These videos were produced as part of the exhibition Quilts 1700–2010, on display at the V&A South Kensington between 20 March and 4 July 2010. This was the V&A’s first ever exhibition of British quilts, and comprised 65 beautifully crafted quilts, predominantly from the V&A’s collection but also including a number of important loans and new works by contemporary artists, many of which were commissioned especially for the show.
Artist and quilt maker Jo Budd talks about the inspiration for her companion works 'Winter/Male' and 'Summer/Female' and discusses the techniques used in creating them.
This piece Winter/ Male was started in the Autumn last year and it had a wintery feel actually because of the colour scheme that I wanted to work with. But I knew that I wanted to work with the theme of tall structures with a kind of masculine feel but within in it the dualities of male and female and that it was going to have a companion piece, a female summery piece that was going to be the colour opposites in fact.
So I started producing the fabrics using the rust dying process using metal plate and water only and working on to a pallete of found fabrics that were ready coloured most of them. And then knowing that I would over-layer with sheer fabrics in silks and cottons which would be dyed with reactive dyes and then finally the whole thing is stitched to give it that surface texture and ripple and to weld the whole thing together if you like.
So you can see top section here is really strong rust dyed marks and the challenge in this piece was how to put these very different pieces together but into a coherent whole so that it would work from a distance as a composition but would also work close up.
Ok, so we're now leaving winter male and this is the summer female it's sister piece and its composition is finished and pinned and I'm just in the process of starting to sew it which is really exciting. I can't wait to, I nearly said 'get my teeth into it' but I mean get my fingers onto it because I'm going to really discover what these fabrics can do once I start stitching and it is a moment of transformation but of affirmation as well really, it's a joyous moment that it's finished. And this piece is very different to the feel of Winter and Male. It's much lighter and brighter. It's got a lot more space and areas of blank canvas where light is allowed to come through and it's just got a kind of lighter, more relaxed feel about it somehow. I think that's how we all feel in summer anyway so that's why it's kind of got two titles of Female and Summer.
Ok, so I'm just starting to stitch this piece Summer/Female now with little tiny anchoring stitches which start to produce a surface texture so that it has a three dimensional quality which echoes the marks on the fabric surface or sometimes the marks on the fabric that is beneath the surface.
Think that thing - of being able to really stand back from a big piece of work but then to be able to move close in and be excited by all the little details and the other things that you discover, the edges, the threads, all those other little sumptuous details - that's part of why I like to work big actually, the macrocosm and the microcosm if you like, you know, it gels when you walk away. Almost like an impressionist painting, you come up close to it and woa, you know, what's happening now.
But hopefully you find other little gems to look at. I suppose I just hope that people are going to respond in an emotional way as well as an intellectual way, these can be read quite formally in terms of blocks of dark and light and colour contrasts and balances.But there is a lot of emotional in it and people have come up to me and have really expressed what I have felt when I have been doing this work. So it is a chance for me to find out if I am actually communicating with my public. And yes, I think those who can see, can see.
Textile artist Caren Garfen talks about the inspiration for ''How many times do I have to repeat myself' and discusses the techniques used in creating it.
This video was made as part of the exhibition Quilts: 1700 – 2010, at the V&A from 20 March to 4 July 2010
My name's Caren Garfen and I'm a textile artist and I work from home.
This piece is called 'How Many Times Do I Have To Repeat Myself?' and it's based on a concept about women and work, whether women want to be at work or whether they want to be at home.
It's making its first visit into the real world - into the world of the V&A. It's just been my domestic quilt and now it's going to be an art piece.
The interesting thing is that I've never made a quilt before so it was a major challenge to sit down and think about it and think how impossible it is. How would you do it? How would you patch pieces together? How would you sew it? It took a long, long time to do.
Actually I was going to an exhibition and I suddenly thought of the name of the quilt. This is it, 'How many times do I have to repeat myself' is the name of the quilt. I was on the tube and I love it when I get that sort of inspiration. Then I start thinking about what is it about, what sort of imagery do I want and it has to have a concept and the concept originally was to do with women, the domestic, but to take it out of there and into the real world, into working. I wanted to know do women want to work full-time? Do women want to be at home? I thought what I would do is a questionnaire. So I narrowed down the women who were going to take part and they were all women who stitched. I loved that because it was part of the quilt, stitching and women who were interested in that.
