How Ideas Become Quilts

One of my favorite exhibits at the April 2013 International Quilt Festival in Cincinnati was the SAQA Seasonal Palette.  I loved it partly because of the artists’ journals about their entries.  It turns out that SAQA has put a sampling of those journals as PDFs on its website.

In Cincinnati a table in the middle of the exhibit overflowed with journals of varying sizes and thicknesses.  Some were works of art by themselves with beautiful print and layouts; others leaked fabric samples and mockups of the work.  Still others meticulously logged the creative process in color photos.

Some work, like Kathleen LoomisBig Ice, grew out of a personal experience – in Loomis’ case a trip to Antarctica. Her journal shows lots of photos she took and the evolution of her design directly on her design wall from what she took away from seeing ice bergs to this.

sp-Loomis_lgDaren P. Redman chronicled the autumn colors that inspired the hand dyes she used in Autumn, Brown County, Indiana.  She also worked directly and intuitively on the design wall.  I was glad to see so many detailed photos of her quilting, an aspect that often is skimped on in documentation.

Elena Stokes subtitled her journal for Tranquil Marsh “Or, how I drove myself crazy in a few quick months.”  She followed the chronology of the whole process, from submitting her seasonal idea for the SAQA exhibit to completion of her entry. I love the insight she gives into designing to theme and size.  Stokes used rough sketches and worked at the ratio of sky to land.  Then she went to her design wall and began to work with strips of fabric.  After some false starts and angst her piece evolved to her satisfaction. Then she had to get those unattached strips of fabric off the design wall.  I love how she did that.  Read her journal to find out how.  Oh yeah, she used a Singer 201 and didn’t do free motion quilting.

Elena-Stokes-Tranquil-Marsh-Wild-Iris-250x600Other artists such as Katherine Allen spent a lot of time showing their processes and less on their design.  Allen documented a lot of silk screening of plant leaves but gave few clues about her design choices for Minnow & Leaf.

What I gleaned from these journals is that many quilt artists work from photos for their color palette as well as their design.  Also, while they may do rough sketches, much of their design work is done directly on the design wall.  As Janet Windsor put it, “I don’t make drawings or color mock-ups because I haven’t found any medium that really replicates the colors of the fabric well.” Also, they are ruthless about changing what they don’t think is working, even if a lot of work has already gone into the piece.

I hope you have the chance to glance at these behind the scenes documents about the creative process. I loved the diversity of approaches as each artist realized her distinctive take on an assigned season.

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