I did meet Gwen in California last year and can say she is shyly elf-like.
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.
Minimal in Neutrals by Gwen Marston
Turquoise 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.
Medallion II by Gwen Marston
Minimal 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.