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Every custom-made quilt tells a story

Quilted handiwork? Katherine May has it covered

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Every custom-made quilt tells a story

July 30 2011
Charlotte Abrahams

What with the last year’s blockbuster exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the growing popularity of mending and making-do, quilting, once the most homely of crafts, is hot news. Which is good news for Katherine May, a British textile designer who has spent the past six years reinventing traditional techniques of patchwork quilting to create original, contemporary pieces such as “Barbie” (second picture, £3,000), an intricate and playful quilt made from dolls’ clothes she collected on eBay and at car-boot sales.

Each of her exquisitely, and mostly hand-sewn, quilts is made to commission and while May herself has a large collection of old textiles, the majority of her clients supply their own. “Clients tend to come with fabrics that carry an emotional story – children’s clothes, wedding dresses, things that belonged to loved ones who have passed away,” she explains. “Quilting is all about breaking down the old stories that surrounded the fabrics and making new ones.”

Given the very personal nature of the work, May prefers to have the initial meetings in the client’s home. “We get out all the fabrics, and I listen to the stories around them,” she says. “Then we start to discuss ideas for the design. Sometimes people have specific ideas – the map quilt Peckham Rye [£800], for example, came about because a family were moving from London to Ireland and they wanted something to remind them of the area they’d lived in – but in most cases, I just respond organically to the fabrics because it’s all about the interaction of colours.” (Her Stowaway quilt, first picture, £2,000, is made from textiles sourced from a recycling centre for London department store Liberty and was designed solely as an experiment in colour mixing.)

Having decided on the fabrics and the pattern, most people are then happy to leave May to turn the swatches into a silk padded quilt in the privacy of her studio, but should you wish to get really hands-on, you can book a place at one of her workshops and sew a portion of your quilt yourself.