Today, quilting has been embraced by artists who draw on the technique's long tradition and cultural associations in their contemporary art practice.
Quilts are closely linked with domestic life, because of their function as bedding or because their making is often associated with a rite of passage, like a birth or a wedding. However, they can also provide a forum for political or social commentary, be created as an act of remembrance, or as an artistic exploration, particularly of 'women's art' and work. Discover how three contemporary quilters have embraced the medium to create unique works of art, now in our collection.
At the End of the Day by Natasha Kerr
Natasha Kerr's At the End of the Day is a contemporary reflection on both a family history and a traditional technique. Trained as a textile designer, Kerr creates complex, multi-layered artworks, including several pieces that were based on family photographs belonging to her grandmother. These images provided Kerr with what she describes as a "visual thread", linking her to an otherwise unknown part of her family history.
At the centre of one of these works, At the End of the Day, is an image of Kerr's grandfather, a Viennese surgeon who came to Britain in 1936. In this video, Kerr discusses her grandfather's story and how she created the work around it, as well as her interest in the hidden histories of everyday objects such as quilts.
Winter/Male and Summer/Female by Jo Budd
Jo Budd creates large-scale textile pieces from both new and reclaimed materials, which she stitches, dyes and distresses by hand. She builds up layers of different materials, exploring and exploiting their colour and texture to create works reflecting her home life and local environment.
Although she works on a large scale, Budd is also interested in how the work looks close up, particularly, in her own words, "the edges, the threads, all those other little sumptuous details". Occasionally, she allows the stitch to appear on the surface of the material or uses it to create a ripple effect. Budd describes this technique as a kind of 'Braille', "inviting the eye, if not the hand, to touch".
In this interview, Budd discusses her work Winter/Male and the process of creating the contrasting companion piece, Summer/Female – from rust-dyeing found fabrics, to building up layers of sheer silks and cottons, to the moment of affirmation that happens when she begins stitching.
Memoriam by Michele Walker
In the 1970s and early '80s, Michele Walker was part of a small group of contemporary artists who helped revive interest in British quilt making. She is known for creating complex and multi-layered quilts and installations.
My work deals with re-interpreting the traditional quilt. Inspiration comes from what I experience and observe around me. It is essential that the content of the work reflects the time in which it is made… I aim in my work to challenge the associations and meaning of the word quilt.
Memoriam is a work that plays with and disturbs the traditional, multi-layered associations of a quilt to commemorate the loss of a very personal relationship – that of her mother, who developed dementia and eventually lost both her memory and her sense of identity.
Undermining associations with safety and comfort, Memoriam is wadded with wire rather than cotton or wool. The wire wool is intended to gradually react to the atmosphere, decaying over time. The choice of the materials reflects the complicated relationship between mother and daughter. Walker describes how, "working with an uncomfortable tactical material like wire wool seemed to be symbolic of those bittersweet memories".
Memoriam also draws on Walker's knowledge of quilting techniques. Walker has pieced each section of the quilt in the manner of what is known as a 'crazy' quilt. Popular in the late 19th century, such patchwork designs were made of seemingly randomly placed irregular-sized pieces. In Memoriam, it is used to make a reference to the continuing tendency to 'institutionalise' or hide the mentally ill, reinforced by the use of the industrial grey wire wool, a colour often associated with hospitals or asylums. Walker has stitched the quilt in clear plastic and, rather than using a regular design, has echoed the pattern of her own skin, emphasising her personal relationship to the work.
The quilt, so often associated with gift giving and family heirlooms, becomes, through Memoriam, a highly-charged and complex study of the relationship between mother and daughter.