Gwen Marston’s “Minimal Quiltmaking”

I did meet Gwen in California last year and can say she is shyly elf-like.

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Gwen Marston has been recognized for many decades as an influential quiltmaker. She developed her style early in her career or, as art quilters like to say, found her voice. Amish and what I call primitive quilts have been huge influences on her work. She quilts much of her work by hand.

Gwen’s most recent focus is minimal quilts. These are featured in her latest book, Minimal Quiltmaking. This is a process oriented book that articulates an approach to quilt design, not a quilt pattern book.

By minimal Gwen means quilts that have been stripped to their essence – sparse shapes done in solid colors. She divides her chapters into hard edge, minimal color, and art inspired quilts.  While she features many of her own quilts, she also gives space to quilts made by others in a minimal style.  This is helpful as it shows other quilt personalities.

Gwen’s process is partly intuitive, but not improvisational. She often begins with a traditional basic form – medallion, log cabin, strippy – and builds from there. She also uses pencil and fabric sketches. While she may begin with a plan, she believes one should remain open to opportunities that present themselves during the construction process.

As Gwen points out, designing a minimal quilt is hard, and it gets harder when you set limits such as using only one color or only pale neutrals.

gwenmarston Minimal in NeutralsMinimal in Neutrals by Gwen Marston

gwenmarston TurquoiseTurquoise by Gwen Marston

In the two quilts above, you can really see the difference in texture created by hand quilting versus machine quilting.  The neutrals one was hand quilted, and I just want to run my hands over it. You can see how much hand quilting adds to the piece below as well. I can’t believe I’d be advocating hand quilting, since I do only machine quilting, but there it is.

gwenmarston Medallion IIMedallion II by Gwen Marston

Minimal Purple Kristin ShieldsMinimal Purple by Kristin Shields (above) is an example of a hard edged quilt that combines hand and machine quilting. That may be the way I end up going on some quilts I have in process.

To get to the bottom line, is this book worth spending $24.95? The answer may depend on where you are in your quilting journey and what inspirational resources you already have. If you don’t have many, the photos are well worth the money. And if you want examples of stunning hand quilting, you’ll want the book for the last chapter alone. If you already have lots of quilt calendars that feature glorious old quilts or books of Amish quilts, you may want to borrow rather than buy this book, though I hope you’ll have the chance to spend some time browsing through it.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Gwen Marston’s “Minimal Quiltmaking”

  1. I love those quilts. Some day I will try to make some thing that minimal. For some reason, it seems much more daunting to me than the very intricate paper pieced quilts or elaborately quilted award winners I have admired. Interesting the difference in the impact of the hand quilting as well. Like you though, I do want to finish some quilts….

  2. I enjoyed seeing these wonderful quilts and reading this post. Very interesting to see the difference in the hand or machine quilting. Thanks!

  3. Ursula

    I totally agree with KerryCan. Recently I experimented with solids in various similar shades. For instance a soft beige, linked with halfsquare triangles to salmon and this salmon then joined with hst to a dark copper. Luckily I made two small versions of the project and put it on the design wall; a machine quilted one and a hand quilted one. Really hate to say it but the hand quilted one was way better. How am I ever going to finish this King Size quilt?

    • I hope that’s a rhetorical question, as otherwise my response would be to give up any life outside of hand quilting that sucker. Have you considered a blended machine/hand quilting approach?

  4. I like her style but, then, I’ve always thought that traditional Amish quilts are the most stunning I’ve seen. And I think that hand quilting is right for these–when quilts are SO minimal, every detail makes a difference and the hand quilting adds human-ness to quilts that I think might look sterile otherwise.

    • The kind of hand quilting used throughout this book fits in beautifully with the slow stitching movement. Because I want to finish my quilts, I’ve begun to combine hand and machine stitching. I can get the infrastructure laid down with my machine and add the grace notes by hand.

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