Painted quilts, pretend applique and what I love about my job

Bristol Blue Painted Bubbles, Body Shop Quilt, 2009-2010
Bristol Blue Painted Bubbles, Body Shop Quilt, 2009-2010

Slightly hurried post today as I am deep into the teaching term at Bristol and exam papers have to be set, students have to be taught and meetings have to be attended.  So, this is a detail from my very large Body Shop quilt.  It’s from the panel about Bristol and is a nice example of how mistakes can lead to good things and become happy accidents.

I made a photo transfer of Anita Roddick using a PVA medium and coloured photocopies, but instead of using nice smooth cotton I thought I would use silk, as the rest of the quilt is deliberately made from the fabric.  I chose silk noil which is one of my favourite fabrics but not a great choice for this technique as the nubbly raised texture meant that when I worked away the paper to leave the transferred image the silk started to come through and the whole thing started to break up.  So I left a bit of the paper on which led to kind of bloom effect, or as if the piece had been sanded.  In the end this turned out really well, as the paper took the paint particularly well.  And painting all over the print was an adventurous move that I wouldn’t have taken if the print had worked beautifully.  I am too respectful of the source material sometimes.  The finished panel looks like this:

Body Shop Bristol Panel
Body Shop Bristol Panel

The panel is part of the large quilt which I will blog about in the coming months.  It has highly autobiographical elements which I will also explain, but it was really interesting thinking about how to capture what Bristol means to me.  The Nottingham panel for my hometown has elements of oak leaves for the Major Oak which features in the Robin Hood stories, and lace, as machine-made lace was for a long time one of the principle industries in the region.  But, I am not native to Bristol and don’t feel connected to, say, Concorde, which a lot of native Bristol people do.  So, I turned to Bristol Blue, which is a characteristic glass made here with a wonderful deep cobalt colour.  But I also realised that Bristol for me is about great friends, but also about work.  And my work is about thinking, creating ideas and communicating some of them to others.  I cannot believe the luxury of being paid to think and read books for a living.  I am very lucky.  So, I covered it in thought bubbles.  One of these morphed into a traditional quilting design, the feather, which was a surprise.  But I liked it so much I repeated it elsewhere on the quilt as in this detail:

Gold feather and pomegranate detail
Gold feather and pomegranate detail

This one also features a pomegranate design.  The pomegranate is one of my personal set of symbols.  For me it’s about fecundity and creativity and plenty because of the seeds.  But, what I realised in making this particular panel is that if you do your quilting and then paint it looks like you are the most fantastic applique-er in the world.  It looks like a magnificent gold applique, which is an illusion, and a pleasing one!

Finally a word on method.  I just quilt free-hand.  I don’t draw or transfer the design.  I just sit down and do it, which means some of it is very wonky, but you can either cover it up with paint, or decide that no-one will notice from a distance.  I think the secret of machine quilting is to do it very fast.  You cannot be a good machine quilter if you are scared of your machine!  I love the painting part which is like colouring in or painting by numbers and I am delighted that the effect is so good for so little effort and not much skill.  It’s mainly about confidence, and great materials.  As ever the work is only as good, unfortunately, as the materials used to produce it.  The paint here is the wonderful Golden Fluid Acrylic which I love.  Even on the yellow silk the blue stays blue rather than turning green because the paint has so much pigment in it.

4 thoughts on “Painted quilts, pretend applique and what I love about my job

  1. I was interested to see your autobiographical quilt, and the reference to Bristol Blue Glass. As one of only two companies left in bristol making this glass, we would like to invite you to our Bristol Blue Glass South West workshops to see the glass being made, and also our museum of historic glass, tracing the history of glass making in England from pre-Roman times to the present day. much of our glass is fitted with hall-marked solid silver fittings and decorations, so we are copying your design feature on your quilt! Our workshops are in Bedminster, Bristol, and our web-site is We look forward to meeting you.

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