Quilt for Kaffe

My final stitches on the back of quilt appropriately backed with fabric designed by Brandon Mably

This major project started life in 2017 through sheer frustration. For Kaffe Fassett’s 2018 quilt book, based on traditional quilts housed in the American Museum in Britain he had asked that, as a hand embroiderer, I make his revised version of an ‘Broderie Perse’ in their collection. I was delighted.


I immediately started to sample some simple ways to make such a large hand stitched quilt nowadays, plus information notes for others to follow the instructions. However, due to lack of time due to publishing deadlines this quilt was dropped….Rats!

behind the scenes of the American Museum

Later in the year I organised with the museum’s curator, Kate Hebert, to visit the archives with the UK making and publishing team. I asked to see ‘the one that got away’ and on hearing the story, Kate said that if I ever re-considered making the quilt she would show it in the quilt gallery alongside the original. Well of course I jumped at the chance to show work at this museum, and I did want to make the quilt.

I decided that I would make it as a present for Kaffe, it was his 80th birthday in December and I had enjoyed the last 3 years working with him on his books and my contract was at an end. I reasoned I would soon have plenty of time on my hands to complete the project in time for his birthday.

Kaffe Fassett studies new work on the quilt wall in my studio

As I now had ‘carte blanche’ to interpret the design as I liked I decided to make his portrait as one of the panels. Using a recent photograph from his last visit to the studios I set about drawing and scaling the head.

the original drawings scaled up from the photograph

I made carefully measured sketches, and then 2 masks – one to the size of the hexagonal block and the other of the head. My initial idea was to garland the head with flowers – well why not?

first attempt to design the head using some of my favourite fabrics

This looked miserable, and the garland didn’t fit into the hexagon very well – and then I would have to embroider the features; I remembered my ‘Flora’ embroideries influenced by Archimboldo – the artist who made faces from flowers. I tried various flowery fabrics from the Kaffe Fassett Collective.

This selection took several days and I was still not convinced I could make it work well enough, then into my studio stepped an old university colleague from my teaching and researching days, Dr Dawn Mason, with the perfect bunch of flowers to match the work  – I believe that chance happenings are not always random


serendipitous flowers – I am on the right track

I  persevered. Eventually I chose the fabric placement, cut it out with a tiny seam allowance and hand slip stitched it to a spotty fabric, adjusting the chin to become a tad larger proved successful. Very carefully I placed a blue bud for the eye. Suddenly Kaffe appeared in front to me.

Now for the hair: I found the white petals of Japanese Chrysanthemum by Phillip Jacobs perfect for my purpose, and so it appears does everyone else; the hair is the thing that gets the attention. In fact most of the fabrics that I used Summer  Bouquet and Shell Bouquet and Tulip Extravaganza are designed Phillip Jacobs, his fabrics are so elegantly drawn and painted and the perfect replacement of the original chintzes.

The next stage was to decide the rest of the portrait. For the shirt I had a smidgeon of an old version of Kaffe’s Roman Glass in blue, I had bought years ago – and after many trials chose the fresh Spot fabric in the colour ‘Pond’ for the background.

Archimboldo Kaffe
the finished head

Now for the rest of the patchwork, So far this  has taken me about 3 weeks of drawing and stitching – but it is still only June.

the original samples for the American Museum book

I dug out the abandoned samples I had made for the book – I needed to make more other panels to add to the portrait.

To make the bouquets, the fabric has to be backed with a bonding paper, carefully cut out, placed into position by re-arranging the various elements to fit harmoniously, pressed,  then hand stitched around each raw edge, the stitching is quicker than the arranging and my idea of blissful work.

The quilt slowly started to grow; but trying to control the overall colour was the most difficult thing – colours that work on their own or in a sketch suddenly look drab or take on another shade when placed next to one another – obviously. But the colours of the flowers changed the balance every time I added a new panel. It was my major ongoing and fascinating struggle to get these balances to work.

september studio
my textile studio September 2017

By September I had eventually made my fabric decisions, I had to make multiple versions of some of the panels – all in different colour-ways, but this gave cohesion to the  busy design. I also added 4 shell corners, this was possibly the easiest panel to apply as the size was perfect and the shape fitted – just a few additions to balance colour.

