Diana Harrison is a renowned textile artist who has a quilt on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition Quilts 1700 to 2010. She has been quilting, spraying and printing since the early 70s.
Diana studied embroidery at Goldsmiths’ College under Constance Howard in the late 60s, when the idea of textiles as art was only just beginning. She first started quilting in the early 70s as a textile student at the Royal College of Art. She stitched together layers of wadding and spray-dyed fabric. This gave the cloth substance and enhanced the three dimensional illusions of her designs.
When she left college, Diana Harrison worked in a studio at 401½ Wandsworth Road in London with a group of aspiring crafts people. “I produced spray-dyed and quilted cloth which I made up into bedspreads, cushions, hangings and upholstery. I used a surprising amount of colour at the time,” reflects Diana.
Diana moved her studio to her home in the early 80s, and dedicated the largest room in the house to become her ‘sanctuary’, it still remains so today. “Life became the usual juggling act of children, a teaching job, and very precious ‘me’ time in the studio. My work then, as now is usually in response to an exhibition spurring me on and producing useful deadlines to focus on.”
Diana’s textiles have been exhibited internationally for many years; several pieces are now in museum collections. In 2007 she had her first solo exhibition in ‘GalleryGallery’ Kyoto. She has twice won the prestigious Coats Quilt prize at the Festival of Quilts in 1999 and 2005 and a silver award for contemporary quilts in the 7th Quilt Nihon Exhibition, Tokyo.
Diana’s inspiration comes from experimenting with layers of different cloth, dyes and stitch. She combines these techniques to create a whole new textile quality which is screen printed over to produce another change of surface.
“My starting points come through sketching, photography and collecting, responding to the tactile and surface qualities of ‘things’. Often discarded bits can intrigue me, even an old discarded cigarette packet in the road. Most recently the surfaces and structure of a box, opened out, flattened and weathered have provided the inspiration for my pieces in the V&A Quilts exhibition,” she explains.
The textiles that Diana really admires, but could never be imitated, are the old ‘Boro’(rags) covers made in Japan from indigo cloth, and patched over years of use and reuse out of a need for warmth and limited resources. Says Diana, “The restricted colour palette (shades of indigo) and the composition being formed by the process interest me, as does the function and human expression evident in the un-designed qualities of the pieces.”
In addition to working as a textile artist, Diana Harrison has taught textile design for many years at the University for the Creative Arts at Farnham. She explains one of her favourite techniques doesn’t come without its risks, so don’t try this at home unless you know what you are doing. “Whilst my students are introduced to ‘discharge printing’ (a method of bleaching out a dyed cloth with screen printing) there are health and safety issues that make it unsuitable for use in the home. So although I love the effects achieved when mixed with quilting, I don’t necessarily advise others to get hooked on the process unless with a mask, well ventilated room and away from others.”
As for materials, years of experimenting have informed her interesting choices... “I do use polyester thread on silk fabric, because the polyester does not bleach out and a black stitched line is left like a drawing on the cloth after the bleaching process. Coats Duet 100% polyester is ideal.”
If you’d like to view Diana’s work, you can see the quilts above, plus many other fascinating contemporary and historic quilts, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition Quilts 1700 to 2010 runs until 4th July 2010.