Quilting with Kékfestő
May 22, 2020

By Sue Keene

Clearly no one would even ponder that this red haired, fair skinned, brown eyed person had any Hungarian ancestry. My husband, on the other hand, has people just automatically speak to him in Hungarian when we visit Hungary. But a quilter I am! So when I randomly saw on the internet a pattern called “Hungarian Blue” by Sue Ziplin for clothworkstextiles.com, I thought wouldn’t this be a great project to make for Steve’s 60th birthday?! Little did I know the world of kékfestő cotton that would open up to me! Pattern purchased, but where to buy this glorious fabric. Back to the internet and a search revealed http://www.kekfestocotton.co.uk/ and Gilly Thomson. This was perfect. Of course she did live in England and I in the US so perhaps that might have been a bit of a problem. Undeterred, I emailed – she responded and low and behold we could make this work. She would take my very American pattern and convert it to meters and account for the difference width of kékfestő (36”ish vs. 42”-44” in the US) and send the fabric to me via my cousin who was traveling to the US for our son’s wedding. Order placed. One call from the credit card company verifying that I was really making a purchase in England when clearly I was in the US and things were coming together.

While I waited for this to actually come to fruition, since the wedding was months off, I did some research and fell in love with the fine art of making kékfestő cotton. Check out Gilly’s website as she has wonderful information about the process of making the fabric. The fabric is wonderful – so different from “American” cloth and so many patterns. For those of you who don’t quilt, making a quilt, in simplest terms, is a 2 step process (at least as I view it). The first is designing and piecing the top of the quilt together. The second is creating a stitched design on the top that keeps the back, batting and top together and binding on the edges. I love the designing/piecing part and am not so great at the finishing part. But I have an expert (Sue Bowles https://rimquilting.com/) who does do those things and was willing to actually incorporate some the embroidery motifs from the Lake Balaton region (Hungarian Folk Designs by Anne Szalavary) where Steve’s grandmother was from. I was pleased with the finished product as was Steve.

Our first trip to Hungary had me wanting to now buy fabric at its origin and see it actually being made. I was somewhat successful. Szentendre was a treasure-trove of blue dye fabric. Blue Land Folklor and Kovács Kékfestő Store http://www.kekfestokovacs.hu/ were the places to visit. Magyar Living also has a video from one of their trips to a blue dye workshop HERE!

The owner of Blue Land Folklor was most helpful and accommodating of my total lack of the language. Kovács Kékfestő Store had fabric and a lot of things made from the cloth (clothing, bags etc). I could have filled another suitcase! We also visited the museum in Papa but weren’t successful at connecting with a resource that I could understand and see the fabric being made.

And now to our 2nd and most recent trip to Hungary, this time instead of going solo we traveled with Magyar Living tours (check out our thoughts about the trip HERE). Instead of looking straight ahead all the time, this time I looked up at the roofs of the beautiful buildings – what did I see but a quilt in the making. Hexagons are a block size in quilt making and before my eyes were more than enough ideas to keep me making quilts for years!!

I am happily designing some quilts to create but in the meantime designed a mini project from the Zsolnay roof tiles on the New National Riding Hall at Buda Castle.

If quilting is not your thing, but you can sew with needle and thread, please check out a new website that I just discovered: https://stitchedmodern.com. Sashiko is a Japanese technique but the designer of the Hungary patterns is Seiko Tanizaki. You can read more about Sashiko in this article: https://www.aprilmag.com/2017/07/14/my-embroidered-life-in-transylvania/

I am definitely not an expert but would be happy to share my resources/ideas with anyone who is interested.  

Sue, Keene NH

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