Edrica Huws was a pioneering patchworker whose name does not sit at the forefront of many people’s minds. Her unusual artworks in fabric are relatively unknown. I came across her work quite by chance some years ago and was immediately intrigued and captivated.
Edrica, born in London in 1907, studied at the Royal College of Art (amongst other institutions), specialising in painting. Her early career freelancing was cut short by marriage to Richard, a Welsh artist and sculptor – and the raising of 5 children, during the upheaval of WW2.
But Edrica always harboured a desire to do patchwork and stored increasingly large, and meticulously sorted bags of fabric scraps saved from dressmaking over many, many years. (I think we can all identify with that!). She didn’t begin her explorations into patchwork until 1958, at the age of 51, and, due to her background in painting, challenged herself to produce representational art in fabric. Traditional patchwork did not interest her – in the words of her son, Daniel, she ‘never felt inclined to embark on something which to her was so unchallenging’ !
She found traditional processes restrictive, and preferred to suggest images and ideas in a half-defined manner, inviting the imagination of both the artist and the viewer. Her works are really neither patchwork nor quilts – they consist of only 2 layers of fabric and are more akin to appliqué in construction.
Inspiration came from her drawings and photographs, from which she built sections of the pictures, experimenting with colour, tone and texture, and layering fabrics until she was satisfied. The edge of each piece was then turned, pinned and stitched in place by hand, usually using black, white or red thread. The stitching is often highly visible and quite naive – even messy – in style. She had no issue with the stitches showing, and, indeed, they create another layer of texture and interest to the works.
Her intention was for the works to not look like paintings, but what they actually are – designs made from scraps of fabric. Rules were made to be broken, according to Edrica! She never allowed the grain of the fabric to influence its line or position – she would place a piece the way she thought it looked best.
Important factors in her approach were spontaneity – the way children draw; she liked to work quickly; and the use of tone and colour, considering tone to be more important than colour.
‘To be aware of tone is to be master of your material’. (Edrica Huws)
During a lecture in Japan, she describes creating a green field in the sunlight, where she may choose to use green floral patterns, soft yellows and browns, traces of pink and blue. She found flat expanses of one colour depressing and pointless. The juxtaposition of texture and design fascinated Edrica. Colours and materials that you would never entertain wearing together as clothing, could be just ‘right’ in her patchworks.
Over the years, Edrica’s reputation grew and at an exhibition in Japan in 1998 all the exhibits sold within a week. Edrica was then able to boast that, in her 91st year, she earned more than any other year of her life!
Edrica passed away in 1999, after a fall and broken hip in Paris.
The book of her works that I have in my collection – Edrica Huws Patchworks – Published by Manaman, 2007 – is now very difficult to obtain. I feel fortunate that I managed to source a copy several years ago. Regardless of your preferred style of working, Edrica’s patchworks are worthy of study for the way she uses colour and creates texture, and the humour she brings to her works.
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