Tag Archives: Gwen Marston

A Liberated Baby Quilt

In my last post, I wrote about the difference between a liberated or improv process and an improv style. If you’ve followed my blog for very long or taken a look through my gallery, you haven’t seen much in an improv style. But I have done a couple of things in that mode.

About ten years ago, I decided to make a “baby” quilt for my son. He was already an adult by then. Influenced by Gwen Marston’s Liberated Quiltmaking, I did this:

I used print jungle fabric purchased at Walmart because of the cheetahs in the design. Cheetahs were one of Son’s favorite animals. The outside border was also used on a large, tied comforter I made for him a few years before. Some of the solids were cotton-polyester blend broadcloth. The stars in the sashing intersections were directly influenced by Marston’s style. I even did some hand-quilting!

Apparently I wasn’t entranced by deliberately making my stars and blocks look irregular, because other than one more project, I haven’t done other quilts completely in this “liberated” but torturous style.

Even so, when I walk in the room where this hangs, it always makes me smile.

Those cheetahs will show up again in the next baby quilt I make, which is for Son’s expected baby. Here is the fabric I’ll use:

 

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Inspired by Gwen

One of the books I bought early in my quilting life, which I still own, is Gwen Marston’s Liberated Quiltmaking (1996.) I tried the “improv” style of wonky stars and house blocks and found it wasn’t for me. However, her improv process helped develop my own design methods.

What’s the difference between an improvisational style and an improv process? My thinking on this crystalized the other day when reading Audrey’s post on one of her projects. She has long worked in an improv method — in her words, “working in an unscripted manner and working successfully to resolve any/all issues that come up, etc. etc.” — only recently has she begun working in a more improvisational style, with less concern for precision and measurement. Again in her words with her emphasis, “My best inspiration overall, is in the vintage and antique style of quilts, preferably the softer, less perfect looking utility style of quilts.”  

I wrote a lot about improv a year ago, including this: “You don’t have to give up rulers and measurement and high-quality construction to make improv quilts. Your points can all be perfect, or not. To me, the real process of improvisation in quilting is that of making one decision at a time, and being open to the notion that any decision you make might be wrong, and call for a change. It is not a style, it is a process… ”

I’ve opened my thinking to agree that we can call “improv” a style, too. But you can create the style from patterns, or you can work the process and still end up with something most people would call very traditional. Improv style and improv process are two different things. They both have their place but they are not the same. What quadrant is most of your quilting in? Most of mine is upper left, in improv method but not improv style.

What Does This Have to Do with Gwen Marston?

Gwen Marston is often thought of as the founder of improvisational style. (I would argue she is not.) Marston has worked with both traditional and liberated styling for decades. I have five of her many books and two focus on historical styling from the 1800s. If you understand that this is the underpinnings of her work, you can see it in what has developed since then.

In the book Freddy & Gwen Collaborate Again (with Freddy Moran, 2009,) Marston includes a quilt that reflects both her traditional roots and her improv styling.

Freddy & Gwen Collaborate Again. Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran, 2009, p. 23.

I was especially taken by the purple background. Three years ago when I began a project using an urn with flowers, the photo above was my strongest inspiration. I started by drawing this:20160126_124416_resized

Three years is a long time for development of one of my quilts. The drawing gave me a starting point, as did the purple background. I chose fabrics for flowers and leaves, most of which were too wimpy against the strong purple and didn’t end up on the quilt. My intention was to needle-turn appliqué the piece. After a couple of leaves, I knew that wouldn’t happen. And so the project got relegated to a bin of works-in-process, or more accurately, works-in-waiting.

Last year as I experimented more with appliqué, I brought it out, chose new fabrics for the center, and began again.

Skipping to the punchline, here is the finished quilt.

Inspired by Gwen. 45″ x 55″. Photo by Jim Ruebush. January 2019.

