The Importance of a Challenge – 3 Little Birds

The Importance of a Challenge – My Three Little Birds

AK003 Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

The annual Midsomer Quilting 12×12 exhibition has become an important part of my year and very inspiring.  Now in its fourth year (just gone).  223 Midsomer Quilting (MQ) customers entered the exhibition, this year on the theme of ‘Music’.  Previous categorie have been ‘Fruit’, ‘Books’ and ‘Films’.  I have written about the second and third exhibitions in earlier blogs, unfortunately being away and missing the first year.  The event is run to inspire and challenge customers and raises money for Dorothy House Hospice. This years quilt sales have raised £3,300 to date.

It is funny looking back at what events have inspired you and get you to this point in your creative journey.  These exhibitions plus being a part of the Midsomer Quilting community have been vital to my journey.

Have you heard of the 12 x12 quilters in America?  If not its well worth a look and even better buy the book which tells the artists stories of working on each of the 12 art quilt themes.

I am really lucky to live so close to Midsomer Quilting, a quilters haven on the Mendips. Having built up a relationship with the International quilters De, Chris and Birgitta decided to hold their own exhibition for shop customers.  The entry ‘Cherry tomatoes from California’ by Diane Perin Hock is totally stunning and has made me want to experiment and challenge myself.



I have been quilting since I moved to Somerset in 2008, I had left the NHS where I had worked as a Radiographer running the Breast Cancer Mammography Department with my friend Mary.  The relocation due to my husbands job was a chance to start over, but, to do what?  Fortunately the move away from the Hampshire/Surrey area allowed   me to take a break from the NHS and I had a chance to reinvent myself.  The children were young so, school hours permitting I started experimenting with different craft courses.  I loved working with fabrics and for 2-3 years made bed quilts and memory quilts (written about in earlier blogs).  I loved it but you can only own or give away so many quilts and they are not cheap to make.

Discovering the exhibitions at Midsomer Q opened my eyes to what I could try.  A wonderful mixture of my love of art and fabrics.  An idea was born…..

So if you have the opportunity to get involved in something like this, an event that is not judgmental (on the contrary supportive) or competitive, GO FOR IT…..  Who knows where it will take you.

Below are a selection of some of my favourite entries from this years ‘Music’ exhibition.  Hope you like them and are inspired to give it (or something creative) a go…..

Purple Haze – Olga Cottle

‘I was inspired by a piece of purple fabric. The original image was in red but, to me, the pattern on the fabric expressed the nature of the song – In my innocence I did not know what Purple Haze meant.  I also wanted it to be an art quilt and had a go at painting the face’.


Carnival of the Animals – Fiona Wollaston

‘Chris (Midsomer Quilting) is “to blame” for these nine quilts depicting Saens suite Le Carnavel des amaux!”  Saint-Saens, himself, thought it was “such fun” (“….mais c’est si amusant!”) but he insisted it was not published in his lifetime as he felt it detracted from the seriousness of his work.  The exception was the famous movement depicting The Swan. In all there are 14 movements but 9 is all that would fit in both the space at Midsomer Quilting…. and the time available.

The movements shown are: Introduction and March of the Royal Lions, Aviary, The Swan, The Elephant, Tortoises, The Cuckoo in the depths of the Woods, Fossils, Aquarium and Wild asses: Swift animals &/or Personages with Long Ears.

As ever the biggest challenge was building in the shadow background figure of the conductor so everything lined up. Next year I will use a 12 x12 square.  Also remind me never to do Trapunto in a hurry ever again, though this was definitely a growing experience!  Pointed scissors aren’t the smartest for trimming, though miraculously, I managed to avoid cutting where I shouldn’t.  Netting the Elephant, Tortoise and Wild Ass surprised me by working, but the two that were most fun to do were the Swan, choosing the colours and tight corners.  The Lion was a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and was incredibly good fun but also time consuming to make sure the colours worked and didn’t end up side by side.



Hotel California – Angela Thomas

‘Music, like a sense of smell evokes memories and this album conjures up some of my happiest times.  I use Jane Greenhof’s iStitch programme to help convert the photograph into a cross stitch pattern’.

This picture cannot do this amazing two piece entry justice, it was truly outstanding!


Making Music – Debbie Halfind

‘Maybe because I am not very musical this quilt was inspired by the beautiful shape of the violin, rather than the music that it makes.


