This Queens Birthday Weekend marked 20 years since I made my first baby quilt that catapulted me into the immersive world of textiles. I have been reflecting on what I have learned along the way. Creative Backstory is a series of blog posts each highlighting a different year. I invite you to share your creative backstory. Each day, I will post an optional prompt. Leave your response as a comment below or on my Serendipity Facebook page or use the tag #creativebackstory or Instagram and I will add your name to my Creative Backstory Giveaway. I look forward to reading about what has shaped your creative life.
We don’t need to be a super-hero to have an origin story. Every one of us has backstory that informs our identity and motivations. We have each encountered obstacles and challenges and discovered our individual strengths. Beginnings do not define us. There is scope for growth and change. In the right conditions, we may even flourish. A similar principle underpins our creative endeavours. As my friend Tracey puts it:
We all started somewhere. I’m never embarrassed by my old quilts. I had to make them and learn something so I could make this one and the next one…
So let’s talk about first quilts…
Before the Backstory
Of course, my creative story begins before 2000. It goes back to shadowing my mother as a child and learning by a kind of osmosis. Playing with button jar with the sewing machine whirring in the background — I still hear the distinctive sound as my mother pressed down on and release the metal foot of the Toyota machine. (Thanks to Shadows_Surgeon for the memory image on Instagram.) Hanging out in fabric and haberdashery stores. Poring over knitting and pattern books and old issues of the English Womens Weekly. (Who else remembers those ballet pink covers?) Tracing the abstract wallpaper designs with my finger when I was meant to be having an afternoon rest. Studying the fabric squares in the coverlets my mother made from dress-making scraps. Pinning out and cutting out patterns for my mother to sew. There was probably unpicking too but I don’t remember it.
Home sewing was part of my DNA but quilts were something I only saw in films or read about in books such as Anne of the Island:
… Mrs. Lynde gave Anne a patchwork quilt and loaned her five more.
“You take them,” she said authoritatively. “They might as well be in use as packed away in that trunk in the garret for moths to gnaw.”….
Mrs. Lynde’s quilts served a very useful purpose that winter. Patty’s Place for all its many virtues, had its faults also. It was really a rather cold house; and when the frosty nights came the girls were very glad to snuggle down under Mrs. Lynde’s quilts, and hoped that the loan of them might be accounted unto her for righteousness.”
I made my very first quilt in the summer of 1984/1985 and, like those of Mrs Lynde, it also proved to be a very useful accoutrement for a university student living in cold and draughty share houses. My quilt was made from seersucker offcuts sourced from the local clothing factory (Drays). Using scissors I converted the triangular offcuts into strips and spent hours rearranging the design on the rumpus room floor before sewing it together. Even utilitarian quilts involve composition. 35 years later, it is still going strong.
Fastward to 2000
By Queens Birthday 2000, I was a partner in an international law firm specialising in energy and infrastructure projects. Emerging from the fog of a protracted and demanding business transaction, I decided to make a cot quilt for a friend’s baby. Armed with shiny new rotary cutter, cutting mat, a bunch of fat quarters and Spectacular Scraps by Judy Hooworth and Margaret Rolfe, there was no stopping me.
Subsequently, I went on to make a multitude of baby quilts. This is just a handful. More can be found under the Cot Quilts category on this blog.
10 Things I Learned from Making my First Quilt in 2000
- Doing something creative is soothing and restorative.
- Local quilt stores provide valuable advice and encouragement. (Thanks Logan Patchwork.)
- Working small generates creative momentum and confidence. Smaller quilts are an excellent medium for experimenting with different techniques and mastering new skills. I started out piecing and it is still my preferred technique.
- Every part of the process provides different pleasures: the planning and design; the construction; the stitching/quilting; the finishing and the giving.
- There are infinite design possibilities. As highlighted in Spectacular Scraps, there are no less than 256 ways that four half-square triangle units can be arranged to make different four-patch blocks. Add in fabric choices and this increases expotentially.
- Baby quilts make excellent gifts. Quilts are more likely to be used on an ongoing basis than cute knitted garments.
- Colour is glorious.
- Colour is different from value. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time but, intuitively, I could see that the dark purple and plum fabrics were important in anchoring the design whereas the mixed values of the other diamonds were more visually confusing.
- Pinning and stitching satin blanket binding is a pain. (I had yet to discover the joy of a continuous mitred binding without bulges.)
- You can’t stop at one! (Fortunately ten fat quarters is enough to make more than one quilt.
Sharing Stories: Prompt # 1 & Giveaway
I invite you to share your creative backstory. Whether it’s textile art or some other creative endeavour, what was it that first compelled you to do what you do? Has it changed? Why and how?
Leave your response as a comment below or use the tag #creativebackstory on Facebook or Instagram. I look forward to reading about what has shaped your creative life and will put your name into my celebratory giveaway. At the end of June, after I have completed Creative Backstory posts, I will select one commenter and, pandemic postal system permitting, this King Parrot textile sketch will wing its way to a new home.