Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Finding My Voice

This winter I'll mark my 5th year anniversary as a quilter.  In some ways five years seems like a long time and in other ways it seems like I've barely begun.  As I was writing notes today for an upcoming talk I'm going to give in Colorado I started to reminisce a bit.

After I saw the Quilts of Gees Bend, I fell in love with that improvisational spirit, but there was no "how to" in any of their books.  When Denyse Schmidt's first book arrived I thought, she is going to share the process and I was crestfallen to find a book of patterns and no insight into her process.  I've since learned that sharing, documenting and talking about the improvisational process is more complicated and involved than I had imagined.

I remember the day I first thought about what it might take to improvise in quilting.  I didn't know a thing, but I was willing to try and I set out on my own to experiment and figure it out on my own.  That led to the now famous (or so I'm told) wonky log cabin tutorial on this blog.  I wanted to continue to learn and support others who wanted to learn too, and that was the impetus for creating Project Improv in January of 2009.  It was a simple concept with a framework to help us succeed.  We would improvise, but within the structure of the log cabin block.  I've learned over time that many quilters have trouble letting loose and improvising; they need support and a structure or framework in which to work and as they build confidence and skill.  Over time, they become freer and more improvisational.  Project Improv provided many quilters the opportunity to begin an exploration of improvisation.

A few months ago a friend sent me a link to Sherri Lynn Wood's blog.  Sherri did a series of posts on her perspective on 'what is improvisational quilting' in 2011.  Her posts are insightful and recommended reading.  She has added to the conversation and put words to many of the ideas, concepts and actions that have been in my head for years.  I'm looking forward to meeting her and learning from her at QuiltCon in February.

In 2011 Sherri said,


"So I’ve been doing a search on the internet and have discovered a real lack of conversation about the nature of improvisational quilting.
In 2009 Tallgrass Prairie Studio started Project Improv:
The purpose of ‘project improv’, to support each other in our goal to quilt improvisationally, to quilt outside the lines and to find our own voice as quilters.
I applaud the effort, but with what results? If you participated in ‘project improv’ have you found your voice? Two years later I’m mostly seeing posts on ‘wonky’ log cabins."

Her final question in regards to Project Improv has stayed in the back of my mind since I read it..."but with what results...have you found your voice?"  

Today I pondered that question in terms of myself, those who participated in the project and those who have been influenced by those quilters.  

For me, the answer is yes.  I have found my voice and I continue to refine it.  It was a defining moment for me as a quilter.  

I went back on my computer and looked at the list of participants in the project.  Many of those quilters are now authors, designers and leaders in the quilting industry.  I would venture to guess that many of you would name them as your inspirations and even as your quilting idols.  I don't think I can even imagine the scope of influence that that set of quilters has had on the quilting community.

I cruise flickr and blogs and I see a wealth of original, out of the box designs that are being created every day.  I see plenty of wonky log cabins too and that makes me happy.  It is the seminal block, the block that many of us who want to improvise seem to cut our teeth on and there are many quilters who are just discovering that block.  It will always have a special place in my heart and in my quilts.

It was a nice walk down memory lane...

And, so there isn't a post without a picture....here's a couple pics of the Scandia Crush quilt finished.  I quilted it with variegated aurifil thread in all tints and shades of pink...such a pretty touch.  Another class sample into the finished stack.







39 comments:

stitchinpenny said...

I think I love your voice. Your quilts are fantastic and the expression of emotion and idea are visible. Not all are the same as the notes of color and texture bring each concept to life in its own right. They are not production line, but they do stay within the lines of pleasing color and interesting concept so they aren't renegade, just pleasingly your concepts.

sewfrench.com said...

I had no idea that the current movement of improv was so new. It must have been starting about the time I started reading quilting blogs...

I, also, didn't realize you were such a *young* quilter! 5 years? Wow, you picked it up and ran, finding your voice pretty quickly. You have a great voice, too!

I'm curious about the quilting on this piece. Any hints, tips, comments you'd like to share? I think I'd like to give it a try but, but, but.... LOL!

