Many years ago, I visited the American Museum in Britain. Inspired by their collection of patchwork quilts, I decided to make one myself. The fact that I had no experience of patchwork or quilting did not put me off! I chose a design, bought some fabrics, cut some pieces and started sewing. It did not go entirely to plan – some of the colours did not work together and I found backstitching seams on diamonds and triangles difficult to do accurately. I went on a patchwork workshop and learnt the paper piecing method, which was far easier for shapes with acute angles. So, I undid my stitching, changed some fabrics and cut out paper shapes – lots of them. This worked so I drafted the pattern on a computer and printed a lot of the paper shapes. Years later I finished the quilt top and many years after that I finished quilting!
I’ve been visiting Quilts UK for many years now, but had I been before I started my quilt, I would have chosen to start with a small machine-stitched wall-hanging instead of a hand-stitched bed quilt – the wonder of hindsight! Over the years I’ve developed a strategy for my visit to Quilts UK. I look at the quilts first, then the stalls and finally later in the afternoon, when it is less busy, I take photos, lots of them because the quilt exhibition is always inspiring. However, I’m not showing any in this post, because there is a strict rule against posting photos on websites.
The quilt display is divided into categories: bed quilts, cot quilts, group quilts, large wall hangings, small wall hangings, theme quilts (this year’s theme was ‘Celebrations’) as well as displays of quilts by well-known makers – I particularly loved the quilts by Gwenfai Rees Griffiths, and recognised a few from previous shows. A wide range of techniques is used – hand-stitch, machine stitch, paper piecing, machine piecing, long-arm quilting, applique, embroidery, sashiko and hand-dying. There are many styles from the very traditional to modern. Some people exhibit their first quilt and others exhibit every year. There’s much to delight and inspire!
By the time I’ve seen the quilt display it is usually lunch time; this year the Sun was shining so we could picnic outside with a view of the Malvern Hills. So lovely, and unexpected after several years of wet weather this weekend.
There are always lots of fabrics, threads, buttons and books for sale. Some of my favourite sellers are Doughty’s (a fantastic range of fabric), Antique Angel (gorgeous Japanese fabrics) and Oliver Twists (a rainbow of threads). Usually I have a small shopping list of items for future projects; the calico and wadding for my quilt were bought at Quilts UK. This year I was looking for books by Jan Beaney & Jean Littlejohn (inspiring for all textile artists). I did buy one of their books, but I also bought fabric, very colourful fabric!
This fabric is not for another quilt, but to make some summer clothes. I want to start dress-making again and am attracted to golds, oranges and aqua with a bit of magenta. It must be that long winter, because this is not my normal colour palette – usually I prefer deep purples, winy reds and dusky lilacs in the winter, apricot and leaf green in the summer. I much prefer natural fibres for clothes, so with so many cotton fabrics from which to choose this was an opportunity not to be missed.
My Quilts UK strategy works so well that for the last few years I’ve managed to venture into Malvern early enough to visit some pretty special shops. The first I always visit is The Knitting Parlour on Graham Road. I love their window displays and they sell gorgeous yarn as well as beautiful fabric. And this year I discovered yarns by WoolyKnit. I loved the name of one yarn – Diggle – which turns out to be where they are based in Yorkshire. I bought their Aran because the colours are suitable for a future project.
The next day we went to Artisan Yarns, in Hereford. Anne specialises in kettle-dyed yarns using natural dyes and luxury fibres. She sources unusual yarns so that she can offer something different to other independent dyers. She sells these wonderful yarns at events such as WonderWool Wales and the Knitting and Stitching Shows; there’s even some in a display of local products at Hereford Museum. I couldn’t leave without buying a hank of yarn, could I? I love the dusky pink of this Crisp Linen Lace (I did say I like dusky colours), and I chose this spring-like Jitterbug from Anne’s stash sale. Don’t they look good together!
We spied a farm shop on our return journey; maybe they would have asparagus – just in season and a speciality of this area. Not only was there asparagus, but they sold cider brewed from their own apples, local potatoes and Hereford Hop (a local cheese). Soon we had a plan for a Herefordshire meal!
And one thing I love about the Quilts UK weekend is the vegetation. Throughout Herefordshire and Worcestershire trees overhang roads to create a green tunnel. And in late May that green is so fresh and life-affirming. Just what’s needed after a long winter!