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Pictorial Quilts

Time to introduce another talented member of my family! This is my sister Carol Swinden, who creates amazing pictorial quilts. Like fibre paintings, these are quilts that hang on the wall. Her style is realism, and some of them indeed look almost like photographs. The quilts are made up of many different types of fabric, thread, and other materials from cheesecloth to dryer lint.

With a background encompassing all manner of visual arts, needlework and more, Carol’s interest in quilting was sparked in 2005. Since then she has been earning recognition and awards for her quilts. Her inspiration for images comes from magazines, books, photos, or from simply looking out her windows. She shares her latest creations, as well as snippets of her life in a 100-year-old farmhouse on Prince Edward Island, on her blog, A Pictorial Quilter’s Journey.

Carol’s quilts portray a wide variety of subjects from cars to tropical scenes… “whatever catches my eye and causes me to think ‘that might make a great quilt!’ If the excitement isn’t there, the quilt usually doesn’t work out.”

A neighbouring Prince Edward Island farm

What is your favourite part of the process?

The creation of the image in fabric. I have often got to this point and then the quilt sits for a long time before I decide to get to the mundane task of putting a backing on and blocking and sewing the binding, sleeve, and label. Even the stitching can take a while to get to – sometimes because I am afraid to ruin what looks like a wonderful quilt top. One of my best, “Reflections” (the front of a 1959 Cadillac) took a year to get to the stitching and binding.


Do you have a favourite tool or gadget?

I would be nowhere without my free-motion sewing machine foot. I also like my Supreme Slider; a vinyl sheet that goes over the bed of my machine so that fabrics slide easily. As far as fabrics, I use a LOT of tulle and organza. They make wonderful shadows because you can see through them to the fabric underneath.

What is your working space like?

Right now I am using a spare room. There is no bed in it so I have some space, but not nearly enough. I work on quilts during the day if the sun is not beating in… I don’t like drawing the curtains, so it gets beastly hot in the summer! I have a table in front of my windows and my sewing machine sits there, and a cabinet that my dad made, which I covered with ironing board material, that’s my ironing table. I have an antique dresser full of quilts and a design wall. There is a shelving unit with baskets full of fabrics for landscapes: one basket for sky fabric, one for water, trees, leaves, wood, etc. The closet holds shelves of books and magazines as well as more fabric: plain, batik, tulle, organza, etc.

What achievement are you most proud of?

I was invited to teach at the 2010 Out of Heart and Hand a four-day quilt retreat in 2010 in Cambria, California, along with Velda Newman and Katie Pasquini Mausopast who are both well-known pictorial quilters. Also in 2010 my quilt ‘Reflections’ won a Judge’s Choice award at the Canadian National Juried Show and a Grand Prize in a show in Michigan, and was featured in the International Quilter magazine in 2011. It may be on the cover of another quilt magazine coming up!

Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

What’s coming up next?

I have lots of ideas for quilts and hope to keep them coming. I have one that has just been completed…’Celise’ (a picture of one of my granddaughters)…that has been accepted into the Canadian National Juried show this year (2012) in Halifax. I will be at the show and look forward to seeing it there.


Carol is available for teaching and trunk shows. You can see more of her quilts in her online gallery, including some that have patterns available for purchase.

All images courtesy of Carol Swinden