It's lovely!

loritfrench@comcast.net

Susan said...

Thank you for talking about the challenge that quilter's face with beginning the improvisational journey. I am sooooo relieved to know that being left brained doesn't disqualify me :) I am very willing to stretch and try new things, just happy to know that I am not the Lone Ranger. You are an inspiration. Can't wait to see you in Colorado!

sarah said...

Your quilt is stunning...I love your blocks and colors.

Jeannette said...

I am amazed that you just started quilting 5yrs ago? Your work is awesome and I adore the Scandi quilt above....the quilting is wonderful too. Did you do that on a longarm or freehand on a machine?

Jenny said...

Interesting to hear you say that about DS's book -- I felt that way too, though haven't talked about it with anyone or seen it discussed. It seemed so ridiculous that she presumably used a free-form approach to come up with those quilts, but provided patterns which were then intensely difficult to follow because the pieces were so easily mixed up. Took something fun and spontaneous and potentially simple, and made it nit-picky and less creative and less fun. Weird.

I'm glad that you righted that wrong with your book -- thank you!

patty a. said...

I am not sure what started me on my improv journey, but I am loving it. I have blocks on my design wall right now (posted a picture on my blog) that could be construed as simple piecing, but throw in technique and color decisions then work becomes more complex and has a sense of depth. I will be quilting it free motion with lines quilting that reflects the shape of the pieces. I think I am starting to find my voice and I am so glad you did too! I learned my techniques by trial and error and will continue to try a push myself. Congratulations on 5 years of being a quilter. I just figure out how many years I have been a quilter - oh my! I just scared myself!

Doris said...

I knew you were a new-ish quilter, having followed this blog since the beginning, but I never had this thought before reading that line today: What did you do with your time before 5 years ago? ;-)

I was one of the participants in Project Improv, I still refer to and troll that flickr group for inspiration and "happy thoughts". Though I don't know if I will ever find my voice, I may be too ADHD for that--I love improvisational/minimalist/modern quilting but I love the intricate multi-pieced traditional quilt patterns made up in contemporary fabrics and interpreted in a quilter's own style or "feel". In meeting many blog friends in real life, I've realized I am not alone on that front; many of us like multiple styles of quilting and patchwork. I've just decided my blog is my therapy, a journal of my life during this time period, and I share a little of everything--certainly not done in any one voice!

So to what end? I think there is a lot of improvisational work happening and continually evolving (we see that in our MQG meetings, don't we?) but possibly not being blogged. And as one commenter said about DS first book, and you stated in your second paragraph; it's not easy to tell someone how to improvise, and make the same look/same quilt without complicating the process.

You do it very well here, and some of our other "quilting idols" on the internet do an equally good job, but not everyone feels confident sharing their work. (I've heard this from SO many people at Market, at retreats, MQG gatherings, Guild meetings, emailing, etc.--people who do AMAZING work but don't have the confidence to believe it is amazing). Even if they do work up the nerve to share it visually, they may not be equipped or feel comfortable enough writing about that work. They come to a site like this to admire someone else's ability to do both, well.

Cheryl Arkison said...

Only 5 years? You are a rockstar!

I've been thinking about voice lately too. For me, I would say that I can finally accept that I have a style. Rather, I never thought I had much of one. But I've been working through some projects lately and it kind of hit me. And for once, I'm okay with that concept. Well, today I am. Next week I might change my mind!

I still forget that a lot of people do have trouble with improv. It is second nature for some of us, but we aren't the majority. It is always so exciting to teach it and have someone suddenly get it and feel so liberated.

Love you lady!

Debbie said...

You are an amazing quilter and it's hard to believe you've only been at it for 5 years.

MariQuilts said...

Gwen Marston and Nancy Crow were definately influential in my journey as a quilter. Once I got a taste of improvisational quilting, I've never looked back. Making patterns ot templates for an improv type quilt doesn't make much sense to me either. What I love about your book is that you are teaching concepts....so much more helpful for anyone that has a desire to work this way.

I believe finding our quilting voice is a journey...a journey that I'm totally in love with.

Love your work!!!!

