Primitive Red and Green features the strong vibrant colours Mandy enjoys using
Primitive Red and Green features the
strong vibrant colours Mandy enjoys using

How did you start? My husband was offered a job move to New Jersey in 1992 and I thought this was a great opportunity to learn patchwork and quilting so I signed up for a class as soon as we arrived.

What happened to your first quilt? It has just been retired to the bottom of the wardrobe. I made a Roman Stripe quilt in a day with no regard for the size of our bed. Consequently it has never fitted, being too long and not wide enough. This Christmas, as money was a little tight I made a new one to share with my man, with fabric from my stash and donated from quilting buddies in the US and from my local group here in Ashford, Jo Blox.

Favourite fabrics in rich red tones
Favourite fabrics in rich red tones

Are you a member of any groups? I'm secretary of AVA Ashford Visual Artists, a group of professional artists from all fields (painters, furniture designers, photographers, silversmiths, etc) dedicated to the promotion of local arts culture. I find its sometimes good to get outside the quilting world. The work produced by other artists is so diverse and exciting and Ive made some great friends who encourage and support me and also accept my work as art without question. Ive also just been accepted into the Society of Designer Craftsmen.

Where do you sew? I'm lucky to have a large room we call the quilt room where I can leave work in progress out. Its also called the TV room which means it gets invaded after school and on Saturday mornings. I love the fact that I can work with the family around me and Im not isolated. My design wall keeps pieces up out of the line of fire most of the time and the three children seem to enjoy being in amongst the chaos!

As I dye fabric in the utility room and kitchen, teach in the living and dining rooms and often leave my dye bags out in the garden in the sun I should probably confess to taking over most of the house.

How many hours a week do you sew? Its difficult to say. It used to be when the children were at school and into the evening. Now, with preparing lesson plans, keeping accounts, plus planning and mounting work for exhibitions, I probably sew less, although I have been known to get up in the middle of the night if I've got a particularly exciting piece on the go.

Favourite technique? Definitely free form piecing. I love cutting straight into the fabric without a ruler and bending the lines. Often Ill do a rough sketch on paper then develop the design directly with the fabric.

Crazed Purple I and II were inspired by the cracks inside a coffee mug!
Crazed Purple I and II were inspired
by the cracks inside a coffee mug!

Nearest quilt shop? There are three within 30 minutes drive! JEMS in Canterbury, Cherry Orchard in Faversham and even one five minutes down the road, Quilters Grotto in Mersham. I also use every opportunity to collect fabric and visit quilt shops when Im on holiday in England and abroad so I have quite a diverse collection of commercial prints.

Favourite colours? Aubergine and reds. Having said that, I seem to be having a bit of a blue-purple phase at the moment!

Onward and Upward which achieved great success in America. Photograph by George Ong
Onward and Upward which
achieved great success in
America. Photograph by
George Ong

What about dyeing? I dye and overdye a lot of my fabrics. I was interested to see Adriene Buffingtons book Hand-Dyed Fabric as I have adopted her method of dyeing in plastic bags. With children in the house it helps not having big buckets of dye sitting around! I find four pint (1⁄2 gallon) plastic milk containers great for making the washing soda solution and it lasts for ages with a lid on tight.

Where do you get your inspiration from? Everywhere. Architecture, travel, newspaper articles, the fabric itself. I try to live life with an open mind. When travelling I always have a camera in my bag so I can catch anything that strikes me. My favourite gallery has to be The Tate Modern in London.

Do you enjoy working to commission? Yes. I completed four last year including a piece which is now hanging in Vienna. Clients have seen previous pieces and have chosen to work with me because they like my particular style, so Ive not had to produce anything that Id rather not. Clients have been happy to accept my colour suggestions so I havent had to incorporate white or in fact any light colours. I find it difficult to use these in my work which is medium-dark although I do also use a lot of bright tones

Proudest quilting moment? When my quilt Onward and Upward won a cash prize at an art quilt exhibition in Santa Fe in 2000. The same quilt was also selected to tour the US with World Quilt and Textile that same year.

Journey Across One Hundred Rivers, was inspired by the artist and architect Hundertwasser.
Journey Across One Hundred Rivers, was inspired
by the artist and architect Hundertwasser.

Top tip for readers? If at all possible, keep your sewing machine, cutting and ironing board out so theyre ready to use at a moments notice. You never know when youll feel creative. Also, I couldnt live without my design wall. If Im unsure about a fabric, I leave it pinned up and catch it unawares as I walk past, at different times of the day and night, until Im sure.

What are you working on just now? New wall pieces for South East Open Studios this summer. Im experimenting with presentation and stretching pieces over board. Theyre definitely patchwork and have three layers so are technically quilts, although two layers are wood. Creating work and exhibiting outside the rules of a quilt exhibition is giving me more freedom to develop my work. This also satisfies my quilting goal of bringing textile art to new audiences.

Mandy Munroe specialises in contemporary wall pieces. She has been creating interior and exterior textile works for 14 years. See her website Mandy Munroe for more details.

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 11 Number 7 - July 2003