This just in on the death quilt


Death quilt - detail
Death quilt - detail


Despite the fact that the nights are starting to get very dark here, or maybe because of that, I have been feeling a real urge to do some stitching recently.  So, I have gone back to my death quilt.  I have decided to use the Beryl Taylor approach to making textile art, which is to make small simple units which together look really complicated.  So, my death quilt will be made up from a series of units which I can make sitting in front of the television catching up on guilty pleasures.  It’s harder to feel guilty when you are doing something productive at the same time.  Incidentally, I love Beryl Taylor’s work, but her website is really disappointing, so there is no link.  I have a lovely book in which she gives detailed accounts of how she works, but, I can’t find it.  So, I don’t copy her work, and I date my style to a workshop with Louise Watson probably thirty years ago in Chepstow, but there are definite similarities between Ms Taylor’s work and mine:

By Beryl Taylor
By Beryl Taylor


So, last night I sat down and put together one of the panels from the quilt.  This is what I started with when I was blocking the whole piece out:


Death quilt panel, first attempt
Death quilt panel, first attempt


And this is what I ended up with:


Death quilt - detail
Death quilt - detail


Much more elaborate.  When I started to put this together with the really heavy blue rose braid, the deep electric blue just popped with the large piece of silk velvet I plan to use.  And then the grim reality of the shopping ban came home to me.  At this stage there would normally be a joyful dash to a bead shop to buy some electric blue beads and sequins, but not anymore.  I will have to scour my stash for something to continue the blue theme.  I found the embroidered felt background for the panel in my scrap bag, and the hairy stuff which frames the whole thing came out of a box I was excavating after a leak in the roof (seemingly sorted by the medieval historian shifting a couple of tiles about).


Detail of a detail!
Detail of a detail!


I’ve had that piece of black felt with the swirling machine embroidery for years and never found a use for it.  It just seemed to fit here, curling out like mist from behind the downcast tomb sculpture.  Quite a bit of the embroidery is covered up by the wooden plaque, but I quite like the idea that there is excessive work here and that you can’t see everything that went into the making.

The wispy bits round the very edge are made by dropping threads into very dilute pva glue on a plastic sheet.  The secret is to water the glue down more than you think:



If you put in too much glue, as I usually do, you end up with a very solid effect, which is fine for cutting definite shapes out of, but it doesn’t give you a lovely soft trailing quality like this.  The little tassels are purely there because I had some very vivid novelty yarns from Oliver Twist which seemed to go with the blue highlights.

And, although this looks complicated, it isn’t.  All the bits are straightforward with hardly any sewing, and the work comes in the selection.  There is a tiny bit of skill in getting that braid to go round corners but not that much.  And it was very fast.  I thought it would take all night, but it came together in a couple of hours.  There was preparation in the little plaque made with bits from, and the embroidered felt was already embroidered, and the pva cloth was an experiment from twenty years ago, but complete, so there was background work, but the actual making the whole was a bit too rapid.  I wanted to savour it more!  There will be more work when it is sewn onto the final quilt, but this can be a speedy way to work.

I have been very surprised by this quilt so far.  I was expecting it to be quite subdued and composed more of patchwork than applique.  I thought that there might be sombre patchwork with exuberant metallic thread machine quilting.  But it seems to want to be pretty baroque.  It seems to want to be excessive.  I am not sure why this is.  Is it to do with its being a commemoration of my father?  Seems unlikely as he was of the English ‘whatever you do, don’t draw attention to yourself’ school of self-presentation.  I think it might be to do with the time of year.  Everything is getting bleak here.  The nights are now very dark.  The gardens are finally starting to look dead.  It’s never properly light.  It’s damp.  We are just about half-way through term.  All these things contribute to a sense of getting through, and I think that it is probably time for some richness in the darkness.  This is a heavy quilt, like a Christmas cake or pudding.  It is not a light. bright spring piece.  It’s interesting to speculate on the effects of the season on creativity.

Here’s a final detail…


I’m looking forward now to making some more pieces, and seeing how the whole turns out and what it has to teach me.


One thought on “This just in on the death quilt

  1. Of course, your ‘no buying stuff for a year’ rule doesn’t preclude the Medieval Historian from buying stuff on your behalf. I’ve suddenly got a hankering for Death Quilt trimmings….

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