And a few notes on my improvisational process:
1. After auditioning a variety of colors for the leaves, flowers, and urn, I chose strongly saturated ones that held up to the purple and determined the rest of the color scheme.
2. I adjusted the size of the center with red strips at the top and bottom. This allowed the hourglass blocks on the inner border standard sizing. The hourglasses are scrappy of reds, pinks, oranges and golds, greens, and purples.
3. Visually there is A LOT going on in the hourglasses, which led to the calmer choices in the next border. 🙂 I wanted to extend the purple from the center but had very little of it left. I auditioned several purples and wasn’t happy with any of them. They didn’t “go” with the center. The best way to fix that is to use more than one. The more you add, the more they all go together. So the side borders with appliquéd vines got one purple, while the upper and lower borders with semi-circles on chartreuse green got a different one. While there are lots of greens in the leaves on the sides, and the vines are hand-cut squiggles, the upper and lower borders are fairly regimented, retaining some order.
4. The outer border again reflects the influence of Marston’s quilt, though I didn’t realize it until the top was almost done. Yes, I actually had the red zigzag pieced when I looked at the inspiration photo again and saw that I mimicked it without intending to. The other colors in the outer border repeat those in the hourglass border, and they are the same shape and similar size. The repetition helps hold off the chaos that could have erupted here.
5. I “custom” quilted it using different motifs and threads by section. There is red thread on the red triangles of the outer border, to strengthen them rather than diminish the color. Purple thread is on the purple background of the center for same reason. Most of the rest has a neutral, very fine thread to provide texture but allow the color blast of the surface to dominate.
6. I finished with a green binding.

The technique here is as improvisational as the design method. I used several different methods of appliqué in this project, choosing whatever seemed to work most simply. A few shapes are applied by hand; some are fused and finished with a zigzag; some are stuck down with glue stick; the semi-circles use a completely different method.

Gwen Marston has been an inspiration in my quilting life since nearly the beginning. I’m pleased to finish this quilt that shows that influence more directly.

Lessons: Round Robin Books Review

The Quilting Party, Artist Unknown, c. 1840-1850.

I’ve recently provided reviews on almost all the medallion books there are, as well as five books on quilt borders. Before I finish with reviews, I want to include four books I own on collaborative quilting. Two specifically consider round robins, while two are a little different.

Round Robin Quilts by Pat Magaret and Donna Slusser, 1994
It’s surprising how much great information is packed in this older book. It covers round robins as a friendship or small group project. Besides the familiar medallion format, the book suggests a handful of variations. Considerable space is spent discussing options for group rules, including having no rules at all. Photos are abundant of real projects, and while not all the individual projects are inspiring, they give a sense of the possibilities. Besides group dynamics and projects, the authors also cover both design and construction in depth. In fact, the design discussion here includes elements (line, shape, color, value, texture, and space) as well as principles (unity, emphasis, balance, scale, and rhythm.) It is clear, easy to read, and is written with a friendly tone, befitting the projects. I honestly don’t remember where I got this book, but I’m glad to have it. It is one of the best two medallion books I own, along with Sally Collins’ Borders, Bindings & Edges, reviewed here.

Round Robin Renaissance by M’liss Rae Hawley, 2006
As the title says, the focus here is on round robin (group) projects more generally, including medallion quilts, row quilts, samplers, and others. The section on medallions is small and provides two patterns with very specific sizing for elements. The other types of projects seem to be similarly rigid. More disconcerting, though, is the section on behavior by participants. Hawley recommends substantial paperwork be passed with projects, fully-specified fabrics, same-brand rulers to ensure consistency of sizing from all participants… She has a list of rules for how to be a “perfect team member,” and even recommends wording for when you need to tell another member that their work isn’t up to your standards. Honestly, it is just odd. If any group suggested I participate in such a constricted and obsessive way, I would certainly decline. If you want that much control over your quilt, make it yourself! (I just donated this book Monday at my guild meeting.)

Freddy & Gwen Collaborate Again by Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran, 2009
Following up on their prior book Collaborative Quilting, Marston and Moran play with bright colors, bold designs, and liberated piecing. The range of formats includes block, strip, and medallion quilts. They show how to create the various parts used in multiple quilts, and then include a gallery referencing which parts were used.

