Monday, December 3, 2012

Hand Quilted Whole Cloth

Seven years ago when my daughter and my son-in-law became engaged I started designing this quilt for them. Having just moved to Montpellier in the south of France, I was influenced by the quilts and linens I saw there, in particular by the lovely boutis quilts. At the time, my knowledge of boutis was quite limited, so I borrowed the look and some of the motifs used in boutis and adapted them to this whole cloth hand stitched quilt.

The heart is one of the symbols used in wedding quilts.

Five years ago, when they got married, the quilt was no where near being completed, but it was well on it's way. Four years ago, when my husband and I stopped spending winters in France, I moved the quilt to Vancouver. (The summers are much too hot where we live in France for lap quilting.)

The section in the hoop shows the border that I am currently working on. There are 3 rows of border motifs.

Sadly since then, because other things always seem to take priority, I have spent very little time on the quilt. I love to hand quilt, and I tend to look at time spent quilting as a decadent pleasure, so often it gives way to something that seems more like work. (A bit warped - I know!)

All of the empty space between the motifs will be stitched into narrow channels,  imitating the background pattern found in traditional boutis.

But now, I am determined to finish the quilt. There is still a lot of stitching to do and there are always other obligations that have to take priority, but my goal is to spend a minimum of 10 hours each week at this quilt and make some substantial progress this winter. Realistically, the 10 hour minimum will not happen until after Christmas, but I will post my progress each week. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Books: A Few of My Favourite Things!

Much of what I have learned about quilting and needlework in general, I have learned from books and magazines. Most books give specifics for the "how to", as well as issue patterns. There are many excellent books on the subject of needlework, many in my own library. Below are a few new books that I have recently acquired.

Within the last number of years, I have devoted much time to learning about the southern French needleart of boutis. Aside from describing the technique, I have also learned much about the rich heritage and tradition of this craft from books. Learning about the history of French needlework has made me understand the importance of the design of a quilt. With information that I have retrieved from books, I feel that it has added a new dimension and significance to the things that I make.

"Piecework" is one of the few magazines I subscribe to. Each issue has articles and stories describing the rich history of different types of needlework from around the world. Some recent articles were about the Bayeaux tapestry in France, the handwork described in novels by Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, Charlotte Bronte, etc., the history of Estonian lace, Chinese embroidery, etc.. A great read for a rainy, dark Sunday afternoon.

"Selvedge" magazine is another favourite. It is informative of the contemporary fibre art scene, and often discusses the history of a specific technique as well. The photography and style of the magazine itself is a work of art.

"Mastering Precision Piecing" by Sally Collins is an excellent how-to on piecing. The Quilt Show, an on-line quilting program (, recently made Sally's accompanying video available for all of it's members. It was one of the best classes in piecing that I have seen, and is meant both for new quilters as well as more experienced quilters who have perhaps given up precision for speed. A very good remedial class.

"Piece by Piece" is by award winning quilter Sharon Schamber. Her quilts are amazing! The intricacy of her designs and the precision workmanship is worth a study.

Discussing quilts and the women who made them in 19th century America is "Hearts and Hands: The Influence of Women and Quilts on American Society" by Pat Ferrero, Elaine Hedges and Julie Silber. I have not yet had time to read this book, but it looks very intriguing and includes some great photography of life in the 19th century as well as photos of 19th century quilts.

Since beginning my study of boutis, Kathryn Berenson's book, "Quilts of Provence: The Art and Craft of French Quiltmaking", has been my textbook. Much of my interest in boutis, as well as much of what I have learned, comes from this book.

"Marseille: The Cradle of White Corded Quilting" is her newest book on the history this French needlework, focussing on "white corded quiting", or boutis. It is already a new favourite of mine.

Even with the incredible amount of information available on the internet today, books should not be underestimated nor set aside. For me, it is still a very useful resource, and a well used, often referred to book is a teacher who available at all times.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Tristan Quilt at the V & A

On our recent visit to London, one of our first stops was at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Established in 1852 and named for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were strong supporters of it's founding, the museum is a facility that is both educational and cultural, and open to everyone. It is here, in the "Medieval and Renaissance Gallery" that I finally saw the "Tristan Quilt", one of the earliest surviving quilts showing stuffed, corded whitework (known as "Boutis" in France).

A Chihuly chandelier hangs in the grand lobby of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Medieval needlework was often a medium for storytelling. It told of wars and conquests, heros and warriors, love won and love lost, etc. Myths and legends were recorded for future generations through the nimble fingers of the artisans. Through the intricately depicted figures stitched into the Tristan Quilt, this classic Norman legend follows Tristan into battle and tells the tale of love and deception between Tristan and Isolde.

