Sunday, 3 November 2019

The University Centre Shrewsbury banner

I can finally write about the 'secret sewing project' which I alluded to a few weeks ago. I have been putting together quilt blocks to create a community banner for University Centre Shrewsbury.

The banner was the brainchild of Professor Deborah Wynne who, as well as being the organiser of the Textile Study Days and my dissertation supervisor for my Masters, is a lecturer in the English Department at both the Shrewsbury and Chester campuses. When the first students on the English BA Honours degree course at Shrewsbury were coming to the end of their studies, Deborah thought that it would be a good idea to commemorate the occasion. She asked the students to each make a quilt block 30cm square, containing their name and something which represented themselves and/or their time at Shrewsbury. The result was 17 very different blocks. Knowing that I sew, she asked if I would be able to put them together into a quilt.

I must admit that initially it did look like a challenge. 17 blocks is an awkward number to work with, and there were some 'variations' from the 30cm measurements. Add to that a wide selection of backing fabrics, and some alarmingly narrow seam allowances, and I had my work cut out. The first thing I did was photograph all the blocks and print out small images of them, all to scale. I played around with these until I got an idea for a suitable arrangement. I decided to make an extra block containing information about the banner, and to make it the same size as the largest of the 17 to balance it out. This gave me a basic layout to work with.

One of the potential layouts for the blocks

The inspiration for my block came from the banner at Glasgow Women's Library, which I visited a couple of years ago. The idea of books and a hot drink seemed perfect for the student experience!

The Glasgow banner

Unfortunately my drawing skills weren't up to even this simple task, so I cheated. I created a suitable still life, photographed it and displayed the image on my laptop, then laid a sheet of tracing paper over the screen and traced the outlines.

The 'design' for my block

The background fabric was a lucky find of a print of piles of books, and the books and mug are appliqué. I embroidered the dates onto the mug, and the other details onto the book spines.

My block in progress

Sewing the blocks together like a normal quilt was never going to work, so instead I mounted them onto a base of heavy white cotton. I drew out the placement of each block first.

The block placement marked out

Then I laid each block in place, and used rulers and some offcuts of board to check that it would be positioned correctly once the sashing was added between the blocks.

Checking the positioning of the first block

Even though I knew that the stitching attaching the blocks to the base fabric would all be covered, I still chose to use a matching thread for each block - just in case! I also sewed round elements in each block, to keep the fabric attached to its base.

All the blocks attached to the base fabric

Then it was time to add the sashing. For this I wanted a neutral fabric which would not detract from the blocks, but equally I didn't want something which was totally plain. Fortunately my local fabric shop came up trumps, with a subtly patterned fawn craft cotton remnant which was exactly the right size. I put the vertical sashing on first, machining one side, then flipping the piece over and slip-stitching the other side. The pieces at the ends of the rows of three blocks were wider, to fill the gaps.

The vertical sashing pieces in place

Next I added the horizontal sashing the same way. Once it was all in place, it really worked to frame each block, while at the same time acting as a unifying feaure.

The sashing completed

The backing fabric was added, and then the side and top and bottom borders. That was a lot of slip-stitching! I also added a sleeve along the top to hold the pole for displaying the banner.

The completed banner on display

It was a challenge to make it all work, but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. It was just so apparent how much all the contributors had wanted to be involved. The degree of sewing skills varied widely, but the enthusiasm with which they had entered into the project clearly did not. It made me really want to create something which did justice to their creations. We had a grand unveiling of the quilt on Thursday, and a number of its makers were able to attend, and explain the inspiration behind their blocks. After so many hours spent working on banner, it was lovely for me to be able to put faces to some of the names, and to hear their stories.

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