Standing on the shoulders of giants


A good friend of mine recently took (very early or there’s a portrait ageing in the attic) retirement, and she wants to explore needlework and textile art and asked me to recommend some places she could start.  So I thought it might be nice to put together a short list for my blog.  I would really love people to add their suggestions in the comments section.

So, I thought I’d start with some websites.

  1. Mandy Pattullo.  This is the first website that came to mind.  I am currently in love with her work.  I met her at The UK Festival of Quilts.  She was stuck right at the back but her work was a real standout.  I have had to resign myself to the fact that I just can’t get this shabby vintage look.  Everything I make looks clean and sharp, but Mandy’s work is beautiful, antique-looking reclaimed pieces stitched together with wonderful skill.  She is preserving traditional embroidery as much as the cloth.  I broke the landspeed record signing up for a workshop with her when I heard she was coming to Bristol this year.  Just lovely.  If anyone is looking for a Christmas present, she does have some reasonable pieces….
  2. Double Trouble.  Two for the price of one.  This is the website for Jean Littlejohn and Jan Beaney.  I have been fans of their work for at least fifteen years.  The best workshop I have ever been to in terms of getting the pacing exactly right and with us all ending up with exactly what we signed up for, was with Jean Littlejohn.  They have both been teaching for years and it shows.  They pioneered ‘Creative Embroidery’ for a long time and the rest of us have caught up.  The website is a bit dull, actually, which is a shame because their books are quite wonderful and inspirational.  If you love landscape you will love Beaney’s stitchscapes of Crete.  They publish a series of pamphlet-y guides which are little gems of inspiration.  Highly recommended.
  3. Linda and Laura Kemshall, another two for the price of one.  These two have put videos up on Design TV.  You have to pay, but some of them are free.  There are links to their individual websites.  The Design TV videos are about £40 a year to subscribe to, but they are well worth it.  They are very much in the art quilt sector, and have pioneered techniques such as painting quilts, working in series, keeping sketchbooks, foiling, frosting with emulsion paint, all sorts of things.  Their work is exquisite.  I did a workshop with Laura, who is the mum, and it was fabulous.  I learned foiling which I have used a lot.
  4. Carla Sonheim.  This is another artist, but she has wonderful drawing exercises which really help with things like free machine quilting.  There are great short courses of workshops which are lovely, but there are also free ones.  She does a lot of stuff that would work with kids.
  5. Sandra Meech.  Another art quilter.  I love everything she does, and she has produced four wonderful books on contemporary art quilting.  She specialises in work based on the landscape and its degradation.  Genuinely inspiring and no messing when you meet her.
  6. Janet Clare.  Really wonderful, generous teacher.  She has a lovely website and self-publishes books which are inspirational and delightfully designed.  She produces fabric ranges which I like very much and the current one based on astronomy is one of my favourites for years.  My quilting life was changed by going to a workshop with her where we did applique using the sewing machine as a pencil.  I turned out to be a bit of a natural at this, and it has transformed by Laura Ashley project.  She has a pattern for a brilliant apron too.
  7. Pauline Burbidge.  My earliest quilting heroine.  Glorious art quilts, lots of monochrome, elegant use of line.  She is fantastic all round.  And a very nice person.
  8. Gwen Marston.  Quite a dull website, but another inspirational quilter.  She is best known as a ‘liberated quilter’ but she loves the British expression ‘wonky quilt’.  Essentially stitch it all together and square it up with the rotary cutter later, but this gives quilts so much life and energy, I really love her work.  I once did a workshop with her and after show and tell she came up to me and said, ‘You are a real artist’.  Coming from her it was a magnificent compliment.  Her first book, Liberated Quilting is a bit of a collector’s item so if you come across one second hand snap it up.  I use her techniques a lot, not least because, like me, she loves a print.
  9. University of Nebraska Quilt Collection and Museum.  This website is always worth a look.  You can subscribe to their quilt of the month service which is fascinating.  They have a massive collection and are the place to go for quilt scholarship in the US.  I am desperately hoping that my work with Marybeth Stalp will end up in a trip there…
  10.  Beryl Taylor.  One of my first passions.  She is the doyenne of highly decorated surfaces.  It tends to be mixed media, but I have used the general idea with textiles.  Her work is very pretty – lots of pastels and beads, and highly influenced by historical sources, all of which I love.  The website is okay, but you don’t get the sense that she likes high tech much.  Her book is lovely, though, and hasn’t dated.
  11. Cas Holmes.  Slightly marmite-y.  Her work is about recycled materials and ‘found’ art.  I like it very much.  But she is a bit preachy.  She is very interested in collaborative work and  I would love to work on that element of her ideas.  I did a workshop with her and liked her fabric paper stuff, but she was a bit prickly.
  12. Cassandra Ellis.  I have put her in because her website is just plain lush, as they say in these parts.  Total indulgence.  And she writes sumptuous quilting books.
  13. Amy Butler.   She has a range of fabric which is pure joy.  She also has a lovely website with lots of great stuff on it, quite a bit of which is free.  She does a lovely webzine, which is a bit New Age-y but uplifting.  The books are very nice to look at with a cup of tea.
  14. Mimi Kirchner.  Makes the most gorgeous dolls.  Genius.
  15. Sartor Silks.  Glorious fabric.  It could be ruinous on the bank account.

I will have a think about my favourite books and put some of those up at some point.  But, in general, I think that one of the most influential things for me was the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A.  I am not that big a Bowie fan, and I think that if I had met him much before the last ten years I would have hated him, but that exhibition was inspiring to anyone trying to make art anywhere and was a great account of sticking to your own vision, judging yourself by your own values and constantly being open to new ideas.  I came out think ‘I can do it’ – whatever it is.  The show is still touring and I would advise good money being spent to go and see it.

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