Law Quilt: A response to Edward James' writing on homosexuality

By Robin Bray-Hurren, MFA student

Law Quilt was a response to some of the materials from the Edward James Archive, where Edward James was writing about homosexuality, morality, and the law, including a description of a friends' experience of police entrapment and subsequent court case in LA in the late 1950s.  

There were so many potential places to take work in response to these texts, but one line particularly stood out, 'from early childhood I was taught the law would be my protector and not my persecutor'. This gave me a focus, and I started gathering the different laws used at that time in the USA that were used to persecute LGBTQ people. It wasn't just sodomy laws, there were laws against cross-dressing, which were used against people of all genders, written material discussing homosexuality was considered obscene and therefore illegal to send by post, and bars could lose their liquor licences for serving LGBTQ people, and vaguely worded laws against disorderly conduct gave police officers ways to harass LGBTQ people out on the street for no real reason other than their visible existence. 

I wanted to make something that could hold my feelings about this part of my community's history in a way that a viewer could approach in their own time, and in a way that evokes empathy. A quilt felt like the right kind of object, it connected with domesticity and North America, and could be something that on the surface appeared entirely comforting. The text printed on the fabric was small, and the patches were carefully worked, hopefully inviting the viewer to come in close and allow enough time for the quilt's emotional undertow to break through the surface.

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Making the quilt

To start off, I prepared striped and plain cotton ticking by coating them with cyanotype solution, which is light-sensitive. I printed acetates with the different laws I wanted to use, and on every bright day I could, put the acetates on the prepared fabric, weighed them down with a sheet of glass, and exposed them in the sun. After leaving them on the balcony for 10 - 30 minutes (brighter days = shorter exposure) I rinsed the fabric in water to wash away the unexposed fluid and fix the cyanotype on the exposed areas. 

Once my fabric was dry, I cut it into pieces - 5x5cm, 5x8cm, and 5x14cm. Each block took 9 pieces, and to create a 1.95m x 1.5m quilt I needed 130 blocks. Because time ran out, I ended up making it a little smaller than intended - 8 blocks wide by 13 long.

The blocks were constructed using English paper piecing, where a paper template is sewn into the fabric pieces, which are hemmed around the template. This keeps each piece accurate, and gives them a little stability making them easier to hold as the pieces are hand sewn together.

Once all the blocks were made, I stitched them into rows, then stitched the rows together to make a complete quilt top.

The quilt top was then made into a "sandwich" with cotton batting in the middle, and wool pinstripe suiting as the backing fabric. This was tacked together, and I sewed binding around the edges. The last stage was sewing a single stitch through the centre of each block and tied each one off - it's the multiple layers of fabric sewn together that makes a quilt, a quilt. 

Once complete, the quilt was shown as part of the 2021 West Dean Fine Art Summer Show, and at the BOUNCE exhibition by Fine Art students at the Copeland Gallery, Peckham.

'Law Quilt' detail. Image courtesy of @inkysloth via Instagram.
'Law Quilt' detail. Image courtesy of @inkysloth via Instagram.
One square of the law quilt
One square of the law quilt
Detail of the Law Quilt
Detail of the Law Quilt
The back of the law quilt
The back of the law quilt
'Law Quilt' detail.
'Law Quilt' detail.
‘Law Quilt’ in-situ at the West Dean Fine Art Summer Show 2021. Photo courtesy of Barney Hindle Photography
‘Law Quilt’ in-situ at the West Dean Fine Art Summer Show 2021. Photo courtesy of Barney Hindle Photography

Coming In

Recently I was contacted by a curator and interior designer, Davy Pittoors, about the quilt's inclusion in an exhibition called Coming In, exploring queer domestic interiors. Seeing it in an expressly Queer setting, on a bed rather than hung, is a very different experience. It becomes a more defiant object, and to me, less painful. I'll be interested to see how else it can be shared in the future.

Poster artwork by Robin Bray-Hurren
Poster artwork by Robin Bray-Hurren
Law Quilt, pictured on display for the COMING IN exhibition.
Law Quilt, pictured on display for the COMING IN exhibition. Image credit Scott Keir.
Law Quilt, pillows. Pictured on display for the COMING IN exhibition. Image credit Scott Keir.
Law Quilt, pillows. Pictured on display for the COMING IN exhibition. Image credit Scott Keir.
Law Quilt, pictured on display for the COMING IN exhibition. Image credit Scott Keir.
Law Quilt, Detail. Pictured at the COMING IN exhibition. Image credit Scott Keir.

Study

The MFA is an advanced two-year full-time masters of fine art designed to further advance student's capacities in practical, theoretical and professional domains, with an emphasis on specialist studio practice. Interdisciplinary practices are encouraged and supported, as well as those focused on a single discipline such as Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, Drawing, Tapestry and Textiles. Students have unrivalled access to fully equipped studios, workshops and facilities making it possible to realise ambitious work.

Find out more about the MFA programme on our next virtual open days, 10th and 24th November.