for your comment. x

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  9. I'm very jealous! I went two years ago as it coincided with a trip to the UK. I'd love to go again.

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    1. Definitely worthy of booking another holiday around!

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  10. Yikes, thanks for the information on the York quilt museum, Florence - I've been meaning for ages to go there when visiting family in Leeds, so I suppose I'd better get on with it. Are the black gold needles really no better? Glad I haven't sent for any now!

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    1. I persevered after Molly's comment above, and she's right - they do wear in so that there's no drag, however, I'm equally happy with regular Clover needles (which do seem superior to some other makes).

      Oh please let me know what it's like if you do visit. Apparently it can be chilly in there, so wrap up warm. x

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  11. Lovely post - am annoyed with myself for not making the effort to go - and lots of links to explore. Thank you x

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  12. I think the young 'uns are on the internets to be honest. Because I'm so thoroughly immersed in blogs and online and that whole world I was really taken aback by the attitude to that side of things exhibited by the older members of our modern quilt guild when we first met. They were unaware of that whole side of things, very uncertain about it, and as a result, I think rather uninterested. Although the younger quilters (of any style) can bridge the gulf by attending quilt shows like you did, or guild meetings, so many older quilters don't seem to make it the other way. The other aspect may be that if there was only one vendor selling more contemporary fabrics then the show isn't going to pull in the purely modern quilters.

    I agree with you though, the art form is in no danger of dying out, it's just shifting venues! It's a pity they worry about it when they needn't.

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    1. I think I'd expressed it wrongly about the quilt shops at the festival - there were plenty selling modern, new ranges - Alice's was just unique in the type of ranges and how geometric and unfloral they were!

      Yes, I agree - it's really a shame that there's worry where there doesn't need to be any.

      I like the sound of your modern quilt guild. x

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  13. I had a similar experience when I visited a local Quilt exhibition. I was inspired and awed by the quilts and made to feel very youthful by the other people in attendance. The lack of the contemporary fabric ranges will be a contributing factor to young quilters not attending. It's a real frustration of mine that I can't view any of these fabrics at local stores or exhibitions before buying. Thanks for the info on the York exhibition. I have family there so will definitely make the effort to visit.

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    1. Lucky you - I used to have family near York and she's now moved away. I'm itching to find an excuse to go!

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  14. I am probably one of the quilters that would be dismissed as old or even elderly by some younger people.
    Yes, I make traditional quilts in less 'modern' colours, but that is because most of my quilts are made to use in rooms that are traditional rather than cutting edge and lots of white/other solids does not suit. Many modern quilts are traditional designs worked in the colours/designs of today (many of which look very similar to the designs I grew up with in the 50's)
    I also make smaller wall hung pieces where my pallette shifts slightly and my techniques become more improvisational. Incidentally, the most innovative quilter I know, in terms of design, technique and colour is in her 80's having come to quilting long after retiring from a life teaching design in another medium.
    She is not computer literate. I do use the internet, but that is because I had a year when I could not sew - or do anything much - because of ill health. My generation did not have home computers available until we were in our 40's and 50's and had our lives full of activity that left little room for another that involved sitting down and looking at a screen.

    So please don't dismiss older quilters because of some stereotype you have from seeing our grey hair - it will come to you in the end!

    PS One may learn a lot from videos on the internet, but nothing beats a hands on class with an expert.

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    1. Hi Gloria, I thought about your comment a lot after you'd posted it and re-read my own post to see whether I had seemed in any way dismissive of 'older quilters' and I really don't think that I had. The fact that my favourite thing about the festival was seeing the beautiful work of Brigitte Morgenroth (who is in her late 70s) is indicative of how irrelevant age is to me or of there being any wish on my part for age segregation. Far from dismissing the work of an older quilter, I was admiring it. I'm really sad that you read between the lines and somehow took away something that wasn't my intention at all.

      I think you're right - nothing beats real-life expert advice, but for many the internet is a great place to meet and is the only access they may have to learning these skills - I think there's room for both if the end result is that quilting remains a vibrant and artful skill.

      I loved reading your descriptions of your work - it sounds beautiful. x

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  15. Great post! I went on saturday and loved the show although think i could've done with two days to really see it all- there was so much to see i felt quite overwhelmed by it all! I agree that the average age of people there was quite high but i did notice a few of us 'younger' quilters about- by talking about it on blogs like yours maybe it will inspire more younger people to go next year! My arms still ache from carrying around my bags full of goodies i bought- note to self in future dont buy 3 heavy books in the first hour of being there!!

