The Joy of Contemporary Quilts

There is a small group of people who spend their life looking for new ways to work with fabric. They eschew commercial fabrics. They dye, paint, embellish and design their own fabrics. They like nothing better than an old, discoloured, polycotton sheet which can be transformed into a work of art.

These are the ‘Contemporary Quilters.’

In January, I started to learn about the contemporary quilters. They look for ways of recycling and reusing fabric. They can work with anything from an old tablecloth to scraps of thread or fabric used in the making of other items. I joined this group for an academic term to identify new ways of working which I had hoped would enable me to develop my own creative process. The term was cut short because of the lockdown, but since early October we have been meeting online for a couple of hours every week.

In January we started with paper transfer dyes. We painted designs onto A4 sheets of paper and this was then transferred onto fabric by placing paper and fabric into a heat press. I found that the transfers worked best on polycotton with slightly less success on full 100% cotton, which surprised me.

Once the fabric had colour, we applied Bondaweb and then cut it into different shapes. With Bondaweb, fabric can be reconfigured into any shape. My theme was, unsurprisingly, sewing. When I reviewed the outputs from the day, I found one colour that I really liked but couldn’t remember which colour or type of paint had been used. I was frustrated with my lack of a diligent process.

Later we continued with the paper transfers but I decided to be more methodical in my approach and created colour swatches of papers and fabrics. Now, at least I know which colour I used on a project and I have some chance of recognising and replicating it.

At home, I started to put the squares together and quilted them. I added some binding and whilst I didn’t like the actual piece, I have at least finished the project.

We moved onto resist dying and used soya wax to cover some parts of fabric. I decided to try to write sentences and my theme? You guessed, sewing! I researched sewing and quilting quotes and came up with the following:

My life is full of little pricks!

This is not a mistake it’s just a new quilting style.

Measure twice cut once, curse and do it again.

Only, I wrote ‘Measure once, cut twice’ and when I realised I had made a mistake  I finished the sentence with ‘fuck, redo!’

I treated myself to several pots of silk dye in colours I love. Using the fabric which now had the soya wax writing, I applied different colourways. The results were okay for a first attempt, but I need more practice writing with the various tools. I ended up with four panels I had no idea how to use. At that point, I didn’t have the courage to cut them up so I packed them away in a plastic bag while I procrastinated. A few months later, having moved the bag around my sewing room several times, I took the plunge and I cut them. I then added some commercial fabric to make a quilt top. I think it’s okay and I can’t wait to see it after it has been professionally long arm quilted.

On the course, we continued to use an array of techniques for dying, but I always came back to silk dyes and 100% cotton. I made a few squares which I used in a log cabin design adding fabric a friend had brought back from India. I really like the end result. It needs quilting but at least the patchwork is finished.

Like most sewers, I have lots of scraps; bags of them, even tiny squares get saved. Our tutor suggested weaving our scraps. She provided us with a home made frame – an iron hanger shaped into a square. I was able to use some fabrics from the collage stash and I love the results. I am now a bit addicted to weaving my scraps and have started a new project with commercial fabric scraps. I will be using all of these squares in a hanging.

I have often been told I have a mind like a butterfly; it’s not meant as a compliment! The hardest part of any sewing project is deciding on a theme and then sticking to it. So this term, I am enjoying learning about design and how to build up a piece using a theme. I am still exploring themes and fabric designers such as Lucienne Day 

The greatest thing about Contemporary Quilting is that if you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter. You can applique, paint or even paper over the offending error. Contemporary quilting embraces, at its core, sustainability and reusability.

For now, I am a sponge learning just as much as I can from amazing people. I wanted to share some of my work with you and have included some other projects in a gallery below.