How to Quilt with Found and Recycled Fabric According to Chris English

Today we’re speaking with Chris English, a quilt maker based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in the UK. Chris makes his quilts from predominantly found and recycled fabric. He loves shopping at flea markets for fabrics to use in his work. You can follow along with his work on his Instagram @afullenglish, where he shares videos on IGTV about his techniques and philosophy. Chris was also recently featured in the new Uppercase book, Quilted. Welcome, Chris!

FGF: Can you tell us a bit about how you use found and recycled fabrics in your quilts?
CE: I really use found and recycled fabric the way I would any fabric. I have a couple of approaches and it depends on the fabric. I use my crumb block method where I sew scraps to strips of fabric and repeat that process and gradually create improv blocks, these are then joined together to create a larger piece of fabric. At the moment I cut these into six-inch blocks that I use to create a quilt. I’ve also been getting into nine-patch quilts lately. I’ve made one from old jeans and an old bedsheet, and I’ve made another from overalls and a recycled plaid shirt.
FGF: How do you source the fabrics that you use in your quilts? 
CE: I love using fabric I find at flea markets and charity/goodwill shops, this gives me the chance to see colours and prints I wouldn’t usually see, and helps to recycle fabric. My overalls quilt (below) is a good example of merging crumb blocks and recycled overalls. I also get a lot of my fabric from work colleagues who now know I quilt and bring me their worn-out work clothes.
FGF: How did you realize that quilting was the best medium of artistic expression for you?
CE: I fell in love with quilting when I realised I could combine all the things I love doing: working with colour and pattern, recycling fabric, hunting for fabric, making something useful and practical, and sharing my work. I’ve exhibited at the UK Festival of Quilts, and also locally to where I live. I love making quilts for people and my son always gets a quilt at Christmas. He’s 16, so wants clothes and beer, but I think one day he’ll appreciate them.
FGF: What would you say has the greatest influence on your work?
CE: I’ve always loved print, pattern, and colour. I get my inspiration from lots of sources, but in particular, I love street art (QuiltCon in Austin was amazing for this). I love the way colours and images become weathered and overlay each other. I want my blocks to feel like this, and try to create texture through mixing in hand and machine quilting plus appliqué and I’ve recently started using decolourant paste to create new textures.
FGF: How does your philosophy of upcycling work its way into the rest of your life?
CE: While I do still occasionally buy new fabric, my default approach is to see what I already have or can find. I now also take this approach to my clothing, as well, and get most of my ‘new’ clothes from vintage shops or the flea market. I’ve always loved collecting various things and definitely think vintage is best.
I love gifting the quilts I make, and I make them to be used, in the summer they are cooler than a duvet and in the winter a couple of extra quilt layers means I can turn the heating down. Quilting provides a creative release for me, and my favourite part is choosing fabric and creating exciting combinations of fabrics. I enjoy teaching and doing trunk shows and hope to inspire people to try using recycled fabric and to just have a go at using what they have. Necessity is the mother of invention after all!
FGF: What’s next for you and your work?
CE: I have recently started to run a vintage clothing stall at my local flea market. I enjoy sourcing the clothes, and I’m fine if they don’t sell; either I’ll wear them, or they’ll end up in a quilt. My long-term plan is to have a business selling stuff I make, like quilts, but I’m also starting to experiment with making my own beard oil. Four months in lockdown mean it’s grown a bit out of control…
In the last couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to go to QuiltCon. I had an amazing time seeing the beautiful quilts and meeting quilt friends. I loved Nashville and Austin as well, and would love to go back and teach in the US.

Thank you for sharing your work and your process with us, Chris! For more on Chris, visit his website and follow him on Instagram.

Want more artist interviews? Check out Manifesting Your Creative Dreams with Heidi Parkes and Meet Pattern Designer Megan Collins.

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