Popular Patchwork chats with Katharine Guerrier, well-known quilter and designer
My sister and I were taught to sew by our mother in the 1950s and we were making clothes (with varying degrees of success!), by the time we were in our teens; when I discovered patchwork it was with a background of sewing skills. As soon as the first quilt was underway the dressmaking side of things was abandoned; quilts were so much more fascinating. When I left school I went on to Art College, first to Sheffield, then to Camberwell in London in the early sixties. This was the beginning of my involvement with textiles and design which was to be a continuous learning process still ongoing today.
When did you start quilting? My first attempt at patchwork was in about 1980, a hexagon quilt started to use up leftover scraps of fabric from dressmaking projects. I started because I thought there must be something I could do with all these bits and a friend was working cushions using the ‘English’ method, of tacking the fabrics to paper hexagon shapes, so I thought I would have a go. After the hexagon quilt I acquired a book, The perfect Patchwork Primer by Beth Gutcheon, and taught myself the basics of American Patchwork from this.
Do you have a favourite colour? My favourite colour range is the blues/ purples/pinks, which I call ‘jewel’ colours. I tend not to use the autumn range of earth colours, but I do use a lot of different colours in my quilts.
How big is your stash? My stash is surprisingly small. Although I have a lot of different fabrics, they are mostly
small pieces and I tend to store them by size of piece rather than by colour. I keep all the larger pieces together in a laundry basket and the small ones, anything less than 4in square, get thrown into a large canvas tub. I probably
have about two dozen reels of thread.
Is there a fabric or thread type you cannot resist buying? No contest - the batiks or anything that looks hand produced like screen printed or hand dyed.
Do you prefer hand or machine sewing? Definitely machine. The only hand sewing I do is hemming the bindings to the back quilts.
What is your favourite technique? My favourite technique is defi nitely piecing and working with the colours and patterns.
What wadding do you use? I tend to use the 80/20 cotton polyester mix which is low loft wadding, easy to use, good quality and not too heavy.
Preferred sewing thread? I use the large cops of cotton thread for piecing from Empire Mills and YLI variegated threads for quilting, but I am always willing to experiment with new products.
Do you have a top tip for our readers? I would say keep up the interest by stretching your skills. If you embark on a project that is too easy you may get bored with it, I think it’s better to have a bit of a challenge whether with colours, design or technique.
Nearest quilt shop or shop you use most? Nearest Quilt shop is The Cotton Patch in Worcester. It's a little Aladdin's cave of goodies.
What are your favourite three quilting books? That's a difficult question as I have several shelves full lining a wall of my workroom with books, but three I probably wouldn't part with are The Perfect Patchwork Primer by Beth Gutcheon (this was the first one I learned from), The Passionate Quilter by Michele Walker, which featured some of our early Art Quilters such as Deirdre Amsden and Pauline Burbidge and The Quilters, Women and Domestic Art, an oral history by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Allen, which gives an insight into early American Quilters and their work.
What was the most influential exhibition you have seen? I found the Quilters’ Guild show held at the Guildhall in London very inspiring. This was a long time ago and I was fairly new to patchwork. I can still remember the feeling of excitement as I stepped through the door to be faced with so much colour. There have been others since then but this has to be the most memorable one.
Are you a member of any groups/guilds? I am a member of the Quilters’ Guild, the Patchwork Association and our local group in Worcester, Three Pears Quilters (Three Black Pears are the emblem of the city of Worcester). What piece of advice would you give for beginners? Join your local patchwork group and attend as many workshops as you can to acquire skills and learn new techniques. Also this brings you into contact with other quilters, which is more than half the fun.
Which quilters do you admire the most? I very much admire Pauline Burbidge for her completely focused dedication to her work, Michael James, Deirdre Amsden, Nancy Crow.... the list goes on!
Where do you sew? I sew in the upstairs back room of the house which is dedicated to my work rather than as a spare bedroom. We live in a thirties semi detached and I have a lovely view over the back garden. It’s hard to say how much time I spend sewing - although I do sew most days unless I am out teaching a workshop.
What was your proudest quilting moment? Proudest quilting moment was being given exhibition space at the Festival of Quilts in 2007. It was a great honour. Another one was publication day of my first book in 1992, How to Design and Make Your Own Quilt
What about dyeing etc? I tried it myself and did quite a bit but fi nally decided that other people seemed to be getting better results, so I now leave it to the experts and buy from them.
Are you interested in other textile crafts? Yes I am always interested in other forms of textile craft and subscribe to Selvedge magazine which covers many of these.
Where do you get your inspiration? Inspiration comes from traditional quilting patterns which I try to ‘bend’ a bit or the colours in the fabric. Log Cabin which uses light/dark contrasts has probably been the single most influential factor in my designs.
Best museums for textiles/ inspiration? The Victoria and Albert Museum in London and I love the Pitt Rivers in Oxford and Kettles Yard in Cambridge. Also Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex which was the country retreat of the Bloomsbury Group. We are extremely lucky in this country to have so much inspiration available in our museums and the National Trust Properties.
What happened to your first quilt or piece of patchwork? I still have it and use it in my talks.
Do you teach and if so what is your favourite subject? Yes I do teach and have a list of workshops on my website, www.katharineguerrier.com They are mostly concerned with design and different techniques for piecing. I enjoy teaching as it keeps me in contact with other quilters and it’s rewarding to see the results of my workshops appearing in exhibitions and the readers’ letters in the magazines. Teaching is a two way process and I learn from the students as well as the other way round.
What has been the best workshop you have been to as a student? As a student I probably got the most out of a class with Michael James in 1984 called Colour for Quilt makers.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers? My initial attempts as Patchwork as a beginner led me by degrees into a whole new career, radically increased the number of friends I have and incidentally improved my geography of the UK through travelling to teach. Looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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