The quilt has been traced to an atelier in Sicily, Italy between 1360 - 1400. Because linen was widely available in Italy and France, and because of it's sturdy, long-lasting nature, it was used in many antique needlework pieces. In this quilt, the atelier used linen for both the top and backing of the quilt as well as linen thread for the stitching.

A close-up view shows the deterioration of the fabric, however, a great deal of restoration has taken place to preserve this item from further decline. Even so, some of the original stitches are still in place. I find it quite amazing and awe-inspring to think that someone, more then 600 years ago, living in a world completely foreign to our world today, likely working in conditions that we would consider quite harsh, skillfully placed those stitches with diligence and patience.

The quilt is displayed behind glass, so it was possible to get up very close and study the stitching in the images. A significant portion of the quilt has stitching that is deeply imbedded into the fabric and I would venture a guess that those would be original. A thrilling concept!

Below are several close-ups of the quilt.
The text surrounding the figures describes the scene.

Letters and channels were likely corded, while the larger areas were stuffed with cotton wadding.

Note the fine stitching around the King's head. Known as "point rapproche" (closely spaced, back and forth running stitch), it is still commonly used today in "boutis" and acts as a type of stipple stitch.

Close-up of the stitching. The brown thread outlining the flower and the vine is done in "point de piqure", the tiny backstitch that is one of the main stitches used in "boutis".

The Tristan Quilt on display at the V & A is only a portion of the whole quilt. A sister quilt hangs in the National Museum of the Bargello in Florence, Italy.

Not to be missed when at the museum, is a tea break  in the restaurant. The freshly baked scones and clotted cream keep me coming back!

Even the tile work on the floor of the restaurant provides inspiration for a future project.
I first heard about the "Tristan" quilt when visiting the "Maison du Boutis" in Calvisson, France.  On display at this museum is a reproduction of the "Tristan Quilt', made by Madame Francine Nicolle, founder and director of "Maison du Boutis", and the Association of "les Cordelles". After the quilt was completed, it was displayed next to the original at the V & A in London in December of 2009. When not on loan, the reproduction quilt now hangs at the "maison du Boutis" in Calvisson. Check out their website for further information about the process and the quilt.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Shop Windows

Finally back home on the Pacific coast of Canada, life is slowly returning to a comfortable rhythm and routine. With my project list before me, I am looking forward to a fall and winter of creating and producing as many things textile as I can. My "hirondelle" boutis piece is coming along (see my previous post) and I hope to begin the cording before long. Other projects, I will write about as they come up.

To get back to Vancouver from Montpellier, we took a long, round about route to Heathrow Airport in London, where we eventually caught our flight home. Our detour took us from Montpellier to northern Germany, Belgium and Calais,France, where we caught the Eurostar to London.

On this little tour of northern Europe, we spent some time in the Belgian cities of Antwerp and Bruges. Wandering through the medieval, winding streets of Antwerp and Bruges, our senses were constantly delighted. From the sweet, spicy scent of Speculoos cookies and gingerbread baking in the patisseries, to the eye candy in the shop windows, every turn provided a new surprise.

In Antwerp, Belgian chocolates in the form of Hallowe'en treats.

The entrance to a pub in Antwerp featured a wall of local beer bottles.

There was an abundance of Belgian laces in many shop windows.

Some of these little butterflies followed me home.

Our final stop on this tour was London. Of the many opportunities to shop in London, Liberty of London is a favourite. Smaller then the mega stores like Harrods and John Lewis, Liberty of London is somehow easier to comprehend and navigate; a more intimate, comfortable setting. I find it more user friendly. (The fact that they have a whole floor dedicated to fabrics and fibres could have something to do with my preference!)

Liberty of London from the street.

The interior of the store from the top floor.

Wall coverings and upholstery fabrics.

Silky, smooth Liberty cotton prints.

Most of the top floor was dedicated to the delights of Christmas.

Christmas crackers. Can't get more British then that!

And of course, while in London, there are the museums and galleries to visit. The Victoria and Albert Museum is always on our "must stop" list while in London. To my delight and surprise, the "Tristan" quilt was "in the house", and I had my first opportunity to see this ancient piece of boutis. More on that in the next blog.

In the meantime, with the approach of Hurricane Sandy, I am mindful today of  everyone on the eastern coast of the US and Canada. Wishing all of you safe times in the next few days.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hummingbird Boutis

This hummingbird is the first in a series of boutis pieces featuring birds that I am currently in the process of designing.

As with most of my quilting designs, the hummingbird has evolved in the construction process, and may change some more before the final stitch is sewn. The centre of the piece has already been stitched and I hope to get a lot more work done as we make our way back to Vancouver.

Tomorrow morning we lock up our little place in the sun and will spend a few weeks on the road touring northern Germany, Belgium and France before heading home. Train travel is a good place to do some stitching, so ever the optomist, I expect to get at least a little work done en route. I'll report when we are settled back in Vancouver, sometime towards the end of October.

