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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Turning Japanese

Well, my first visit to the Festival of Quilts more than lived up to expectations. Pauline Burbidge's central stand was awe-inspiring, and seeing her work close up, rather than in print really brought it to life. I particularly admire her more recent, limited use of colour (mainly black, white, grey and a bit of salmon pink) and casual use of hand stitching, whereby nothing is too perfectly neat and tickety boo. Her work is never confusing though. It's as if she has some magical control over chaos, managing to bring together abstraction, loose brushstrokes, fabric layering and random stitches into a cohesive whole that evokes the rural Scottish landscape in which she lives. I would have loved to take some photos of her stand and show them to you, but alas, photography was not permitted. So if anyone is unaware of Pauline's work, I highly recommend following the link above to find out a little more about her.

There were plenty of other fabulous quilts on show too. Naturally, traditional quilts are still popular but I was really taken by how many modern quilts there were on display combining unusual choices of fabrics and freestyle stitchery. My personal favourite was a smallish quilt made mainly from what appeared to be grey and beige upholstery linens and seat webbing, with just a single splash of red to add vibrancy to the piece. It reminded me of the sort of painting Alberto Burri might have once produced. Another interesting piece was a quilt made entirely from vintage table linen, somehow this managed to combine the best of both worlds, traditional and new. I could go on forever about how many quilts I fell in love with, or was inspired by, but since a picture is said to be worth a thousand words, here's a compilation showing a few favourite snippets.

As fascinating as it is however, looking at other people's work doesn't provide anything like the thrill that shopping for gorgeous fabrics can. Rather swottishly, I took along 'a little list' of all the things I wanted to buy, and all the stands that stocked them (I was, after all, a woman on a mission). I bought lots of beautiful silks from The Silk Route, and, some Valdani cotton perle from The Frame Workshop which I'm already using to make more Dorset Buttons. My star purchase though was enough Japanese woven cloth to last me… ooh, at least a few weeks. I first came across this wonderful fabric two or three years ago, when I brought a few pieces of it on ebay. Inevitably my stash soon ran out and I had to find a new source. (Reading this sentence back to myself sounds as if I'm some kind of addict. Sadly, it is true, my name is Elizabeth, and I am an addict–although thankfully my fix is nothing more dangerous than fabric). So I googled and poured over every fabric website I could in a quest to see if anyone else stocked my personal holy grail, until finally, just when I was beginning to think I had imagined Japanese woven cloth, I discovered Quilt Essential.

At first I couldn't see any Japanese woven fabrics on Quilt Essential's stand and had to ask where they were. To my surprise, they were not prominently on display but tucked away in a little box towards the back of Quilt Essential's stand. If you're wondering what on earth is so special about Japanese woven cloth, take a look at the pictures below. Which ever way you turn them, back of front, they are exquisite. The colours are just sublime: while at first glance, the word 'taupe' may spring to mind, the more you look at them, the more colours you see, this is particularly evident when you turn the fabrics over. Japanese woven cloth is also beautiful to handle and quilt with even though it looks as if it might be have been woven with suiting in mind. The only downside is that Japanese woven cloths are considerably more expensive than most fabrics, which is perhaps why so few people stock them.

Although these fabrics are available online I'm thinking of taking a trip to the shop. I might be able to persuade my husband to come too, since Quilt Essentials is based in Derbyshire, in Richard Arkwright's original mill yard, which is a world heritage site. If by any chance, the owner recognises me, it will probably be because I was the lady who virtually hyperventilated when I finally succeeded in my quest to find some Japanese woven cloth.


PS: If you know of any other places that sell Japanese woven cloth online, please let me know!

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