I wanted to know what was the most important object in their home. This is a domestic part, it's part of their everyday lives. I gave them a list of ten and they just had to say what was the most important. I thought it would be the washing machine, but it turned out to be comfortable furniture. So it was like beds and armchairs and settees which I put on the quilt - they are the imagery that's there. And then I asked them 'What do you do for a living? Do you work? And if you do work, do you want to work? Do you work part-time or full-time? And the results were astounding because 50% of the women said they didn't want to work at all - and I was absolutely amazed. And a lot of those were women who were doctors and teachers who said they don't want to work. I think the part-timers seemed happier to carry on working. So it's sort of like very interesting - a life-work balance that women want.
My research wasn't scientific. I thought I've got to find out what a real academic researcher would say. I started looking on the internet and I found this wonderful title - it said 'Five Feminist Myths' and I thought I must look into this. I wanted to get these articles and I couldn't, so I thought, I'll have to phone the London School of Economics and see if I can speak to this woman. And amazingly I dialled - I thought it was just reception and I was put straight through to her. She said, 'Hello. Dr Catherine Hakim here'. I thought, 'What have I done?' I said I was very interested in her articles, I was making an art piece for the V&A and could I speak to her. She was very forthcoming and she sent me the articles. I read them and I thought, 'This is it'. It just seemed to really - I don't know - it linked up amazingly well to my questionnnaire. I don't know how, but it was just perfect. So mine wasn't scientific - it was just almost a whim and sort of a humourous aside and then I had this really technical research which was saying very similar things.
When I do a piece I do a lot of serious research. I spend hours reading and it's very technical or scientific. So I like to soften it down with some humour. And so I hand stitched these labels - they've almost become a trade mark of my work. So if you look back to my early pieces, they all had labels on. So this was like a joy because I could stitch so many labels on so many different images. There's things like this - the weighing scales and it says 'She had the weight of the world on her shoulders'. And here she would end up picking up all of the pieces for the vacuum cleaner. And the one I like the best is this one which is of the television 'She was programmed to do it all' which has got some poignancy in it, I think, for women.
I really wanted other women to contribute to the quilt. It was a crucial element, just going back - a throw back to when women were making the quilts, they got together as a group and they contributed - it was a sociable thing. In this case I changed the concept and I got people collecting for me.
I wanted it to be fluff from a tumble dryer because it was women's role - you'd say it was a woman who would do the washing and ironing, emptying the drier and folding up the clothes. So it was like an essential woman's role. And I wanted that fluff put inside the quilt. I hand stitched here 'A bit of fluff' which is what men used to call women - I don't know if they still do now, but they were called a bit of fluff. Then down here we have the label which is all the women who contributed to the quilt by supplying fluff from their tumble driers. They didn't really even think about it - they just thought it was the most normal thing to just collect fluff and send it to me. It wasn't like 'Oh, I don't do the washing' or 'We don't have a tumble drier'. They just all sent pieces to me.
There should be a line between your working life and your home life. Women have that and want - they strive for this work-life balance of work and home. Mine is balanced towards working because I work every weekend and evenings. I know that when I talk about my work and it sounds 'work' and it's this really hard slog, it's actually the most enjoyable thing I could do. So I really cannot complain. If I had to go upstairs and empty the washing machine I know I can come straight back down here and start stitching. Stitching is grounding, it's calming, it's almost like a therapy. You can just sit and really relax. I mean, it's not surprising that women have been stitching for years because you need that calmness, surrounded by all this chaos and noise and mess. It's so nice to have this little place where you can relax and be calm.
This could echo me and this is 1924 - 'It was too much, with all she had to do, slaving day and night to keep the house nice for them all who never thought of appreciating it.' That's my life story.
Textile artist Diana Harrison discusses the inspiration for 'Box' and discusses the techniques used in creating it.
This video was made as part of the exhibition Quilts: 1700 – 2010, at the V&A from 20 March to 4 July 2010.
