Our leading quilting expert Janice Gunner speaks to us about her love for Japanese and African fabrics, how she feels lost without her much loved sewing bag and how she funded her first home made quilt through pocket money as a child!
I began quilting in 1974, not long after I got married. I had made most of my own clothes for many years and couldn’t bear to throw away the left-over fabric, although my first ‘quilt’ was made from fabric samples I had bought from a local market stall as a child with my pocket money! I joined 8” squares together to make a big enough piece to cover the bed. No pattern, just instinct!
Was there a single moment when you fell in love with quilting, or did it happen gradually?
Not really a single moment but I have always loved working with fabric, when I found I could use Liberty prints to make tessellating designs and small projects to give to family and friends I was hooked. Most of my early work was self- taught, either just piecing or machine quilted. I eventually attended a workshop organised by London Quilters, with Lynne Edwards who taught me how to hand quilt in the 1980’s.
Do you still have the first quilt you ever-made?
Yes! It starts off my talk ‘Pastime to Profession’. It has covered my bed, been a playmat for my sons when they were babies, a picnic cloth and a dust cover during its lifetime. It’s patchwork, not quilted and is made from 1960’s & 1970’s seersucker. It has wadding inside, which I describe as the stuff padded bras used to be made from and the backing is plain cotton!
Where do you find the inspiration for your designs?
Now, mostly from nature although I get inspired by all sorts of things, including art & architecture. I work with images I have photographed most of the time, selecting shapes, colours and textures. I dye a lot of my fabrics with Procion MX dyes and more specifically using Shibori techniques (sophisticated tie dye) with indigo and woad. I love blue but I also love working with African and Japanese fabrics too.
What kind of quilts are you most drawn to?
Now it is mostly contemporary, art and modern quilts. I love looking at traditional quilts but I don’t want to make them now. I made lots in the past and you sometimes must move on.
What tools and materials could you not live without?
My rotary cutter, mat and rulers, my sewing machine of course and my sewing bag. I get withdrawal symptoms if I am not sewing something!
Which quilt designers are you really excited about right now?
There are some very good art quilters coming up, people like Helen Conway, Leah Higgins, Jackie Ketley & Nicqui Willis. The latter two are former City & Guilds students of mine. Jackie has already had a piece accepted into Fine Art Quilt Masters and both have been short-listed for the Quilters’ Guild City & Guilds Bursary.
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 got thrown into teaching at the deep end by a good friend, the late Beryl White, in 1988. She was approached to teach a class but declined, saying she knew a lady who could! It was a case of teach a technique one week, learn a new technique and teach it the following week! I found out that I really enjoyed teaching, it fitted in with the school holidays when my three sons were younger and I met lots of interesting people! I have been teaching since then but I haven’t stopped learning either! I was awarded the Medal of Excellence for C&G Part 1, went on to complete Part 2, gained a teaching certificate and then studied for the Diploma in Stitched Textiles at Windsor. I have been teaching C&G courses since 1994 and in 1999 I was awarded a quilt teacher’s scholarship in USA and I have been teaching freelance and exhibiting my work ever since.
What projects are you currently working on?
A new series of quilts for a joint exhibition with Susan Denton and Cherry Vernon-Harcourt that will be shown at Festival of Quilts in August 2017, new work for exhibitions with New Horizons Textile Group (I have been a member since 1993) and anything else that comes along!
You’ve been leading Stitchtopia tours for several years now you and have travelled to some amazing destinations. What has been your most memorable destination and why?
It has got to be Japan. I had been there before, in my capacity as President of The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles and had fallen in love with the textiles, quilters, culture, scenery and food in that order! I have always been fascinated with Japanese culture after seeing Kimono’s and artefacts in books as a child and then as I grew up, seeing them in the V&A (my favourite museum).
We are very excited that you are off leading a Stitchtopia holiday to Japan next week. Can you give travellers a sneak peak of the type of thing they can expect on this one in a lifetime trip?
Stunning locations, beautiful gardens, fantastic textiles, talented artisans, unbelievable quilts at the Tokyo Dome, delicious food, delightful people and an experience you will never forget!
You are also joining us on a closer to home Stitchtopia trip – Quilting in Regency Bath. Can you give us an idea of what you will be teaching in your two workshops?
One will feature hand quilting a small panel where the design has been inspired by Lace – the theme of an exhibition at The Fashion Museum in Bath and the other will be another panel made using English Paper Piecing inspired by quilts in the American Museum in Bath. I will be busy designing them in the new year ready to make up kits for the lucky people coming on the trip. I am really looking forward to it.
What destination would you love to visit and why?
There are two destinations, if I can indulge myself? India has long fascinated me, just like Japan. There is such a rich textile heritage in India, not just in the making of and dyeing but in the printing too. The colours, the architecture and the people are amazing! The other place is South Korea, again because of similar things. I have been interested in Bojagi (or Pojagi), which is Korean patchwork with fine, almost sheer fabrics that are stitched in a special way ever since I saw some in the Ashmolean Museum a long time ago. I am fascinated by the culture too and Korean quilts are just as stunning as those in Japan.
In a career as exhausting as quilting, it must be easy to burn yourself out. How do you avoid this?
I love to listen to music, mostly classical and opera, but I like other music too! I like to cook, I’m an avid cook book collector, I’ll be trying out Marcus Waring’s Gin & Tonic cheesecake recipe over Christmas! I read, visit museums and art galleries and I always have some knitting on the go, usually something for my grandson Allan now, though I knit for myself too.
Quilting in Regency Bath
22 – 25 October, from £749 per person
Janice is busy preparing for her trip to the Tokyo Quilt Festival next week. If you missed out on booking your place with us you still have the opportunity to join Janice on a trip closer to home in October when Janice leads our quilting retreat in Regency Bath. This special break includes a walking tour of historic Bath and a visit to the Jane Austen Centre. You’ll also enjoy the exhibitions at the Bath Fashion Museum and a private guided tour of the American Museum. Janice will be leading two hand stitching workshops in the comfortable surroundings of your hotel. You can secure your place today with just £100 deposit.