Festival of Quilts 2012

This weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham and, as I hadn’t visited anything like it in the past and am more of an admirer of quilts than a maker, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was booked into a few lectures so my day had a structure, and this turned out for the best as I could’ve easily walked around and around the exhibition totally overwhelmed, taking in beautiful quilt after giant sewing machine after overflowing fabric stall.

HUGE quilting machine at the AQS stand

My morning begin with a lecture by Julie Bull MA, a textile artist/illustrator whose work deals with childhood, memory and fairytale. Getting an insight to the background of her work and the journey she took through her MA studies was very useful, and I always find it fascinating and useful to see how others approach their work and creative process. Her quilts themselves have taken on a life more as illustrations, which particularly chimed with my own work, and the use of texture and hand-dying really emphasised the potential of textiles as illustration media.
In the short break before my next lecture I grabbed my first glimpse of the festival itself, and quickly strolling through the exhibition and stalls gave me a chance to get an overview of the festival and orient myself in the world of quilting. Making a few mental notes of things to check out later I headed back to the lecture room for ‘Amish Quilts and the Lifestyles of Their Makers’ by Bettina Havig.
I’ll admit to having a bit of a fascination with the Amish lifestyle, and an affection for the simple, practical and slightly sentimental quilts made by the Amish and Mennonite communities, so this talk was pretty much made for me. Havig lives in Missouri and as a close friend of her local Amish community for many years was ideally placed to offer some context to the environment in which Amish quilts are made and used. Her personal anecdotes provided valuable background to draw on when looking at the small selection of Amish quilts within the exhibition itself, and really added to my enjoyment of them.
Gorgeous colours in Cosmic: Rising with the Sun by Barbara Keen and Ferret

Following this I went straight into a presentation by Jonathan Gregory from the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. I’d heard of the museum before and was excited to know more, but as I’m unlikely to be able to visit Nebraska any time soon it was the focus on the museum website and online collection that really interested me. And let me tell you, that website is amazing! Quiltstudy.org features an online record of a huge chunk of the museum’s 4000+ quilts along with podcasts, recordings of lectures, written resources and an online Quilt Maker, which allows you to play around and discover the creative potential of quilts. Now I just need to find a couple of spare hours so I can explore it properly…
With my lecture schedule over for the day it was time to get stuck into the exhibition itself. Fortunately, while I was in the lecture room my friend Betsy had been taking in everything the main hall had to offer and had a hit list of things for me to see. If you want to get an idea of all the exciting things she encountered as she wandered round she is working on a blog post, so head over to her blog and eagerly await its arrival.
Evocative texture in Mountain Memory by Linnea Hassing Nielsen

As I mentioned, I’m more of a quilt admirer than maker so I bypassed some of the stalls and specialist equipment to spend more time in the graduate showcase and competition quilts exhibition. I’ve mentioned before I was pretty overwhelmed by the size and variety of quilts and stalls on offer and so ended up taking a heap of photos of gorgeous quilts with no idea of the name of the quilt or the maker. I’ve done a little bit of researching and included the quilts I could find info on, and I’ve learned a valuable lesson for next time (take more notes!). This might be another good opportunity to direct you over to Betsy’s blog, she was a far more diligent reporter than me.
The exhibition, in particular the Art and Contemporary Quilts, really challenged what I expected from quilting and expanded my understanding of what quilting can achieve. I was really inspired by the way texture, colour and pictorial elements can be brought together, and literally bring extra depth to embroidery. The plain embroidered quilts particularly piqued my interest, and inspired me to have a go at bringing quilting techniques to my own work.
The whole day was busy, inspiring and very friendly, and I was glad to have my perception of quilting challenged and draw many elements to add to my own work. I’ve already started my own (very tiny) embroidered quilt, and my mind is racing with potential projects. Bring on the Knitting and Stitching Show!
I didn’t get the name of this one, but my research suggests it is Forever by Olga Gonzalez Angulo. Definitely one of my favourite quilts

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