Katy Purvis visited Liverpool to see the Quilters' Guild, Region 13 celebration exhibition for the 2008 European Capital of Culture.
"Quilts in the City" was hosted by the Quilters' Guild, Region 13, to celebrate Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture. The exhibition was held in Liverpool Parish Church and was comprised of several distinct parts, each featured a variety of styles, themes and talent. In the centre aisle area, there was an impressive exhibition of invited pieces by the experts, including quilts by Gwenfai Rees GriffIths, Dilys Fronks, Susan Briscoe and Barbara Howell. These were absolutely stunning, and it was lovely to see them in such a beautiful and intimate setting. Although you may have seen some of these pieces before, it was great to see the best of the region displayed together. The show was accessible to the general public; it was held within the wider context of the Capital of Culture event, and I hope that some soon-to-be quilters were inspired as a result. Liverpool Parish Church of Our Lady and St Nicholas is an interesting church at the Pierhead and was largely rebuilt after suffering extensive bomb damage in the Second World War. It is a traditional building from the outside, and yet a lovely airy space to hold an exhibition inside. The church is hosting a variety of events throughout the year, please have a look at what's on if you are in the area.
The exhibition featured some fantastic quilts from two local quilting groups, Liverbirds and Cornerstones, as well as some great work from young quilters and school groups. Additionally, we were treated to a display of amazing ecclesiastical embroidery by Josephine Ratcliff. Her work has to be seen to be believed, if you have the opportunity to view it, it is highly recommended.
My favourite section was the Challenge exhibition. Judy Wilson, Co-ordinator for the Quilters' Guild, Region 13, issued a challenge to members in the region to produce a piece of work inspired by some aspect of Liverpool. Liverpool is a wonderful city which provokes strong emotion in the North-West. It is controversial in many ways, and is often described as in need of regeneration, but it has a rich heritage. The city has a strong tradition of humour, music, poetry and drama. It is an outward looking place, Liverpudlians often feel spiritually closer to New York and Ireland than to Manchester. There is a tremendous sense of the sea and the maritime past is evident everywhere, from architecture to family history. All these traits were represented in the Challenge Quilts. There was a huge range of subjects and a great variety of technique and interpretation. Thirty-three members responded and created the pieces exhibited. We've included a small selection of them in the Quilts in the City album here. There were many more brilliant entries not shown here, if any of the quilters who entered the challenge would like to post pictures of their work here, they would be very welcome!
One of my favourite pieces was City of Hope by Pauline Graves. Pauline wanted to experiment with new techniques in this abstract wall hanging, and has used chenille cutting and curved pieced sections, as well as some hand dyed fabric. She was inspired by Hope St in the city centre. The aptly named Georgian street links the Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals and is home to houses, restaurants, school buildings, theatres and music venues.
A less abstract wall hanging was A Walk through Liverpool by Pamela Orr. This was a sampler style hanging, primarily hand appliquéd, featuring symbols and glimpses of buildings or sculpture found around the city. I would like to base a city walk on this quilt, wouldn't it be fun to visit each block? Maybe that's a project for the school holidays! I could incorporate Liverpool Chinatown by Judy Wilson in my travels. The Chinese community in Liverpool is one of the longest established in Europe. From 1868, there was a line of steamers connecting China and Liverpool for many years, and the port was vital to the silk, tea and cotton wool import industry. This wall hanging featured the fantastic Chinese Arch which greets visitors to the Chinese quarter of the city.
There were a couple of memory quilts in the exhibition. Diversity by Janet Keenan was full of information and incorporated some lovely photographs of local landmarks. Individual pieces in the quilt are embroidered with famous Liverpudlian phrases and names. The diversity of the city was definitely made clear with elements such as Red Rum and Scouse, as well as the two cathedrals. The colours are very reminiscent of the Mersey Docks, these blue skies and dockside browns are very evocative of my own Liverpool memories. This was a lovely piece. Another memory quilt which had a definite seventies vibe, was Day Tripper by Sheena Quayle. This quilt really tells a story. Sheena used to travel to Liverpool from Isle of Man, on day trips in her teenage years, stocking up on the latest fashion! The shops on the Isle of Man were sadly lacking, but we benefit as Sheena can remember when and where she bought her favourite items on the mainland.
The Dockside and Mersey skyline are icons of the city. The famous Three Graces, The Royal Liver Building, The Cunard building and Mersey Docks and Harbour Board offices were depicted in quite a few pieces. Gill Young cleverly took a detail from the Liver building as inspiration for her piece 2008 Precisely. This design is based on the Liver Building Clock. The centre is a medallion and the design was also interpreted in piecing for the exhibition. Gill also took good advantage of the theme to allude to the year in the time the clock face displayed! Liverpool's Past Glory by Val Jones features the famous skyline and links directly to the maritime theme. The Merchant Navy has long been established in Liverpool, Val's husbands first ship the Cunard "Franconia" is shown in the foreground of her wall hanging. There were plenty of other pieces which included ships or the sea; I loved the piece illustrating Anthony Gormley's eerie statues in the sea at Crosby. Who Are They? by Ruth Axson was subtle but very effective and true to the scene it portrayed. SS Liverpool by Rosemary Allison was inspired by steam ships, a very ocean-influenced piece. I love the hint of rust and the suggestion of briny decay. The SS Liverpool was built in 1837 and was the first two funnelled ship to cross the Atlantic. This wall hanging looks almost organic, a great achievement.
One quilt which seemed to cover everything scouse was Encompassing the Compass by Pamela Pitt. The colour scheme for this quilt was beautiful. Pamela was celebrating the diversity of Liverpool culture and its rich architectural heritage. She also included elements of the famed scouse traditions of music, storytelling and humour. This was a vibrant quilt, and I felt it looked to the future as much as the past, giving hope for the future of Liverpool. I was pleased to discover that this piece won the visitors choice vote. Well done Pam!
This being Liverpool, there was a little bit of controversy in Tryweryn by Bethan Hughes. The exclusively Welsh speaking village of Capel Celyn in the Tryweryn valley was flooded to make way for a reservoir in 1965 by the Liverpool Corporation. Bethan's first needlework teacher was the teacher at the village school at the time. Villagers lost their homes in a flooding forced through by an Act of Parliament, which was widely opposed by the majority of the Welsh, who felt that their views were routinely dismissed. The event caused much resentment and resulted in increased calls for the devolution of Wales, and a huge surge of support for Plaid Cymru. The City of Liverpool formally apologised for the flooding in 2005. Region 13 encompasses North Wales as well as Merseyside and it was interesting to see a different perspective on what the city means to members across the region.
I could go on and on, there were so many great entries in this challenge that I'd love to mention them all! It would be interesting if the City could find a place to redisplay these Challenge quilts for a wider audience for a longer period, perhaps as a special exhibition in one of the larger galleries. I hope lots of non-quilters visited this great exhibition and will be inspired to take up some fabric as result; it was a lovely showcase for regional talent. I hope to visit many more shows of this type in other parts of the country. If you've been a visitor or a contributor to a regional exhibition, why not tell us about it?
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