Tag Archives: Gwen Marston

Missing Gwen

Not many quilt artists span the quilting world from traditional to modern and minimalist in their work. Gwen Marston did. She took her cues from the traditional folk art quilts she studied, but breathed new life into the form.

Two weeks before her death I looked at her book, “A Common Thread,” that shows over 60 quilts Gwen made and selected for this volume. It contains few words, just photo after photo of quilts made from 1976 to 2015. Here are my favorites.

So playful with the exuberant center panel and curved borders, and then the sawtooth edge
Love the casual placement of the berry clusters and the idiosyncratic roundness of the wreaths.
Those pops of turquoise and the one orange dagger!
Utterly simple, in fabrics I don’t like, yet there’s such movement in the strings.
This quilt captures stillness, and the hand quilting is sophisticated in its simplicity.

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Filed under Books, Commentary, Inspiration

Gwen Marston’s “Minimal Quiltmaking”

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

Original Post:

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.

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Filed under Books

Another Modern Quilting Book

I have mixed feelings about The Modern Medallion Workbook, one of the latest books riding the coat tails of the modern quilt movement. In a nutshell, I think it’s a perfectly OK book with some nice patterns from a bunch of quilters active in the modern quilt movement. However, I think it’s a marketing hook to call many of the book’s quilts modern.
 ModernMedallionWorkbookcover
What makes a medallion quilt modern is never defined. All that’s said on this is it’s a medallion quilt with “the addition of modern fabrics and a modern aesthetic.” I take this to mean modern medallion quilts are what the authors and their friends made. Only a few of the eleven quilts – Drop of Golden Sun, June, Graphical Modern, and One Step At A Time  – seem modern to me.  I focused on the use of negative space, asymmetry, and a pared down look. Melanie at Catbird Quilt Studio’s recent post about what is a modern medallion quilt talks about other aspects of modern quilts.

The rest, such as the examples below, look like traditional medallion quilts with different fabric choices. One, Zen Medallion (on the book’s cover,) is made in wedges. I like it, but it certainly doesn’t use the usual medallion quilt construction methods.

Modern Medallion008Modern Medallion007

Good Points:
-The book gives planning, organizing and general quilt construction instructions that apply to any quilting project, and beginners might need/want to consult them.
-There are line drawings of each quilt so you can try out color combinations before you cut fabric.

-I’m inspired by the half circle outer border on Oviedo (the quilt shown on the book’s cover.) Accuracy would be crucial to ensure matched corners.

Bad Points:

-In the special techniques section (piecing curves, flying geese, half square triangles, paper piecing) I have issues with the curved piecing technique shown (too many pins,) and the paper piecing section leaves out some helpful trimming steps. Freezer paper piecing, which would be a good technique to use for the book’s patterns, isn’t mentioned. There’s lots of detail offered for different ways to make flying geese, but only one way to make half square triangles.

-The 6 pages on designing your own medallion quilt seem OK until you try to use the formulas given on pages 112 and 114 for adding, subtracting, or resizing blocks to fit; or for adding filler borders. As was pointed out to me, they are WRONG. The reader is told to multiply, when the correct mathematical operation is to divide. I suspect that somehow the wrong sign got inserted, and copy editors/proof readers never caught the error.

-I think the quilts need a degree of difficulty rating. Some involve intense paper piecing. The Migration Medallion has you piece 48 1 1/4 inch by 2 inch flying geese. That’s tiny.

-There’s no resources section or tip of the hat to the long history of medallion quilts – and books about them. I think a case could be made that many “old” medallion quilts are modern.

What do I consider a modern medallion quilt?  I’ll let Gwen Marston speak for me.

liberated-medallion-quilts- -by-gwen-marston-add-3-534px-534px

 

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Filed under Books, Commentary

Gwen Marston’s “Minimal Quiltmaking”

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.

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Filed under Books

(Very) Occasional Wednesday Salon

While I’ve talked fleetingly about her work before, Gwen Marston is someone whose increasingly abstract work has been a comfort to me as I edge away from quilts with traditional designs. I see a continuum in her work that occasionally dips back into previous influences, rather than making a sharp break with them. Possibly because her roots are in traditional quilts she seems to rethink those traditions rather than abandon them. I think she’d say she liberates those traditions.

Gwen Marston folk art quiltHere’s Gwen with one of her contemporary folk art quilts. Note the asymmetrical central design and the insouciant way the zigzag borders just run off the edges. Yet her work doesn’t go over the edge into self-conscious folkiness.

She began quilting after seeing the Amish quilts at a 1971 Whitney Museum exhibit, and expanded her influences to what I’ll call folk art heritage quilts.  According to her talk at the opening of her Dennos Art Museum exhibit (Traverse City, Michigan), she found learning the mechanics of quilting to be like “seventh grade home ec on steroids.” Then, she began to loosen up and go wonky. In her talk she said while she liked the techniques, she didn’t like the patterns of traditional quilts.

