Nina's Textile Trail

My OCA Textile Tales

RE-THINKING and REINVENTING the Final Piece – Supplementary to Assignment 5 in response to Tutor Report


As previously posted, my Tutor Report for Assignment 5 included some suggestions as to how I might re-think my final piece and consider some more areas of relevant contextual research to improve my submission.

I wondered just how far I could/should go and decided to begin the suggested areas of research with the tutor’s comments in mind and see where it lead.

To summarise, I looked at

  • Sonia Delaunay whose work was interesting but not exciting to me.
  • El Anatsui whose work was incredibly exciting and will be revisited but not relating to this assignment.
  • Contemporary Patchwork; the work of Matthew Harris, Dorothy Caldwell, Mandy Patullo, Junko Oki and darning & patchwork for mending.  I was most drawn to Harris & Caldwell’s work.
  • Gees Bend Quilts, enjoyable research and agree some ‘superb composition’.  Could relate aspects of these quilts to my piece.
  • Boro Patchwork, the characteristics of which are very appealing to me.

Tutor’s Comments: Looking at these three, what struck me was the freedom and the liveliness of the rough patchwork sketch on paper (page 4 book 2), which was lost in the other two more finished pieces. Thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that the white base was significant; Some patches freely move out and away from the mass, out of the boundary – almost escape – allowing the white to play a positive role. The white background is much larger than the mass of patches, allowing a margin of white space around the composition. This earlier composition has a dynamic quality which was constrained in the two later ones by the rectangular outer edge which reinforced the static nature of rectangles. This encloses and confines the composition.

Considering the Tutor’s comment that the “freedom and liveliness of the rough patchwork sketch on paper was lost in the other two more finished pieces”, I can see there is more movement in the paper and fabric sketch on the left (below) and think the outline shape against the white is interesting, particularly along the bottom edge.  Also the simplicity of the plain colours with no printing adds to the contrast.

DSCF4805 DSCF4806D4S_4792

Tutor’s Suggestions: Before assessment, try to re-look at this final piece.

  • Consider, possibly re-think, the number of patterns, colours, stitches you combined in the piece. You organised the blocks of colour well in relation to each other, but when you tried to increase dynamic quality with diagonal rows of stitches these were lost against the heavy dominant colours of the rectangles.
  • You also might need to think about reducing the different types of stitches, the different print patterns.
  • Consider, if it is to be a hanging, if it needs a larger plain background.
  • Don’t forget, this is patchwork – taking off, adding, unpicking has been part of this craft since people began to wear clothes.
  • You did look at some artist/makers during this assignment but the assessors will expect you to have looked at contemporary patchwork and that of other cultures where it has become an art form. They will also want to see if you have gone beyond the merely decorative.
  • Ask yourself about the need for patchwork in some societies, the significant place it has in some cultures, and the symbolic use of pattern.

I  began by laying out my original piece on a white background, which did nothing for it, the intensely coloured piece just looked like a block of colour in the middle of the white, there was no interaction at all between the two.


I tried covering all the multi-coloured and printed patches with white patches which improved it a little but not significantly.  I then covered the multi-coloured and printed patches with plain patches in a mix of the colours already used (Green, Orange, Claret & Petrol Blue).  This was more pleasing on the eye, removing the orange was also interesting.

So, re-thinking the number of patterns, colours and stitches combined in the piece, I concluded that limiting the palette to the plain dyed patches, green, orange, claret & petrol blue or, even further, to green, claret and petrol blue was worth pursuing.

I decided to produce some samples.  The first was on a single piece of white cotton sateen with petrol, red brown and chartreuse patches machine stitched.  The cotton sateen was horrible, too limp, no substance to sew into, a bit shiny, the machine stitching on the patches was too straight and even, making the patches look like badly cut out squares, not adding any character at all.  I subsequently unpicked the patches for re-use and omitted to take a photograph first.

The second sample used a single layer of base cloth of white 55% linen/45% cotton which I scoured first in the washing machine with synthrapol and washing soda to remove any sizing and give the fabric a softer, worn look to create properties similar to fabric used in Boro patchwork.  Raw edged patches were hand sewn onto the cloth.  This sample was a pleasure to sew, the background suited the different weights of hand dyed soft cotton patches, felt good to sew, had more substance than the cotton sateen but still some drape.

The hand stitch and textures married together with the patches becoming more a part of the cloth.   Running stitch was used so as to be comparable to sashiko used in Boro textiles, initially in thread to match the coloured patches.  I wondered how it would look with white thread and if running stitch was enough or would a freer Dorothy Caldwell stitch be more dynamic?  I concluded that I liked the simplicity, rhythm and harmony of the running stitch.

As the sample was successful I decided to develop it further by adding a small piece of 80% cotton/20% polyester batting and another layer of the linen/cotton.  I am not a quilter and haven’t made a quilt before but thinking about the Gees Bend Quilts and the Boro patchwork wondered if I could combine ideas from both.