The inspiration behind this piece was boxes. Boxes collected on my journeys back from work, as I walked up the Northcote Road, there'd be lots and lots put out for re-cycling outside all the shops. And I would collect them all the way home, open them out, examine them, take them apart and sometimes find things in them and sometimes not. That really was my starting point. I just loved the shapes of them. I loved the faceting of them and the way they constructed themselves and de-constructed themselves. That started me off thinking 'how can I represent this, how can I make this into a quilt. I wanted to create something that was possibly bed quilt size, so it had a sort of ambiguity to it. The sizing of the piece on the wall it's representing a bed quilt. Other references from quilts are that I really like the historical ones that have the seams broken as they go over the four poster bed at the corners. So they are missing their corners. I've always like the outlines of those actual quilts. So I think this one and particularly the one on the floor which is the lid of the box, was representative of thoses pieces, but it didn't have to have a complete outline, it was faceted.
To start this piece I was given a sabbatical semester from my university which allowed me the thinking time really, from one day to the next without the constant interruptions of life and to be able to think what I wanted to make. I made it perhaps later. It took a long time in between doing other things, but it was really that creative artistic time in the studio, playing with boxes, really sorting out in my head what I wanted to do that was so valuable. And that's a sort of time I have never really had in my life because I have always been teaching alongside whatever else I do.
My studio is in my home which is small, it's in London. I work in the big front bedroom of a typical four-bedroomed house. That doesn't allow me that amount of space. I also screen print and discharge print and steam my work as part of the finishing process. And this all gets done in the garden. So I'm literally running up and down the stairs to the bathroom with a very mucky screen and then having to wash things off in what is a domestic context.
The pieces that I have made over the years have invariably been commemorative of some sort or memorative. I think because of the time these pieces take, that even though the initial idea may be tactile, found objects, something that's triggered me off to make something, during the time that these pieces take to make, life happens and therefore these pieces take on the context of that time in your life and they become very personalised by that.
This piece started its life at a time when I was facing redundancy and feeling the effects of that and that one was sort of washed up, empty box, you know, squashed on the road, run over, whatever. It was that feeling that I felt about these empty boxes and it sort of coincided with that timing.
My work is very much about the cloth, the materials, the making - the relationship between the print and the stitching. I will start off by bonding together the fabrics - in this case it's cotton on the underneath, there is an interfacing in the middle with bondaweb and a gluey sort of substance and silk on the top. So I'm making a sort of a sandwich, a quilt. The the whole piece is stitched together. The cloth is all pre-dyed black, dyed by myself so that I know what it will discharge to.
The stitching is making the thing very solid for me. I enjoy the lines. I enjoy even the hours spent doing the stitching because it gives me a sort of contemplation time, thinking time. I sample and find out whether I want - what width I want the stitching, find lots of ingenius ways with masking tape of being able to stitch in straight lines. It's just an important part that also makes it a quilt. The detailing seen here, with these lines coming in with the tiny burnt holes is in fact where the sellotape or the packing tape appears on the lid and it's actually the same width as the brown packing tape that you buy. These points of this cross join up in the eye anyway so that you can actually see where the piece would have been constructed.
I do think it's one of the most difficult things in the world to do - to embed a contemporary quilt within the beautiful, historic pieces that are known and loved. And contemporary quilt makers are not necessarily following exactly in that tradition and nor am I. But at the same time, I think that it's important that we are recognised as well as the makers from earlier times. We are working under incredibly different circumstances that are modern day and therefore you will engage in modern day making as well. You know a lot of printing is now all going over to digital printing and that's going to make a huge difference to the sort of patterning and cloths that are going to be coming out.
So finally this piece has coincided with the death of my father and I would like to commemorate it to him in a way. But all the way through, towards the end, I kept saying 'Hang on in there, I'm going to have this piece in the V&A' and extraordinarily, really extraordinarily, he died the night I was sewing the Velcro on the back of it and I find that very strange, but I know he'll be proud of me.
Artist Susan Stockwell discusses the inspiration for 'A Chinese Dream' and the techniques used in creating it.
SUSAN STOCKWELL: I'm Susan Stockwell and this is my studio, it's in West Norwood in South London I've been here for about 12 years, it's been great, fantastic light which I need for my work. It used to be an old carpet factory and now it's an artist studio.
This is the quilt that I've made for the show at the V&A which is made from Chinese money, It's a map of the world on a sea on money. These are other money studies that I've been doing for the dress and since. This is Britain made of euros and dollars. sort of you know, who are we? Where do we sit?
This is a map dress called Colonial Dress and it's made from maps of the world.