Above shows the development of the Brassica panels, they needed to be made larger by adding extra rows of leaves before hand sewing them onto the grounds.

The next stage was to add the diamond shaped patches at the intersections of the squares.

squares add
the added diamonds start to assert themselves

And this is when the panic started – suddenly this massive work, that had grown over months took off in another direction, these diamonds dominated the entire design – already busy, this was manic

The only thing was to keep going – too late to stop now – the samples below looked fine

I started to applique the tiny cut squares from Kaffe’s fabrics, Sunburst onto Shot Cotton dozens of them, all hand stitched in 2 colours and I slowly added them to the quilt on the wall ….and the result below doesn’t have all the dividing ribbon strips yet!

half cooked
without the addition of all the ribbons – hells’teeth!

This was beginning to look overloaded,  so I called in my 2 trusted quilt makers, Julie Harvey and Ilaria Padovani – they have very sound taste in all things quilt, and I knew they would tell me the truth. They just laughed and said “well it is for Kaffe and ‘more is more’ with him – why are you worried’?

It was the addition of the ribbons, kindly donated to me by both Edith Minne, owner of Renaissance Ribbons and Brandon Mably (who was in on the secret) that tipped the balance of the work  and I suddenly understood that the work had ceased to be mine  – it was now Kaffe’s. This happens when you are commissioned to design and make stuff for people – you need to work with their ideas/tastes/preferences – otherwise they don’t pay you! But this wasn’t a commission this was a present, and it was  all my own work – I realised now just how much I have been influenced by working alongside him.

the quilt starts to look like it belongs to Kaffe

So I machined in place all the ribbons – a mammoth task for a hand embroider! they were very tricky to manipulate especially as I had to split  many yards of a wider ribbon to get the correct proportion, both Edith and Brandon were out of stock of the narrow version. Hey ho! Thankfully  Julie machine stitched it all into position first and then I started to hand quilt  all around  my stitched applique – another mammoth task, but so rewarding, the quilt looks suitable wonky – in a good way – it looks very hand made

finished not
March 2018,  finally finished – I thought!

It was completed in March 2018 but I had not time to deliver it; then Kaffe was awarded an MBE and I know I have to include this – so back again to the finished quilt

I made a sample first and then the real thing and appliqued it to the ‘finished’ portrait

portrait complete with medal

In Bath, where Kaffe and Candace Behouth, have an exhibition together based on Flowers , I delivered another set of 5 quilts for the next book and my “surprise”

And Kaffe’s reaction when he was shown it?

Worth every moment..  I made the sample into a badge for Brandon – this says it all!

brooch for brandon

25 thoughts on “Quilt for Kaffe

  1. This is amazing, and it’s so good to know the story behind it. I first saw this quilt a few days ago on Kaffe Fassaett’s Instagram of Facebook page. I thought “Wow! How original and clever”. You’re right – it’s Kaffe through and through. You’ve made a gorgeous quilt with so much meaning embedded in it. I’m sure Kaffe treasures it.

  2. Fabulous story and fabulous quilt … just magic the way you got those diamonds to settle down! Congratulation!

    1. Thanks Helen – yes those diamonds were such a nightmare to sort out both technically and visually – i trust to my hand stitching but not my machining.

  3. thanks Wendy, it is good to hear that other people like this work – I am OK with it now that I have seen his reaction s to it – nerve wracking though – he look really alarmed when I said I have made a present for him, but hie laughed when he first saw it as he saw the face immediately, which many people, including Brandon, do not.


    1. Hi Philip,
      thank you so much for this comment – I really appreciate working with your designs ,and here their quality certainly made me take care with the cutting of the motifs specially the petals and leaves… and then the stitching had to be super neat not to ruin your own outlines.

