Sarah Fielke – one of my quilting heros has a new book out Quilting from little things published by Murdoch books. Sarah previously has coauthored two books with Kathy Doughty titled Material Obsession, these books are just beautiful and I reviewed the first one here. But now Sarah has taken the plunge and is going it alone. Her new book is based on the premise of ‘From little things big things grow’ and so she has designed 10 ‘Dolly’ / mini quilts using a technique or block design that allows you to practice your skills and then she takes these techniques and explores them further as 10 full sized quilts using the Dolly quilt as a jumping off point. Of course you could only make the Dolly quilts or only make the full sized quilts if you like too. They are all quite beautiful and inspirational.
I asked Sarah a few questions about the quilts and her design process and her love of fabric and quilting and this is what she said.
1. You describe your aesthetic as being traditional meets modern – with a mix of traditional designs and eclectic fabrics – can you explain your design process a little more?
I have a huge library of quilting and design books, all with little tags sticking out of things I find interesting, and I also keep a load of sketch books and notebooks. Often when I start a new quilt I don’t even look through those things, I have just an idea in my head and away I go. I don’t usually draw quilts up before I start, unless it’s something that I need precise measurements for. Usually I just cut and sew. I have process books too, where I write everything I do for a single quilt down as I go along – that way I know how much fabric I used, how many pieces I cut etc when I get to write the patterns.
If I am stumped about starting something in particular or need more inspiration, I sit down in my studio with my books and just leaf through things, and sketch as I go. Sometimes that’s enough just to get me thinking in another direction. And sometimes just a piece of fabric or a colour combination is enough.
The quilts frequently don’t end up where they started out going, but that’s one of the things I enjoy. I began making a Philedelphia Pavement recently for example, and it’s ended up with applique borders and white diagonal lines that I didn’t plan. Using a design wall is the best way to work for me, I leave things to percolate and move blocks and colourways around a lot until I’m happy with the result.
2. You have a lovely big fabric stash and talk a bit about it in the book – you obviously have a big love of colour and pattern – can you tell us what your all time favourite 3 fabrics are – ones that you keep coming back to over and over?
Oh my gosh, that’s like choosing one of my children. I love my stash and I cultivate it at every opportunity. I tell my husband that he wouldn’t stop a painter buying paints – but I dont think he’s buying it :) Favourite all time 3 fabrics. OK…
1. Cath Kidston little floral print thingy – have used this over and over and over. Nearly all gone but I hoard it like gold.
2. There’s a piece of this old fish fabric in so many of my favourite quilts. I used it first in a quilt called Ponds in Jane’s Garden which I adore, and because I loved making it so much the fabric stuck with me. I’m down to about a 6″ square.
3. Kaffe Fassett’s big florals. I can’t pick just one, I love them all. The current obsession is this one from his latest re-colouration range of old favourites. The pink and yellow is killing me.
3. Again on fabric – you say that dots are your go-to fabrics for backgrounds and fillers and that you rarely use solids – why do you love pattern so much – what is it that attracts you and what do you think that it gives the quilt that a solid background wouldn’t?
Awesome question. And for me it’s very simple, although some will undoubtedly argue! I like to use pattern because it moves. To me a solid is a dead spot. When you look at a quilt that engages your eye and makes it travel around the quilt, you know you have balance right. There’s a place for solids in my quilts – I do use a lot of white and plains for applique backgrounds, but even those usually have a tone on tone spot, a shot cotton or are a textured linen or something interesting. Of course, you can have too much pattern and have everythng be a mish mash, so it’s important to give the eye a place to rest as well. No matter how busy my quilts are there is always something consistent to hold everything together. Having said all that, there are two quilts in the book with a fair amount of solids in them!
4. I am a huge fan of your designs – I love the bright colours and crazy mix of fabrics – but I am especially attracted to the Dandelions quilt, one of the few quilts in the book that does indeed use solid fabrics. Can you explain your design process here and why you used solids in this quilt?
I started out making this quilt with a picture I saw of a beautiful sunny patch of grass covered in daisies, and a little girl running through it. The different colours in the grass and the innocence of the little girl got me thinking about a single bed quilt for a little girl’s room. I played around for a while with the Dandelions and a load of different backgrounds, but decided to get the fresh effect I wanted of the grass and the little flowers scattering, I needed solids. Thank heavens for the Kona Cotton colour card and a million shades of green to choose from :)
5. Another quilt in the book that I am drawn to is ‘A wing and a prayer’, I love the use of the text print in the background and the solid fabrics on the bird heads – and it looks like you might have used some vintage fabrics too?. Again how did you come to design this quilt, what design decisions did you make along the way?
This is my favourite quilt in the book. I don’t know why, I just loved making it. I have always loved the antique American Eagle quilts you see in US museums, but I didn’t feel Eagles were really relevant to me, so I came up with the fantasy birds. Their heads are bright Essex linens, and the other solids in the pieces borders are from Oakshott which are some of my favourite “solid” fabrics in the world. This is one of those quilts that just fell together. I happened to order the text print fabric and leave it on the bench with the Essex linen… I was sent a present of the Kaffe border print… I was doodling and the birds and the colours just jumped into my head fully formed. I would have quilted it forever but I had to stop to make the deadline :)
6. Many of the quilts in the book are hand quilted by you – and they are so beautiful. I am quite in awe of your skill and patience. Can you tell me when you get the time to hand quilt and how long it takes you to hand quilt a quilt? Any secrets tips you can share with the Whipup audience about your method?
I love hand quilting. I would rather hand quilt than do anything else. Even though I have a fantastic machine quilter who I love to bits (Kim Bradley), I am always disappointed when I have a quilt done on the machine. Only that when I’m piecing, my mind is already working to where I will quilt it. I press my seams in directions on purpose depending on where I want to quilt, on the up or the down side of the seam. I quilt for hours and hours when I’m working on a big quilt, I just put in a DVD and off I go. Working at the sewing machine for long hours gives me backache but hand quilting never does. I always get asked how long it takes me to hand quilt something and it’s such a hard thing to answer, because each one is so different. To give you an indication though, the quilt that took me the longest to quilt in the book was probablyThe Night Garden, and it took around 80 hours to quilt I think. Stopping and starting is always slower than straight lines.
Tips for hand quilting:
– DO use a hoop AND a thimble, no matter how much you think you don’t need them, you will get a better result. Take the time to get used to them. Don’t rush – it’s the journey, grasshopper!
– and don’t pick out every single stitch that you think isn’t perfect or you will just make yourself cranky and never get the quilt done.
– Quilting needs practise, and the more you practise they better you will get. You’re much better off quilting something all over and have it feel handmade, than trying to be perfect and it ending up in a bag in the cupboard.
Follow along on this Aussie Quilting Blog Tour –
Monday, April 11: Red Pepper Quilts
Tuesday, April 12: Patch Andi
Wednesday, April 13: Rosalie Quinlan
Thursday, April 14: Whip Up
Friday, April 15: Fat Quarterly blog
Saturday, April 16: Cinderberry Stitches
Sunday, April 17: One Flew Over