Jen was born into textiles, as her grandmother was a professional dressmaker (who, interestingly, refused to teach her how to sew). She remembers buying her first piece of fabric when she was about 13 (a burgundy paisley, thanks for asking) which set her on the path to becoming a life-long fabric hoarder. A creative career followed, with print making and graphic design training, leading her into the clothing industry, designing fabric.
A turning point for Jen was when she moved to the USA for five years, and quite by chance, discovered American antique scrap quilts. At that time (late 90s) commercial fabrics were tepid, ‘country-style’ in various shades of brown. These quilts, by contrast, were vibrant, colourful and visually interesting. These scraps quilts were also made frugally with whatever fabrics were available, and generally worked on a smaller scale, to use small scraps of fabric. And they broke the RULES!
Having been traditionally trained, these quilts were ‘non-commercial’ and as Jen says, felt ‘free’. These scrap quilts also featured stacks of different fabrics in the one piece – perfect for a fabric hoarder! She began voraciously collecting these quilts, quilt tops and fabrics, amassing an enormous collection, and becoming something of an authority on the fabric and design of them.
Upon returning to Australia, she decided to do some de-stashing and put out some vintage fabric for sale at a local market. The buying frenzy that followed led her to realise that she had a strong business concept, and A Piece of Cloth was born, specialising in the sale of vintage textiles.
Jen gave a fascinating talk and trunk show of examples of vintage fabrics in her collection, explaining historical, technological and political forces that drove trends in styles, patterns and colours in fabrics and in quilts.
As well as being historically interesting, there was a lot for modern quilters to learn. Jen explained that many aspects of what we might recognise as modern quilting today have their roots back in history.
Take for example, these vintage Flying Geese.
The improv quilt.
And improv quilters were thrilled to learn about this joyous style of scrap quilting, the crumb quilt.
Jen then kindly spent some time answering questions and meeting with members to discuss many important quit nerd issues.
Following her talk (and members’ enthusiastic questions on the topic) Jen posted her ‘top five’ textile books on her Instagram.
Holstein, Jonathan. The Pieced Quilt: an American Design Tradition.
Safford, Carelton L. and Bishop, Robert. America’s Quilts and Coverlets.
Kiracofe, Roderick. Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950 – 2000.
Meller, Susan and Elffers, Joost. Textile Designs: Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns for Printed Fabrics Organized by Motif, Style, Color, Layout and Period.
Durant, Stuart. Ornament.
Jen’s talk provided instant inspiration for members! Billie has embarked on an ambitious crumb quilt.
S-J has taken some vintage blocks out of her stash, and removed the original backing papers from each block – they were old newspapers dated 1953-54. She will now make these into a quilt, finishing the work the original quilt-maker started over 60 years ago.