A collection of quilts made by students in Hillary Fayle’s “Introduction to Textiles” will do more than warm your body—they just might warm your soul, too.
In the Craft/Material Studies class, Fayle aims to teach a range of techniques like felting wool; spinning yarn for knitting, crocheting, and more complex woven structures like tapestries; and dyeing, cutting, sewing and embellishing fabric.
Anne Ryan, a sculpture student, enrolled in the course to build on her own understanding of materials. “I think learning how to form shapes and forms in fabric is so different than any other material,” she says. “It poses its own set of challenges. By knowing how to manipulate and deal with different types of materials and processes, it helps in the future to aid in the development of conceptual ideas.”
While piecing and quilting have always been a component of the class, Fayle decided to expand the skill into a larger group project in order to challenge students and support community building. During a five-week group project, students learned the difference between knits and woven fabrics, and between synthetic and natural fibers. They experienced how fabrics behaved when sewn on a machine, or how they took dye. Then, each group designed and created a quilt, from cutting shapes and stitching them together, to adding batting and backing and hand-stitching the binding to secure the edges.
“Making a quilt is a huge undertaking,” Fayle says “but they all went above and beyond.”
Carrie Collier, a student in the class, says her group used a combination of hand-drawing and computer-based visualization to create their design based on a detail of a tartan pattern, rotated 45 degrees. They used a synthetic indigo dye bath for parts of the quilt top—made of upcycled fabric and scraps—and applied thinner strips of pink and mustard over the top.
“My group wanted to make something that looked contemporary—versus traditional—while maintaining a high standard of hand-craftsmanship,” Collier says.
At the end of the semester, the quilts were mounted in an exhibition at the Anderson. But unlike many projects, students didn’t take them home when the class was over. Instead, the seven quilts were donated to the palliative care unit at VCU’s Massey Cancer Center.
Collier says knowing how the quilts would be used also helped her stay connected to the project while juggling other work and priorities. “I had a greater sense of purpose and accountability to this project based on my awareness that the quilt was going to make it out into the word for real use,” she says. “I wanted it to be both aesthetically and functionally valuable to whoever received it.”
The planned end use also led to a number of conversations about the meaning of quilts and what the patients might be experiencing.
“Although using our art as presents to people we know is great, I think using our work for a greater purpose is even more rewarding,” Ryan says. “This project breaks through [the barrier] between us students and the greater Richmond community.”
Fayle adds, “We talked about how powerful quilts can be as a way to bring together ideas, memories, fragments from another time, from people we love into the something much greater than any of those individual pieces. As the pieces are brought together to create the quilt, so are the makers.”