I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, under sunny blue skies, and that is likely to have been the origin of my love for bright colour. I started sewing at the age of 7, when my mother’s old treadle machine was replaced by a modern electric Singer, and I could therefore reach the pedal by putting it onto a small stool. Ever since then I stitch (and now quilt) by machine.
I started by making dolls’ clothes, then my own, as a sideline, first to my university and work career, and then to my photography studies. I came to England in 1968, studied, married an Englishman, and had two daughters, whom I made clothes for, and then cloth dolls and teddy bears. That led me to a career in toymaking, involving making, teaching and writing books on the subject.
When my daughters grew up I decided to move on and change fields - but still staying within textiles and stitching. Eventually I settled on quilting, after a trip to USA, and particularly after visiting an exhibition in London of Contemporary American Quilts. There I saw work by Nancy Crow, Michael James, Caryl Bryer Fallert, to name just a few, and I immediately knew that was what I wanted to get into.
My first piece of patchwork was a cushion cover with rainbow-coloured strips on a black background; my first quilt, “Light Fantastic”, was a development of that design, and it won a rosette in a major quilt exhibition at Ascot. It made me feel certain that I was on the right tracks! I have been exhibiting my quilts widely ever since. Recent exhibitions have been in Prague, Ste Marie aux Mines, and Wells, UK.
I first worked with commercial fabrics, mostly in plain colours, but I soon felt that hand-dyed fabrics were the ones for me. I first bought them from American dyers such as Caryl Bryer Fallert and Judy Robertson, but eventually I felt I should try to dye them myself. I attended some classes, including one with Ann Johnston, and had a go. But I never really enjoyed dyeing – I don’t like wet work, I hated the large amount of rinsing needed, and I often couldn’t get the colours I wanted. I’d rather spend my time stitching!
One day I came across Heide Stoll-Weber’s fabrics, and I knew those were the ones I wanted to use – such gem-like colours! I think the main reason I prefer to buy other people’s hand-dyed fabrics, is because I don’t draw or paint; my background is in photography, and I used to do a lot of documentary, portrait and close-landscape and flower photography - and my way of seeing reflects that: finding visual elements and making the best arrangement of their colours, lines and shapes – not creating them from scratch.
I like including text in my quilts some times, and I print it using mainly thermofax screens and acrylic paints.
My inspiration in quilts is varied. My main series have covered the city, nature, Shakespeare, music, Mexican patterns, Gee’s Bend-type simplicity, geometric work inspired by Klee and Kandinsky, and currently, maps and aerial views – as well as continuing with the concept of the city.
I have never made any traditional quilts – always worked on contemporary styles. It was when I learnt how to cut freehand curves that I felt really free and ready to make anything!
I teach workshops which are related to what I make and to the subjects that fascinate me. I teach the techniques that I use in my quilts, and also include my approach to colour and design.
These are some of my workshops:
Fine Line Magic
- using freehand cutting and piecing techniques
- using bonded collage techniques.
More details about the workshops, as well as information on some of the places where I will be teaching over the next while, can be found in my website, www.aliciamerrett.co.uk