Show Up. Do the Work.

Change of Seasons
Change of Seasons

I was asked to speak on a panel about art quilt making a few weeks ago, which was held in conjunction with the Primal Green Exhibit.

I was really flattered. I do a fair amount of public speaking for my profession, but it is the first time I have ever spoken publicly about quiltmaking. The request to speak sparked a lot of soul searching on my part about my quiltmaking. I am not a professional quiltmaker, nor do I really aspire to be. I wouldn’t mind licensing some of my images, but I have little to know interest in making quilts for sale, designing patterns, cutting kits or selling fabric. If someone plopped a successful shop in my lap, I might change my mind, but for now I am happy working away on the weekends making what I feel like making.

Part of the presentation was talking about my process, what makes me an art quilt maker and what my process is. I have a fairly good handle on my process, I thought, but the underlying philosophy of my work I knew would create a challenge. I thought about it a lot, wrote about it in my journal and kind of worked through some of the things that, it turned out were holding me back. Here is what I presented:


Primal Green presentation

Quiltmaking, for me, is about the interplay of colors with each other, and also with geometric shapes. I enjoy working in series, so I can explore a concept through to the end. The concepts I am working with currently have to do with color, and how the geometric shapes affect the relationship of the colors while acting as a vehicle for corralling the fabric motifs.

My quiltmaking work centers on the process of piecing. Once I finish the piecing, I am pretty much finished with the piece, because I am done working through that concept. I have to work very hard to get the finishing steps, such as the quilting and binding, completed.

I add texture to my quilts by embellishing with beads and Perl Cotton or decorative machine stitching rather than dyeing and painting on fabric. I do appreciate having an element of hand work involved in my quilts.

I prefer to work with other artists’ designs on fabric as that “self-imposed rule” provides some boundaries for my work.

I work very much in the geometric space of quilts, venturing only every once in a while out into the world of realism – or at least pseudo realism – such as with Change of Seasons.

For Change of Seasons, my Primal Green show quilt, I had a clear idea in my mind of the image I wanted to depict and I needed to work through the process of moving my vision from my head into fabric. This process required some fabric manipulation techniques and I did some of the quilting at the same time that I appliquéd down the leaves.

My quilts have really come back to the beginning lately. I am making a lot of one patch quilts, which means that I select one shape and work with it in one or more quilts. After selecting the shape, I work very intensely with color and motifs on fabric. The shapes I am using might be simple, but the colorwork makes the overall quilt look more complicated. I also find that the intense colorwork does not compete with the uncomplicated piecing and the work provides an intellectual challenge.

This direction turned my thoughts to what it means to be an art quiltmaker and whether the simplicity of my work fits in to that space.

I am inspired by antique quilts and the wide variety of block patterns available as well as [well photographed] advertising, color in nature and mosaic tiles.

Thank you!

(The following questions were posed to the entire panel. My answers are below.)

Q.   How did you start with fiber/textiles? How long ago? Are there other artists in your family?  Have you always done art?

A.    I come from a long line of needlewomen. I know that my great grandmother crocheted rugs from bread bags, tatted and did embroidery. My grandmother sewed formal dresses for my mother and aunts and crocheted afghans. My mother made costumes, clothes, crocheted, tatted and now quilts.

I have always done some kind of art. Before I started quiltmaking, I made leaded glass panels. I stopped because it wasn’t very portable and didn’t do anything for my hands which were always cut, black and bleeding. I painted, drew and did collages before being a collage artist was popular. I also took up garment sewing as I headed towards my college graduation.

I turned to quiltmaking on a whim. A friend from work wanted to take a quilt class and asked me to take it with her. I didn’t see the harm, but thought it was something grandmothers did! She dropped out after making her top and here I am ~25 years later.

Q.     What is it about fiber that appeals to you?

A.    The Tactile nature of the fiber.

Q.      What artist(s) (textile or other) have had a strong influence on your work?

A.    Wayne Thiebaud and his repetition of simple shapes as well as the intense brushwork.

Q. Whom (if anyone) do you depend on for artistic feedback?

A.    I am pretty much of a lone wolf. I haven’t found a group that fits my schedule in terms of critique, though that is something I would like to find for the future. Julie gives me good feedback in way that I can hear.

Q. What tool/gadget/thingamabob would be the last one that you would give up?

1.    Rotary cutter and my 4.5×8.5” ruler. I practically sleep with that ruler.

The following questions were directed to me specifically:

Q.    Do you have a particular method for acquiring your fabric?  Do you plan ahead with the quilt in mind?

A.    I started out with the Magpie method of fabric buying and still resort to that in times of stress. That is where I see something pretty and buy it.

I like to buy lines of fabric, but I find that I am doing that less as I will buy a line and then remove too many to really make it worth it. I do like buying lines of fabric because it forces me to use colors I wouldn’t normally use.

I am becoming more organized about buying fabric. I keep little swatches of fabrics that don’t work for me when I go to a quilt store and compare them to what I am considering buying.

I often have an idea in my mind and will collect fabric for it. My current “collection” are aqua and reds.

I am also paying more attention to the scale of motifs.

Q.      Have you ever done a neutral/black and white quilt?  Would that be a scary or fun challenge?

A.    I have never done a black/white/neutral challenge. I did use a lot of black in my quilts at one time, but find the darkness too depressing to work with. I have moved away from black, purple, dark blue, forest green, jewel tones and tended towards lighter and brighter colors.

While I wouldn’t rule it out, I also don’t much like doing challenges, because they usually don’t move my process forward. I also have enough ideas in my head to work straight through until the end of time.

I wouldn’t be scared of doing a black and white challenge, but my process is about color so I am not sure what the point would be for my process?

Q. What is the crux of your struggle as an art quiltmaker?

A. It goes back to the old question of what is an art quilt.

My quilts do not seem to fit into what the artquiltmakers at SAQA are doing nor what is being shown at Quilt National.

Still, I do not use patterns, for the most part, so my quilts don’t look like the multitude of quilt-a-longs and challenges out there either.

There is an element of “why am I compelled to do this work?” as well.

My struggle is kind of like being at the bottom of the mountain and not being able to see the fog and cloud shrouded pinnacle. I am not sure where I am on this journey, but I feel compelled to stay on the path and keep moving forward.


I went back and forth about posting what I said, but decided I would after hearing part of Notes from the Voodoo Lounge podcast where Rice interviewed Zom Osbourne. In it they two women have a long discussion about mistakes, which I really appreciated. Zom talks about posting unfinished pieces and how they look terrible before they look better. She also encouraged Rice to post a picture of a piece that Rice was thinking of abandoning. Zom makes the point that none of us are perfect and we will do more bad or not-quite-up-to-standards work than we will do great work and that we have to talk about the mistakes or mediocre pieces as much as we talk about the great pieces.

I think this is really true. I have to show up and do the work almost every day for at least a little while. The more work I do the bigger chance I have of churning out a great piece. I may only make a pillow or a stuffie with my nephew or a nine patch or press some fabric, but doing the work leads me to better work.

When I say work, I don’t mean something that is a dreary drudge. I mean the cutting, pattern reading, math, fabric selection, piecing, quilting and handwork that it takes to make the pieces that I make.

So, I guess I’ll let history, if my work stands the test of time, decide whether or not I am an art quiltmaker. While history is deciding, I’ll show up and do the work.