A Dressmaker at a Quilt Festival – a fish out of water?!

a dressmaker at a quilt festivalA wonderful contrast of the modern against the traditional. Festival of Quilts 2017 at the NEC.

You might be forgiven for thinking that there would be nothing for a dressmaker at a quilt festival, but think again! I visited the Festival of Quilts at Birmingham’s NEC in August last year; a well established event in the textile shows calendar which describes itself as Europe’s leading patchwork and quilt show.

For a long time I have admired the skill and design that goes into patchwork and quilting and some of the finished results really appeal to me. I find the social history of how quilting has evolved from a necessity into an art form fascinating and been inspired by the way it’s often used to give a voice to divisive political and social issues. In my own patchwork journey I have dabbled as far as a small “wonky” quilt that I display as a wall hanging as it uses various fragments of clothing and home textiles from mine and my partner’s families and I do love to incorporate the odd bit of patchwork inspiration (both spirit and style) into my dressmaking projects.

wendy ward patchworkMy wonky patchwork wall hanging.

wendy ward patchworkMy patchwork and dressmaking experiments.

If you’ve ever been to a big sewing show such as the Knitting & Stitching show, Handmade Fair or the Stitching Sewing & Hobbycrafts show the format will look familiar: shopping, workshops, demonstrations and galleries. However, there is one aspect to the FOQ show that you won’t have come across at these other shows – competitions!


Something completely unfamiliar to dressmakers and particular to quilting shows are the competitions. At FOQ there are fourteen distinct categories from Contemporary Quilts:

House of Quinn quiltOne of my favourite quilts in the Contemporary category by Julius Arthur.

To Quilt Creations:

quilt creationsOne of my favourite pieces in the Quilt Creations category by Milena Zdravkova.

There is also a coveted “Best In Show” award (sounding a little Crufts-like there….!) See images of all the winning work from the 2017 show here.

There is actual hard cash up for grabs in these competitions, but I suspect the kudos of winning one of the awards is worth more, however, a total of over £25k in prize money across the categories is not to be sniffed at! The quilt judges who judge all the competitions also left cards on some of their favourite pieces that didn’t win with “Judge’s Choice” and “Specially Commended” comments and along with an overall “Best in Show” winner, it’s obvious that the competitions are taken very seriously and are an important part of the show.

FOQ 17

FOQ 17Cristina Arcenegui Bono’s Highly Commended piece in the Modern Quilts category.


While the competitions are inspiring and a joy to look at they are open to anyone to enter, but FOQ also has several curated galleries and exhibitions throughout the event. I found a lot of these galleries really inspiring and they were packed full of a high level of craftsmanship, artistry and design skill. I really get the sense that there is an appreciation and celebration of experience and expertise over celebrity within the quilt world, something that definitely isn’t as evident in the dressmaking world.

There were some solo artist galleries – I particularly loved Diana Harrison’s “Traces In Cloth” show in which she explored the beauty of marks left behind on fabrics from processes such as stitching and folding which are unpicked and unfolded after being bleached, overdyed or overprinted.

FOQ 17

Work from quilt groups and curated galleries were also full of inspiration. My favourites were:

FOQ 17Best of Quiltcon (a big US show showcasing modern quilting)

FOQ 17

FOQ 17Art Quilt Fusion (a European group of international textile artists): my favourite in this gallery was this beautiful piece with feathers trapped between layers of fabric with hand embroidered writing by Adelheid Gubser.

FOQ 17 FOQ 17Fine Art Quilt Masters (an internationally juried competition celebrating the work of some of the world’s leading quilt artists): the winning quilt in this gallery was “Birchington Breakwaters” by Margaret Ramsay.

Social History and Political Voices

There were two standout areas of the show covering social history and the power of quilts for me.

The first was the Walks of Life stand (organised by the Quilters Guild) which had historical examples of many traditional forms of quilts.

foq 17

I got very excited on this stand by a couple of teaching samples of unfinished quilts that we were able to examine and touch (obviously a rare treat in any kind of textile exhibition).

One was this English paper pieced quilt top, still with all it’s original backing papers which included lots of fragments of letters dating from the 1800’s:


The other was this hand embroidered Victorian crazy patchwork:

FOQ 17

It honestly felt like a real privilege to be allowed to handle these pieces.

The second piece which had great visual impact and displayed the power of quilts to communicate important messages was the Women’s Quilt – a project to highlight the issue of domestic violence against women.  It was completed for International Women’s Day in March 2017 and presented at parliament. The quilt is made of 598 blocks, one for each of the women killed by their partners or ex-partners between 2009 and 2015 a truly shocking statistic. You can follow this project on Instagram @thewomensquilt.

FOQ 17


The lovely Jules of Sew Me Something had a stand, but she was one of a handful of dressmaking specific stands. There were lots of fabric stands, many of whom do sell fabulous dressmaking fabrics: Rosenberg, Fabrics Galore and some lovely vintage fabric stands. Any book you could ever want on patchwork and textile art could be found at the show and there were a few big textile art / surface decoration stands such as the popular Art Van Gogh which will also appeal to dressmakers who like to dabble in a bit of dyeing and printing.

Talks / Workshops / Demonstrations

I didn’t go to any myself as we were only there for a day and I wanted to have a really good look around, but there were plenty of classes that would’ve appealed to dressmakers: a big range of surface design techniques to more traditional techniques such as appliqué and lots of talks on design and the design process (there was some exciting looking work being produced at the Committed to Cloth stand which made me wish I had been at the show for longer). Plenty of food for thought!

Would I go again?

Definitely! Maybe even for two days so that I could attend some talks and take a few classes.

I went on this trip with my quilty friends Liz and Sara, a proper treat as they were able to expertly guide me around the show being regular visitors (Sara also exhibited her gorgeous Bojagi work at this show).

Liz and I spent the following day visiting the fabulous Compton Verney which has an amazing collection of folk art, I was obviously still in patchwork mode as I kept seeing it everywhere!








2 responses to “A Dressmaker at a Quilt Festival – a fish out of water?!

  1. Hi Wendy, looks like a great day out. Its lovely to see your pictures of the modern quilts which I think look really appealing – all too often I believe quilting is associated with the country vintage vibe and we forget they can look like works of art! I particularly love @lunalovequilts on Instagram – worth checking her out if you like modern quilting. Kate x


    • Hi Kate, it was a brilliant weekend. I definitely lean towards modern quilting and away from the “country vintage traditional” style (although I totally appreciate the skills involved). I often think that if some of the modern quilt designs were rendered in paint on canvas by men they would totally be called art. Thanks for the IG recommendation – found and followed – what lovely work. Hopefully I’ll get to visit FOQ again, maybe this year. Wx


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