Festival of Quilts, NEC

Retro, one of the magnificent quilts on display at this year's Festival of Quilts
Retro, one of the magnificent quilts on display at this year’s Festival of Quilts

This year I managed to get to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham.  I went with my Grate Frends, Alison, Becky, Ceri and Ruth, collectively known as the Dympnas.  Saint Dympna is the patron saint of the slightly doo-lally, not the entirely mad, the slightly not quite all there, which we think describes us perfectly.

Anyway, this is my take on the show, followed by some very personal highlights.

  1. The standard of work overall was very high, I thought, much higher than last time I went.  I don’t know why this should be the case, but the design standard was high and the execution was pretty good throughout.
  2. The show has become a sort of tripartite event with the competition quilts, the invited white cube exhibition work and the traders taking up a third each.  The actual square footage was bigger than last time I went with more room for tea, coffee and picnics which was welcome.  There are far fewer quilts submitted by the ‘serious leisure’ quilters, and I think that is a shame.  Maybe people still prefer Malvern for that.  In general, though, I like the combination as the white cube quilts were stunning in many cases.  One in particular was a group of Dutch quilters who did not allow photography so I cannot include a photo, but had masterly and very controlled use of vibrant colours. ((Willy Doreleijers, Olga Prins and Anco Brouwers).
  3. There were two big trends: phototransfer and lettering.  In the worst examples, the phototransfer seemed like a thin excuse for showing holiday snaps with some co-ordinating fabric round them, and by and large I didn’t think that the technique was used all that well.  One exception was the professional quilter, Annette Morgan:
    Annette Morgan, Transported - paddling - Mille and Emma
    Annette Morgan, Transported – paddling – Mille and Emma

    And there were some nice lettering pieces like this one by

    Jean Ball, I love fabric
    Jean Ball, I love fabric


  4. There were some great new books on sale, particularly in the Quilt Art category.  I bought Sandra Meech’s new book.  I love her work.  I find the books a bit samey, but buy them anyway because they are so beautifully produced and illustrated and I find her work magnificent and really wish I could do something similar (and here’s a woman who really knows how to make phototransfer work)IMG_2306 IMG_2307
  5. Our trip was very civilised.  We travelled together and then split up and met for lunch and tea.  Otherwise everyone went round on their own which was a good idea as it meant you could go at your own pace and see quilts or go shopping.  On the other hand, the level of rudeness from people was amazing and we all had a tale of grabby fellow shoppers, suitcases on wheels over feet or stroppy traders.  So much for quilters being piecemakers and wanting to cover the world in cuddle quilts.

Here, then, are a few of my very favourite pieces – just a personal selection, and not the prize winners or the much admired portrait of David Tennant in sepia patches.

IMG_2275 Liz Howlett, Bead all you can bead

This is Liz Howlett’s ‘Bead all you can bead’.  I love beads and I love indigo shibori tie-dye techniques so I loved this, and I very much admire the skill of the tying to get those lovely smooth curves.


Lisbet Borggreen, Circles in Squares
Lisbet Borggreen, Circles in Squares

I liked the attention to detail on the quilting on this piece and the very confident use of the circle motif.

Sheena Norquay, Decorative Spirals
Sheena Norquay, Decorative Spirals

I admired the virtuoso quilting on this piece.

Joyce Dorsett, Jonny wanted lizards
Joyce Dorsett, Jonny wanted lizards


For some reason I find lizards really appealing in art works (and sometimes in the flesh, although the enormous one lumbering through the Indian jungle  I encountered with my mother was less cuddly).  I also really like the take on attic windows in this quilt.

Elizabeth Barton, Battersea
Elizabeth Barton, Battersea

I think I might have done a bit more with the quilting in the sky here, but otherwise a gorgeous small quilt.

Dijanne Cevaal, Childhood Memories, Billabong Creek
Dijanne Cevaal, Childhood Memories, Billabong Creek

This is a terrible photograph of a stunning piece which showed the fabulous effects you could get with circular machine quilting:

IMG_2310 IMG_2309

This second close-up is very blurry, but shows the black on black which worked brilliantly.

Linda Onions, Der Dah Whoosh
Linda Onions, Der Dah Whoosh


This was a great combination of a painted quilt which really worked and a lovely use of seeding to quilt and enhance the painted cloth.

Jacqueline Amies, Hip, Hip Hooray
Jacqueline Amies, Hip, Hip Hooray


Another lovely painted quilt, which also used negative space in a way that was well-integrated with the rest of the piece (and there were a lot of ideas in this quilt).

Christine Restall, Windfall
Christine Restall, Windfall


Christine Restall seems to me to have really mastered colouring cloth – these pears look like she has used a crayon like Inktense on them.  I must have liked her work because I too photographs of two pieces including this one of flat irons:

Christine Restall, Flat Irons (Grandad's kitchen)
Christine Restall, Flat Irons (Grandad’s kitchen)


Janie Harvey Douglas, A Slight Murmur of Starlings
Janie Harvey Douglas, A Slight Murmur of Starlings


Lots of people have a go at this sort of quilt but very few seem to be able to pull it off with this quality of line.  On a similar theme, the master of this sort of work is Linda Kemshall:

IMG_2388 IMG_2389

The gold detail here is painted on and I think the background may have been discharge-sprayed out to bring up the orange.  I love her work.

Anne Ames, Inner Strength
Anne Ames, Inner Strength

IMG_2343 IMG_2344

I really loved this.  The quilting was inventive and the colour palette was subtle but punchy.

This is  To The Left of the Moon by Hazel Ryder and was based on a saying of her dad’s.   It is so beautiful and that horse is so lovely.





This post is getting a bit unwieldy and so I will stop here, but I will blog about my very favourite white cube exhibition at some point., and finish by saying that I had a great time with the quilts and the dympnas.

5 thoughts on “Festival of Quilts, NEC

  1. So many compelling images–I’ve never seen such a wide variety of quilts as this. Can’t wait to find out what white cube exhibition is. (Also, love the moniker Dympnas!)

    1. Thanks for this. The White Cubes are like mini galleries with white walls and nice lighting – showing textile art properly. You have to be invited to show in them and they tend to be the really high-end stuff! Thanks for your blog it is always such a lovely thing – a breath of fresh air.

  2. Hello, I enjoyed your take on the show (I didn’t go this year). Thank you for sharing. Beatrice (from France).

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