My latest commission is to design and make a patchwork quilt to be placed on a bed in a show garden for this year’s RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park. This is the idea of plants-woman and garden designer, Julie Dunn, And I think that her design is really intriguing – to make a garden for recuperation and healing, full of scented plants and herbs that aid relaxation plus a double bed in which to rest.
When Julie first contacted me, I responded by asking for her ideas for the atmosphere of the garden, particularly her chosen plants, so that I could give her some fabrics to consider.
She had very definite ideas of the actual fabrics that she wanted – they were by Kaffe Fassett and they featured flowering plants, most notably Brassica – the classic fabric featuring flowers that looks like roses but are in fact cabbages.
I pulled together several colour “stories” to choose from. although they are similar they give very different overall tones – I wanted the quilt to reflect and augment the garden, not overwhelm it
The sheer scale and incongruity of the bed in the small ‘Back to Back” gardens in the show, means that it will dominate if we are not careful with the pattern and the colours
The large enveloping quilt needs to give a feeling of comfort and protection as well as being light-weight and warm whilst the sleeper is wrapped up in it. I already knew what the backing fabric would be – Dream, one of my favourite Kaffe Fassett fabrics.
Julie and I spent a day in my studio, and with her visuals pinned to the quilt wall, we started to develop a design together. I wanted a very simple quilt design with large scale patches, as although a decent hand-stitcher I am not a happy machine stitcher, particularly with the precision needed for patchwork.
Working with the first of the colour-way choices shown above, I cut simple large scale heads from several shades of the Brassica fabric and simply made a chequer-board formation with them. This first attempt look too strongly coloured, but the simple square format was good as it showed the full ‘flower’ heads of the cabbages. But the simple deep pink strips looked too solid and they would dominate the entire quilt, we needed a more subtle variation. Cut into triangular sections, the square becomes a diamond
Julie was happier with this softer set of fabrics; strangely adding more patterns and colours often makes a design more subtle, the secret is to work within a tonal range – these red triangles dominate here – they may have to go eventually!
I tried to balance the deep colour with a strong striped border but the dark blue stripes make the centre even more dominant. Julie wants the magenta red to stay as it is exactly the colour of a chosen Sanguisorba – I take her word for it.
working on through the afternoon we slowly we start to feel that the colours, although strong, are softened over all and now enough of the quilt is decided for me to carry on developing the design from here.
The actual quilt needs to very large, Julie’s vision of it is to cover the bed almost to the floor, this useful as I see the bed to be a type of extending couch- a day bed. Julie sees a four poster!
We turn our minds to the application forms and read them extensively and decide that I will illustrate the envisaged quilt on the envisaged bed in the envisaged garden…this I can do more easily than make the quilt, having illustrated all sorts of ‘envisaged’ designs for gardens, plants, embroideries, fabrics, enamels, clothes…..so I offered to illustrate the whole of the garden application.
We discuss the problem of the English weather, even in July, we will need a canopy. I imagine that you would not use the bed when it was raining, but at a pinch could hide under a canopy at the head of it – if we use a day bed. But the vision of a real romantic bed with curtains is still the main aim. This is when as a designer, you have to really listen carefully to the client – and try to find a compromise; a drawing, even a scrappy one often makes your point, the metal sub-structure of the canopy will dominate the small garden.
Of course the one thing I felt I must do was to inform Kaffe Fassett of our plans. So at our next quilt design meeting I showed him the scribbled design drawing and the other garden plans and asked for his “blessing” for the project and could he sponsor it with his fabrics? His immediate reaction was to offer more suggestions about the design using lots of other fabrics I could use.
I am leaving the next stage of illustrating the garden for the application for another post – watch this space.