The point of the book isn’t actually to advocate for working in pairs or groups. It doesn’t discuss the logistics of collaboration, or the benefits or pitfalls. However, the influence of both designers is visible in the joyful results. In my opinion, that speaks for itself. This book is just fun to look at, which is why I bought it and why I still own it.

Setting Solutions by Sharyn Craig, 2001
Of all the books in my personal library, this is one I would reach for if I could only keep ten books. It isn’t about medallions, it isn’t about round robins. It’s about solving problems. Problems that are common for group quilts include blocks that are sized differently, unusual numbers of blocks, and oddly colored blocks. Craig addresses all these issues with creativity and practicality.

For a more complete review, see my post on the best book I don’t own. (I own it now!)

Do you have a favorite book (or other resource) on collaborative quilting? Certainly these just touch on the subject. Block swaps, bees, friendship and album quilts, remembrance quilts, political quilts… There are many ways to work together in quilting. Do you have stories to tell about working with others on quilts? I could tell you stories… 

Lessons: Medallion Books Review

Very few books on medallion quilts have been published in the last 35 years. Mostly they provide patterns. A few provide some historical context. Only one has an in-depth discussion of design.

For those interested in medallion quilts, whether made by yourself or in a round robin, I wanted to give short reviews of the ones you might encounter. Some I own and others I don’t. All reviews are presented in order of year of publication.

20160505_135833

The Art and Technique of Creating Medallion Quilts by Jinny Beyer, 1982
I own this out-of-print book and am glad I do. It’s a useful reference even though it is dated in presentation. Beyer’s writing is wordy; the book is largely in black and white; the quilt styling is formal and symmetrical; and construction methods use individually drafted templates for piecing. None of this is very appealing to today’s quilters, used to rotary cutting and quick piecing methods, as well as less formal styling. Things I like include a comprehensive history of the medallion format. Also, two chapters specifically consider design, though they focus on the broad outlines of proportion and not on aspects like color, value, shape, line, and movement. This book acknowledges construction challenges but provides little help for solving them, and there are no projects or patterns.

Classic English Medallion Style Quilts by Bettina Havig, 2003
This book shows traditional styling, providing patterns but no design context. The author asserts you can make an authentic English-style quilt using a center block and borders that alternately are pieced and wholecloth. There are ten types of border block units with instruction. The layouts of quilts are attractive, but the colors would be considered dated now. In addition, there are no construction strategies offered to help the quilter get borders to fit, assuming all sizing is absolutely accurate. The author provides planning charts, allowing quilters to customize their quilts with different blocks. However I find the charts very confusing, and the borders sizes odd. I don’t use this book much.

Medallion Quilts: Inspiration & Patterns by Cindy V. Hamilton, 2006
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out many times from my guild library. It includes some historical information about medallions, as well as beautiful photos. Hamilton is a skilled designer and includes patterns for four quilts. (I have not made any, so can’t comment on quality of instructions.) Though she encourages substitutions in border styles for the quilter’s preference or skills, her patterns include complex piecing with templates, and significant amounts of appliqué. Also, Hamilton’s book mentions making borders fit but doesn’t discuss solutions so quilters can do so.

Liberated Medallion Quilts by Gwen Marston, 2012
Marston is best known for her exuberant, “liberated” style. With its wonky, non-standard styling, liberated piecing gives plenty for the eye to enjoy. In this book she extends that styling to the traditional medallion format, and provides plenty of evidence for the notion that liberated IS traditional. The quilts in this book are playful and unique, a treat to look at.

In text Marston argues for design-as-you-go, but she doesn’t support that with strategies the reader might use to design their own, though there are patterns for a number of quilts. In addition, though I love many of these quilts, the liberated style is not how I like to work. So I use this beautiful book for inspiration if not instruction.

Focus on the Center by Pat Sloan, 2012
This is a pattern book with no design discussion. There are patterns for six lap quilts and one bed quilt. The marketing information doesn’t say what sizes those mean. I haven’t seen it in person, but the pictures of quilts are generally attractive.