Janice said...

Wow, it's only been 5 years?! I would have thought you had been doing this a LOT longer! Congrats!
I totally agree with you about the wonky log cabins. I think it's a good way for people to find their improv legs when they are so used to following patterns and straight lines. I never get sick of seeing those blocks, either! And you know what? I never get tired of seeing those blocks.

Jaye said...

Not once do you mention Gwen Marston. Gwen Marston has step by step improvisational piecing (called Liberated Piecing, though) directions in a number of her books. Gwen Marston writes those instructions in such a way that they are the launching pad for the readers own work. Gwen Marston, does not have a robust web presence. Does that mean, in the modern quilt world, that she doesn't exist? I would urge you to look at her books. Perhaps your local library has them. While, obviously, you have come a long way in 5 years, Gwen Marston's books might send your mind spinning in new directions. She is funny and uses great fabrics, including solids.

CitricSugar said...

Considering that I've been reading you for three years or so, I'm even more impressed that this is only 5 years in for you. Especially since my attempts at improv curves have gone horribly awry - I'll keep trying but they are some kind of ugly so far. :-)

I've gotten more and more comfortable as I get older at not following rules. I still use patterns for some projects but I'm also content to completely wing it on others and have been very happy with the results. I'm a mix of plan it and wing it and my quilts are one, the other or a mixture of both. Do I have a voice? I do but not all my projects have to reflect that. Sometimes it's part of my vision as an artist. Sometimes, it's just sewing. I'm cool with that.

Scandia Crush is just gorgeous. I am not a pink person but I find myself wanting to live in whatever Northern European condo that quilt would inspire....

christaquilts said...

Great post! I've been quilting for over 16 years and am still trying to find my voice - I think it lies somewhere in the modern quilting realm....

upstateLisa said...

Cool... I think my voice is a little hoarse...working on finding it again. You are so inspiring!

Mary on Lake Pulaski said...

What Doris said up there a few comments /\ ago. I feel very similar.

SusieDW said...

You're really expert at creating improvisational designs that show off the fabric. A sort of fourth dimension to the finished piece.

Leanne said...

I have read your blog for a very long time and almost never comment. I love this post, I watched you and the quilters do project improv but I was too shy then to join in. Now I do improv a lot of the time. You have a wonderful voice, I am still searching for mine but I expect it will show up one day soon.

2ndAvenueStudio-Rachel said...

I too participated in Project Improv and although Im practically ashamed of the job I did on the quilting. .
I have to say I feel as though I have found my voice and my style.
I know what I like and
create with intention.
Im not a minimalist but much more post modern.
I love your book and that it has similar structure of the Gwen Marsten books (liberated Quilting 1&2)

I feel like Im just starting to make good quilts. It doesnt help that my work works best in person and not digital.

are you book touring in Portland?? come to Powells.. ?

Maria said...

Sweet stitching - just love it :)

nancy said...

Jacquie I am shocked to learn you have only been quilting for 5 years.
Your work is quite beautiful, elegant, and original. You are truly an artist. Rock on, sister!

Cathy said...

I didn't know you created the wonky log cabin~! Interesting that what quilters thought was mistakes and sloppy cutting and sewing is now considered wonky or improv! I have always LOVED the improv! I do NOT like perfect looking quilts! It is like they are without personality when they are perfect! ♥♥♥

Pat said...

You have the voice of a star. Your quilting 'age' may affect your growth but the talent has to be there to begin with. Keep singing!!

Jenniffier said...

Beautiful quilt and thanks for sharing the story.

Heather A said...

I, too, am curious about the quilting on this beautiful quilt. I'm a newish quilter and have never tried FMQ or even quilting on my machine with my walking foot. I want to try the latter asap. Your wavy lines are so beautifully done. I'd love to know more.

Tracy said...

Hi! I live downstate from you and had to tell you that some of the Gee's Bend quilters a speaking and having a workshop in our town. You should hop on the Amtrak and come to Central Il.

Margaret said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post & the comments!
Five years? Wow! You are a gifted artist.
Now I need to go into your archives & follow your progress. Thanks!

