Tuesday, June 10, 2014


I don't make quilts for the usual reasons, if there is any such a thing as a "usual" reason. Sure I make quilts for people I love, but the other quilts, the word quilts, those I make for me because I have an idea I want to push around.

It just so happens that the ideas I push around end up in fabric. I have arthritis in my hand, so I can't draw because it hurts to hold a pencil for two hours. It's also one of the reasons I don't paint.  I love fabric, I love to sew, I love color and I love solving puzzles. I can do all those things with fabric.

I love breaking the rules in such a way as to reinforce those rules at the same time. I love making you look. I love to fool you, to trick you, to make you get closer, to make you LOOK, to make you discover.

When I tell my students that one of my goals of my quilts is to reach out and grab the viewer by the shoulders, pull them close and say "LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!" I am not joking. I want more than the five second glance. I want more than the "oh look that's a --------- pattern / design in -------- color scheme. I can / did / know how to do that." I want my quilts to be the "greedy little songbird," the diva, the star of the show.

I want to knock your socks off.

Where I differ from most quilters is my Art training. Not that I learned design, color, balance and all of that. It's that I come from a place where if it isn't working you erase, and start again. You are OBLIGATED to start again. I come from a place where the emotional response of the viewer is more important than good technique. I come from a place where a great piece of Art cannot be quantified by the number of stitches per inch or how square or flat a quilt lies. In my world, the quilt police are burned at the stake ignored.

In my world, the nicely executed piece in a ubiquitous color scheme isn't given a second glance because it has nothing unique to recommend it. In my world a quilt made with ten thousand pieces is a yawner. So what? Big deal. Who cares? Who wants to make a quilt look like it was made by a machine?

There are lots of "pretty" quilts out there and they each have their purpose, and that's great, but that's not what I am after. I want more than "just" pretty. (There are lots of pretty paintings out there too, and I'm not in love with those either.)

When folks tell me my quilts are "cute," I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes, although I've come to realize most viewers have no vocabulary for the kind of work that I do. I've come to appreciate the long pause, the silence, the soft "wow."

My son, who grew up in a family of artists and literally went to art shows every other week from the time he was two weeks old until he graduated from college in his early 20's, looked at one of my quilts in progress and said, "Mom, did you line this lady up so her hat was above the tops of the other letters? Because it looks like it's the dot on the letter "i."

Yes my darling.

"Wow, Mom," he said later, "These two MISS words. If you look quick you think they are made of exactly the same fabrics in each letter. But they're not. They're close, but they're different. You did that on purpose, didn't you?"

Indeed I did.

"Mom, those fabrics in that bland Crayons quilt. Did you pick them so they'd almost disappear? Did you do that on purpose?"

You bet.

"Why? You hate those bland colors."

Well everybody was making these "low volume" quilts and I was getting awfully sick of them. Like if it's low-volume it's more special. So I wanted to make a low-volume quilt of my own, and I wanted to make it with letters, mostly to show that it could be done. The thing that took the most time was figuring out what it should say, because I definitely wanted something that would be OPPOSITE of low volume. I wanted to make a low volume quilt that said, STICK IT! Yes, I wanted it to do two opposing things at the same time. And what could be MORE anti low-volume than something that said, "HEY BOZO! USE ALL THE CRAYONS!" We ALL have a complete set of magic crayons in our lives, and we need to use them ALL, and not just hide behind the ones that are "socially acceptable."

"You know what I like about the "USE ALL" in the Bright Crayons, Mom? I like that the letters start out tall, and get progressively shorter, then they grow again. And then on the bottom, you do the reverse. They each float higher, then settle down, making an arc. You did that on purpose, I know. It looks cool."

"Mom, you think about EVERY little thing? The shape, the placement, the negative space, the way one fabric element blends into another one next to it. You think about ALL of that?"

Yes dear. If it's in the quilt it's no accident.

"It's funny Mom. The Bright Crayons. It's bright, and happy, but at the same time it's kind of boring. So why did you make that one?"

Because I HATED the beige one so much I just HAD to make a bright one to cheer myself up, and to prove a point.

"What point?"

The Black Crayons. You have to work harder to see them. They are still low-contrast, just in reverse. But because you don't usually see black quilts like that, it makes you look, it draws you in. The great graphic artist Milton Glaser made a poster once called "Looking is not Seeing," and it broke every rule of posters. It was mostly black and dark colors. You couldn't read it from a distance. You had to get close, but that was the point. To figure it out, you had to give it more than the five seconds or less that we usually spend looking at something. It's exactly the same premise as the Mashed Potato beige crayons, but I've turned the idea on it's head.

"So okay, where did the Black and White Crayons come from?"

I wanted to do a black and white words quilt for a long time, and I really wanted to play with how you didn't necessarily need a fabric that had color from one edge to the other to "read" as a letter. To reduce that idea to it's simplest, most basic element, I had to eliminate color altogether, and use the strongest contrast there is, the Light/Dark contrast of Black and White. And I wanted to play with the idea that even the same black and white print could look different on a black background as on a light one. I wanted to play with that duality, that one wasn't complete without the other. So I knew I wanted to divide the words in half somehow, but I couldn't work it out.  You see, I was stuck with the idea of dividing the words in half horizontally. The words wouldn't be very legible that way, and if I'm going to make a quilt with words in it, you have to be able to read it.

"How'd you figure it out?"

Like I usually do. I set the idea aside and didn't worry about it. I knew it would come to me eventually. But it's the first time an idea for a quilt ever came to me in a dream.

"Really? I mean, Mom. Really? In a dream?"

Yes honey, cross my heart and hope to die. In a dream.  And I'm really pleased with it, because it shows what you can do when you have limited options. You have to pull out all the stops. You have to really get creative. Two colors and I can still tweak the phrase so that it means something. Use ALL the colors in the box, even if you have only two. And even though I give them only black and white, which aren't really considered colors at all, I get folks to THINK about all colors, about ALL options, and about pushing an idea around and not stopping at the first, obvious idea. Because obvious can be boring.

"I love you Mom. You rock."

Thank you my darling. I love you too.


Judy in Michigan said...

I think I enjoyed this post the most. Thank you for sharing. Enjoy your time with Julie.

Quiltdivajulie said...



Soon . . . very soon!

Mary said...

Thank you for a wonderful post!

Alice Turcotte said...


Mr. Karate said...

Love you, mom.

Anonymous said...

A. It's nice to know he was listening all those years.
B. I could tell all the way along that you didn't like the beige quilt. There is a difference between venturing outside of your comfort zone, and not being true to yourself, and that is it. It just isn't you.
C. I've read that our subconcious minds hold all kinds of answers to all kinds of problems if we could only access them.
D. Love the black and white.

Megan said...

I do more than ignore the quilt police - I laugh at them. That said, I do make traditional quilts, but I make them because I like them and I get the points to match because it pleases me to do so and I use 6000 squares in the quilt because I think it's fun.

You're absolutely correct in saying that many of us simply don't have the vocabulary for talking about art. I'm one such person. What I find interesting about your posts when you talk about your thinking and planning 'behind the scenes' is that often times I've 'got the message' simply by looking at your quilts. It's very encouraging to read about your intentions and be able to confirm that you've achieved them when even I've got the message! LOL

Thanks for sharing.

Sydney, Australia

Mystic Quilter said...

What a post!! Amazing - thank you for sharing this with us all.

Mary K said...

Thanks again for stimulating my mind.I finally am working on a quilt with a word. "Olivia".