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From my Sketchbook: The Strawberry Thief...

I've written before about my love for everything Art's & Crafts, including William Morris's textile designs. The iconic Strawberry Thief print was one of his favourites. It captures Morris's observation of thrushes feasting on the strawberries in his garden at Kelmscott Manor and includes fruit, foliage, flowers and, of course, those playful birds. The design has been recoloured and reprinted constantly over the last century on every kind of fabric from thick upholstery linen to fine Tana lawn, as well as quilting cotton.


Image from the William Morris Gallery


Given that I love designing bird blocks, often include leaves and flowers in my designs and was about to start piecing a quilt full of strawberries, the temptation to combine all of those elements to pay homage to this evergreen print was irresistible.


Today's Quilter had some help with their photo shoot...


As well as being inspired by nature, Morris was passionate about the use of natural dyes. It took him the best part of a decade to master the complex technique of dyeing with indigo, using it for the first time on The Strawberry Thief, which prompted my choice of a rich, deep blue background - Makower's Linen Texture in bluestone - for my quilt.


Some alternative colourways that I considered


Ironically, as Morris was perfecting his natural indigo dye, German chemist Adolf von Baeyer was exploring the creation of synthetic indigo which eventually lead to its industrial production and the ubiquity of blue denim, but has also brought us so many affordable blue fabrics to sew with.


Assembly: wouldn't those columns look wonderful on the leading edge of curtains?


I pieced the birds, leaves, flowers and fruit with a combination of prints from Moda Fabrics' Best of Morris Spring and Fall collections in order to get the range of colours I needed, most of them from Cottonpatch which always has a good selection of Morris & Co. fabric. The Arts & Crafts movement also championed the appreciation of handwork so, after machine-piecing my quilt top, I knew I really had to hand quilt it. I chose a simple trellis pattern which was also a nod to another iconic design.


Trellis from the William Morris Gallery


Marking quilting lines on dark fabric can be tricky, but a friend recommended the Sewline Click chalk pencil which worked beautifully. I then stitched with my favourite Gutermann waxed quilting thread in a matching indigo blue (colour 5322), which had its moments in the fading light of November!


I debated whether to add more touches of embroidery to this quilt - strawberry stems, legs & feet for the birds - but ultimately I wanted to interpret The Strawberry Thief in patchwork and, with the exception of eyes for the birds, decided to let the piecing sing.



As luck would have it Free Spirit Fabrics reprinted The Strawberry Thief as an extra wide backing fabric (I bought mine at Quilt Sandwich) and I bound my quilt in the inky Blackthorn print from Best of Morris Fall.

Photo credit: Today's Quilter


I have started to sketch this design so many times...but the composition always eluded me. I'm glad I persevered though, because studying Morris's beautiful design - particularly the intricacies of the pattern repeat - has been a real joy and making this quilt a labour of love. You can find it in issue 73 of Today's Quilter which goes on sale today.


I am grateful to the William Morris Society for their advice when I was designing this quilt. The society is a treasure trove of information and inspiration and they have a wonderful website for you to explore here. I have to confess that I've not quite got Arts & Crafts textiles out of my system and will have another quilt to share with you later this year ;-)


Nicola xx

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