Brunel 200 Legacy Weston Quilters – Weston Super Quilts 2006
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Weston Super Quilts 2006

Weston Quilters held their fourth 'Weston Super Quilt' exhibition on 22nd, 23rd and 24th September 2006, in the Prince Consort Room at The Winter Gardens, Weston-super-Mare and despite other exhibitions in the South West, almost 600 people attended including a visitor from Canada, the USA and a coach party from Wales.

Weston Quilters are based in Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset. They are a group of people who enjoy quilting and patchwork. They are not a teaching group but they exhibit their work and produce some charity quilts, have speakers along on open evenings to share their love of the art or connected themes and also members’ evenings to share their own work, news and views. There are always opportunities to purchase fabric at the monthly meetings, books and videos to borrow and information about quilting events both nationally and locally. Currently there are over 70 members from all over North Somerset.

This was the fourth year of Weston Quilters’ biennial exhibition, with approximately 150 new quilts. The exhibition is open to anyone interested in sewing and patchwork, who could choose to make work based on one of eight themes.

For 2006, Weston Quilters wanted their members to be inspired by Brunel! They encouraged everyone to take a fresh look at Brunel’s work and interpret his achievements and legacy through patchwork and quilting. Choosing a theme – engineering - that might seem to have little in common with what’s generally seen as a ‘soft’ activity, was another way for members to challenge perceptions of what quilting can achieve.

Planning their exhibition, the Quilters commented:

“We propose making quilts which comprise three layers of fabric, stitched together, being individual interpretations of the life and work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The quilts will be no larger than forty inches in any one direction and we imagine that from the research being carried out locally, that they will be very varied, from pictorial views to very individualistic interpretation of the subject’s works. They will mostly be wall hangings which can be hung like paintings. With our traditional art and our local pride in Brunel, we feel sure of a most successful exhibition.”

Brunel proved a popular and inspiring subject with 560 quilts being submitted for exhibition. Members responded with characteristic enthusiasm for research in the subject, and displayed endless inventiveness in how Brunel’s works might be represented, bearing in mind how significant quilts have been, and continue to be, in telling a community’s social history.

One of the many quilts produced by Weston Quilters.

One of the many quilts produced by Weston Quilters.

Two of the many quilts produced by Weston Quilters.

“The category … seemed to be daunting at first, especially where to go for information. Photographs and visits in 2005 encouraged small groups of people to share information. It can take many, many months to create a quilt of even small proportions. The internet was invaluable for both written and pictorial information. As a group of quilters and their families, the exchange of information and support for each others’ research, far beyond our own community, was greatly valued by me. With an interest in Heritage Quilts, these quilts will go on to be the heritage of the future.”
Veronica Taplin, committee member.

“Being a Committee Member of Weston Quilters, I felt an enormous obligation to enter a quilt in the Isambard Kingdom Brunel category of our 2006 show.

Of course pressure does not necessarily lend itself to inspiration and I must admit, unlike other categories where images came thick and fast into my head, I was at a complete loss as to what my IKB quilt would feature.

Luckily I had to take action as the Committee decided to have an evening discussing the up and coming categories for the show and we had to take ideas and sources in to show our members.

Working in an office my main source of information is the internet. My first port of call was the site, which gave me a full background on Mr Brunel, as well as photographic resources.

I played with images of chains, top hats and words. I made up a simplified block of two colours representing the suspension bridge, which someone informed me if I turned upside down, could easily be a representation of the box tunnel.

A copy of the Bristol Magazine had a wonderful spread about the ss Great Britain and its new refurbishment. It was very interesting and had lovely photographs, but still did not ‘light my fire’.

I went back to basics. Isambard Kingdom Brunel – What does he say to me? After travelling in and out of Bristol from Clevedon for the last 17 years, this was not such a difficult question to answer in the end. To me Isambard Kingdom Brunel is the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It is stretched across my skyline every day, come rain, shine, bright sunshine or dead of night.

Using a simplified ‘cartoon’ like drawing, my quilt depicts a view looking down the River Avon, Clifton Downs on one side, Leigh Woods on the other and the bridge itself centred across my piece of work. Instead of showing the suspension wiring which forms its beautiful crescent shape, I instead wrote his name across its span and quilted this into the sky. The bridge piers were appliquéd and the hills and river were pieced together.

I was very pleased with my finished piece.”
Vicki McHugh, committee member.

“Brunel’s motto was ‘No job too small’. I have enjoyed taking part and the research that I have made, to make it possible.” Jean Counsell

When asked what they had learned about Brunel, members responded:

“Lots! Amazing knowledge now of how tunnels were constructed and how his engineering informed the development of processes used today.”

“Most importantly, what an unsung hero he was, and what a loss to the nation, dying at such a young age. He was truly a monumental figure in his time, an amazing engineer and an absolute genius.”

Weston Quilters are keen to think about the future. They hope that their next exhibition in 2008 will continue to draw together other organisations in the South West and further develop the national profile of Weston Quilters. Other events are planned this year which include weekend workshops with internationally regarded tutors, a workshop for children with disabilities, and coach trips to national quilt shows in Malvern and Birmingham. Ideas for their next exhibition in September 2008 are being discussed and will include a category which celebrates the life and achievements of Charles Darwin.

When asked ‘how, and why, did any aspect of your project fail?’ their response was:

“This is not a concept understood by Weston Quilters!”

Further information can be found on the website or by contacting Roni Taplin 01934 842 2925.