Blocks, Borders, Quilts! by Sunny Steinkuhler, 2012
This book includes one blueprint for customization of a 40″ square quilt, with a number of specifically sized blocks. Though the creative reader could deviate from this pattern, there seems to be little to no design or construction information. I haven’t seen this book in person. One thing in the Amazon preview puts me off entirely. Steinkuhler says about contrast, “… you may not want any contrast in your quilt at all. There are no wrong answers here.” While wholecloth quilts can be very beautiful and interesting, they do have contrast in texture. And her book is on pieced medallion quilts, not whole cloth. What reason could there be for piecing a quilt with no contrast? I found this confusing.

The Modern Medallion Workbook by Janice Z. Ryan and Beth Vassalo, 2015
I don’t own this book but I’ve checked it out from the public library. Compiled by Ryan and Vassolo, it is a book featuring patterns by 11 designers including themselves. In addition, there are notes on basic quilt creation such as choosing fabrics, improving seam allowances, and cutting, which might be useful for beginning quilters. It is marketed as a “workbook,” as implied by the title. The premise is that the quilter can pick and choose favorite elements from the patterned designs, to customize a quilt to their taste. The workbook section does provide some helpful tips for this process. However, at only six pages, it really doesn’t cover either the design process or construction strategies in any depth. In the first printing, all three formulas given were stated incorrectly. All three said to multiply when the function should have been to divide, and one of the three had incorrectly stated order of operations. An experienced quilter might be able to suss that out, but a new quilter might be hopelessly confused. I won’t add this book to my personal library. For a more complete review, check the one written by Joanna the Snarky Quilter.

Quilter’s Academy Volume 5: Master’s Year by Harriet Hargrave and Carrie Hargrave, 2016
I wrote an extensive review of this new book when it came out in January. It was a big disappointment to me, for several reasons. The book is poorly formatted with at least three page layout styles; photos are murky; and all the quilts shown are in dull, muted colors. The content is marketed as a reference book and specifically not as a pattern book. Instead, it features patterns. The design reference section focuses on how to draw medallions on graph paper. The writing is confusing, both for basic text and pattern instructions. The authors’ tone is at least as off-putting as anything else. Please see my complete review for more detail.

Do you have any of these books? What do you think of them? What are your favorite medallion quilt books?

More Book Reviews

I’ve mentioned before that I’m on my local guild’s library committee. The reality is I’m the committee’s chairman. And with that I have the privilege of choosing new books to add to our library. I buy new books several times a year, with no particular schedule. I think we have an official budget of $250, but we’ve also sold many books over the last three years, raising at least that much each time. And as mentioned before, I almost always buy books on discount, both for myself and for the guild. (For the guild, however, I only buy new.) Truthfully, I don’t worry much about the budget…

Our guild year begins in September. Last guild year I added a number of books. Here are reviews of a few of them.

Reviews of Guild Library Books
Quilters Playtime by Dianne S. Hire
As the name implies, this book wants to make quilting more fun with a set of games. The games range from tiddly winks, pick-up sticks, tic tac toe, and musical chairs, as well as several others. A lot of the techniques include sewing blocks and slicing, and then resewing parts from a number of blocks together. Others include fusing and machine applique.

The resulting quilts are interesting, fun, and refreshing, and they give me an “I wanna try that!” feeling. Frankly, a lot of books with offbeat techniques don’t make me feel that way. In fact, this one looked like so much fun, I bought a copy for myself.

Liberated Quiltmaking II by Gwen Marston
Marston originated the term “liberated quilting” and uses it to describe her freeform, improvisational process. This 2010 publication by the favorite author/quilter takes readers through nine processes to create fresh quilts without patterns. From liberated log cabins and wonky stars, recut blocks and sashing, and truly wild geese, she shows how to make parts that can be combined in various ways. The final two processes, Liberated Medallions and Liberated Samplers, show how the parts can be combined in multitudes of ways for a new look.

