Louise Mabbs creates wonderfully bright and colourful quilts that show her fascination with number sequences. Although originally trained in knitting and weaving, Louise caught the quilting bug early on and is known for her accurate piecing. More recently, Louise has been pushing the boundaries of quilting, making pieces that would never cover a bed, or if they did the sleeper would be rather cold as these quilts are 3D and have holes in them. These holes are not due to bad sewing, but a deliberate part of the design, following on from the starting point of ‘what if’ I try this… and seeing what results. Another passion of Louise’s is origami and she has been exploring its potential in quilts. This has resulted in a book which she has written jointly with Wendy Lowes, Quilter’s Guide to Twists and Tucks.

Blessed Trinity by Louise Mabbs
I met up with Louise when she was tutoring at the Loch Lomond Quilt Show and asked her about her current quilts and future plans.
You are totally enthralled by number sequences. When did this start – did you study A level maths at school? I was fortunate enough to study modern maths at school, which gave me a sense of the pattern making side of maths and I loved it. I did constructed textiles at Winchester School of Art. The low-key maths in weaving and knitting suited me well. I came to the number sequences in quilts after I was asked to submit work for an exhibition Mathematical Magic at Green’s Mill Science Centre, Nottingham in 1986. I remembered learning my times table not by rote, but by colouring in black blocks on a times table chart and looking for patterns in it. My pieces were taking that idea into colour and several stages further. Three years ago I met John Sharp, a mathematician, who has helped me get my ideas into mathematical shape. I hope my next book will be about the Fibonacci sequence, with John as the mathematical technical advisor.
Can you explain how the Fibonacci sequence works, particularly with circles? The sequence starts by adding 1 plus 1 to get 2, then 1 plus 2 to get 3 and progresses by adding the last two numbers to give the next number in the sequence. (1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55 etc) The numbers crop up in nature in all sorts of ways and many artists have used it whether consciously or unconsciously. Using Fibonacci proportions on square quilts is easy enough except the relative areas grow too big too quickly, so most quilters only use the first few numbers. I made four circular pieces for Shipley Art Gallery’s New International Quilts Exhibition in 2004. By that stage, my Mathematical Magic colouring system had already morphed into circular designs. I told John I wanted to make a piece with the Fibonacci numbers going into the centre and then the inverse with the numbers going round the circumference. While I knew what was needed, I didn’t have the mathematical/computer experience to work out the complicated degree measurements and John showed me how. Constructing the pieces was challenging, especially Fibonacci Rings 1 where I had to resort to American style piecing (marking the shapes on the background and sew together with a running stitch) without the Vilene because there are two curved edges on each triangle.

Posies for Rosie by Louise Mabbs
Most of your quilts seem really brightly coloured. Are you particularly drawn to vivid colours? I’m instinctively drawn to them. I’ve never been into little flowers and subtle English colours! In part I think it was coming across a little notepad with a rainbow on it and the words “the rainbow is a reminder of God’s presence in our world today.” I hope my work is a joyful influence in an art world that is often very morose and depressing. Having said that, I am thinking of changing my colour palette, because there is a risk of getting stuck in one style if you don’t keep moving on. My rainbow has changed over the years – fabric ranges change and I now tend to use what Strawberry Fayre call a tropical rainbow range.
Do you keep a large selection of fabric? (I remember you telling me once that you decided to use up all the fabric in your stash before you would buy any more) ‘She who dies with the most fabric wins!’ I have at least five wardrobes full as well as wool, buttons etc. Once people know you teach, you get offered everybody’s grandma’s attic! Years ago, my husband suggested I had a fabric moratorium and I did for a couple of years. A piece based on St Mark’s floor in Venice was made entirely from my collection, including many scant seams and pieced patches in order to eek out certain fabrics. But after moving to London, it kind of grew to fit the space and then the guest room too! I’m moving again soon, so I will have to rationalize some of it. However, I still run out of my plains for my art quilts quite frequently!
Do you prefer hand or machine piecing and quilting? I tend to use whatever is appropriate for the piece. I prefer hand quilting because of the twoway texture you get and I can talk to friends while I’m doing it. It’s therapeutic too. I piece by machine as much as I can - it’s neater and quicker for straight lines, but most of my spiral quilts are hand pieced on a Vilene foundation because it’s too fiddly by machine and it’s so portable. I love free machine embroidery. Although it hasn’t suited my work up to now, I am hoping to incorporate it in the future.

Infinity by Louise Mabbs
Which quilters/textile artists do you most admire and why? Many, but in particular Pauline Burbidge, whose revolutionary use of black was the big issue when I was starting and she has always been very supportive, especially when I was setting up. Mostly now I am inspired by painters, such as Bridget Riley and Mondrian. Recently, I have begun to appreciate op and kinetic art (moving and visual disturbances). I love the work of Origamists too. Seeing Wendy Lowes’ talk years ago led me that direction and I was delighted she was able to work on the book with me. Outside of the artworld, I am still interested in mathematics and I hoping to collaborate with some non artists. I’m giving a paper at an international maths-art conference this August. Writing the textile origami book had opened up my eyes to all sorts of other directions I could go in. I’m probably moving away from quilts as such, into much more sculptural art pieces though it’s still all using quilting techniques, just in radical ways.
Do you have any advice for quilters starting out / wanting to start doing their own designs? Don’t be put off by big name quilter’s work. They’ve got years of experience and we all had to start somewhere. I still go to exhibitions and get both inspired and depressed, there are so many people out there doing such fantastic work and there’s still so much for me to explore!
How do you juggle quilting with all your other commitments? I have a very supportive husband and my children  have grown up with me working in one of the bedrooms. The children are always drawing and making things, even more so since we got rid of the TV. We have always jigsawed our work and childcare responsibilities. I work a lot in the evenings. Alex cooks too, he’s far better than me – it’s too much like dyeing - slaving over a hot stove.
You can see more of Louise's beautiful and inspiring work on her website, www.louisemabbs.co.uk

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 14 Issue 12 December 2006