    1. thanks Maris, yes quite a story – there is a lot more than shown here re. the placing of the coloured backgrounds – but only real colour nerds would find them interesting – I may keep them for a lecture when the quilt is finally displayed somehow at the American Museum in Britain.


  4. As always, I am in awe of your talent and amazing ability to infuse your creations with life. Thanks for sharing this journey with us. Love, Ila

  5. What a wonderful collection. I am absolutely full of admiration. I am sure than it will be admired by many. Thank you for sharing. An 85 years old still loving this beautiful craft. Thérèse

    On 18 May 2018 at 22:28, Janet Haigh : Her Work wrote:

    > janethaigh posted: ” This major project started life in 2017 through sheer > frustration. For Kaffe Fassett’s 2018 quilt book, based on traditional > quilts housed in the American Museum in Britain he had asked that, as a > hand embroiderer, I make his revised version of an ‘Brod” >

    1. Hi Therese,
      well funny you should comment ‘admired by many’ as I have had more views for this post on ONE day than my usual amount of viewers for a whole week – but it is the magic name of Kaffe that has provoked them.

      As to age – well it takes a very long time to acquire the skills and the attitude of mind required to make such involved work – and for me stitching is more like a meditation when it is done on this time-scale – but hoping to continue for many more years….


  6. This is so amazing I was absolutely absorbed in reading the whole story. So beautiful, the look of shock on Kaffe’s face was priceless. You are an amazing artist whom has inspired me to get a wriggle on to finish my Kaffe project for my shop here in NZ

    1. thanks Valmae,
      good to hear you are inspired to finish a piece of Kaffe inspired project – yes the piccies that Brandon took on my camera for me of Kaffe when he saw it were hilarious , I have a few more but these said 3 it all

  7. It is fabulous, Janet. Thank you for sharing your journey- it brings Kaffes quilt alive on so many levels and dimensions- a very rich and living piece.

  8. Wow! Hard to find words adequate for this piece of art. I especially enjoyed the process of how you appliqued Kaffe’s head…it’s just perfect! Certainly a beautiful tribute to a great artist! Thanks for sharing!

    1. thanks Pat,
      Making the head was like making a jigsaw – I knew everything I needed would be in the fabrics somewhere – but finding and placing the tiny blue flower for the eye, (and keeping it safe amongst all the other scraps and cut – out flowers and petals) was quite a challenge.

      As a professional designer/maker I have made many embroidered portraits in the past, but never a collage and never this scale -so I was really delighted with the outcome and it is great that people are letting me know how much they appreciate the work.

      Thanks, janet

  9. This is the most intense quilt I have ever seen. A “tour de force” of the best kind. I love everything Kaffe, and have been pointing his designs for 20-30 years. Is that possible? You have accomplished the supreme honor for him.

    1. Wow, Margaret what an accolade – thank you!
      I do not consider myself a quilter but have a fascination with appliqué, so although this piece of work became a major challenge, the quilt was endlessly fascinating to work on.

      The quilt will be on display at the American Museum in the quilt display room with the original quilt decide it from March until the end of the year as is the major exhibition of Kaffe’s quilts, with their traditional counterparts used in his book, Quilts in America, being shown in the gallery in the grounds – this starts on Saturday 16th March .

      I am also giving a class on making one small panel using the same fabrics and appliqué methods to be held later Saturday 13 July….wish me luck

  10. This is such an incredible quilt!
    Will you do any other workshops based on this quilt, or bring out a pattern?
    I would love to make a version of it.
    I would love to come to your workshop day, but it is my 60th birthday party, so I had better be there!
    Actually I think I’d rather be learning more Quiltmaking….
    Janina Moore

    1. Hi Janina,
      well my workshop developed from this quilt – Broderie Perse – is now full , which is really good and I have kept masses of fabrics from the actual quilt aside for this….but maybe if we get enough people enquiring about the class, the museum said they would be happy to run it again later in the year…Meanwhile thank you for you comments and have a lovely birthday – mine is on the 4th July and I am a tad older than you!


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