Monday, July 13, 2009

Beginning art quilting

Shelly wrote to me this morning:

“I am a beginner quilter, and am just starting out in art quilting. 
I wanted to ask how you started in art quilting?
How did you get to be where you are today?
Do you have any advice on how to develop my art quilt skills?
I haven't entered any shows yet, is this a good first step? ”

Like most people I started with traditional quilts which is a good place to get the nuts and bolts basics of the actual construction learned.  You work from a pattern so don’t have to worry about composition, but you do have to consider colour and value and texture, piecing or applique and quilting and bindings.   It’s good not to have to learn too many things as once.  Once you have those skills, they will transfer to the more difficult field of art quilts.

Some think art quilts are easier because you’re not following a specific pattern, and you don’t have to make the points meet etc…however while it’s easier to make a bad art quilt than a traditional quilt, it’s much more difficult to make a good one!  You have to think, plan and critique a whole lot more.

Having learned the traditional basics, I became frustrated: 
following someone else’s pattern
working with commercial fabric.
So I took workshops with several well known art quilters: Nancy Crow, Elizabeth Busch, Emily Richardson, Jan Myers-Newbury – and even more workshops (about a dozen of them!) on various surface design techniques, particularly Claire Verstegen and Kerr Grabowski.

But soon I decided to stop taking workshops that were about a particular style – I didn’t want to be a clone of anyone…making derivative work is a very appropriate stage when you are just beginning, but once you have the knowledge I think it’s important to develop your own style.  This is the First Step.   Your own particular style comes from one thing: making lots of work and making it very thoughtfully.  Putting yourself into every piece.  What do I want to communicate with my work?  What is my preferred way of doing it?

I made 13 quilts, entered #13 to Quilt National and called it “Aiming High” – I think you should!  I was lucky enough to get the Rookie Award that year and it was downhill from there!!  (well, no, not really…but I wasn’t that lucky again for a while).  

Thank you, Shelly, for the question – questions always set one thinking and sometimes that’s a task!  Now I must rinse out my dye experiments so I can write about them in a day or so…

and if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth


Nina Marie said...

I agree with all the things Elizabeth said. Also, what helped me a lot was getting to know other art quilters. Not only did they share their experience and wisdom, they gave me courage to just create. Its hard being the black sheep in a herd of white ones. If you don't know any art quilters - look online - there are all sorts of groups there.

Beena said...

I love your work and love your blog. I 'll be going along with my art and quilting, and reflect on the title of an earlier post of yours "I am not a camera". I relate very well! And relate to most of what you said in this post, too!

Jamie Fingal said...

I have long admired your work and the fact that you have paved your own way in the art world. As to your subject - "beginning art quilting" - just do it and start small - explore your interests in the world and interpret them in fabric. Make it your medium. Discover and grow in new techniques, colors and subjects. All you have to do is start.

Judy said...


Thanks for sharing these thoughts about how you began Art Quilting and thanks to Shelly for posing the question, theres a lot for all of us to take from this.