Artist's Portrait



I grew up surrounded by fabric. My mother taught embroidery, quilting, toy-making and made clothes. I helped build her fabric stash from jumble sales before I ever stitched myself, able to distinguish quality cloth by its feel. My first experiences of fabric were swatches of Liberty Tana Lawn given to me as a toddler from which I refused to be parted. She was always being asked “Does your Margaret Sew?” to which the answer was: "No, but she  loves fabric and is good with colour". I love colour and have excellent colour memory, able to ‘carry’ a colour in my head like others remember tunes or phrases.




Fossil Cliff

Three Journals (2010)

Boats at Pinmill





I have always painted and drawn and studied art to ‘A’ level. I was encouraged to apply to art college but my strong  interest in the environment  and ability in science led to my choice of studying Botany and later, Biotechnology at University ( I could pursue art in my spare time - not the other way round). I have never regretted that decision and have built my career in science while continuing to develop my artistic skills. I consider I have the best of both worlds and have had the privilege of travelling to many places through my work as a scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I think my science background has encouraged me to work in an efficient and methodical way but inquisitive and experimental, always questioning ‘what if?’




Tideline (2009)

Tideline (Detail)

Combined Vistas (Journal Quilts 2009)





When I did eventually start sewing over 30 years ago it was patchwork (that love of fabrics) and my mother  taught me to hand quilt. I loved that - a simple stitch which altered the texture of the cloth and the gentle rhythm so soothing.


From the start I used my own ideas and inspirations rather than following patterns. My biggest project was a bed quilt based on medieval floor tiles. Entirely hand quilted with hand-made batik, it took 7 years to complete! I then moved to making wall quilts based on photos and drawings from travels - it’s very important to me to use my own images and experiences.




Doors (Journal Quilts, 2009)

Tunisian Door (2010)

Painted Doors (2009)





Although I have done several short courses covering a variety of techniques, I am self-taught and have developed through experience a clear sense of what I want to achieve and how I’m doing (I’m my own sternest critic). I admire the quilt of Edrica Hews, Jo Budd, Dorothy Caldwell, Pauline Burbidge, Anne Worringer, Elizabeth Barton, Elizabeth Brimelow, Deidre Adams for imagery, use of fabrics and colour , for stitch as mark-making.  


But I’m probably more influenced by non-textile artwork, going to art galleries and exhibitions as frequently as possible. Current preferences: Ian McKeever, Barbara Rae, Kurt Jackson, Victor Pasmore, Mark Rothko, Gerhard Richter, Nicholas de Stael, Anselm Kiefer.  Perennial favourites: Paul Klee, Pierre Bonnard. What unites most of these is colour and interpretation of landscape in abstract terms.




Rules the Waves (2012)

Rules the Waves (Detail)

Rules the Waves (Sample)





When I go on holiday or travel for work I always take a sketchbook and a small set of watercolours. I also try to go on at least one specific painting holiday a year (this year I  was  painting seascapes in acrylics). For many years these drawings, paintings and to a lesser extent, photographs, have provided the inspiration for my quilts. I attempt to convey the spirit of the places I’ve visited. Even now when I look back through old sketchbooks, I can remember my experiences at the time, what I was doing, who I was with and I hope some of that essence gets distilled into my artwork.




Lunaria (2009)

Rich as Honesty (Detail)

Rich as Honesty (2010)





I love the sea, seascapes and the natural world. Many people are surprised how few plants feature in my quilts considering I am a botanist!  Perhaps it’s because I’m so used to having to draw them accurately that it is too much like work! My quilts based on honesty seed heads were inspired as much by the abstract paintings of Ian McKeever as the plants themselves although the subject matter was from my garden.


 In my earlier works I interpreted sketches in commercial and hand dyed fabrics, silk painting, using fabrics as my palette, often inspired by the fabrics themselves.




Strindberg Shore (2007)

Strindberg Shore (Detail)

More Light and Shadow (2011)





Breakthroughs: in 1997 I acquired a Bernina sewing machine (up until then I’d been using a Singer hand turned machine) opening up opportunities for machine quilting and in 2003 I bought a home computer. At the same time I started making Journal quilts. The small size (A4) encouraged me to  try new things out, like printing on fabric using computer. I’m now in my 10th year of making Journal Quilts - with various challenges I  have made over 200 small quilts!