Often I work here by the window especially if I'm doing smaller collages and cut-outs and drawings so I work at my drawing desk here, it's a bit over-run at the moment. Or on this bench if I'm sewing, cutting and I'll look out at the sky over there because there's fantastic light comes in here in the afternoon. That's sort of like a blank space I can look at and contemplate and get ideas.
I'm not a quilter, I'm an artist who makes lots of different things, I trained as a sculptor so the work is about beauty as well as other things and it's very important to me and I use these sort of craft processes to make these beautiful objects but they also have a content or a subtext that's much more political than that. the work's about ecology as well and I use recycled materials a lot but there's also a sort of ecology within the ideas behind the work.
When i did a residency in China a few years ago I thought it was an amazing, fascinating place that's changing so quickly. You can kind of see how it's overtaking the West or the old world it seemed like a kind of relevance to make a map of the world and a quilt out of Chinese money. And as money is something that you, we all recycle it's kind of constantly recycled and reused and has it's own kind of history., and wears that very clearly, you can sort of see the difference between these notes. It seemed like the right sort of material to make a quilt from.
Sewing is one of my processes, one of many. I think sewing has become more and more important actually as the years have gone by. I grew up in what I call a 'make do and mend' household where we recycled absolutely everything and I learnt to sew from a very young age and I learnt how dress making patterns work I think before I could read. And I think that that has influenced the work I that do now very much. I think the thing about sewing for me in different forms but is that it is a very slow process and it does take time but the repetitive nature of it means that it's actually quite sort of contemplative and meditative really. I almost get into a trance with it and that's often when I have my best ideas, so I'm not consciously thinking about things but it's as if I empty my mind and the ideas come to the forefront or I might resolve a piece of work you know when I least expect it. But it's often through doing these slow repetitive processes that I get into that state of mind and then I sometimes, you know, I find them very creative actually.
This box I inherited from my mother and it's a beautiful sewing box that's full of all these fantastic threads and cottons. Sewing scissors and you know it's all there, it's all there, so it's been really nice to actually out it into use positively in the work. I always had my own sewing box which I was given as a kid, which similarly is, well it's not actually a sewing box, strangely enough it's a cash box. Originally it was a cash box and we turned it into a sewing box so that's interesting that now I'm using money and cash and my sewing box that I've had for 40 years is actually a cash box, I hadn't made that connection so yea, that's interesting.
So this is part of my repertoire I suppose, part of my vocabulary, it's something that I am actually enjoying using and perhaps to a degree dictates the kind of work I make. And that's not being used to make clothes anymore, they're being used to make art with, a part of that process for me. So that feels quite rich and important.
It's taken me a long, long time to make because it's been stitched machine and all the countries have been stitched on if you get up close you can see the blanket stitch, so they're all stitched on by hand. The map of the world that I put on to this background makes it's own sort of pattern, you recognise it as a map but it's partly defined by these sort of blocks of colour that I've actually used for the continents and then I've framed it with red ribbon just literally to frame it but also because it has a Chinese reference, red is used a lot on China.
The other great thing about money is that people write on it and so and there's lots of marks on it and rips and tears and bits of Sellotape where it's been held together and things like this Chinese character, I don't actually know what it means. And you know, they write numbers on it because they've been counting it so you've got all that sort of history that's sort of inherently in the piece now. There are 560 of these blue notes which make up the ocean and I haven't counted these actually, I lost count. It took me so long I lost count.
Olga Henderson talks about life as a child in a Prisoner of War camp and the Changi Quilt.
OLGA HENDERSON: The hut we were put in was for 34 people to sleep in and there was 119 of us in it. So you can imagine what we were like. I mean you just more or less slept together and you had no bedding, you had nothing like that.
The Japanese gave us a piece of land and each person, each child worked it. But you were not allowed to eat anything off it. As soon as it ripened you had to tell the guard and they would pick it. You weren’t allowed to eat it at all.
I think the horrible thing was that you had no soap. You had water … if you were in the fields, because you had to work in the fields, if they turned the water on it wasn’t a gush, it was a very slow flow, but by the time you came off the field, picked your piece of tin up that you had – an old tin can – by the time you got there they’d turned the water off, so you had nothing. We used to try and clean our teeth with ash if you could get it. We used to get the little twigs and knock the ends off and make a toothbrush.
