Friday, June 05, 2009


A lot of people have been asking me how the joker quilt came about. So I thought I would try and explain. Be warned it isn't a straight line design process, that isn't how I work. I should also mention this was designed entirely in my head on a car journey, so there aren't even any sketches of how it grew. Sorry, but how else do you kill a couple of hours on the motorway.

It started with the idea to make a bed quilt to fill a particular space in the gallery at the NEC, I also had someone in mind who might be interested in a quilt and I figured I could kill two birds with one stone. As it was a bed quilt it needed to be durable, and that rules out my art quilt techniques (great for the wall but won't handle cats) and using cotton sateen (same problem with felines). We fairly quickly homed in on the idea of playing cards. That straight away brings in another problem though. King size beds need quilts that are either squareish or wider than they are tall. Neither of those work well for a playing card (or that was my thinking at the time).

For a while I got detoured onto what borders might work with a large playing card. I wasn't terribly happy with any of the ideas I came up with but the best was a row of card trick blocks on either side of the playing card. If I was going to do that I felt I would need a narrow border to separate the two areas, probably densely quilted (to bridge the gap between the quilted design and the piecing). Some poker chips have an edge pattern of the four card suits and I thought that might do, maybe quilting the area that wasn't them in red on the background?

So I had a rough layout then to decide which card. For a rock fan (or indeed a fan of playing cards) the ace of spades has to be an obvious choice, but on the other hand I quite like jokers too. Hmmm, two cards could that work. Well as I said I can't use the applique technique from wall quilts on a bed quilt so how can I get an intricate design onto the quilt? With thread, which was what I had (and still have) planned for a couple of other quilts I will be doing. Great, we are nearly to a plan. Then I remember. I don't like working on white, and I don't think it is a terrible practical colour for bed quilts either. Playing cards (especially the aces) are usually largely white. Hmm....... Invert the colours. Less white.

That is pretty much what I carried around in my head waiting to be made. As you can see it didn't quite come out like that. I like to make bed quilts somewhere around 90" tall (top to bottom of the bed). It seems to provide good coverage for a range of beds. From some quick layouts I figured I needed the center spade to be about half that height and the joker a little taller. I produced the full size images of those then laid them on my bed. I realised about that point that I didn't need borders. If I just made the card square it would look fine, and I would have the simplicity of design I had started off wanting. Back to plan one and off I went. The result you've already seen.

I find this a lot. I kick designs around until I think I have them. They then live in my head for a while (months to years). Some do come out exactly as they were planned. 'Miss Baltimore' and 'Golden Storm' were both pretty exactly what I have in my head. Others like this one make last minute changes. Tow more of my NEC quilts have done the same thing. Usually it is the ones where I have had to compromise in a way I didn't really like (I really didn't want a border on this quilt) or where I have tried to deviate from what I do. There seems to be a general shape to how I work and design things. I never intended it to be that way, it's just happened. However when I plan to not do it my way things happen. Eventually what I produce comes out looking like one of my quilts. It's quite and odd feeling actually. Having a style that enforces itself when you aren't expecting it. Sometimes it does let me do something different, but only when it is really different it seems.

There you go, the mad way inspiration strikes and evolves in to a quilt.

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