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Papercut Quilts | Sarah Battle

Papercut Quilts | Sarah Battle

Can you hear it? The rhythmic snip, snip, snip coming from the studio of Sarah Battle, nestled high up in the attic of an 18th century weaver’s cottage in the West Yorkshire hills. It’s a song that has been singing for many years.

This is a paper-cut artist who has been creating collage-works since her early days at the Royal College of Art in the late 1980’s. Since then she has been cutting a swathe through each decade, creating works for textile designers and a multitude of other products, rarely resting her trusty scissors.

In this collection of work for The Shop Floor, Sarah Battle has applied her processes of collage and paper-cutting to the traditions and culture of quilting. Creating ten Papercut Quilts, each one is full to bursting with the most magical imagery.

Themed around a particular idea, the Paper Quilts are ennobled with titles such as The Quilt of Cleaning (which features brushes, buckets and ladders), The Quilt of Hallmarks, Quilt of Medals, and so on - each one with its' own story.

Some stories recall Sarah's own memories - The Quilt of Matchboxes (below) - for example, "was created after I was given a family collection of matchbox labels, gifted to me by the great-great grandson of the founder of Peek Frean Biscuits.".

Sarah was "attracted by the scope, variety, and oddness of these anonymously made pocket-sized disposable artworks, and inspired by their careful archiving by a keen collector." The fifteen matchbooks on the quilt were the ones that "immediately caught her attention amongst this wealth of graphic imagery.".

Others have more simple inspirations. The Quilt of Assemblage (above), was inspired by "the way traditional quilts are composed, with a scrapbook diversity of images chosen for their instant visual appeal, pieced together into a coherent pattern on the shared plane", and has "no obvious relationship between the motifs, other than the pleasure of their appearance." 

The motifs that populate the ‘quilts’ are a kaleidoscopic array of objects, ranging from domestic everyday items to the eccentric and extraordinary. 

The Quilt of Cleaning (above), "celebrates the art of cleaning and the utensils and equipment associated with this domestic activity. They play a vital role in the daily upkeep of the home and are often tidied away themselves. They are items of enduringly simple design, whose elegant functionality is rather taken for granted."

Sarah’s scope is broad; from medals to tin toys, ladders, caterpillars, garden cloches with rows of lettuce, matchboxes, eggs in their nests and even a feather duster.

When asked for the story behind The Quilt of Medals (below), Sarah explains "This cutout was done to celebrate the tradition of medal-giving and wearing, across a range of scenarios including military, civic, sporting and recreational events. Whether it is just one or a glittering tunic-full, medals have an evocative impact. Some remain valued as tokens of achievement and of memory, while others survive when their background stories are lost."

Individual motifs are precisely positioned within the geometry of the quilt, creating juxtapositions and visual discourses across and around the shared surface.

A wonderfully interesting use of precise positioning, The Quilt of the Garden (below) actually "uses the layout of a formal Victorian garden to frame a collection of trusted and essential garden implements." - Sarah explains. "These humble hand-tools instigate and propagate an environment of constructed beauty and carefully nurtured nature." 

This idea of collecting, grouping, or placing objects in a particular way is something Sarah investigates within her work, be that personal collections, books or the Pinterest feeds of others - as explained by Sarah in the story behind The Quilt of Pinterest (below):

"Pinterest has become a digital scrapbook for me. It is a treasure house of subject-strands and a rich repository for the discovery and collection of images that are eventually re-crafted in my work. It has changed the way that I create and compose my compositions."

With a background in printmaking and textile design, Sarah often combines these disciplines with drawing, painting, stencilling, lino printing, etching and, of course, paper-cutting.

There is a graphic sensibility within Sarah’s work. It comes from a love of print, typefaces and advertising and from the material she has collected. Boxes and boxes of collected ephemera containing anything from old handwritten cheques, envelopes (a favourite is the printed security linings from bank envelopes), old tickets, adverts and receipt books.

The vintage collector's eye Sarah yields for her own pieces is mirrored in her inspiration, too. The Quilt of Caldwell (above), for example, "is inspired by one of my favourite Instagram sites, @shopcaldwells. Heather Caldwell specialises in small objects of crafted delicacy, intricacy, and vintage style, each thoughtfully presented with her distinctive collector’s eye. The objects are often irresistible to me and demand to be collaged."

Sarah says that “incidental patterns occur from the snippets of old receipt books, unexpected textures arise from the dotted tones of early commercial printing while fragments of letterpress, typographic and hand-written words add text to the texture”.

This can be seen in the old handwriting from a letter that scrolls across a cat’s back or a cockerel's feathers, or in the way a fragment of calligraphy is used to suggest the tail of a squirrel.

It is this discarded ephemera of our daily lives, cut up and reassembled in the same way as fabric scraps are used in textile quilting, that Sarah is breathing new life into - like in The Quilt of Birds, Insects and Two Squirrels; for example - "a classic quilt layout bordered with stencilled leaves and embellished with familiar garden visitors in the colourful form of British birds plus two bonus squirrels and some inquisitive bugs."

Just as a quilt is finished, each collage is finished with borders, lacy or geometric, and hundreds of tiny white dots run along edges, seams and sides to suggest the stitches which darn the entire collection together.

These are objects that give instant pleasure, but entice us to look closer. Like exploring the interior of a dollhouse, scale becomes distorted, details shrunken down so a caterpillar is as big as a chair and a watering can bigger than a dove. 

Look closely at The Quilt of Hallmarks (above) and see a paper quilt "composed of hallmarks and silver marks gleaned from an out of print book, Poincons d’or et de Platine. These small, decorative and graphically inventive marks remain unnoticed unless seen through a magnifying glass or jeweller’s loupe, yet tell so much about other lives, trades, places and times." 

It’s a magical world, full of joyful details and surprising fragments.

  • Post author
    Caitlin Daw