When we were first in Changi, after we’d all got settled down and were given our allotted spaces, it was very boring because there was nothing to do. So Mrs Ennis decided to start a little girl guide group. There were 18 of us that started. Eileen and Helen and Evelyn and Shirley – they were all from one family. Shirley was the elder one. She was more the leader of one group. Mrs Ennis was the boss, you might say. We decided to do the quilt for Mrs Ennis as a birthday present. We didn’t know which year she was going to get it, but we started it anyway.
We left our homes and went as we were dressed so that’s all the clothes we had, so we had to make do. Practically all the time we were in patched bits and pieces. I started by having a little eidelweiss because I got a bit of blue wool and anything to get bits of material. We had to scrounge enough thread to make our own little badges. Thread and needles were the most important things and we used to get those by unpicking old dresses to get the thread from the seams. My mother took some needles in and thread. She gave us a little bit of thread, but it was like gold. But needles were the most important thing because you didn’t get any more. What you had in camp was what you had. We used to try and sharpen them on the concrete pavements, but it didn’t really work.
This short film of Natasha Kerr at work in her east London studio reveals how contemporary artists are evolving and developing the quilting tradition today. The mixed media pieces involve painting, sewing, found photographs and other emphemera and explore the power of memory and personal history to create distinctly unusual modern family heirlooms.
I suppose, looking back, starting the work was actually about a cathartic experience and it was about laying the family to rest, as it were.
What had happened was that in my degree show, which was a few years before this, is I had been working on antique linen bedsheets, which are still a fabric I work on now. My background as an artist is I trained in textiles, I trained in fashion textiles. When I left college I worked as a freelance textile designer and after that what happened was my mother, when I was about 24-25, she gave me a whole series of very small little albums of photographs and it showed a lot of the family in Germany. It was things I had never seen before. All these photographs had been in plastic bags in the bottom of a cupboard in my grandma's side of the house. The photograph album gave me the opportunity to go back into exploring imagery and what imagery actually meant. And what I was trying to do initially was to take away the whole idea of the romanticism of the sepia photograph because I actually write stories that go with the photograph. And it started out by being image text - it still is really.
This is probably one of the last pieces I'll create using my family. And it depicts my great-grandmother and my grandfather lying the back garden of their house. It spoke to me for a lot of reasons. I love the fact that it's not a posed photograph. So many of the images I've used are posed. It's just a snapshot taken by somebody at the end of the day where everyone's exhausted from a day's work. My grandmother's probably beem doing all the cooking, cleaning at home and my grandfather was a surgeon in a hospital and a doctor as well. And normally he'd be surrounded by books and he's not. So it's a summery day in the north-west of England on the Wirral. And there's somebody missing from the chair, which could represent missing members of the family who aren't in the country - people who've died. So for me it's quite a poignant image and it's called 'At the end of the day'. When I'd finished it, it did remind me of a union jack and I actually thought it was very fitting because it looks like a flag, but it's not a union jack, it's not a flag of anywhere, it's not representative of anywhere, but it looks strangely familiar, like the garden looks strangely familiar but it could be anybody's garden.
What I discovered was that galleries wanted to show the work, but also some people, although they liked the work, they didn't actually want to buy my family, they actually wanted to buy their own family. They wanted me to incorporate their stories and their imagery into what I do.
This is a commission that I'm working on and this is kind of the beginnings of what I start off with when I'm trying to work out the story. It's all about her father who was a Guerka in the Second World War - or Guerka officer - and he mapped India and he mapped Burma. It starts off with where he grew up which was up here and the work generally will go round in a circle in some way, so you can follow it round. And this obviously isn't what the piece will look like when it's finished, this is just what I've got to get in somehow. So that's his old school tie that somehow will be incorporated into the work, which she's managed to find. And then I've gone through hundreds of diaries and scrapbooks that he's made in his time during the war. It's fascinating because it's a real insight into a life - and an interesting life. I mean I didn't know anything about the war in Burma.
I think what people now want is something that's more about them and more - they can relate to. And that is what quilts are about. The whole narrative that goes around it, who might have owned the object, where it may have been, whether it's somebody illustriously rich or if it's somebody without a tuppence halfpenny to rub together. They're all fascinating stories. They're all about social history as much as they are about the object itself. And all of those things are the things that I love.