Through patchwork Irene MacWilliam has also become a keen photographer, writer and computer whizz
When did you start quilting? 1984. I went to a talk where a woman was showing some appliquè cushions she had made. I came home and immediately started a cushion of a red poppy. I taught myself the basics although I found it difficult at first to sew exact seam widths. I worked out that if I sewed onto a removable paper foundation it was easier. I still use this method, even for log cabin work. I have since gained Part 2 City and Guilds Patchwork and Embroidery.
Where do you sew? I have a room that opens off the kitchen which is handy for ‘a wee cup of tea’ and convenient for the downstairs loo! 1960s sideboards are great for storage. In spite of the untidiness it is calming. I love this room, it fits me well.
Sitting in my room I may not be sewing but my mind will be wrestling with a technical problem or thinking of designs. Time for contemplation is as important as time for sewing. A lot of my work is planned in my head and I find I can solve construction problems mentally rather than by sampling. If I have problems on work in progress, I put it away and get on with another project.
What do you indulge in? I buy threads on impulse the way other quilters buy fabric. They are stored by colour in a filing cabinet along with interesting knitting yarns used in braid making and embroideries. Beads and sequins are other weaknesses. I used to buy them even though I had no plans to use them. I had a wonderful supply when I did start incorporating them. I can cheer myself by gloating over these collections.
What about colour? I had carrot red hair as a child and was told I should not wear red or pink. The first time I wore pink was my going away outfit. However my textile work has given me the opportunity to play with these colours. At the moment I am working with reds, pinks and oranges, often with small areas of turquoise.
Do you buy many books? I use my books to learn new techniques rather than as inspiration for my work as I am scared of producing pieces that are too like someone else’s. I am more inclined to buy books on other arts and crafts that have stunning or interesting photos.
What do you feel strongly about? I have always felt it unfortunate that embroidery and quilting are considered as very different areas. My work includes 3-dimensional pieces, installations and fabric books which fit comfortably in either category. I would like to see quilters more open to ‘anything goes’ if the rules in a particular show are adhered to.
Plus, it used to be thought that it was not right or inferior to machine quilt. If patchwork is to evolve we need people to experiment both in techniques and design. Who is to say they are wrong because it is different? People may not like the piece but that is a different matter.
Where do you get your inspiration? Everywhere. Over the years newspapers have given me much inspiration. I cut out and file funny or sad stories of interest. My Events of the Year quilts are wholly dependent on newspapers. I love people watching and get ideas from the things they say and do. I also enjoy contemporary art exhibitions especially the more conceptual installation work.
What are you working on just now? I’m stitching simple patched hangings using my own dyed fabric. I have reversed the quilt top so that the seams show and the threads are left untrimmed.
And finally I have gained so much from being part of the textile world. Through teaching and giving talks I have travelled and met interesting, friendly people and seen so many new places. A big thanks to all of you who have hosted me over the years.
Events of the Year Quilts I am now working on the 17th quilt. Each quilt features world-wide happenings and has a file of newspaper cuttings to go with it. There are also two Peace Quilts that go with them. I am looking for venues interested in showing them as a complete unit. Visit Irene’s website to see these interesting quilts.
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