Jane Rae wants to pick Jennie Lewis's flowers
A Passionate Climber
As I walked through the Festival of Quilts 2007, I stumbled upon what might be described as a walled garden in the form of Jennie Lewis’s Florabundance exhibition. Visitors were welcomed in by a beautiful series of small square quilts which portrayed an appliquéd fuchsia coloured plant ascending the walls and aptly named A passionate climber. I was struck by the use of colour and movement achieved through the stained glass effect appliqué and on another level by the very reasonable price that Jennie was charging for these pieces. I was keen to meet the personality behind the fuchsia plants and to discuss some of the sensitivities that surround putting a value on one’s work.
Jennie was just as delightful and open as her quilts. In and amongst our conversation there was an endless stream of admirers and well-wishers, many of them friends that she has met over her 25 years of quilting. Largely self-taught, Jennie is an inspiration to anyone daunted by the prospect of entering into the world of patchwork and quilting without formal study. Experimentation, perseverance and a huge amount of ability have allowed Jennie to master her craft to perfection. And she is a perfectionist. You can see this in the fi nishing of her pieces, right down to the last hand-stitched button decorated with a seed pearl at their centres in Japanese Wisteria. The buttons and pearls catch the light, creating a 3-D effect and also giving the impression of small droplets of water covering the petals. It is a clever use of an embellishment and a great example of how attention to detail has added another layer to this quilt. Created in four panels, the quilt is reminiscent of an oriental folding screen which would typically depict a landscape or garden scene. This quilt took a considerable amount of machine appliqué, embroidery and beading and was sold not long after its first appearance at the Festival of Quilts in 2005.
One of the things that impressed me the most about Jennie is that she is in no way techno phobic. She started designing with her first computer back in 1990 and has been using Electric Quilt Software (EQS) since it was first brought out. Her ability to use EQS and her trusted Bernina to their full extent has allowed Jennie to achieve finishes and detail that would not be achievable by hand. Her Sunflower Parade quilt is a perfect example of this - the flower heads were designed and digitised with the Bernina Embroidery module and Version 5 software. Jennie used ribbon and wool under sheer fabric to create the stems. Testament to the skill involved in producing this piece is that Bernina themselves have purchased this quilt to demonstrate the versatility of their product – of their product – high praise indeed. Flower Panels was also the result of experimentation with the Bernina Embroidery module and the spirals and leaves depicted here were digitised by Jennie to embroider onto the quilt.
Perhaps one of the most striking quilts on display at Florabundance was Jacobean Sparkles which combines Jacobean design, appliqué and Hot Fix Crystals (The crystals have a special glue on the back which is activated by heat and applied using an applicator or a hot iron). Jennie uses black and white in many of her quilts and she cleverly uses the curves and flowing shapes in this piece to soften the sharp contrast between the colours.
Left: Sunflower Parade, Right: Jacobean Sparkle
She used dark backgrounds to create a striking background to her Clematis and Midnight in Moscow quilts. Clematis was hand dyed and hand painted to depict the centre of the flowers and Midnight in Moscow might be familiar to those of you who have seen it on the Quilters’ Guild Christmas Card some years ago.
Left: Midnight in Moscow, Right: The Dragon
Lurking in and around the fuchsias and wisteria, was a very powerful oriental themed quilt entitled The Dragon which was machine appliquéd and quilted, mixing rich silks with cotton to achieve a really textured finish. The scales of the dragon are only partially attached giving a sense of movement. Jennie produced this quilt after recuperating from an operation and welcomed the opportunity to immerse herself in a labour of love. Many of her quilts are sold, but this quilt has stayed in the family and has been gifted to her daughter. She says that once she has lived with a quilt for a while, she is usually happy to sell them and make way for a new project.
I asked Jennie what her policy was on charging for her work as the hours spent creating these pieces was in no way reflected in the final price tags. As with many quilt artists that I have spoken to, I sensed a hesitation at charging “too much” for her work, although we both agreed that defining what “too much” actually was, was very difficult and somewhat subjective. Jennie’s philosophy is that keeping the prices at a reasonable level is making her work accessible to everyone and the knowledge that her pieces are reaching a wider audience this way, gives her great pleasure.
Florabundance is a collection of work spanning several years. When trying to decide on a theme, Jennie found herself drawn to nature admitting that “as I have a butterfly mind and I am unable to stick to one technique or another, I chose to exhibit quilts on a floral theme. Nature is such an inspiration in so much of my work and it is all around me all of the time, I long to use it.” It was a real pleasure to spend a little time in Jennie’s quilt garden at the Festival of Quilts 2007 and to find an oasis of colour and creativity in full bloom.