Alycia Smith-Howard: Joanna finds a patch to treasure

PUBLISHED: 01:17 08 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:31 20 February 2013

Alycia Smith-Howard: Joanna finds a patch to treasure

Alycia Smith-Howard: Joanna finds a patch to treasure

Warwickshire is a craft-lovers haven, as Alycia Smith-Howard discovers

"Anything thats mended is but patchd." Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

Recently, I finished a patchwork quilt I have been hand-sewing for years. It has been so long, I honestly cannot recall when I first started the project - 2005? 2003? Goodness knows! One things certain - I did not quilt while living in NYC. There are, of course, quilters and knitters in Manhattan; I lived around the corner from a noted "knitting cafe". However, NYC failed to inspire the right mood. I need peace and quiet to spur me on.

Jane Austen is the literary patron saint of quilters. In 1811, she wrote to her sister: "My dear Cassandra, have you remembered to collect pieces for the Patchwork? - We are now at a standstill."

Fortunately, the quilt mentioned was completed, and is now on display at Chawton House, Hampshire. As a fellow needlewoman, I am just as impressed by this creation, as I am by Austens literary ones. Janes quilt is a complex, diamond-shaped maze of 64 different fabrics. Completed all by hand, without electricity!

By comparison, my efforts seem modest indeed: a simple, two fabric, block patchwork.

Nonetheless, like Austen, I found myself at a standstill. With my D.E.B.s rellies coming to be our first houseguests, I was desperate for my quilt to be finished in time for their visit.

Thankfully, Warwickshire is a craft-lovers haven, and help was close at hand. Local artisan, Joanna Smith-Ryland came to my rescue, saved my quilt from disaster, and shared with me the story of her passion for patchwork:

How did you come to your art?

JSR: As a child, I was fortunate enough to have a nanny who was a brilliantly creative seamstress. I was always amazed at how she would take bits of fabric and turn them into something that people loved. At boarding school, I found a wonderful tradition of creative sewing in the Art Department. I loved the embroidery techniques we were taught. At 12, I was introduced to Patchwork - herein lay my academic down fall! I became obsessed with creating Patchwork designs on graph paper, carefully cutting each little shape out, tacking the fabric onto the shape and sewing the pieces together. Slowly, this wonderful rainbow of colours and textures would evolve into a new piece of fabric, cushions and quilts appeared at an alarming rate as my schoolwork regressed at an equally alarming rate.

What inspires you?

JSR: My inspiration has always been the beauty of the world around me, so my first three collections reflect nature. "The Garden Collection" is designed in soft pastel colours embroidered with flowers and butterflies, while "The Jewel Collection" has strong, rich colours and semi-precious stones. "The Big Cat Collection" uses silk and soft fur - Tigers and leopards abound.

What is the greatest challenge in your art?

JSR: My challenge is to let people share my passion by making Patchwork that will become a family "treasure" and passed on to future generations. Whether its a cushion, quilt, or tablecloth each piece is bespoke and made in my own workshop - a treasure for you to keep and enjoy.

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