Tag Archives: Minimal Quiltmaking

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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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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(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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