I met Barbara Weeks of Great Britain at the “Festival of Quilts” in Birmingham. “Trapping Colour, Catching Light” was the title of her show. And it was the perfect title! Upon entering the gallery I was surrounded by quilts in brilliant blue, turquoise and creme, splattered with orange and red. Barbara Weeks was showing her Australien inspired quilts. And as Barbara is as nice as she looks at the picture we soon had an interesting chat.
When did you start quilting?
From childhood I have always made things from textiles – I have sewn my clothes, knitted my sweaters, and much more. I trained to teach Textiles in secondary schools, which I did in London through the 1970s. So I had done some patchwork and quilting as a student and as a teacher.
In 1985 I was on holiday with a group of climbing friends on a small island. The men were rock climbing on the sea cliffs and a girl friend and I entertained our very young children and cooked for the climbers. It turned out that she was a founder member of the British Quilters Guild, so I joined up and it changed the focus of my interest in textiles.
Did you start with traditional quilts?
Yes, but really only a few. I needed to do this to master the techniques. I soon moved on to design my own quilts, and this became the focus of my teaching. The City & Guilds is a design focussed course, which I have taught in England, France and Athens.
I love the colours of your fabrics. Do you hand-dye them?
As a teenager, I would dye my clothes and shoes for a new lease of life. It seemed a natural progression to dye my own fabric for quilts, and the more I did, the more confidence I had in creating the colours I wanted. Now I use a lot of silk and silk mix fabrics, so I like to have a choice of different textures of „raw“ natural coloured fabric to choose from.
I have seen that many of your quilts have a felted background. Why did you decide to do this?
I was introduced to felt making many years ago and about five or six years ago I wanted a new direction with my quilt making. I set out to see what I could do combining sheer silk fabrics layered over hand made felt. I wanted the colours and textures in the felt to show through. This led to a series of experiments and quilts that I called „Trapping Colour, Catching Light“. I tried many different sheer fabrics; at first covering all the felt, then working cut back applique, as in „Rainforest“ which I think worked well. The attraction of felt is that it quilts like wool batting; a great pleasure to stitch by hand or machine. To have control of the colours, added textures and how thick or thin you need it is very liberating.
When did you start with the Australian-themed quilts and why?
Some years ago, my daughter Rebecca moved to Australia to study Marine Conservation, with a focus on developing Marine Protected Areas. This has taken her to work in local communities in the Philippines and in Fiji, and she is now back in Australia. So I followed her enthusiasm for this exciting new environment and have been fortunate to visit Australia in 2007, 2009 and 2012 and Fiji in 2011. The colours are amazing and it’s a topic that can lead to more research at home; I hope that this may give integrity and meaning to the quilts.
Tell us something about your sketchbooks. How important are they for you? Any advice for quilters on this subject?
I’m not very disciplined about drawing on a day to day basis, but I do believe it helps the design process. Sometimes I work from photographs, but these are so quickly shot that they may not record my first impression. So when I go somewhere new, I try to do something in my sketchbook every day. It has been a brilliant resource and I often look back through these small books when I am looking for a quilting design. So my advice is persevere. Drawing is an excellent aid to visual understanding. I don’t quite get the current trend for everything high tech and digital; I’m more happy with „hands on“.
Since 2007 your are creating „Journal Quilts“ – one small quilt each month. Why?
I started with the „Contemporary Quilt Group“, part of the „Quilters Guild of the British Isles“. I liked the idea that there is an element of choice in our personal themes, but that each year has a set size, so that when we exhibit as a group they all look good together. If I am too busy to make a large quilt I can always find time to do a small piece in a month. I am now in my sixth year and I can’t imagine not keeping this up. I can continue to set myself small challenges – new materials, different edge finishes and so on. The Journal Quilts are displayed in my working studio all year, and they give me ideas for larger quilts.
Do you sew and quilt by machine or by hand?
I enjoy both. It’s all about the effect I am trying to achieve. A little hand sewing each day is blissful in getting rid of the day’s stress. Practising machine quilting is a little like drawing, you loose it if you don’t.
Do you embellish your quilts and what do you use for it?
I found some wonderful little shells like sequins on the beach in the Whitsunday Islands and have used these many times, but I often „audition“ decorative embellishments and leave them out unless I’m really sure!
What step in the process of making a quilt do you like the most?
It has to be the playing with colour at the stage of making felt or painting silk or dyeing fabric – it’s the beginning of a new project with all the risks and challenges ahead. I also enjoy the finishing – I often paint a piece of silk just for the binding. Completing a quilt is very satisfying.
To see more of Barbara Weeks beautiful quilts and to learn how she creates her textile art go to her website www.barbaraweeks.com.