MQB Development

When the case study came to an end, a few people asked if we could continue to make quilts and meet up. Although it would not run as a case study, I was keen to keep a level of engagement with communal making and, I had really enjoyed doing it. The women who wished to continue had so many interesting things to talk about and so we have continued to meet every other Monday evening. instead of paying for the village hall, we meet and work in each others houses which has bought further intimacy and friendship to the making of quilts.

We approached it a little differently in that we did decide as a group on a design and the fabric we would use. I had purchased a book called Modern Bee and we have taken inspiration from one of the designs in their, we could have followed the instructions word for word but as a group we preferred a more relaxed approach and used it as a guide.

Everyone bought in samples and leftovers we already had in our stashes and I provided a lovely length of vintage liberties fabric that had been donated by a local person when they saw my posters for the original MQB.

We worked with all that we had with the only ‘interference’ being that we dyed up a batch of fabric in a grey to pull it all together a little more.

Despite not officially documenting this particular adventure with the MQB, I have got a few photos of work in progress. In the future, we do have some thoughts of perhaps collaborating on a piece specifically for this research – but it is early days at the moment.

Laying out the pieces on a member of MQB’s bed. [Perren, 2015]

Ref: Conner, L. Modern Bee. 2013. Lafayette, Stash Books.


Hunched Studies

Working over a frame or on a machine can cause physical pains in your arms and back, after an hour or 5 you find yourself having to get up and stretch and are incredibly aware of the force of labour.

Upon review of some of the photographs I was taking during the quilting case study I found further clarity of this experience and decided to start observing the form as a mode to express notions of active [slow] labour.

I created a series of about 20 drawings of these shapes and attempted to capture both the slowness and repetitive action that was being carried out. I don’t believe I quite captured it but I am keen on developing this perhaps at a later stage. It was created using a layout pad, I enjoy being able to see through from one drawing to the next.

As a development, I began to explore a range of stuffed forms and explored laying 2d work out that suggested form.


Finished [almost] Quilts.

So the first quilt is finished [evening group] but the evening one has to have the binding added still. We spent almost twice as long as had been intended but there was a great sense of accomplishment about what we had done. One member took the quilt home once it was off the frame and added a ‘monogrammed’ logo. Each member included their initials somewhere on the quilt which will be donated to a local women’s refuge [as chosen by the group].

Front side of the evening quilt
Meltham Quilting bee, July 2015
Reverse of the evening quilt
Daytime Quilt

Bumping Hands

When we all met for the first time, as expected we were quite reserved, polite and understood about personal space. The politeness remained but an aspect that I had not observed in the earlier mentioned video about the Gee’s Bend women was just how physically close you have to get so we could work on the quilt.

A couple of moments stuck out for me, the first was seeing two quilters [who did not know each other before the group got together] work so closely that their hands were literally bumping. In the questionnaire’s that were completed at the end of the sessions, one person commented ‘bumping hands for the first time with someone will always make me smile’.

Bumping Hands [Perren, 2015]
Working Space [Perren, 2015]
The second observation was when one of the quilters was sat underneath the quilting frame, amongst the legs of her fellow workers she was trying to sort out a knot on the back of the quilt.

The Underside [Perren, 2015]
These were aspects I was keen to further explore within my own practice and highlighted the nature of my initial preference for working in isolation.

Sun/flowers and a Mouse

As we got towards the end of making the quilts we began to think about what else we might want to add. We had sewn in enough lines diagonally across the quilt to establish its ‘usefulness as a quilt’. Again, everyone requested that I provide clear guidelines [despite my objections], once they were given, after a week people just started to do what they wanted.

I had been thinking about the utilitarian nature of stitching in the Gee’s Bend quilts and the simplicity of Japanese quilts. From this I had suggested that we stick to geometric shapes and / or the follow lines of the pieced blocks. I found myself sewing at one end of the quilt one week and could not see what else was going on.

To my total surprise, at the end of the session when I walked round to see what we had all been up to I found a moon, several flowers, a leaf and the outline of a large eared mouse [apparently a favoured motif of that quilter] – not too dissimilar too Mickey Mouse.

Again, the quilters seemed very happy to subvert the direction of the quilting.



Each of the quilting sessions were voice recorded [except the last one as the battery had run out]. Here is a list of the ‘topics of conversations’ that took place and words that would be repeated over the first few sessions. As we got to know each other in the later sessions, moments of quiet working would happen.

cutting, 6″, angles, rulers, scissors, rotary cutters, tools, trying, tricky, rule, checking, jaunty, not metric, simplicity, other fabric choices, cm or inches, tea, cotton, sewing, coffee, pinning, Kaffe Fassett, colour, knitting shops in Spain with all the old ladies outside, arthritis, biscuits, university, do you know …

concentrated blocking of colour, measuring, balance of colour, move that one, trimming, what do you think, turn it round, symmetrical, does it matter, free flow, finished width, their not all dead flat, precut, wonky, take a picture, ironing the seams, ooh – special iron, stretching seams, straight lines, tea, wonderful, holmfirth, are you alright Katy?

