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Quilt artisan Mary Kennedy

Three years ago, American Mary Kennedy moved to Derry, Northern Ireland, for love and marriage to Billy Elliott. And, in turn, Kennedy, a former mental-health therapist, brought her love of quilting to the Emerald Isle. But it wasn’t until she moved across the pond she actually learned about the craft.

American artist and quilter Mary KennedyQuilting tradition takes root in American artist Mary Kennedy

“I come from a long line of quilters,” explains Kennedy. “I had been collecting quilting books all my life and in earnest for about 10 years, but I never had time to do the quilting. I enrolled in two quilting classes shortly after moving to Derry at Mission Hall Quilts. One of my quilting teachers was starting a newsletter/magazine and because I also had a background in graphic arts, I helped her do the layout. I continued to do quilts and started doing samples for her magazine.”

This past February, Kennedy, who is also a respected painter, had her first art show in the United Kingdom, at the Eden Place Art Centre, featuring her quilt pieces. Kennedy’s quilt The Lady Bridge, about women who build bridges between the Loyalist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland, is currently on display at Derry’s City of Culture offices. Derry was recently selected by the European Union as the City of Culture in 2013.


Kennedy's quilt The Lady Bridge is currently on display at Derry's City of Culture officies in Northern Ireland. From student to teacher: Kennedy’s love of quilting comes full circle

There has been interest from other galleries and venues that want to feature her works — both her traditional, original designs and Kennedy’s modern art quilts [delicate pieces using different and ornate techniques together].

She says it’s like painting with fabric, meant for hanging on the wall, rather than draped on a bed. In response to this interest, Kennedy is in the process of setting up her own Derry-based quilting company called Merry Derry Designs. In addition, at the end of October, she’ll be back teaching where she first learned the craft, at Mission Hall Quilts.

Kennedy uses American quilting techniques, such as Stained Glass Windows, in many of her pieces.

Old fashioned art form receives modern makeover from younger generations

Although, to many, quilting is an old fashioned art form, Kennedy is seeing a lot of younger people taking up the craft and adapting modern and geometric designs and new techniques like curve piecing, where you cut the fabric in curves and then sew it together. She says it’s not your grandma’s quilting anymore.

“I think because of the international communications, there is a lot similarity in quilting in the United Kingdom and the United States,” says the artisan.

“However, there are techniques used in America not commonly used in Ireland. I am often back to America and am in contact with American quilters, I utilize and pass on Ireland techniques like Stained Glass Windows — a style that combines piecing, appliqué and, believe it or not, pieced Celtic Knotwork, designed by an American. My designs are from an American perspective so it makes my work a little different in Ireland.”

To purchase a Merry Derry Design quilt or book Mary Kennedy’s quilt exhibit, email missionahallquilts or call 784-605-1295.

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