Throughout the book, photos of finished quilts, diagrams of stitching and cutting instructions, and tips provide the reader with everything they need to begin liberating themselves from traditional patterns.

Create Your Own Free-Form Quilts by Rayna Gillman
My sister bought this book first, and excitedly showed me through it and some piecing she had started inspired by the book. I love the quote on the book’s back cover: “No such thing as a mistake!” So many of us, as we learn to quilt, focus more on our mistakes than on our victories. This is a sure way to kill pleasure and creativity.

This book’s philosophy carries the no-mistakes theme all through. The author’s cheerful attitude takes the reader from sewing strips cut without rulers, joining strip sets, slicing them across and apart, framing, and rejoining. The resulting quilts are thoroughly original and, to me, reminiscent of architectural studies. A bonus is the chapter on using orphan or ugly blocks. Once they are sliced up and re-pieced with slashes and strips, they aren’t recognizable anymore, but are reborn.

Quilts Made Modern by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr
Unlike the three books above, this book uses purely traditional processes. However, it does so within the styling of “modern” or “contemporary” quilts. Sections on design and construction sandwich the section of patterns, making this a more traditional book just by its arrangement. The patterns in between also show multiple colorways and information to make each quilt in varying sizes.

The patterns themselves allow quilters of differing skill levels to try simple Chinese coins, transparency, curved piecing, and different kinds of applique. Few of the quilts use a typical block style, and though the patterns are modern in this regard, no one would mistake the quilts for another art or textile genre.

Men and the Art of Quiltmaking by Joe Cunningham
This exciting book provides a gallery and artist summaries of about thirty male quilters, as well as several patterns. The men’s comments on their introduction to quilting, their creative processes, and why they quilt are not very different than you would hear from most women. But culturally we often are surprised by men who quilt, and some of them discuss others’ reactions, as well.

The photos of the quilts reveal a variety of styles. Some show traditional block-pieced quilts, others focus on applique, while others veer into the art quilt world. The common thread, in my opinion, is the boldness of color and form. While the author may have chosen these quilters specifically for this quality, it stands out to me in a way a collection of women’s quilts might not.

Reviews of Books from My Personal Library
A few days ago I blogged about buying books. One of the things I mentioned was the idea of creating a written inventory of my personal library.

I used an Excel spreadsheet to record the title, author, and publication date for each. I also noted the category of the book. Categories include History, Patterns, Machine Quilting, etc. To preserve the list, I uploaded it using Google Docs.

On the list are more than 80 books acquired over the last few years, and I’ve probably donated another 20 or 25, books I decided I no longer need.

As I entered them in my spreadsheet, I wondered which ones I’d keep now, if I could only have a few. Four of them stood out for different reasons.

The Ultimate Quilting Book by Maggi McCormick Gordon is one of the first books I owned. At 448 pages, it is survey of classic quilts, including patchwork and applique. Antique and contemporary quilts are shown in high-quality photos with discussion of pattern, layout, and the histories of them. The last half of the book focuses on techniques.

Scrap Quilt Sensation by Katharine Guerrier is another favorite. The author takes color a completely different direction from the antiques of the prior book. Rich blues, purples, and greens dominate, with warm colors as accents. Block styles have a more fluid nature than in traditional quilts, but she uses all the traditional techniques. This book helped me look at color and format in whole new ways.

I checked Scrap Quilts: The Art of Making Do out of the public library dozens of times before I finally had for a copy of my own. Roberta Horton shows fabric and color combinations to honor, not imitate, antique quilts. As a fun addition, the latter part of the book also discusses story quilts and how to compose them. I find this book fascinating and refer to it over and over for inspiration.

Finally, Harriet Hargrave and Sharyn Craig‘s The Art of Classic Quiltmaking is a classic unto itself. It serves as a how-to resource for a variety of technical skills, but it also discusses color and composition, as well as other topics necessary to the skilled quilter.

Do you have favorite books or bookstores for your quilting adventures? Are there “best” books for learning techniques or processes, for learning color theory or design? Share with us!