A little goes a long way

Making it: creating a patchwork quilt can be as intricate and complicated as you choose, but one thing's for certain: it will broaden your horizons.

When Anne Waring signed up for a course in patchwork, quilting and applique, she thought the lessons would be built round sewing bits of fabric together and learning some embroidery techniques. What she did not bargain for was being invited to create her own designs.

"At school, I thought I was bad at art. I spent an entire term painting rosehips, and eventually I was allowed to give it up. When I came here I thought I would never be able to design anything, but I've discovered I can, and it's a great confidence-booster."

Gillian O'Bryen, tutor of the course, which leads to a City and Guilds Certificate, always enjoys showing students that they are not nearly as inept as they think. Design is an integral part of the course, whether in quilting techniques or in applique.

"One of the exercises in applique and embroidery begins when I bring in a vase of flowers and ask the students first of all to draw what they see," she says. "It is better to use a Biro, because then they produce good lines. If you give them pencils they will fuss, and keep changing what they've drawn.

"The interesting thing is that each person will see those flowers in a different way and produce quite a different picture. It is not a question of getting it right or wrong; it is an exercise in gaining the confidence to express yourself."

From this initial design, the students then cut out pieces of fabric to echo the drawing. They are encouraged to cut freehand rather than trace their drawing on to material. The next stage involves ironing the flower shapes on to Bondaweb, a foundation that stops fabric from fraying and provides a stiff backing. The flowers can then be pinned on to a background material, ready to be sewn on with a variety of embroidery stitches.

Students learn a wide range of stitching, both by hand and on the sewing machines that line one side of the room. An experienced seamstress will pick up plenty of tips from the tutor, but if you are a complete beginner and can barely remember cross stitch from schooldays, it doesn't matter. In minutes you will be initiated into the intricacies of herringbone or buttonhole stitch.

Students work at their own speed - unsurprisingly, the class of 15 or so are all women - and can experiment with different stitches when sewing on each flower, leaf and stem. This teaches how to create different effects in applique, when a piece of fabric is embroidered on to a background. It is hard to believe that the immensely varied tableaux around the table were all inspired by the same vase of flowers; each one is completely individual in colour, style, shape and texture.

Gillian explains that the 35-week-long course will allow students to build up a portfolio of work which includes patchwork quilting and embroidery techniques as well as giving them an introduction to design. Each session is three hours.

"We start the course by discussing the use of colour," she says, "building up from primary, then secondary colours; then we mix them to obtain a wide range and apply them to a simple chart. Nothing is taken for granted. Not everyone knows that mixing blue and yellow produces green."

Ann Clark has completed her vaseful of flowers and is now concentrating on Hawaiian patchwork, which involves folding a rectangular square of paper and then cutting shapes from it to form a pattern. Using it as a template, the exercise is repeated in fabric. Once pinned to a background, the patterned cut-outs are hemmed with invisible stitches to give a contrasting effect to that of ordinary applique.

"We have learned so many interesting techniques, and it is great fun to sit and chat with the others," says Ann. "Gillian also encourages us to visit exhibitions and art galleries. There is so much you can learn about colour and perspective in fabric design by looking at paintings."

Ann is planning to start work on a quilt shortly, but is not as ambitious as Kay Roy-Price, who has been steadily working over three terms to make two quilts for her twins, now 20 months old.

"Basically I chose different materials, designed a pattern, cut out the material and pinned it together, and then tacked each square by hand. After that you have to sandwich the wadding between the front piece of material and the backing. I have used a series of little knots throughout the quilt to keep the wadding in position."

It sounds simple, but these quilts, designed in bright pink, yellow and blue checks, have been a real labour of love. Kay works on them only in class, where she finds the space and concentration that are in short supply at home.

Simple quilting techniques on squares are also taught on the course, and have inspired Yvette Taylor to make one for her baby.

"I'd never used a sewing machine before, and I certainly don't have one at home, but I've learned a tremendous amount from this course. It's a mixed group of people, and offers a peaceful way of learning something useful and having a good chat."

Gillian O'Bryen's course on patchwork, quilting, embroidery and applique at the Kensington and Chelsea College lasts 35 weeks, and costs pounds 144 (0171- 573-3600). Weekend courses in the subject are offered through 'The World of Embroidery' magazine, and more information can be obtained from the Embroiderers' Guild, Apartment 41, Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (0181-943-1229).

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Senior Textiles / Fashion Technician

£22000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To contribute to the day-to-da...

Recruitment Genius: Health and Social Care NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: It is also essential that you p...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£30000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An independent boys' school sit...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy