Roman Perdu, a challenge quilt for Susan as to start with, these were not her favourite colours or fabrics
Roman Perdu, a challenge quilt for Susan as
to start with, these were not her favourite colours or fabrics

How did you start quilting? When I worked in Japan in 1991, I bought a copy of Patchwork Quilt Tsushin magazine. The magazine was supposed to be for my mum, but I couldnt part with it. I loved the Japanese quilts and I was already hooked on Japanese fabric via kimono making. I made a small number of quilts which were more artistic than technically accomplished before joining Gresford Craft Group in 1997.

Did you like sewing at school? No - I was graded bottom of the sewing class at one point. I didnt enjoy it because there was no creativity. I love patchwork and quilting because there is so much variety and scope for pursuing different textile passions. And its nice to prove you can do something when your teachers thought you couldnt!

Susan really is the queen of sashiko in the UK
Susan really is the queen
of sashiko in the UK

Are you self taught? Initially, yes, although my background is in fine art, which helps with colour. Until 1996 I didnt drive and attending classes was impossible due to transport problems. I belong to three local groups where we pool our skills and help each other. I grab workshop opportunities when I can.

Favourite colours and fabrics? Indigo and all shades of browns, greens, purples. I like splodgy patterns like Fossil Fern which go with everything. Last year I challenged myself to use plaids, plain ochre and pinky-purples (not my favourites) and liked the resulting quilt. I moved house to cope with my books and fabric. There is now probably material in every room, but mostly in my workroom and loft. My two cats, Takenoko and Fluff, assist with fabric selection.

Type of sewing machine you use? A Riccar 9300 (fourteen years old) and an Elna Lotus ZZ (thirty one years old). I collect really old machines - the oldest is a Singer 12K, first produced in 1865.

Where do you sew? Officially in my workroom, unofficially at the dining table, where I can look out over the nearby mountain.

Do you have a day job? I used to work full time, but now I am studying for my Certificate in Education. Its part-time, so I can work everything else around that, such as costume making for a local Theatre in Education company. Id like to do an MA in Textiles next.

Old kimono silks
Old kimono silks - one of the many
temptations from Euro-Japan Links

Most admired living quilters? Mrs Yoshimi Arimoto, Yuza Towns sashiko leader - she stitches traditional sashiko without marking. Her portfolio at the Yurari Cultural Centre introduced me to Shonai Sashiko.

Proudest quilting moment? Giving my dad his 70th birthday quilt. He had to give it back the next day so I could send it to Quilts UK!

What wadding and why? Hobbs Polydown medium loft, mostly. Its good to hand or machine quilt and I like the charcoal grey colour. I like medium to thin waddings. I used 4oz in my first quilt when I didnt know any better.

What quilt shops do you use? Euro Japan Links Ltd in London. There are no nearby quilt shops so I do most of my shopping at quilt shows. I also use nonquilting fabrics. Ive been trying out some indigo linen from IKEA for sashiko.

What are your quilting goals? To make a more systematic study of Shonai Sashiko and gradually work through my stash of fabric.

Piece of advice for beginners? Learn as much as you can about colour and dont be scared of hand quilting. Never say no to fabric but always wash it before you quilt, and avoid polycotton.

Susan travels regularly to Japan and is in demand as a teacher. Her lectures include sashiko and Japanese country textiles and a kimono making workshop. Visit her website Susan Briscoe Designs for more information.

Jidai Mo Ichi Kai (Time and Again), National Quilt
Championships 2001, given a merit award in the Down Memory Lane
category
Jidai Mo Ichi Kai (Time and Again),
National Quilt Championships 2001,
given a merit award in the Down Memory Lane category

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 10 Number 9 - October 2002