Laura – I’m not entering a quilt for the Festival this year as I sadly ran out of time, so I thought I would talk about my entry for last year.
I decided to enter a quilt for the Quilters’ Guild challenge on the theme of ‘Free’. Every year there is a theme and only Quilters’ Guild members can enter this competition. Obviously the theme ‘Free’ could go in MANY directions: freemotion quilting, a ‘free’ design, but many participants took a pictorial approach to the theme, as I did, too.
I walked around for ages with the theme in the back of my head and without any inspiration. Then I visited the Fashion and Textile Museum’s Jazz Age exhibition, which focussed on 1920s fashion. I was blown away by the sass and bling of 1920s clothing, and particularly the sense of freedom that women of that time must have experienced: reacting against the ‘old world order’ that had brought the ravages of World War I, younger people wanted live a life of fun and freedom.
For women, that meant casting off the restrictive corsets they used to wear, wearing loose clothing that left arms and lower legs exposed. Women got the vote, participated in sports, went out to work (to an extent), learnt to drive and of course attended extravagant parties with exuberant drinking, dancing and smoking. This was a time of film and music, and I noticed that some of the biggest stars were people of colour, another ‘liberation’ of a kind. Struck by this sense of freedom and the strong graphic styles of this time, I had my inspiration!
Firstly, of course, that necessitated a trip to a fabric shop to obtain a range of fabrics in 1920s style colours (neon green, pink, grey) and patterns. Later on I added some from the African Fabric Shop which happened to be present at our Regional Day.
Then I trawled Pinterest for many, many, many piccies of 1920s film stars, performers, ordinary girls, dresses, magazine covers, hats, fans, you name it. From that I finally worked out my themes. I wanted to focus on several areas of freedom for women in the 1920s.
My first panel was a Dresden plate background fronted by a portrait of Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American Hollywood star. Her hands and feet are pretty clumsily rendered, but I like her all the same. I based my version on a photograph I found of her on Pinterest. I drew a copy of the photo and then made Bondaweb cut-outs to stick my fabric Anna May on my background. It was fiddly!
This was also a time when the great modern cities like New York with its skyscrapers were under construction. I decided to include the Chrysler building, with its lovely art deco facade (even though it’s technically a 1930s building, shhh), as the backdrop for this flapper girl dancing the Charleston atop a New York building, with the bright lights of the city behind her.
I really wanted Josephine Baker to be the centre-piece of my quilt. She and her banana skirt and her pet cheetah really epitomised the freedom of the 1920s to me, and I really wanted to centre a woman of colour. Josephine was such an inspiring personality – do a search on her, you won’t regret it!
Finally, this panel is my favourite, I think. The 1920s were also a time for sexual freedom and exploration, and same-sex relationships became more visible to the knowing observer – even more so in the 1930s, from which the monocle look (worn by women to mark them out as lesbians) stems. I love my cool lesbian pair – as an LGBT quilter myself, this felt like a fun yet important reference to include .
There’s nothing quite like seeing that quilt you’ve worked so hard on displayed at the Festival! I almost didn’t in this case, as I managed to miss the deadline for handing it in and we had to drive all the way to Birmingham to do so. But I was really pleased I did, especially as it received a ‘highly commended’ from the judges!