Sandra Newton was the winner of the Miniature Quilts Category with her beautiful piece ‘Embrace This Day’. Learn how a tough year personally for Sandra led to her producing this wonderful piece of work and get some top tips for being successful in The Festival of Quilts Quilting Competition from someone who has done it before.

Have a read of what she had to say in our exclusive interview  and find out more about the process of producing a competition winning quilt.

Embrace this day
Sewing has been my sanity

My miniature quilt ‘Embrace this day’ was a contemplation on what had been a tough year for a number of people in my life and how I could not take away their pain however much I wished I could. I found it hard to think of any other theme I could work to when this was forefront in my life last winter going into spring. As I say in the piece, my response to all the sorrow was to lace up my boots and walk, trying to lose myself in a moment here and there, embracing the day… embracing the moment.

I have entered the festival of quilts each year since I finished my City & Guilds Diploma in 2012. I always enter the miniature competition as I enjoy creating one piece a year on a different scale. Sometimes I enter the guild challenge if I find the theme inspires me and occasionally other categories such as Art last year where my piece ‘Roam’ won the second prize.

Like most people I did a couple of projects as a girl – a mosaic tea cosy and a beanbag – from recycled dress fabrics.  I started for real in 2007 and studied City & Guilds with Barbara Weeks from 2008 to 2012, winning the gold medal for stitched textiles that year, awarded 2013.

I have found that whatever it is I am working on, I have to be able to express it in words, and then I can connect with the theme of the work more powerfully. In my current series ‘Fabric of Life’, for an exhibition with my friends in Threaded Together, I was inspired by the words that have woven themselves through my life at key points. These come from texts I have studied, songs I have sung and danced to, books I have read and poems that have entranced me.

My fabric is usually screenprinted and monoprinted with procion dyes. I use text in the printing and embellishment through raw edge applique and stitch. Usually I combine machine and hand quilting as I like the variety of work and the texture this brings.

I get asked about tools for my miniature work: I use Kai N5100 fine embroidery scissors and sometimes a Swann Morton scalpel for the applique. Also, almost always for cutting and hand or machine stitch I use a hands free magnifying glass that goes round my neck. It is a hard labour of love, making a miniature – lavishing up to 200 hours on a small piece of fabric less than 12 inches square. It is physically demanding and I need pauses for rest to complete it.

Generally, I use a classic mechanical sewing machine from Pfaff that I bought in 2004. My tip is – keep your machine serviced, cleaned, oiled and change your needles regularly. I think many home sewers have pushed their machines hard during lockdown on community sewing and have learned the hard way about caring for their machine.

My current series ‘Fabric of Life’ with  ‘Threaded Together ‘should have been on display at the Forge Mill Needle Museum in Redditch in April and May. I am now working towards an exhibition with ‘Voices in Cloth’ to be exhibited in Guildford Cathedral in 2022.

 Like many quilters, I have been spending a lot of my time in lockdown on community sewing projects – scrubs bags for our local hospital, scrubs for the colleagues of my parents’ neighbour and masks for family, friends and neighbours in the village I live in. This helped a lot, especially in the first few weeks which were so overwhelming when I wanted to do something however small to respond. So I have set aside my quilting for the last 2 months.

Also like many home sewers I am struggling for supplies.  I am trying to support our local haberdashery shops and their new online operations but I may not be able to get all the thread I need to complete work for this year’s festival but I would hope I could enter something.

It led to an opportunity to talk about my work on local radio which was a new experience and a bit of a challenge without the visual prompt of my work ! On a practical level, the prize from the miniature and my second prize with ‘Roam’ in the Art quilt category helped me replace my boiler and thermostat in September. Winter was much more comfortable.