A Quilt for Outdoors

by Greta Fitchett

This challenge came about through the Quilters Guild of the British Isles who put out a challenge for members to make a quilt to be hung outdoors. Quite an unusual idea for anyone working with textiles, and quiltmakers do tend to be over careful with quilts after all the hours of work put into making them. Space was booked in the walled garden at the Nature in Art Museum, Wallsworth Hall, Twigworth, Gloucestershire, in May and June 2006. The exhibition was called "Elements of Nature".

The idea of making a textile piece to hang outside immediately appealed to me. I make a lot of quilts, and the designing and making is the real challenge. Once the work is finished, I move onto another piece of work. My quilts are usually exhibited, and may win a rosette in a competitive show. I then use them as subject matter to write an article for a magazine, and then they become part of one of my talks. The quilts receive quite a lot of handling over time, but I always consider this as part of the quilt's life. So the idea of a quilt for outdoors where it would start out with the disadvantage of exposure to the British weather appealed to me.

I could make the quilt from any material, and traditional cotton fabrics would have been acceptable. The quilts would become wet, and then dry out as washing does on the line. However I decided that this was an opportunity to use materials that were a little unconventional for the quiltmaker. After all, the idea of outdoor quilts was unusual anyway. I have always enjoyed experimenting with alternative materials, either to mix in with textiles, or to use instead. I was already aware of how plastics could be incorporated into a textile piece such as an embroidery or wall hanging. The challenge here was to use plastics on a much larger scale than I would have normally done, and to create a piece of work that I could still manipulate through my sewing machine.

I decided to use cling film, which was layered with snips of fabric and thread, and each layer ironed to bond the plastic together. I made about 5 layers in this way. A sheet of baking parchment prevented the plastic sticking to the iron. A piece of woven fabric was bonded onto the back, and I had my first "tile". The width of the cling film limited how big the tiles could be, so I set about making lots of them. Each tile was then quilted with free motion machine quilting. I thought the cling film would tear, but it is a robust material. Once completed the tiles were trimmed down with a rotary cutter, and then butted together and stitched with a 3 step zig zag machine stitch.

I then created a stylised garden over the surface of the quilt. Simplified flower shapes were cut, but I decided that there was little point in making an interesting background, only to cover it up with appliqué. I therefore cut holes in the flower shapes so that they became outlines. These were attached with bonded appliqué, once again using the iron, and baking parchment. The appliqué shapes were then machine stitched with a narrow zig zag stitch.

quilt by Greta Fitchett

The quilt was submitted to a juried entry, and accepted for the exhibition. May in England proved to be extremely wet and windy, followed by hot sunshine in June. Whilst cling film is water proof, I thought stitch holes would allow water to penetrate, and damage the layers beneath. I also thought the wind would damage the quilt. But no! After all this exposure to the elements, there was no perceived change in the quilt at all. However I have decided that now the walls are full of artwork at home, the garden is as good a place as any to hang textiles, and I now have a brightly coloured quilt permanently on my washing line, and I wait to see what the British winter weather will do to it!

Talks and Dayschools

Greta Fitchett offers talks on her work and sources of inspiration, and dayschools on a range of patchwork, appliqué and quilting techniques.