The packaging for the batting suggested it might shrink up to 5% if washed.  Hoping this would add to the character, I decided to wash the sample again once it was hand quilted.  I had also looked closely at samples of Boro patchwork to determine how the edges were treated and in the main, the futon covers had raw edges enclosed either in blanket stitch, oversewn in a vertical whipstitch or edged with two or three rows of running stitch.   Knowing that the fabric was inclined to fray heavily, I added backstitch to the list and edged the sample with all four stitches.

I concluded that running stitch was useless at preventing fraying, the other stitches reasonably successful, but the backstitch was preferable.

Boro patchworked futon covers are created with layers of fabric and do not contain any batting so, for comparison, I stitched a similar sample with two layers of linen/cotton and patches, held together with running stitch.  I used white thread horizontally and vertically at varying distances apart.  The contrast between the intensely coloured patches and fairly dense stitching on some was distracting, particularly when the stitches were horizontal.  I preferred the bigger wider spaced stitches in the white thread.   The two layers of fabric were also lovely to stitch into, but when they were both washed I preferred the sample with the inclusion of batting.


Just to be sure I was developing the right sample, I briefly investigated improvisational quilting and made a sample with white cotton sateen and dyed strips to consider if I wanted to take more inspiration from the Gee’s Bend Quilts rather than the Boro but I disliked it intensely, it was too clean, crisp and lacked character.


Everything about it repelled me in comparison to the soft, loosely woven hand stitched sample.  I pieced a small sample using the linen/cotton fabric but wasn’t drawn to the neat, machine stitched seams.


I panicked a bit at this point.  I had re-thought the piece in response to the tutor’s comments and concluded that the limited palette definitely looked better on a white background like my original sketch.  I also considered various colours, paler than the patches as a background, but decided if I was intent on using green, petrol green and claret, white was the best option.  Having considered my final piece in detail, i felt it was not worthy, but how far could I go?  Should I cut it up and use some of the original pieces, should I dye some more fabric?  Was I seriously considering hand stitching a quilt three weeks before assessment with my other assignments still to tidy up?  I re-read Rebecca Fairley’s blog post “How to use your Tutor Reports”and decided that I would proceed and use the opportunity to make improvements to the assignment which would involve re-making the piece.

I looked again at the original piece, to decide whether to ‘patch’ over any offending areas or cut it up.  I did remove the backing and all the hand stitches, cut away the coloured machine stitched areas  and laid the remainder on the white background, it just didn’t work, the patches would be too small if I cut them all up and in their current blocks didn’t allow for any interaction between the white background and the coloured patches.


So I set about arranging newly dyed recycled fabric onto the newly purchased, scoured and washed linen/cotton mix.  I had intended to use the three colours, green, petrol blue and claret, but retaining the orange from the original piece definitely added value.  I considered whether I was making a wall hanging or a quilt and decided that the materials, samples and research had led me to a quilt.


Once happy with the design, I hand stitched the patches onto the background.  Although I had washed my samples, I decided to machine wash the top layer of the quilt to be certain the colours didn’t run and to assess the extent the patched fabric frayed.  It was a good move as the recycled curtain fabric frayed out of some of its stitching and was repaired with backstitch.

I then added a layer of batting and another layer of scoured and washed linen/cotton fabric and hand quilted it from the middle in vertical lines, back stitched the edges, trimmed away the fabric and machine washed and tumble dried the finished piece, which measures approximately 65″ x 50″


DSCF4854 DSCF4856 DSCF4858 DSCF4860


This process has been hugely beneficial.  Researching  patchwork in different contexts really helped me to plan, sample and develop my idea in an informed and considered way.  The benefits of good research, combined with careful sampling influenced my choice of materials which led to the final outcome, which in turn was very satisfying.

I think the result is a far more considered piece of my own, influenced by the boro patchwork and colours from my theme book (pages 4 & 18), my tutor’s observations and research suggestions, investigations into other artists’ work and techniques and the quilts of Gees Bend.

In addition, I learned the importance of really narrowing down ideas and considering the value of each mark or action so as not to over-complicate the final outcome.


3 thoughts on “RE-THINKING and REINVENTING the Final Piece – Supplementary to Assignment 5 in response to Tutor Report

  1. Nina, I have met Matthew Harris a few times and even been lucky enough to do a class at his study, give me a call if you’d ever like to talk about this techniques and ideas. I’m now going to go back and give your blog another good read xx

    • Thanks – I’m green with envy. I was thinking of taking a class of his next year but it has an emphasis on 3d which was less appealing than the stitch & line one this year which is full 😦 .

      • That’s a shame, I went along with a friend who loves his work, almost by accident! I never thought I’d be good enough. It was very interesting and enjoyable and I’m more than happy to share.

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