Celebrating Quilts

Celebrating Quilts

The Selfridges Building, Birmingham Bullring

So it was with great anticipation that I set off for the Festival of Quilts at NEC Birmingham on Sunday, 17th August. The prospect of seeing the biggest Quilt Show, one of my favourite artists Pauline Burbidge‘s work at the show and the Selfridges building at the Birmingham Bullring had me looking forward to it all week.

I have always had a thing for quilts. I remember my grandmother’s delightful running stitch quilts which she used to make with old saris. Years later, when I went to study at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, I remember staring wonder struck at the intricate Bengal Kantha quilts at the Calico Museum of Textiles.

And then one day, on a random Google search I discovered the Quilts of Gee’s Bend. Their contemporary, abstract aesthetic stopped me in my tracks. These astoundingly beautiful works of arts had been created by a group of women using worn out clothes in an isolated corner of Alabama, USA. I was hooked! Soon, I was reading up everything I could lay my hands on about these quilts. I long to see them in “flesh” now…

So back in Birmingham, the Selfridges building didn’t disappoint. It’s as amazing as I’d always imagined it to be, beautiful and defiantly contemporary. As for the festival, well, it was a glimpse into a whole new world. There were all sorts of fabrics, quilting machines, wadding, frames, yarns and hundreds of enthusiastic women.

Most of the stuff at the Festival left me uninspired, however I did find some real gems. Canadian quilt artist Dorothy Caldwell’s quilts were simply mesmerising as were Pauline Burbidge’s. Dorothy shows extensively in Canada, US and Japan, though this was her first visit to England. Her exhibition titled “Marking the Everyday” showcased her large scale quilts and smaller works.The quilts were wax printed and discharged, with accents of kantha-like embroidery marks. We got chatting and it turned out that she had lectured at NID years ago. Skye Morrison, a Canadian artist involved with Indian textiles (Sujani projects in Bihar) sprang to my mind. I’d attended Skye’s kite making workshop at NID as a student. Well, it turned out that Skye and Dorothy are close friends and have travelled to India together. Small world? I believe it is.

Dorothy Caldwell