Profile of Marilyn Pretorius

Profile of Marilyn Pretorius

Ever since I can remember, I was intrigued by sewing and I always watched my mom busy at the sewing machine. It was a very proud moment for me when I made a dress for her when I was about 14!   I was over the moon with my 21st birthday present from my parents - an 807 Bernina Minimatic! What a wonderful machine! This little machine has been described as an “extension of my arm” and is still going after 36 years…

I started quilting in 1984, initially doing all the traditional techniques by hand. I began teaching patchwork, applique, quilting and embroidery from home in 1988, mainly to make new friends when we were transferred to another town due to my husband’s job. I have no formal art training, but learnt by trial and error! I started designing my own quilts in 1989. I attended one workshop to date, Madeira Machine Embroidery by Lorraine Steenberg in 1994. This opened a whole new world for me as it introduced me to free motion work.

I started dabbling with Ndebele designs in 1992 as I needed a new challenge – soon I was invited to participate in a joint art exhibition with a well known artist in East London which completely changed the course of my quilting career as it took my work into the world of the fine artists, an art gallery!

I taught a workshop and entered a quilt into the competition at National level for the first time at the 1994 National Quilt Festival in Cape Town. I was overwhelmed when I won a second prize in Innovative Small Applique Category as well as two Highly Commended Awards for the same quilt, African Heritage or commonly known as the Protea Quilt.

We moved to Port Elizabeth in 1996 and I became involved in Quilters Guild Committees, firstly on the Festival Committee for the 1998 National Festival which was held in Port Elizabeth, then on the Dias Quilters’ Guild Committee and served as Chairlady from 1998 - 2000 of the Dias Quilters’ Guild in Port Elizabeth. It was also an honour to serve a term of office as the President of the South African Quilters’ Guild from 2002 - 2004. After that, I was the Chairlady of the organizing committee of the 2006 National Festival held in Port Elizabeth.

In between Committee work, I exhibited at Nederburg Knysna Arts Festival, entered a piece in the 1997 FNB Vita Craft Now in Johannesburg, had quilts in group exhibitions of South African quilts in Val ‘d Argent, France in 2003 and 2004, also a quilt Avian Grace at the World Quilt Carnival at Nagoya, Japan in March 2004. Many geometric quilts reflecting Ndebele mural art found homes overseas, sold at local craft shops. I also do work on commission – the most notable was for 14 geometric style wallhangings for chalets at the Kariega Game Reserve at Kenton-on-Sea in 2002, a project that took almost 3 years to complete.

«The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves…»

Picture: Marilyn Pretorius

I have won various awards at National Quilt Festivals in South Africa since 1994. One of the highlights was in 2000 when I won my first blue ribbon award for Avian Grace – the bird quilt. It also won a 1st Prize for Best South African Bird Quilt. I was so pleased to win a brand new Bernina Virtuosa 160 with my prize money.

Avian Grace 2000 – First Prize Innovative Large; Best South African Bird Quilt
(Marilyn pictured with Avian Grace in 2000)

In 2006 I upgraded to a Bernina Aurora 440 QE, a wonderful versatile machine for creative stitching. End of 2010, beginning 2011 brought me back to my dressmaking roots when I made a wedding dress for my daughter, Elizabeth. As I could not find suitable lace with a curved border for the back of the dress, I decided to make lace myself. I recycled embroidered flowers on organza from the headdress which I wore on my wedding day and designed the lace around that.

I first drew the design on paper, transferred it onto Avalon Plus, sandwiched bridal tulle between two layers of Avalon Plus and started embroidering in an embroidery hoop, making little satin stitch leaves ad infinitum…. ! I was extremely anxious about making this lace as I had never done anything like this before. I also made pieces of lace to go over the shoulders...

Before I washed the Avalon Plus away, I beaded the lace which took about 65 hours. I used almost 4 000 metre rayon machine embroidery thread to do all the satin stitching on the lace.

I appliquéd leaves onto the silk bodice and satin stitched detail onto it. The bodice edge had an uneven edge with leaves cut out and flowing onto the chiffon skirts.
The dress finished 5 hours 50 minutes before the ceremony!

After making the dress, a quilt entry for National Quilt Festival 2011 waited to be finished. I was very privileged to win a major award with this quilt of historical buildings in Port Elizabeth.

Port Elizabeth – Legacy of Settlers 2011
Best Machine Workmanship at 2011 National Quilt Festival, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Transformation – Glow Beyond the Scorched Earth
Best on Show - Art Quilts at 2011 National Quilt Festival, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Although the realistic nature quilts has become my signature work, I have this passion for texture and stitching which I now incorporate in art quilts. I also paint fabric under the brush rags label since 2001.

I regularly teach innovative workshops at National Quilt Festivals, at home in Port Elizabeth at Pied Piper and where ever I am invited to teach.

Read more about Marilyn at her weekly blog about her quilting career...