"I love to create an illusion of three dimensions and many of my designs are based on this concept. I do occasionally use curved lines, but since my mind seems to work in straight lines I find lots of inspiration in architecture, engineering and even mathematical concepts. I like accurate piecing and often create my own foundation paper pieced blocks in order to achieve the precision I enjoy.
"To make a three dimensional image work, the first thing I look for in a fabric is colour or tone. Three shades of the same colour, or light, medium and dark tones of the same colour are great. Choosing the fabrics is the part of design I find most enjoyable and most agonising. I use mainly tone-on-tone and plain woven fabrics, or fabrics which read as such at a distance. Auditioning fabrics is one of the most useful skills any patchwork artist can develop, whether you are aiming for a 3-D effect or not, any quilt needs a contrast of tone, however subtle, to accentuate the design.
Images: Cubitz, Poles Apart
"Although the colour is of predominant importance to me and my designs I would never choose a fabric with a low thread count or a loose weave, however good the colour. Thinner fabrics do not handle well, will fray quickly and will not wear well in the finished quilt. Many of the fabrics at the cheaper end of the market cover up this deficiency with excessive amounts of surface ink and stiffening treatments – the secret is to turn to the back and check. It is worth investing in good fabrics: the old adage about silk purses and sow’s ears is very apposite. I find that, in general, you get what you pay for – and good, 100% cotton, patchwork fabric is worth paying for.
"I am also inveterately lazy, and have never pre-washed a fabric in my life, so I always look for a fabric that is likely to shrink only minimally. Some shrinkage is to be expected, especially when combining fabrics from different manufacturers, but I look on this as part of the charm of a washed quilt. However, cheap fabric with an open, loose weave will shrink hugely when washed, ruining your work.
"As a follower of the Modern Quilt Movement I am a great believer that quilts are for using: for your three-year-old to drag down the garden, for the dog to sleep on and to go in the washing machine. Frequently washed quilts have a lovely texture that just cannot be achieved by using cheap fabric which will degrade quickly. You need to start with good fabric in order for it to take that sort of wear, just as you would to make that heirloom piece for a special occasion."
Helen's designs for Oakshott