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Q is for Quilting

A-Z of Craft

Welcome back to our ongoing series A to Z of Craft! This series showcases the different materials, tools and techniques our artisans use to create their one of a kind pieces. From traditional to innovative, by highlighting how our makers create, we are here to celebrate craft in all its wonderful iterations.

This time we spoke to Jen Manuell of Fish Eye Sisters who enlightened us on the art of Quilting. From her studio just north of Huntsville, Ontario, Jen creates striking and vibrant cushions, wall art, table mats and wool blankets from her own hand-dyed wool fabrics. Jen talks to us about the difference between quilting and patchwork (and her love for both!), shares a video of her making process and shares her inspirations for creating her truly One Of A Kind pieces. Read on to learn about this and much more!

For those that are not familiar with Fish Eye Sisters, can you describe your craft?

People often use quilting and patchwork interchangeably, but they are not the same. Quilting refers to the process of sewing two or more layers of fabric together, with a layer of soft batting or wadding in between. The stitching is usually decorative, but the primary role of the stitches is to stop the batting from shifting. Patchwork is the proper term for various pieces of fabric sewn together to create a larger design.

I do both – sewing many small pieces of fabric together to make pieces of patchwork, then layering the patchwork with batting and backing fabric and quilting the layers together. In my cushions and wall art, I use a long arm machine to do the quilting…and my wool blankets are hand-tied.

Below you can see sorted strips of cut fabric and how they are transformed through stitching;

What inspired you to start creating?

I come from a long line of makers and grew up in a busy household surrounded by art and craft. I can't remember a time when I wasn't making things out of fabrics, threads and yarns. My adventures began in primary school and by high school I was knitting Kaffe Fassett sweaters, combining dozens of yarns and colours.

In recent years I have focused mostly on rug hooking, and this current line of products stemmed from my love of wool, dyeing and colour play – but in a fraction of the time it takes to hook a rug!

How did you start working with this technique?

Largely self-taught, I am an enthusiastic experimenter. My passion is coming up with new twists on traditional techniques. A large stash of wool, amassed since I began rug hooking in 1999, was the inspiration behind my current focus on sewing and quilting with wool fabrics. Not only does wool have amazing properties (like being low-maintenance, naturally soil resistant + very resilient), more importantly, I knew that I could have complete colour control working with wool. Colour is the most important element.

Could you give us some insight into your making process?

Every cut, every pin, every stitch, every seam, every zipper, every trim...every step of every Fish Eye Sisters product is designed and handmade by just me, Jen Manuell.

For as long as I can remember, I've loved playing with colour and figuring out new ways of doing things. Combined with my love of textiles and dyeing wool, my current collections of truly One Of A Kind woolen home goods are a modern twist on tradition.

My favourite ingredient is woven wool flannel. I over-dye quite a lot of this myself, which allows me to have exponentially more colour, pattern + texture to work with, but also means that I can work with only the colours I like! Every colour collection begins with selecting the woollen fabrics – typically I’ll gather upwards of 100 different fabrics for each collection. Having a good variety of colours and textures make the work more interesting, and will also help it to adapt as time goes on which is important because I know it’s going to live for a very long time…and people move, paint, acquire new furniture, etc.

For me, the most exciting part is playing with the shapes, colours and patterns of the various fabrics within each design. To ensure I can do this as much as possible, I’m always creating new arrangements for each piece, composing them one at a time to be One Of A Kind. Once I settle on a pleasing composition, I sew all of the pieces together (sometimes over 200 pieces in one cushion!)

For pieces of patchwork that will become cushions or wall art, I free-hand quilt (basically doodling with my long arm machine) on each piece which adds another layer of uniqueness and interesting texture. My long-arm machine is not super-fancy, but it does have a stitch regulator, this keeps the stiches even, and moves the needle in time with my moving of the machine. The faster I ‘doodle’, the faster the needle moves, and the slower I go, the slower the needle moves. You can see the speed of the needle varying in the video below. The designs are not computerized, I just create them as I go, free-hand.

As a result of this process, there really are no duplicates or copies, just original timeless functional pieces for your home. All made with care and attention to detail by me, in my home studio just north of Huntsville, Ontario, Canada.

Here is a video of me quilting on my long-arm;

Tell us why your use of this technique is One Of A Kind!

I combine my own patterns, designs, and techniques with my own hand-dyed wool fabrics to create items that are completely unique and original. I have never seen anything else quite like it before.

With the exception of the odd custom order, everything I’m making is a ‘limited edition of one’. I am composing unique combinations of colour and pattern in each piece I create. Truly One of A Kind!

What is your favourite aspect of being a part of the One Of A Kind community?

It’s definitely the people! I spend much of my time working in isolation, so it’s always lovely to get together with my artist and artisan friends. There is usually something to learn or to share and there is a lot of amazing support within the community.

Do you have any new products we should look out for?

I am currently experimenting with a few new techniques I’ll be incorporating into my work. I plan to introduce these pieces this Fall, so keep an eye out!

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