Debbie said...

Your voice has spoken loudly to me, and convinced me I need to find my own. I often think of seeing your quilts at a quilt show a while back (Seattle) & being wowed by 'modern' quilting. Things have never been the same - thank you!

Ralitza said...

Lole the quilt. Not my colours, not my quilting. It is not something I would name my favorite as a design or maves and just love it! The unexpected things in it make it so special!

I took part in the ProjectImprove and it was great experience, I am happy I had the chance.

I never looked for my voice. It is my voice an it always was. It depends on my emotions and the stages in life and days I go true.

I do not like absolutely traditional quilts - contrasting sashing, borders,m all covered with symmetric stars in grayish and brownish colors for example. I love colour and crispness.

So project Improve and its influence on all the quilters that saw it was a fresh wave of quilts to look and love. Thank you!

quiltzyx said...

I've popped over from Generation Q Magazine! I read thru' the Wonky Log Cabin tute - what a fun take on that block. I can feel it seeping into my brain & I'm sure it will ooze out at some time soon.
I really like the quilting you did on the Scandia Crush quilt - the simple wave really sets off the geometricality (is that really a word? it MUST be!) of the blocks.

Congrats on being the Gen Q post of the week!!

cindysblog said...

I find a lot in this post troubling and it's something that has been troubling me since the rise of the modern quilt guilds. In the list of what modern quilts are it is stated that modern quilters pay homage to what has gone before. Yet, I find that in practice modern quilters don't seem to know what has gone before - that is unless one of their leaders has done it.

In improvisational quilting Nancy Crow is the leading pioneer. She has not written a how to book but she teaches. And you learn a lot in her classes. Gwen Marston has written books that give more how-to information as has Jean Wells. Jean's book is entitled Improvisational Piecing and it is based on her work in one of Nancy Crow's workshops.

The improvisational process is pretty simple. Getting good compositions using improvisational construction techniques is much more difficult. That is where a quilter working to find his/her voice needs to focus - not the how-to but design principles. In other words what makes a composition work? Why do I like this piece more than that one?

I see from earlier comments that many seem to think that improvisational piecing began with individuals in the modern quilt movement. This post does little to inform others that it's been around for a long time. As one of the leaders in the modern quilt guilds I hope you will help others learn the rich history of the quilt-making world.

Anonymous said...

Oh! Oh! Oh! Jacquie --- I love your voice and the evidence of your voice is rippling across a global area in a very visual way. I am inspired to change my path to this very new QUILTING MODERN movement, and to focus my voice in making fresh, vibrant quilted clothing. I attended the dinner in Fort Collins, Colorado last night and for the past 24 hours I have meditated and mused..... about your creatively decisive use of color and stitch in making art! Abruptly, I am changing course to make Quilting Modern a priority. I am your newest BEST FRIEND.... SEE YOU IN CHICAGO. RIGHT?!! hugs to you, Kathy Bonafede -- Artist in Frederick, Colorado

Carol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marianne said...

Joli parcours de vie bravo

SusieDW said...

Funny! I just found your voice :) Was watching my local PBS and *sew and behold* you were featured on the Sew It All, sewing room makeover! Very nice presentation, easy and poised! I may tackle my dining room chairs yet!

cinzia said...

Love your voice Jacque! I love improv and I too see that many people are afraid of trying it. I was attracted to it because, in my beginning stages as a quilter, I was afraid of all the perfect-looking quilts out there! My imperfect seams were intentional. And in the process I did learn to sew staight and perfect seams! And now I just chose not to...most of the time.

Kathy Radigan said...

I too love your voice and love how you found it! This quilt is so gorgeous. I didn't even know that there was improvisational quilting, thank you for introducing it to me in such a wonderful way. And thank you for allowing us to share your link and feature you in this weeks edition of Bonbon Break. Our readers are going to love this!!

CBH said...

Thank you so much for this post. I want to let you know that I posted a link to your blog in Creative Busy Bee Craft Inspirations, under the Page 5 post on Aug. 30, 2012. Thanks again.