About the Art of Quilting

I am always impressed that some quilters are able to talk about their work as an art form with some kind of overall development plan and pedagogical coherence. Because I belong to the "shoot first, ask questions later" school of quilting, my quilting style has simply evolved from some organic fabric-based primordial soup to whatever curved tessellating freeform flight of fancy appears on my design wall.

As an artist, my tolerance for the elements of my art has changed over time. My first quilts were fairly conservative creations. But over time, my fabrics have gotten louder and bolder and, well, sometimes just plain weird. And my piecings have gotten curved.

My first quilt was a pastel-based pink blue green confection of fabric scraps. Light, fluffy, non-committal and seat of the pants construction, born from a stubborn and arrogant belief that if my ancestors could quilt without taking any classes, so could I.
Well, I did and the results, although perfectly serviceable, are a poor example of both artistry and craftsmanship. But then again, historically, most quilts were made to be used, not shown, and by this yardstick, my first quilt was a success. We still use it on our guest bed, mostly to keep me humble, and frankly, I donít much mind if the cat drools on it. prrrr prrrr prrrr
As for construction, I am still amazed at the courses I see advertised at shows and stores, classes in how to put together patterns. Perhaps because my Connecticut Yankee grandfather believed in figuring it out for himself and proceeded to instill this modus operandi in his children (including my mother), I was raised that you only ask questions when you run into trouble. Perhaps my ability to look at most quilts and know instantly how they are constructed is actually a genetic disposition from my maternal ancestors, or the fact that I taught myself how to read blueprints as a 5-year-old who loved Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Or maybe it is simply my bull-headedness.

Regardless, the only quilt classes I have taken were taken when I was in trouble: Machine Quilting - when my stitches were too long and my lines not smooth, Landscape Quilting - when I needed a block of uninterrupted time, and Freeform Piecing - when I really needed some inspiration. In each instance, I got the point rather early in the class, and spent the rest of the allotted time practicing on my own. I should note here that practicing quilting techniques is infinitely more rewarding that practicing the violin ever was: you can actually see your progress - itís tangible, and it doesnít backslide overnight, leaving you exactly where you started the day before.

And so this has been my work process - to jump in and work, asking for help or researching options only when I was stuck - a methodology so unlike my violin teaching, or my corporate consulting as to be worthy of discussion. This is absolutely antithetical to my teaching methodology, and to the way I prepared kids for violin technique. There, I prepared them, in some cases, years ahead of time, for what was to come. We would, for example, start vibrato exercises way in advance and by the time we were ready to use it, it was already there.

Sahel Sandstorm My quilting methods are nowhere near this thought out, but for me, thatís part of the creative process. When the structure of the methodology is too strict, then the work is easy but the latitude for innovation is narrow. Water at Heron Landing
The most frequent comments I hear about my quilts have to do with how I combine fabric. My mother agonizes over these decisions, and I guess a lot of other people do too. Not me. It either works or it doesnít, and usually I know right away whether or not to use a particular fabric. What Iíve discovered lately is that the more complexity in the colors (depth, tones, shades, undertones, distance from primary on the color wheel), the better I like it, and the richer the colors.

I know there are courses on color theory that explore these phenomena, but I havenít taken any, so if there are color rules (like that stupid one about ďblue and green should not be seenĒ which is one of the most inane quotes Iíve ever heard. Whoever coined that must have lived on a planet with no water or vegetation, but I digress), I donít know about them. And since my father refers to me by my descriptive Native American name, ďRuns-With-ScissorsĒ I figure why, at my age, start to follow rules?

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