Philippa Naylor is an award winning quilter and textile artist. She combines her technical expertise and designer training to produce intricately pieced, applique or whole-cloth quilts which are heavily machine quilted often utilising trapunto. This week we speak to Philippa about her first love of garment making, how she can’t live without her Bernina machine, and how she ended up selling hand made Christmas decorations in Saudi Arabi!
Hi Philippa, we are very excited about you leading your first ever quilting trip to Italy. Tell us how you discovered quilting and how you first became passionate about it.
I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this. I have always loved textiles of all kinds, and have sewn from a young age. After finishing A’ levels I trained at Manchester Polytechnic, for 4 years, to become a clothing designer. I worked in industry as a lingerie designer and then moved to Saudi Arabia in 1989 with my husband (who was an English language teacher) and set up a wedding and evening dress business. I was in Saudi selling Christmas decorations (that I had made) at a bazaar. The lady on the next stall was advertising her quilting classes and ‘encouraged’ me to sign up for one (she did this for several hours). In the end I gave in and agreed to go on one of her courses. And of course I loved the whole process. That was in 1996.
Was there a single moment when you fell in love with quilting, or did it happen gradually?
As above though to elaborate the more I do the more I love it. With quilting there is so much to explore in both artistic and technical terms, so I never get bored of the same old thing. I have so many ideas and not enough time to develop even a few of them. I love the challenge of creating the design, choosing the fabrics, working out how I am going to make my ideas work technically and with the highest level of finish. And then of course there is the actual sewing which I really do love every stage of.
Do you still have the first quilt you ever-made?
Yes I do. A paper pieced pineapple quilt with 4 fabrics. It’s the one I made on the above mentioned course.
Where do you find the inspiration for your designs?
Everywhere and not just from looking at historical and modern quilts. I’m a keen gardener and find that helpful in terms if colour and shape. I’m very drawn to pattern and enjoy looking at all kinds of fabrics, wallpaper, cards, advertising, architecture, shoes, clothes and so much more.
What kind of quilts are you most drawn to?
Quilts which are beautiful on every level. In their design, use of colour, balance, choice of fabrics, tonal value and (perhaps most important to me) with a high level of craftsmanship and technical skill. A beautiful quilt can be made in any style with any materials, but for me it needs to tick all of the above boxes to be an accomplished work to admire and to inspire.
What tools and materials could you not live without?
My Bernina sewing machines, some special scissors which I have had since my commercial designing days, quality needles, pins and thread. And of course fabric!
Which quilt designers are you really excited about right now?
Gosh, a hard one. Anyone who achieves all those factors I mentioned above. Quilters who are true to themselves and make work that represents them as a person, and which has integrity and honesty.
Most people would consider quilting a hobby but you have turned it into a very successful career. What was the motivation behind turning your passion into a business?
I trained as a designer to work in industry and that training and subsequent work had a big impact how I see myself. What I do is my profession and I have worked for decades to learn what I know about sewing. I do really love to sew and to explore – to see if I can make my ideas work, not only for me but also for my students. If people are going to pay me good money and come to one of my classes it is my duty to do the best job I can – to give them new skills, inspiration and also a fun time. I think it is very important that I turn up on time, am well prepared, am generous with my knowledge – and am well presented. In addition I see this as a performance and that I am leading the days entertainment as well as the teaching!
‘Bird by Bird’ by Philippa Naylor
What projects are you currently working on?
Well, masses in my head, but no quilt on the go right now. I have recently been working on a lot of garment making (my first love!) and have made tailored trousers for my husband and lots of Christmas gifts of pyjamas and nighties. Under my machine is a blouse that I’m making using a 1970s pattern which I have just adapted to update but still have a retro feel. And then last week I got some fabulous bags of high quality furnishing fabric offcuts in a sale, and these will be used for various things. My son Dan (26) and I are recovering an office chair with some of this fabric (he is sewing wadding to the seat fabric as I write).
It’s great that you can combine your love of quilting with travel. What has been your most memorable destination and why?
All the destinations have their highlights. The people are the most fun – always interesting and enthusiastic. I love to fly (not so keen on the security bit though). I really enjoy the scenery and the chance of different weather than I get at home – which doesn’t necessarily mean sun as I don’t crave that after 15 years living in Saudi! Foreign supermarkets are a bit of a destination as I’m always interested in local food and what is different. I usually bring something edible and a bit unusual home with me.
This summer you are leading Stitchtopia’s very first quilting holiday to Italy. What are you most looking forward to on this trip and can you give us an idea of what you will be teaching in your workshops?
The entire trip looks like a real treat. The venue is gorgeous, set in beautiful countryside. It appears as though the hotel is renowned for its food – and quilters love to eat almost as much as they love to sew. The fact that we have four days of classes is a real plus as we will have enough time for really productive work as well as relaxing and enjoying the area.
What destination would you love to visit and why?
I’m open to everywhere, near or far. It doesn’t need to be exotic to be inspiring and creative. Just get some people together with some good food, comfy beds and some sewing machines. We will have a great time, coming home full of new ideas, skills and friends!