Gwen Marston Liberated BasketThis is one of Gwen’s liberated baskets quilts.  I bet each basket is different.

Her work has been characterized by use of solid fabrics (she likes how they emphasize the delineation of shapes) and hand quilting (she feels it shows up better.)

In Freddy and Gwen Collaborate Again Gwen set out her top 10 design guidelines.  These guidelines are actually about “finding your voice.” Here are my favorites:

3. Your chances of making a remarkably good quilt are increased when you take chances.

4. There is nothing sacred about exactness. Remember, great painters didn’t worry about coloring inside the lines.

6. Knowing how to truly see what you are looking at is a great leap forward for an artist.

9. Make what you want to make, and make it the way you want to make it.

10.  Most important of all – make it.

More recently Gwen has been doing small quilt sketches, some of which are shown below.

Gwen Marston sketchesHere’s another post about Gwen, featuring her latest soon-to-be-published book called Minimal Quiltmaking. I’ll let you know what I think of it once I get my hands on a copy.

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Filed under Art quilts

Quilt Sketches

I seem to turn out a lot more quilts than I used to but I think it’s because at least half of what I make are sketches rather than full blown “important” works.  I like working small scale with very limited expectations beyond slap the fabrics together and see what develops. I sometimes set limitations to work within, such as my fabric has to come from my “to be filed” box, or I can use only light colored fabric.

I do try to at least quilt and finish the edges of these works.  I can always use them as quick gifts or pads on a table.

pale_assemblageThe above sketch resulted from the light fabrics only limitation.

Chutes_and_LaddersThis piece came from my box of strips no larger than 2.5 inches by 8 inches. I combined them with brushstroke patterned fabrics.

dark_circle_on_backingThe wonky circles are a technique from Jane LaFazio combined with leftover pre-fused scraps and ribbon remnants.

Sky_and_WaterSky and Water was a practice free motion quilting piece that I turned into a pillowcase.

It seems I’m not the only one who is into quilt sketches.  Gwen Marston chronicled her sketch series in 37 Sketches (published in 2011).  No, I’m not comparing my work to hers. I gather from the one negative review (and the only review) on Amazon and the book’s limited availability that this isn’t her most widely recognized book. You can read more about it at See How We Sew.  Here’s a link to how to order a copy from Gwen.  I haven’t gotten my hands on a copy as no library in the state of Ohio owns it and I don’t know if I want to spend $30 for a 96 page book, however lovely.

While Gwen made small (about 9 by 10 or 11 inch) pieces she completed in a day, I usually spend a few days on each sketch. Also, my pieces tend to be larger, about 13 by 18 or 19 inches, but no larger than 24 by 24 inches. The first rush of design and piecing takes me about a day, and fine tuning and finishing go on for a few more days.  Sometimes this happens in one fell swoop, but I’m more likely to let my first drafts age a few days before revisiting them. A few have been aging in a drawer for years.

Of course, sometimes I never finish the piece as I decide it’s fatally flawed.  Sometimes I reach that conclusion after finishing it. And sometimes I set it aside to use in a larger future piece.

Why do I like doing this?  It’s therapy for me to sew bits of fabric together just to see how they look.  I feel freer to slash through a piece that’s not working and try something else if it’s not a “good” piece.  I get bored easily so a small piece can be finished faster, in theory.  I can work on two or three sketches at the same time.  And they make a nice break when (not if, please note) I get stuck on a larger piece.

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Filed under Commentary, In Process, Inspiration, Project Ideas

It Came From the Back of the Closet

When I was in college (many decades ago) I bought a jug of apple cider from a roadside stand, drank some of it, stowed the jug under my bed and promptly forgot about it.  Months later I found it, opened it cautiously, and decided to taste it.  It had turned into a lovely beverage with some kick.  Of course, it could just as easily have turned to vinegar.

I was in a similar situation last week when I found some forgotten abandoned projects tucked away in my fabric closet.  One, a heart done using the storm at sea pattern, was left unfinished because I couldn’t figure out how to finish it.  The other, an improv piece, was one I had planned to do up using stupendous stitching techniques.  I had even backed it with fusible fleece and fused some organza to it.  But there it sat in a recycled plastic container for a year and a half.

In the time since I abandoned these two I’ve learned different techniques and ways to look at my work.  So, inspiration struck and I finished them.  Hopefully the results aren’t vinegar. Once I added the photos to this post I was amused to realize the two pieces have remarkably similar color schemes.

making_tracks2Making Tracks benefited tremendously from Jean Wells’ books, especially ways to insert curved pieces and mount little quilted pieces. I used a hand dyed gradient done by Vicki Welsh for the framing piece.

heart_in_goldHeart in Gold reflects my awareness that sometimes a work can get too fussed at.  Originally I planned to do a checkerboard border, but I came to see that would take away from the main focus – the heart.  I think the muted gold border helps tone it down while the white dots give it some frivolity.  And Gwen Marston’s advocacy of different sizes and colors of border strips helped, too.

My question to you is, what’s in your closet?

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Filed under Completed Projects