Dec 1, 2022
The Anatomy of Quilt Art
I am often asked what goes into making a piece of quilt art? There is the obvious fabric and sewing, but it starts earlier than that. I will see something that triggers me to create. It could be a quilt technique I have not tried before or a combination of colors. Often it is a quilt challenge that gets my juices flowing. With any of these, I think, "How I can tweak it to make it my own?" I don't want to copy or make the same thing twice. So the idea is launched.
This is my favorite part! I often use "non-traditional" fabric (things other than cotton). Maybe I am going for a texture like "furry" or a visual like "shiny". I love using material that has sparkle in it. COLOR selection is my super power! I have a savant-like gift for combining colors that make the eyes "pop" when you look at it. It can take me half an hour to two hours to pick out fabric. Then it's home to wash, dry and iron the fabric.
To pre-wash or not, that is the question!
There is a huge debate in the quilting world whether to pre-wash fabric or not. Some people like the stiffness of new fabric (and it saves on ironing). They feel it creates a crisper seam. Fabric comes with sizing on it from the factory. Sizing is like a chemical starch that makes the material look clean and crisp on the bolt.
Icky chemicals, bleeding and shrinking...
I object to the chemical sizing on the material (especially for functional quilts that will touch the skin). I also want to make sure the colors will stay fast and not bleed or run. I want to know about that before I put all the work into a piece just to have it bleed all over itself when I wash it when it's finished. And, there is the shrinkage factor. I tend to use different types of material and they will likely shrink by different rates. So, I am a pre-wash gal. I don't mind the extra steps of washing, drying and ironing. I actually find ironing material (not clothes!) relaxing.
Cutting and piecing, Oh MY!
Cutting and piecing come next. I cut my material using a ruler and rotary cutter (think pizza cutter). I will sew the pieces together until the project is finished. My regular sewing machine is a 1950's Kenmore. I purchased it in 1988 and have made every quilt project with it since then. It is very basic - sews forward and backward - that's it. That's all I require. Cutting and piecing can take several days to weeks depending on the size of the project.
Connecting three layers.
The definition of a quilt is three layers of material connected together - usually an artistic top, a middle layer of batting (for warmth) and a backing piece. Typically a quilt is tied or quilted to connect the layers. Until 10 years ago I tied my quilts. Tying is literally making a loop stitch through the layers and tying a knot on the outside of the quilt. This is done in several places to hold the quilt together. Quilting a quilt is the fancy stitching that is used to bind the layers together.
I now have a long arm machine that is used specifically to quilt the quilt. It enables me to do the fancy stitch work on any size quilt up to king size. This is another artistic dimension in the piece of art work. A stitching design is worked out. Thread colors are decided upon. The quilt is loaded onto the machine and quilting is begun. Quilting the quilt can take several hours to weeks to complete depending on size and how complicated the stitching design is. It can take much longer if there are several thread color changes as well.
Well, not quite. Now we have come to the tedious part of the project (in my humble opinion). After the quilt comes off the long arm machine, it needs to be trimmed up and a binding needs to be added. If it is to be a wall hanging, a hanging sleeve must be added to the back and my personal label needs to be attached as well.
Finally, a professional photo is taken. The photo and story are added to my portfolio and my website. Hopefully a buyer feels they can't live without it and it becomes a cherished piece of art work on the buyer's wall.
Why is quilt art so expensive?
I sometimes get asked this question when I am at art shows, so let me explain...
The materials have their own expense. The hours selecting, washing, creating and then sewing all rack up quite a bit of time (days to months to complete a piece). Then, there are the years of dedication I have put into learning the craft. I have a 30+ years of experience quilting. The finished product is not a comforter from a box store. It is a one-of-a-kind, work of art!
My hope is that the beauty and craftsmanship are not only admired and appreciated but truly enjoyed! I definitely enjoy making them!