Over the last two years I have had the pleasure of working with so many extraordinary artists and makers. Many have welcomed me into their homes and studios, sharing thoughts and ideas – their hospitality and generosity have added an unexpected dimension to the exhibition, which goes beyond professional courtesy.
I had visited Jo Budd in her studio several times and was immediately drawn to the sense of peace and tranquillity in her workspace. It was not only a privilege to be invited into her home and studio but was also a joy to connect on so many levels – sharing our pasts, our love of fabric, the sheer joy we have both experienced in the act of stitching. I love Jo’s approach to fabric, her innate ability to transform the sheerest chiffons and silks into monumental celebrations of both her physical and domestic landscape. Our subsequent interview was filmed during the summer of last year, a gorgeous day full of bird song and laughter in which Jo speaks evocatively, passionately about her work. It was a truly emotional moment when I saw the edited version and each time I see it I am immediately connected with Jo, her work and her spirit.
Jo Budd unveiling Female/Summer (workin progress) in August 2009
The contrast – and extremes – of landscape and space are evident in Su Stockwell’s studio. Firmly rooted in the urban streets of London, I again visited Su in the summer, returning to film an interview on a bitterly cold day, wrapped in coats, scarves and gloves with frequent breaks when the camera’s batteries became too cold to function. Despite the chill, Su spoke passionately about her work – the continuing relevance of quilts within the context of a ‘make do and mend’ mentality where recycling and ecology are inherently part of the process. I loved the fact that Su still has her very first work box, an old cash tin which still contains her school name tags – and more importantly continues to use her mother’s reels of cotton thread in creating her work.
Su Stockwell ‘A Chinese Dream’ (work in progress), 2009
Last Friday we visited the lovely Caren Garfen’s home – over the last couple of years I’ve watched Caren’s work with interest but when she finally unveiled ‘How many times do I have to repeat myself’ I was unprepared for the sheer virtuosity of the piece. Caren has hand stitched, embroidered and pieced the quilt over the last eighteen months, often working 12 hour days. Despite her reservations about speaking in front of the camera, Caren’s enthusiasm for stitching – her joy at discovering the warp and weft of the fabric, of wanting ‘to get in and discover’ what she could do with thread was infectious.
Caren hand stitches at home but uses the facilities at the University of Hertfordshire to screen print her fabrics.
I have often articulated my wish for a new generation to discover the joys of stitching – listening to Jo, Su and Caren has confirmed what I have always believed, there is something inherently satisfying about the process of hand/eye co-ordination, the drawing of thread through fabirc. Once found it can never be forgotten.
The Quilts exhibition web pages are now live and have lots of information about the exhibition, including events and a link to the V&A on-line shop. Coming soon to these pages will be the videoed interviews with some of the artists in the exhibition. See www.vam.ac.uk/quilts