One of the pleasures of visiting quilt shows (apart from the eye-candy quilts and shopping opportunities) is the chance to meet up with friends and acquaintances. I have always enjoyed chatting to Hildegard Braatz and as her quilt It’s Summertime! was juried into Quilt 2003, it seemed a good opportunity to get to know her better. Hildegard Braatz has been a familiar figure in the suppliers’ section of many British exhibitions together with her friend Ursula Schmidt-Troschke. Coming from Germany, they sold beautiful and unusual hand-marbled and dyed fabrics. Looking at their materials, which included little boxes of colour coordinated 5cm squares of silk and cotton, was rather like being in a sweet shop. I always needed to buy ‘just one more’. It seemed an ideal friendship, Ursula expertly dyed the fabric and paper and Hildegarde made it into eye-catching quilts and jewellery.
 
Nine Patch I
Nine Patch I, 46 x 43cm A combination of very old lace fragments and hand-dyed fabric. Hand quilted/embroidered
 
Although she does not come from a family with a quiltmaking tradition, one of her favourite aunts, Hanna, was a very talented beader and embroiderer. Aunt Hanna did not teach Hildegard to sew but it is obvious looking at her quilts that the early influence from that artistic aunt stayed somewhere in the background of her creative development.

A Patchwork Dream

There is a tradition of quiltmaking in Germany but not of patchwork, so when, from time to time, Hildegard saw pictures in magazines she was drawn to the idea of piecing, imagining that someday she would learn the technique but the idea stayed a daydream. Many years later, in the 1980s, when she was living in Brussels, an opportunity arose to take lessons from a visiting Canadian quilter. Donnaleen Vlossak had a strong quilting tradition in her family and gave Hildegard and a small group of friends a very thorough grounding in the craft. Over five years they met once a week and with the influence of her fellow students she learned of the possibilities that the craft offered, not only from Canadian traditions but from many other countries too.
 
We always have a special place in our hearts for our first quilt, laboured over with such ambitions and Hildegarde’s hexagon wallhanging, made just for fun, surprised her by winning a prize in a local Brussels competition. Later it was sold.
 
Hide & Seek IHide & Seek II
Left: Hide & Seek I, 112 x 112cm Classic, 2.5cm squares with contrasting colours and values of hand-marbled fabrics in dark and light values. Some squares are filled with beads. Machine quilted with invisible thread
Right: Hide & Seek II 116 x 116cm Hand-marbled fabrics in dark and light, monochromes enlivened with sparks of dark red and golden yellow. Some squares are filled with beads. Machine quilted with invisible thread
 
Over the years Hildegard has taken classes with European and American teachers such as Elizabeth Bush, Anne Johnston and Sylvia Einstein, but came to realise that she wanted to explore her own ideas and not clone the work of her teachers. She does not like to think of herself as an art quilter but simply one who makes original work and she has developed, through her wallhangings, an identity for herself.

An individual style

Hildegard’s quilts do not carry provocative or demanding messages but her enchanting use of lace and red fabrics has a very feminine touch. She says that she is prompted to make a piece from a need to sew or perhaps to create from a special or beloved piece of material. Her quilts are composed of a wide variety of materials, from paper to lace, hand-dyed fabrics (often from Ursula) or textured with embroidery.
 
Sometimes a competition theme will strike a chord and an image will present itself. Other times a combination of colours and fabrics will seem perfect and the design comes easily. At the outset she seldom has the full quilt worked out in her mind but occasionally she does make samples to test a technique.
 
Hildegard finds starting a piece a most exciting time but the most satisfying is when it is obvious that the whole textile is coming together without tricky or visual problems – as she says ‘You can never be sure . . . you have to see it’.
 
Behind the FenceFlowers
Left: Behind the Fence, 30 x 30cm Black lace and white silk. Hand quilted
Right: Flowers, 30 x 30cm Old lace fragments, with hand-dyed fabric, embellished with some beads. Hand quilted
 
She does not use complicated techniques and loves to hand quilt. One of my favourites, Singing in the Rain, is a good example of how some quilts are a joy to spend long hours working on. Quiltmaking is often a solitary occupation and the relationship between a quilt and its creator can be so deep that at the end we feel a sense of regret that there will be no more connection with it. For that reason Hildegard can even hesitate to finish a piece. We are often asked how long a quilt has taken and it is hard to give an accurate account but we agree that a normal week would be three to four days and many, many, long nights!

A Quilting Career

Hildegard teaches occasionally. She has developed two workshops, one designed for students who would like to learn how to be creative with marbled fabrics the other is for playing around with lace on quilts. She belongs to a couple of groups, one small (about eight members) and another much larger.
 
Paper Stories
Paper Stories, 58 x 58cm. Sewn with handmade Nepal paper: nine appliquéd small robes and fabric pieces on the washing line. Hand quilted
 
I asked her if it had ever occurred to her that there might be some kind of career in quilting and she replied with a laugh, ‘No, never!’. However, she started entering competitions seriously around 1995 and says, very modestly, that she has been successful from time to time. She likes the discipline of working to a deadline and also when her work is accepted it gives her an opportunity to judge her position within the quilt community. Readers may remember her piece It’s Summertime!, which was on show in Quilt 2003 at The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham.
 
Asked whom she admires, she mentioned the colour combinations of Marylinne Colliaud from Switzerland, Cherylin Martin living in Holland and Cherilyn Tyler from England for their wonderful stitching and embroideries as well as the rhythmic quilting of Ruth Eissfeldt from Germany. She says that when she sees their stunning work in exhibitions it always makes her want to go home and make gorgeous creations of her own!
 
It’s Summertime!
It’s Summertime! 72 x 120cm. An arrangement of many, many tiny snippets, beads, threads, small embroideries (made long ago). Appliquéd by hand and machine, combined with embroidery. Machine quilted
 
Her personal ambitions for the future are to develop working in a simple but formal graphic way, and also to explore the other side of her creative personality, which is her love of playing with even the tiniest snippets. As to her own philosophy towards life, I think we can all agree with her, that craft should be a must for everyone as an escape from the struggle of daily life.
 
I inquired if Hildegard had any advice for us all and she said, ‘Quilts should be made first from the bottom of your soul, they should be made with love, in the best way you can manage and you should be in love with your work until the last centimetre (or inch) is quilted. After this, you should, maybe, think of entering it into competitions and exhibitions.’
 
Thank you, Hildegard, it was, for me a great pleasure to discover a little more about you and have a chance to share and admire your lovely work.

Hildegard’s website can be found at www.quiltware.de

First published in Popular Patchwork May 2004