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CETG online talk 12th December 2022

Joanna O'Neill – Bite-Sized

Joanna O'Neill joined us from Hexham in Northumberland, promising a feast of over 150 (actually closer to 170) small art journal quilts, worked from 2009 onwards as part of the Contemporary Quilt Group’s annual challenge.  Working to the size and theme specified by the challenge, participants produce one quilt each month, which are later exhibited.  Joanna also showed us more small art quilts she has produced for other exhibitions, magazine articles and charity events.


Aiming to provide work that is both “beautiful and functional”, despite the variety of themes required, we soon saw where Joanna’s inspiration comes from: the natural world, particularly trees and fruit; folklore and fantasy; medieval imagery; abstract shape and form; and above all - colour.  She talked us through her process from the initial idea to the finished work.  It was fascinating to see images used in one quilt reused and transformed in another by a change of colour, size or emphasis.


Her techniques include painting and printing, appliqué and stitch, both hand and machine.  Many of the quilts are built up from the gorgeously coloured hand-dyed fabrics of Heide Stoll-Weber of Farbstoff in Germany, supplemented with Indonesian batiks or Joanna’s own handmade felt.  More recently she has taken to creating her own designs digitally, and sending them off to be custom printed by companies such as Contrado or Spoonflower.  When the printed piece of fabric comes back, she cuts out the individual quilts, and stitches or adds appliqué over the printed designs.


Joanna was refreshingly honest about the quilts she felt had not worked out as well as she had planned, or which she just did not like.  Often this seemed to be as a result of overworking a design or feeling she had to use up a piece of fabric from her stash, rather than finding just the right pattern or colour.


There were interesting stories behind many of the quilts, but with so many to include, Joanna admitted to travelling at breakneck speed.  But she was generous with her advice to those wanting to explore the world of journal quilting, recommending the work of Karey Patterson Bresenhan and her definitive book on the topic, Creative Quilting.  She also touched on the fascinating world of World-Wide Whispers - playing “consequences” with journal quilts – where  participants only see a picture of the previous quilt in the series, and take inspiration from it to create their own design.  Themes can cycle back, or shoot off at a tangent in unexpected fashion.

Joanna took time to answer questions on techniques and materials from beginners and experienced attendees alike, and was happy to chat about the joys of living in rural Northumberland.  She made the creation of an art journal quilt seem accessible to the rawest of beginners, and encouraged us to enter a fascinating textile world where a quilt is not intended for practical use, does not necessarily have four straight edges and “anything goes”.



Words © Liz Wilmott/December 2022

Photos © Joanna O'Neill/2022


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