Jo Coombes gives below an exceptional synopsis of the Festival of Quilts exhibition, held earlier this year.

The Festival of Quilts, launched 19 years ago in partnership with the Quilters’ Guild, recently had its four-day annual show, attracting both national and international visitors. Quilts in a variety of categories from traditional to ‘art’, pictorial, miniature, contemporary and modern are exhibited in both juried and non-juried categories. Over 800 professional, amateur and young quilters enter work. Workshops, talks, demonstrations and retail therapy, as well as galleries featuring special exhibitions by notable artists, make it one of the premier European quilting shows.

Jo takes a very personal look at her favourite galleries, picking out quilts of interest to an art textile enthusiast. The wonderful award winning quilts for each category can be found on the Festival social media platforms, so this is just the tiniest sample of the treasures on offer. Unfortunately, many very deserving pieces will be left out of this account, as will many of the professional artist’s galleries!

Fourteen works were shortlisted for the Fine Art Textile Awards which recognise a broad range of skills to create visual art.

The winner this year was Jess Blaustein with ‘Table Settings’.

But Jo was impressed with Marian Jazmik’s innovative use of machine embroidery on heat treated and distorted synthetic fabrics to create ‘Stems and Stalks’. Marian has written a book on her wonderful and imaginative techniques.

Jane Walkley’s ‘Rhythm of the Weave 111 is a clever sculptural tapestry which captures the memory and repetitive life of mill workers by casting artefacts and debris in Jesmonite. Jane’s conceptual work on Yorkshire’s industrial heritage is so impressive.

Clearly, the most moving and exceptional piece was Caren Garfen’s Jewish tallis (prayer shawl) ‘The Weight of the World’, meticulously stitched over 2 years.

Jane Sanders’ ‘Self Portrait’ creates a clever eye-catching and contemporary modern picture with her vintage sewing machine.

The SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Association, Inc) gallery focused on migration and the refugee crisis in an exhibition of members’ work, called ‘Forced to Flee’. Eunhee Lee, from South Korea, creates a powerful image of this.

Jo’s favourite piece was this small intimate group of desperate people, rendered in vintage fabrics by Kathleen Loomis, Kentucky, U.S.A. It is poignant and effective, urging us all to see refugees as people seeking sanctuary, not as parasites and threats.

A stand out gallery was that of the irrepressible and lovely Sarah Hibbert who has developed a signature style of combining hand stitching on linen to create quilts with a modern design twist. Recently, she has explored paper collage and how that can be translated into her textile work. Her recent book details her creative journey and textile passion.

The Art Quilt category was very varied this year. A standout piece for Jo was Janice Gunner’s ‘Ruptured – Grief’ – a very personal piece on the loss of her husband after a long illness. It is never easy to portray such a personal story but this was done sensitively and courageously.

Niki Chandler’s ‘Tipping into the Shadows at the End of the World’ was a masterclass in precision piecing.

Whilst Liz Heywood’s ‘Rockfall’ perfectly evokes the vulnerability of the cliffs along the North Norfolk coast.

The Creative Textiles Studio, with its live demonstrations of dyeing and printing techniques is now evolving under the new leadership of Christine Chester, Terry Donaldson and Hazel Ryder (In Stitches) and Leah Higgins. The large number of visitors popping in to watch, suggests it has a bright future.

The Committed to Cloth community, nurtured by Leslie Morgan for many years, was a celebration of work created at her studios during courses and monthly sessions and then demonstrated at the Festival.

Among the many wonderful contributions to the Gallery, were those of Alison Garrett and Amanda Duke, who did a great job curating and hanging.

Lesley Morgan’s beautiful quilts

Anna Woodhead, Maggie Barber and Jo Coombes

To end, Rathangan Co Kildare, Ireland school’s delightful ‘Winners Cup’

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