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    1. Ditto the arms! I'm still enjoying what they carried home though - I hope you are too! x

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  16. oh do make a trip to the quilt museum in York, it is a truly lovely place, I used to volunteer there when we lived in York and I loved spending time there. they run wonderful courses for children and adults and have retreat weekends and visiting lecturers, definitely worth a visit.

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    1. Oh, it's so lovely to hear from someone who has been (and even worked there!). x

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  17. Hi Florence, I was just posting about one of my quilts today on my relatively new blog and I put in a link to your "how to make a quilt" page - that was before I saw today's quilty posting. I even figured out how to add "Blogs I Follow" to my blog so i have put a link there too. I love your photos and work - especially your skill with the sewing machine I prefer to hand sew although I do occasionally have to use my vintage pfaff 30!

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    1. Thank you so much and congratulations on your lovely new blog.

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  18. Interesting thoughts, particularly on the Quilters Guild magazine. I wrote an article for their current issue ( and possiblly the one you were given) precisely because I think it is stuck in a rather sedentary rut and wanted them to open their eyes to the online quilting world. Not sure how much effect it has had but I tried!

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    1. It's so lovely to hear from you! I read your article and enjoyed it hugely. x

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  19. Hi if you want Aurifil threads check out The Fat Quarters. We keep single threads on 40 and 50 weight as well as threads for wool felt. If you need a particular colour contact me and I will sort it out. We had Aurifil at Festival, sorry you missed us its so big though I am not surprised. Maybe see you next year on stand G26.

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    1. Thank you so much for leaving a comment to let me know, Kim. You will definitely see me next year!

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  20. I went on the Thursday and it was a great day. Like you I spent most of the day travelling but it was well worth it, in large to meet many of the people I talk to on Twitter.

    I thought I was being clever by taking out cash to spend so I wouldn't go over budget but the end of the first hour I'd used most my cash! Too much temptation! Next year I need to go for longer and take a lot more money. Had better start saving now...

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    1. Ditto - I took out cash, but ended up using my card too. Oh dear.

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  21. Sounds like a wonderful day! I am so with you on Quiltmania - I spent about an hour at their stand last year and ended up buying a book originally written in Japanese and translated into French (I don't speak French) because I just couldn't resist it! Have fun with your Oakshotts.

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    1. I think the Japanese have a way of explaining things pictorially, that does away with the need for words anyway! Which book was it?

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  22. I went on Friday and found it fascinating but like many of you noticed the demographic. I am in my 50s so not young but not yet ancient. From what I can see from fairs, exhibitions and magazines there seem to be several craft 'worlds' which don't really seem to overlap much: the serious quilters many with decades of experience aiming for high standards in terms of finish - this also has sub groups contemporary/art/etc.; younger 'crafty' creators many of whom enjoy producing smaller handmade objects with a sort of 'naive' finish in faded colours - the magazine Selvedge comes to mind and finally the artists who use quilting, say like Tracey Emin, for whom finish and usability seem unimportant.It's almost like these groups speak different languages.

    Re the future: I don't think as many children are taught to sew by a parent/grandparent/at school as in the past so this may have an impact on the number of younger people making things. I would guess that for a lot of older quilters the habits of a lifetime physically making quilts and learning through meeting other quilters seem more enjoyable than blogs, websites etc. It's just not how they operate. Let's face it nothing beats seeing and touching the real thing. On that note hats off to the Contemporary Quilts group for having all their makers make a folder of touchable details to go with their 10th anniversary exhibition.

    Finally on the subject of fabric: I feel I am not a proper quilter as I just do patchwork and applique and so perhaps shouldn't comment but I don't understand why quilters don't buy whatever fabrics appeal to them not just stuff produced for quilting.It can lead to a certain sameness. I sometimes buy clothing from charity shops and take it apart.
    Sorry this post is so long!

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    1. I'm not sure I understand the nuances of why you wouldn't be a proper quilter - you sound like one!

      I found your comment really interesting - I think you're right that in many ways there's a current popularity for a naive finish that an older quilter wouldn't be able to appreciate when it lacks the skills they may have used. I think in many ways I can really appreciate that attitude and can see why they may find it unpalatable, when it feels like a deconstruction of skill. I think it's perhaps because essentially quilting walks the line of 'art' as well as merely utilitarian textile and so it is something that's affected by fashion and while this new form of naive quilting may not require the same level of sewing skill it does require a conceptual, visual skill to create - both appreciable qualities, although I think if pushed, I enjoy more to look at traditional piecing.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x