Until then, enjoy the colours of autumn wherever you are, and Happy Thanksgiving to Canadians, where Thanksgiving will be celebrated on Monday, October 8. (Wish I were there. Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Alsace Quilts

A quilt show is a great place to be inspired and to celebrate our craft with other artisans. Spread throughout the town of Ste. Marie-Aux-Mines, as well as 2 other nearby towns, this show did not disappoint in either way. There were many fantastic quilts to marvel at, and even more fantastic people to meet and share ideas with.

When at these shows, time is always at a premium, so I prioritized the exhibits that I hoped to see and did my best to get there. Here are a few of the highlights.

The first exhibit we saw were the Canadian quilts. Just as with the Amish quilts, a church acted as the gallery. Churches make great venues for displaying quilts.

Canadian quilts under the stained glass windows made for an interesting presentation.

"Accumulate" by Amanda McGavour, Toronto, Ontario

"Triumph of the Hexagon" by Jeannie Jenkins of Toronto, Ontario

Libby Lehman is very well known throughout the quilt world for her free motion machine quilting and threadwork. As she was the featured artist at this year's show, there was a large retrospective display of her quilts. I am more familiar with her current work, so it was quite a surprise to see her more traditional earlier work. It was a beautiful exhibit.

"Frenzy" (1990)  by Libby Lehman of the U.S.

"New Mexico - Pecos Summer" (1983)  by Libby Lehman of the U.S.

"Watch Your Step 2 - Mushrooms" (2012) by Libby Lehman of the U.S.

"Quiltmania" a French quilting magazine (available in English in North America), profiles certain quilters each year at their exhibit. Di Ford and Kathy Doughty were 2 of this years artists.

"Antique Wedding Sampler Revisited" by Di Ford.

Di Ford (close - up)

"Kaffe Fanfare" by Kathy Doughty

Japanese quilts are always amazing to see in person. The skill of the artisan and the minute, intricate needlework is often unbelievable. Here is an example. I apologize for not having the name of the quilter.

Japanese Quilt. Artist is unknown.

Japanese quilt close -up. Hand applique as well as hand quilting.

The French collection had it's own line-up of talented artists. Note the machine threadwork of this wall hanging.

"Tentation" close - up by Genevieve Attinger of France.

"Tentation" close -up by Genevieve Attinger of France.

18th Century Boutis Quilt from the collection of  Monique Alphand of France.

Close - up of the boutis.
Quilt shows are always fun and inspirational as well as a great place to connect with other kindred spirits. I met some wonderful people at the show and I'm already looking forward to the next one, wherever it might be!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Amish Quilts in Ste.Marie-Aux-Mines, France

Tucked away in the picturesque Val d'Argent in Alsace France, Ste. Marie-Aux-Mines hosts the annual European Patchwork Meeting. As the name suggests, Ste. Marie-Aux-Mines was established as a mining town, however, it also had a thriving textile industry that was famous worldwide.  And it was in this unpretentious little town, hidden away in the valley of the Vosges Massif, led by Jacob Amman, that the Amish movement was born in 1693. In view of this history, this is the perfect place for a quilt show, which celebrates artistry with fabrics, and in particular, for an exhibition of Amish Quilts.

Driving towards Ste. Marie-Aux-Mines in the foothills of the Vosges Massif.

A quiet little village church on the outskirts of town.

A profusion of  brightly coloured flowers burst out of window boxes, adding colour and charm to these medieval buildings.

Throughout the town, a variety of buildings had been transformed into galleries for the week. Walking into town, towards the main venue, the first exhibit that we came upon was the Amish exhibit. Here, a church acted as "gallery", which seemed a very fitting venue for Amish quilts.

To attract and welcome guests, an Amish clothesline had been hung in the yard of the church. Referring to themselves as "plain people", the Amish dress in simple, plain clothing and often, it would be these worn out clothes that were used to make the early quilts.

The church provided the perfect backdrop for the quilts.

"Diamond in the Square"
 An Amish wool wedding quilt made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1920 by Rebecca Z. Huyard. It was described as "perfect simplicity".

"Broken Star"
The wedding quilt of Elsie Otto. Made of cotton in 1960 in Topeka, Indiana.

A wool wedding quilt made by Sarah Hayward King in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1943.

"Log Cabin - Barn Raising"
Made by Clara Bontrager in Indiana in 1998 using antique wool and crepe.

"Trip Around the World"
1880 - Pennsylvania.

Special events, like this horse and buggy ride, were available for visitors to explore the town.

My next blog will feature some of the other exhibits at the European Patchwork Meeting in Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, including the Canadian Exhibition, and artists such as Libby Lehman, Di Ford, Kathy Doughty, etc.