Peter and the Wolf – De Pickford

This was the first piece of classical music I was introduced to at the age of seven and I apparently bored everybody with the story for weeks.  The musical instruments associated with each character and shown here were made by Dorset soldiers and very kindly donated by John Staniforth’.


 American Pie – Olga Cottle

‘This is a collaboration of a quilt artist (me) and an art critic (my husband, an engineer).  This time I skipped cutting and piecing, to avoid discussions about seams not meeting in the centre.  I am aware that the writing is not straight and the paint is splashed free hand.  My husband still likes it and calls it a “pizza” and wants to keep it.’


It started with a kiss – Lexie Bray

‘………….Never thought it would end like this’

So simple a concept but it made me laugh out loud.


Synaesthesia – k3n

‘Synaesthesia’ is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sense engenders an automatic response in another.  It has many forms, the one illustrated in my quilt is chromesthesia where on hearing sound such as music, the synesthete ‘sees’ the sound as colours.  The history of synasthesia in art is at least as old as greek philiosphy and continues today in the work of contemporary artists such as Carol Steen’.

Kathryn’s work is fabulous and she is so damn clever, her scientific knowledge is outstanding and its worth going on one of her courses to learn about something stimulating in addition to quilting etc.  Love the colours and the concept behind it.


So, my Three Little Birds….

I entered three quilts into the exhibition but, as always did them very late and can honestly say I was only pleased with one.  However, in my new optimistic January state I can see they were all worth creating as there are techniques I learnt that I will use in pieces again.  There is a strong Bird theme in the three entries which has continued into my more recent work since the exhibition.

The first quilt allowed me to experiment with painting on fabric and then sewing definition over the top, picking out details of wings and feathers. I look forward to trying this out again soon.

1. Lark Ascending – Ralph Vaughan Williams

‘At a fundamental level, all birds represent freedom in flight; in mythology and literature the Skylark more specifically denotes a daybreak and a sense of spiritual aspiration. You seem to experience the beauty of the countryside far more intensely when you hear the Skylark, as it ascends it makes the countryside below it appear more vivid and alive.  I have tried to convey this in the quilt, the path the Skylark travels is intensified compared to the surrounding countryside’.  The Lark Ascending was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1014 and 100 years later was voted number one in the Classic FM Hall of Fame.  It is also the UK’s all time favourite Desert Island disc.


Lark ascending

2. Woodstock Festival 1969

I love the music and the whole idea behind the 1969 Woodstock Festival, however being only one at the time I came to it late.  I love the simplicity of the original poster and it allowed me to try out new quilting techniques for the background, I think its called ‘Pebbling’.  This inspired me to then use the technique in my Christmas Robin pictures below.


‘Woodstock, in 1969, was a music festival billed as “Three Days of Peace & Music”.  Thirty two acts performed outdoors before an audience of 400,000 young people.  It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history.  Rolloing Stone listed it as one of the ’50 Moments that changed the history of Rock & Rull’ and this quilt depicts the poster and logo that still symbolizes the event’.

Woodstock Festival

Woodstock Festival

3. “Blackbird Singing in the dead of night….” – The Beatles 1968

This is my very favourite Beatles song, it makes me feel sad but hopeful.  The piece below that I wrote up for the entries explanation explains a lot that I had not realised about the song.

This piece has been a turning point in my work.  The background uses a strip piecing technique that was demonstrated on the ‘Fabric Collage Landscapes’ course by k3n (Kathryn Chambers) at Midsomer Quilting back in October.

Kathryn is a tremendous tutor, who makes you feel the quilting rules are there to be broken and/or adapted.  The technique allowed me far greater freedom than classic quilting where the corners should meet etc…. It was truly liberating as my corners rarely met which frustrated the hell out me!

I had dabbled in free machine embroidery occasionally but her course in September called ‘Free Motion Quilting Workshop’ allowed me to just go for it.  I loved her expression ‘We are going to take a thread for a walk….’  Being able to draw and use my imagination was wonderful and the Blackbird came about thanks to that new found confidence.

“I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of “you were only waiting for this moment to arise” was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic”.

Paul McCartney (2002) .

Blackbird Singing in the dead of night.

Blackbird Singing in the dead of night.

All the 2014 entries can be seen here Midsomer Quilting  and are well worth a look. Some are technically amazing others use fabulous imagination to interpret the Music title.

A Giclee Limited edition print of ‘Blackbird singing in the dead of Night’ is available from my website shop, please click here to view.

Next years category will be ‘Poetry, Verse or Rhyme’.