Patchwork Enamel

first sample
First fired vitreous enamel sample

Out of the blue, last year, came an invitation from Diana Sykes, Director of Fife Contemporary,  to apply to exhibit my work for a new exhibition, Nexus:Meetings at the Edge, to be held this year – 2018 at 2 venues, in April at the Kirkcaldy Galleries in Fife, then in September at Ruthin Craft Centre  and aimed at makers whose work encompasses a variety of cross -over techniques. “Wonderful, that’s me”! The work submitted had to be made within the last 5 years: “Well Hell –  that’s not me”!

As a designer working mainly to commission, it is unusual for me to be invited to submit work to anything, let alone 2 highly respected applied art galleries. Explaining the reasons for no new work ( see Heart Space Studios ) I proposed making something specially for the exhibition, developed from my original patchwork enamels when I had cut and joined enamel pieces to fold and wrap like fabric.

blackwork patchwork detail jpg[2]
Black Work: detail of my earlier patch worked enamel

 I promised a full-sized Enamel Patchwork Quilt – big enough for a double bed. They were, I think, intrigued and the curator, Elizabeth Goring,  gave me the go – ahead….

book 1
the most inspirational textile book I have encountered for years

I had been looking for an opportunity to resume my enamel practice and am currently entranced by the above book that is full of quirky, mid 20th century quilts made in the USA. Looking at the book’s  illustrations made me alive to ‘movement’ as an integral part of pattern making.

strippy diamond quilt that makes the eyes dance
circles on stringing
bouncy base balls
string quilt
sinuous rhythm from a strippy quilt

The eye makes the movements but it affects the whole body…….. I started work.

first drawn sheets of ‘Wheel of Fortune design’

The initial idea was to find a traditional patchwork design that would afford large scale gaps or voids between the patches…the weight of the hanging was of the utmost importance. Copper when coated several times with vitreous enamel to create patterns is very heavy – in effect 2 sheets of glass encasing metal.

sack quilt
original Wagon Wheel or Wheel of Fortune quilt

I made a card sample and found that to make the pattern hold together I had to insert tiny triangles,

tied cardPW
sample of cut and tied card for metal patchwork

To make a hanging around 1.5 – 2 metres square I would have had to cut hundreds of extra tiny shapes then drill and stitch about zillion holes before I started to enamel each piece so, literally, back to the drawing board. Meanwhile I started to make my enamel pattern and colour samples

enamel samples
enamel samples using drawn thread work as stencils

I quickly found a simpler patchwork design that afforded colour groupings to move the eye

new card design
card sample of new simpler design

Armed with this new simpler idea (not so elegant but allows secondary patterns to emerge with colour co-ordination)  I  transcribed the shapes to Illustrator  – for the first time ever I used this as a design tool. I figured that there were so many variations of colour and pattern to play with, that this system would enable me to achieve the design quicker and more readily. Now I am not sure this was true –  give me any choices and I am lost in endless possibilities.

sample colours and patterns
the extended colour range with new enamels from Milton Bridge on the discs, plus my firing notes and the Illustrator design

I started the enamel sampling for colours and patterns – working with my  favourite technique of stenciling through vintage scraps of drawn thread work. More colours were required, so I ordered samples and eventually visited Milton Bridge for their advice.This family run company in Stoke on Trent is so helpful at all times – they seemed genuinely interested in the colour effects I wanted to achieve. I would not define myself as an enameler –  I am a textile designer, fascinated by colour and enamel gives great colour – and they took this on board, I understand just enough about the vagaries of firing to get the  results I can work with.

new cutters
my lovely new open-throated metal cutter and my trusty Draper drill

Just one more thing was needed before I started to make the actual hanging, a tool to enable me to easily hand cut sheet copper into hundreds of diamonds and squares; the circles I bought in. This tiny metal cutter allows large sheets  of copper to pass through the bade and I managed to cut and drill all the pieces in 1 week – fast work!

Fettling the cut and drilled copper shapes
colour samples JH
new colour tests with drawn thread stencils

Now the new piece of work really got started – I still hadn’t designed the whole quilt but enough to start, my results from firings can be ‘interesting’ and I need to be alive to any variations that will move the design on – completely unlike stitching with pre-coloured threads.

first patterns
first firings laid out on a sheet to see how the colours interact

when I laid out the first set of fired shapes I was thrilled with the brilliance of the clear enamels – the copper shone out and attracted the eye – I started to change my colour combinations

patchwork sampleJH
sample of tied shapes with new Illustrator designs in my enameling studio

In reality the final design took a long time to establish itself, but it was such an enjoyable and totally absorbing experience: if you find working with colour exhilarating  enamel is like a roller coaster ride – directly you take the fired piece out of the kiln and watch the colour change as the metal cools is always fascinating, if sometimes a tad frustrating.

hot and cold
hot and cold enamels – the red eventually cools to orange.

Once I had finished all the enameling it was stitching time – well threading and knotting time. I spread all the pieces on the sitting room floor, the only space big, clear and warm enough for the task, then separated them into strings to knot together with multiple lengths of copper wire. I devised a design system of tying or stitching the enamels together so that they can be either folded or rolled to be transported and stored – just like fabric.

knotting the patches together
set up sr
sitting room overtaken by enamels

once all the lengths were tied in strings they needed to be tied horizontally – time to return to the enameling studio and use my hanging system for photographing work.

hang 2
back to the enameling studio for horizontal tying

now I am super relieved to find that the copper wires and ties are  strong enough to hold the weight of the pieces ( it weighs approx 12.5 kilos) and I can get on with the admittedly tedious task of tying the whole thing together.

tying with multiple copper wires

eventually I am finished – and here it is

enamel patchwork
completed hanging in very flat light

This week, the carefully rolled and protected hanging was delivered to Fife – I will see it next at the Private View- fingers crossed for all sorts of reasons!

10 thoughts on “Patchwork Enamel

  1. Oh my……….!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Janet, it is brilliant! And your process is brilliant too – it is fantastic mix of following the basic idea and staying open for all the possibilities coming along the way. Thanks for sharing this with us.
    And don’t worry – fingers are crossed and everything will be… great!


  2. Hi Bozena,
    thanks – it was quite a mammoth task both the making and the writing of the blog!!!! but I have several different patchwork stories coming to fruition in the near future – so even though i have not been blogging i have been working away here at home alone!


  3. Dear Jane
    Just met you at the private view in Kirkcaldy (enamel necklace wearer!) -and I’m so glad you told me about your blog – seeing how the piece was made is fascinating. If I could own one thing from the exhibition it would be that -and you were up against stiff competition as it really is a wonderful exhibition. Lovely to meet you,

    1. Hi Julia,
      thanks for sending this great accolade. i was really fascinated seeing the whole show and all my friends who flew up to meet me at the PV thought like you, that the show was brilliant. i wanted to take home the fabric covered mended jars, just in front to my large piece, by Zoe Hiliard.
      good to meet and talk with you as well.

      PS just sorting out my images for the next post.

  4. Such an insight…..fantastic to see you involved with enamelling, I remember it was one of the first things that I was in awe about as you spoke about it when I first met you at Heart Space studio.
    I feel privileged to say I saw the ‘Patchwork Enamel’ in process at your Home/studio. It was amazing to see the processes involved at first hand.
    From concept to finished work of art ……..Amazing 💜X

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