Marrying and moving house also has had a big influence. I now have the largest bedroom as my studio where in my previous apartment my workspace was in the loft accessible only by a ladder! This means I am more productive, able to make the most of even the smallest amount of time. I’ve also taken over the conservatory  for painting and wet work.




Serifos Storm

Serifos Storm (Detail)

Spring Circles (Journal Quilts 2011)





Having been on a painting course where I was introduced to acrylic paints, I started to think about what if, rather than just being inspired by my sketches, I actually painted on fabric directly. I tested different fabrics and stitching techniques (initially by painting old quilting stitch samples) and  hit on African fabrics, the bolder the better. Painting the ‘peaks’, the ‘troughs’ of the underlying fabrics show through - magic!





Erg Chebbi

Erg Chebbi (Detail)





My preferences :

I enjoy the process and problem-solving as much as the finished piece of work .

Apart from indigo, I’m not that interested in dyeing my own cloth, preferring to ‘Buy , not Dye’. I like to use commercial fabrics (including African, Japanese) in new and unexpected ways and to honour and ‘repurpose’ old textiles such as antique quilts.

I like to alter the surface of cloth with stitch and paint with acrylics. I like to use both machine and hand quilting – they have different qualities.

With paint you can produce a subtlety and precision in colour and form that cannot be achieved in stitch and fabric. Stitched, coloured and textured textile backgrounds are also far more exciting to paint on than canvas or paper - they are unpredictable and responsive, absorb paint differently and I like how glimpses of the fabric show through the paint.


Friends puzzle about why I like to ‘spoil’ a perfectly good quilt with paint. It’s about pushing boundaries and trying to capture sketches and the excitement of drawing in a piece directly rather than interpreting a sketch in fabric. An attempt to maintain that urgency and immediacy that can be lost while working for months in stitch and fabric.





Gythion Glow ("A Thin Blue Line", 2008)

Gythion Glow (Detail)

Bexhill Breakwaters ("Breakthrough", 2010)





Now and the future:

Last year I turned 50 which seems an appropriate time to take stock of what I have achieved and think about what I want to do next. Setting up a website was a useful exercise to review as were some frank discussions with friends.


I have been a member of the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles since 1987 and the Contemporary Quilt specialist group of the QGBI since it started in 2002. I’ve gained a lot from this: ‘summer schools‘ to learn new techniques but primarily exchange of ideas and experiences. I have taken advantage of the challenges and opportunities to exhibit: ‘A Thin Blue Line’ and ‘Breakthrough’. I’m considering starting to enter work for international juried shows although I’m sure I will receive plenty of rejections along the way!  But then, although I have sold a few pieces, as I’m not earning my living from quilts I can afford to be experimental and make work to please myself.




Red Boats (Journal Quilts 2012)

Red Flotsam (2012)

Red Flotsam (Detail)





At the moment my source of inspiration rather than travels abroad is my daily walk into work along the River Thames near Kew Bridge.There are a lot of houseboats and barges  in various states of disrepair revealed as water ebbs and flows according to the tides.

I’ve  made a series of Journal Quilts based on these and also a larger piece ’Red Flotsam’ based on a stick I found on the tow path.


My husband and I have been going on short breaks to Weymouth in a cottage overlooking Portland and our walks and my sketches have influenced my recent works in indigo fabrics. I use both those I’ve dyed myself and from Africa and China in a painterly way – ‘Weymouth Waves’ was accepted for SAQA Wide Horizons III which premiered at St Marie-aux-Mines in 2012. That was very exciting but probably the highlight for me so far in my quilting career was being included with 'Strindberg Shore' in ‘acCent’, an exhibition of UK art quilts at the National Quilt Museum, Paducah, USA.




Weymouth Waves (2012)

Sand Ripples (Journal Quilts 2012)

Wide Horizons (Sample)





On my design wall at the moment are fabrics being auditioned for 2 quilts based on sand ripples and blue doors and I’ll shortly be replenishing my indigo stocks. 



Dear Margaret, thank you so much for your outstanding support!


More info: Margaret's Blog


All photographs by courtesy of the artist.


© Gudrun Heinz & © Margaret Ramsay, September 2012


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