I recently attended the Festival of Quilts at the Birmingham NEC where I also exhibited my City of Culture Heritage Quilt. I was glad to have seen the Festival after hearing about it in glowing terms for so many years now.
I’m sure for a quilter this event is the highlight of the year, but one day was plenty for me, not being a quilter myself (I designed all the fabrics and the pattern of my quilt). In terms of stalls and sellers the FoQ is much like the Knitting & Stitching show but with more emphasis on fabric suppliers, sewing machines and gadget demonstrations, and of course the workshops and talks which are all patchwork and quilting specific.
The main draw for me are the exhibitions of quilting and textile art – which I was encouraged to see featured a lot of modern and experimental styles and techniques.Of course I was drawn to the quilts that featured pop culture references and icons. I could hardly pass up the chance to photograph this David Bowie quilt by Ann Beech!
It was also interesting to see how notions of pixel art are transposed into textile art, like these classic computer game quilts featuring Pac-Man and Mario. This is something you see a lot these days with cross stitch, but it works well with quilt blocks too. This blown up image of the face of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ is a perfect example.
Like a large impressionist painting it’s best viewed from farther away to really get the full effect of the image. Many visitors were thrilled to see the effect through their digital camera’s artificial perspective, myself included. If you got closer to this piece you’d see it was quilted using words written over every inch of the patchwork. I wish I knew what it said.
Actually I wish there had been information about inspiration and making beside each of the quilts, so that you could learn more and appreciate the work better. If I had one major complaint about the exhibition it was this. Competition exhibition listings were by number and name – making it hard to learn anything at all without a show guide- (which cost £7 and there were no pictures, not even of winners). So apologies for not being able to supply names for each of my examples shown here- if you recognise them feel free to tell me who the maker is in the comments and I’ll make sure to credit the work to them.
Lots of quilts featured creatures, and I was also impressed by the quilts that had lots of metallic threads and rhinestone picking out details in stunning works of free motion quilting and embroidery. Like this one shown above. I think it was called Fire and Ice , a really stunning piece with a black and white checker board border. So sparkly and intricate.
Another piece ripe with details that drew in the crowds was this wonderful free-standing textile time piece entitled Memento Mori. I loved picking out all the little features, specimen jars, eggs and egg timers, a book of days, skulls and a swinging pendulum heart stabbed through by needles. A really lovely piece that defies the regular definitions of textile art.
Another of my favourites was this portrait quilt by two person team Mark and Bridget Mann, entitled ‘Dear Mrs Morcom’. I would love to know the story behind this piece as well as the techniques involved in the making- there were lots of different screen printed faces and text in the fabrics that made up the portrait that was very intriguing. I also have a soft spot for chevron quilts so I thought this one was very clever.
Finally this ‘paper quilt’ by Judith Mundwiler and Gabi Mett, had a very tactile quality (promise I didn’t touch). I love the faded quality of print and tea staining, and this piece reminded me of lots of textile work I saw as a student. It has a very ‘ 90’s aesthetic and reminded me of the mixed media work of Dave McKean who produced the dust covers for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic series.
I hope you enjoy my little roundup of the work that stood out for me. Quilting in general is still very much the realm of the white middle-aged, middle class ladies, which I do find a little daunting. It can feel a bit like a Women’s Institute’s grand day out, where I don’t quite fit the demographic. It would be great to see more diversity in terms of race and gender and younger faces getting involved here – patchwork & quilting and textile art in general is something that many find very meaningful and take great pleasure in so it’s curious that it seems to be so niche.
This was a special occasion as my quilt was on show, but due to the distance and expense I doubt I’ll be a regular to the Festival of Quilts. It was a pleasure to have had the company of my dear Chiaki and to have met up with Laura ‘Bugs and Fishes’ while I was there. We were definitely doing our bit to widen the age bracket of those attending ;-) Do you have any special exhibitions or shows you’ll be attending this year? Or even convention style events you’d like to try out for the first time? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments…