Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Patchwork Inspiration

One of the great things of being part of the Fat Quarterly Team is that we get emails from our readers. Whether it is ideas for features, pattern submissions or letting us know what you think of the magazine - we love it all!

A while ago Cathy from Catherine Daniel Pottery emailed us about how inspiring she found patchwork. She is not a quilter. She is not even a sewer! Her choice of medium is actually clay.

Her email reminded us how important it is to step outside of our own immediate sphere when looking for inspiration. How often when starting a new project do you browse through hundreds of photos of quilts? It is just as important to look through all types of photos. Perhaps a particular finish on a pot might spark an idea, the outline of a building, the shadows in a photo etc

So we wanted to know more about Cathy and how patchwork influences her work.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your artistic background.

I‘m married with three children and live in rural Norfolk, England. I enjoy anything creative. My formal Art education ended when I left school to study French and German at University. Many years later, having raised a family and built our own home in the meantime, I embarked on four years of Pottery and Ceramics courses, before deciding to buy my own kiln and go it alone. It was a decision that came completely from the heart and I had no idea if anyone would want to buy what I made. Amazingly, the first galleries I approached with my work were really enthusiastic, and loved the unique visual identity of the quilt-block designs on my ceramics. Two years on from then, and things have just grown and evolved and I have loved every second.

Are you a sewer?

Not really. I have very basic sewing skills, just enough to sew my own ceramic buttons onto my pottery. I have always loved the pattern and colour of patchwork quilts and I would just love to be able to make something so beautiful. But they seem so BIG, and I get daunted just thinking about it! I am currently looking into having some tiny quilts made to match some of my pieces, to be sold together. But I won’t be making them myself!

Why did you first start looking at patchwork for inspiration?

My fascination with pattern is as old as I am (very!). I’m always drawn to the colours and design on anything from wallpaper and curtain fabric to crockery and clothing. I’d have found it too dull to work with quiet, contemplative tones, so I chose to work with bright, joyful glazes. Thinking about how best to crowd in as much pattern and colour as possible, the answer was obvious – patchwork! Back then, I had never even heard of a “quilt block”, let alone a “fat quarter”! I just made up my first designs, and then eventually a few clicks of the mouse revealed that there were thousands of named quilt patterns out there – I was staggered and of course delighted at such a resource to work with!

Describe how you have used appliqué in your designs.

I did actually know what appliqué was as I had a child’s appliqué set for Christmas when I was about nine! With my clay I create a platter bearing a patchwork background, then cut from the clay slab individual folk-art motifs (birdhouses, leaves, hearts, etc) which I then place onto the design. The piece is then fired and the individual areas glazed by hand and fired again. I also make framed wall-pieces using a similar technique.

What do you think the advantage is of looking outside your crafting world for inspiration?

Maybe if you look outside your immediate craft for inspiration, there is more potential for creating something original, something a bit wacky that isn’t already being done by others within your own sphere. You also become more aware of the design that is all around you, in man-made objects and in nature, and the many ways of interpreting that design in the end product.

How do you recommend people start thinking outside the box for inspiration.

That’s difficult to answer because people’s minds work in different ways. For me, I often take an accepted technique for creating something, then turn it on its head, and experiment with other (possibly crazier) ways of doing it. Maybe not always going for tried and tested methods/designs/materials ..... but trying and testing some of your own.

Can you give us some examples of some ceramics that you think might be able to inspire us quilters?

Hmmm. That’s another hard one. Having looked at hundreds of quilts in my background research it became immediately obvious that there is no lack of originality and inspiration amongst quilters. You make a bewildering array of quilts in all shapes and sizes, patterns and colours, contemporary and traditional, drawing on anything and everything for your themes. I don’t know that there is any direct inspiration quilters can take from ceramics, but I hope that my own ceramics highlight the fact that Quilting is not a craft entrenched in the past but a medium open to new interpretations and innovation.

Perhaps some of these images might get your creative juices flowing! Where do you look to for inspiration? We'd love to know.

My creation


  1. What a great interview! So interesting!

  2. Wow. I love her work. Great textures!

  3. Wow is right! I'd love to have one of her pieces - how inspiring!

  4. wow! how wonderful! I would have never thought of other artisans using quilting for inspiration! Her work and story is inspiring!!!

  5. Goodness, Catherine's work is beautiful and inspiring right back! I love the idea of ceramic 'quilt' - no seam allowances to worry about!

  6. Beautiful work. My husband does fused glass and has always used quilt blocks as inspiration--http://aroundtheblockdesigns.danemcoweb.com/shop/product/fiesta-sawtooth-star-1/.

    And Poppyprint is right--no 1/4" seam allowances to worry about.

  7. In answer to your question about where I find inspiration, I find that my cellphone camera is my best friend - I see things all around me - buildings, window panes, reflections on water, color combinations, clothing designs, kids' toys, the list goes on and on - my husband has gotten to the point where he no longer asks me why I'm taking a picture of something, he just looks at it to see how I'll turn it into a quilt design! Now if I could just find some extra time to make up all the ideas in my head (and cellphone!)