[church bells in the background], left handed, where shall I sit, passing the needle on, we all voted to do the lines, handout, short lengths, small holes, threaders, a 1000 threads, thumb, ambidextrous, the lines are the wrong way, oh that is going that way, maybe we should just go for the practical option, invisible knots, we know what we should do.

stitching on the lines, parallel, how are you? how do you do the know again? that needle is tiny, weather, tail inside, raining, distracted, Look North, meal worms, quinoa, protein, American quilts, chaos, history, GCSE exam today, Being Human, speeding, unfinished knitting projects, does anyone want sugar?, gym, go me…

London, i’m taking the digestives, double espresso and a fag, red bush tea, factories, that’s what I forgot, I would like red, free, longer thread, quilting books, threading all your needles onto one spool and pulling the thread through them, running stitch, sunshine, labour, they’ve done more than me, where have I got too? folk art

Goodness me – I never thought of myself as a political, i’m going to tell my husband, that’s why I can’t wear dresses, exhibition, feminist slogans, university, re-invention, archive, railway museum, coffee, working extra fast, scarecrow festival, it’s Mickey Mouse, where is the needle, my back, church hall, clamps, YSP

First Meeting/s

The initial meetings went very well in the local village hall, the evening session proved more popular and so we decided to make a couple of different sized quilts.  The evening session made a single quilt while the daytime group made a large lap quilt. Everyone was aware and happy for the sessions to be run as a case study for my research, I just felt a little embarrassed that I was unable to present a clear idea of what my research was… it was still hazy to me.

The previous experience levels of quilting varied as much as the age range [16-82] and all participants were women. There were a few who had quite a bit of sewing experience and making quilts but nobody had made one by hand. Others in the group seemed rather nervous about any sort of sewing.

I spoke to the group about making decisions together on the design and planning but everyone made it clear that they would prefer to be instructed on what to do [despite knowing about my lack of knowledge]. Luckily I had suspected this and when showing everyone the plans, they seemed to relax. Upon presentation of my fabric choices however, it became clear that this was not what they had envisioned so immediately asked if could be changed to use what they wanted.

Stephen Knott in his book Amateur Craft talks about the nature of engaging with a hobby as an amateur. key to this is the autonomous nature of doing – it may operate within a similar network of rules and structures to the workplace, but as individuals – you can engage with free choice.

Autonomous actions were quite apparent within the group from the early days, despite claims that they did not want to have to make any decisions…

A suggestion was made that we could follow the plan, but if individuals wanted to, they could include as much or as little of a fabric of their own choice – within the strip [block] they were piecing together.

From these images, you can see work as it is happening once the blocks had all been pieced together, within sections you can see flashes of personal choices within the quilt top.

Knott, S. (2015). Amateur craft : history and theory. london: Bloomsbury.




Quilting Bee Prep by an Amateur

So I had made one quilt [wrongly], I was very keen to just turn up with some fabrics and a book and see how things went [so we could all engage with the amateurishness]. However, I suspected that would be the quickest way for everyone to leave. I reflected on the processes and stages I had been through in my quilt and created a basic framework that provided the structure so we all knew what was happening but that allowed everyone to input into the process in their own way.

I did not have much cash and so went along to IKEA and bought metres of their reasonable quality plain ecru cotton cloth at £2 per metre. I then dyed this up in the washing machine with Dylons in 3 shades: mid tone grey, fuchsia and turquoise. Inspired by some of the simple uses of block colour in the Gee’s Bend quilts I chose for the daytime group to have Grey and Turquoise and the evening group to have Grey and Fuchsia. Having been washed and pressed, I cut them into long strips at 6″ wide. The idea was that people would each take a few strips, cut them into blocks and piece them together. If they wanted to keep it simple they could just join a few long strips, for those a little more adventurous they could cut it into small pieces for more intricate work.

I drew up some quick plans so I could work out the amount of fabric required and if people wanted a visual clue as to what I was thinking about, I would have it to hand.

Loretta Pettway, born 1942. Four-block strip quilt. Circa 1960. Cotton twill and synthetic material [men’s clothing]. 78×73 inches.
Rough plan for the group quilts.[Perren, 2015]
Gee’s Bend Quilt:

Not One but Two Quilting Bees

So after not too much more thought about the implications, I set up a Quilting Bee in my Village [Meltham, Holmfirth] which would initially run during two different times. I was interested in the connections between home life, work life and engaging with a hobby [which was how I recognised quilting in this context] and was therefore keen to engage with people from a variety of backgrounds and current situations. For this reason I set up a lunch time and and evening group, each would follow the same framework. As I suspected, the evening group attracted people who worked during the day as well as retiree’s but the daytime session only attracted retired people.

I put adverts in the local post office and shops and then just waited to see how many, if any would be interested. I had made the decision to call it a Quilting Bee for no other reason than that is what I thought they were called, later I was informed that this was an American term and not one that would usually be used in the UK.  The politics of Quilting…