Tag Archives: liberated quilting

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:



Why I Battle With Labels

If you read here regularly, you may have noticed me railing against labels. I’ve condemned the notion of “modern” medallions and objected some to “liberated” quilting. If you get me started on “traditional” quilting, believe me I can object to that label, as well. Are we talking about the tradition of using quilted material as body armor in the Middle Ages? Or as petticoats? Or wall-hangings to buffer the stone walls from the cold wisps of winter? Maybe those aren’t the traditions people mean by that term.

One of my main objections is that the labels are artificial. In particular, it’s hard to find meaning in the term “modern quilt” when even modern quilters don’t agree what it means. For some it is in the colors or patterns used; for others it’s in the amount of negative space; still others point to the creation of new blocks. For me, personally, modern quilting is that which breaks the grid. But even that is a poor conception, when we look at crazy quilts from the 1880s and wonder where the grid went in those.

Liberated Quiltmaking  was introduced by Gwen Marston in 1996. In her introduction she specifically cites African American utility quilts as a source of inspiration. She also notes that “Liberated Quiltmaking is guided by process, rather than published pattern. Process gives you a way to work, but it does not dictate a destination.” (Her whole chapter Significant Concepts is worth your reading to understand what Marston actually means by “liberated.” By her definition, everything I make is liberated. I agree…)

So what’s my problem with labels, other than that they do not mean what some people think they mean? Labels are a natural result of how humans’ brains work. Humans categorize and label almost everything, from food to animals to style of house to species of tree. Even poor Pluto has been classified a planet and reclassified as a dwarf planet. Astronomers continue to debate the right way to label it. We want to separate things by type in order to make sense of them. It’s like having an index card file — only if the thing is labeled correctly can you find that card again, and relate it to other things appropriately.

Labels are natural, but labels can affect how you see yourself and how you fulfill that vision, both for good and for bad. They affect other people’s expectations of you, too. What label did you have growing up? If you had siblings, you may have each had labels. I was “the baby,” setting expectations for how competent I was (or not) in a variety of ways.

There was a day not so long ago when I first called myself a “designer.” Though I have always designed my own quilts, never before had I thought of myself as a designer. Surely that was someone who had studied art or … maybe even design! No. Just as a writer is someone who writes, a designer is someone who designs. But simply relabeling myself in a more expansive way changed the way I think of myself and my quilts.

If we label ourselves in confining ways, that has an impact, too. How many times have you told someone you are “just” something — just a mom, just an accountant, just a volunteer? I have a friend who used to say “I am just a plumber.” He does not say that anymore, at least around me. After being scolded more than a couple of times, being reminded of all the things he is and does, he does not say that anymore. He seems to have a more expansive view of himself than he used to. Having that broader view feeds his willingness to try even more.

If you call yourself a traditional quilter, does that mean you can’t try a different approach? If you think of yourself as a modern quilter, are you willing to try using historical blocks and formats? If I am a medallion quilter, does that mean I only make medallion quilts?

In my case, I will say “no.” I reject that notion. I am a medallion quilter and I have expertise in medallions. But I am not afraid to try new things.

Here is the punchline: I am not afraid. I choose not to be afraid. I choose not to let labels limit my work by format or style.

Recently at a family party, I mentioned that I want to try skydiving. And zip-lining. And rock climbing… Someone asked me if that is my mid-life crisis. No. I’ve had my mid-life crisis, and it was the scariest thing I’ll ever go through. None of these things could be as frightening as that. As compared to that, how scary is it to try a “modern” quilt when I’m not used to working that way? Honest to pete, what’s the worst that could happen? I learn something from it?

Why let labels define me, box me in, determine what I will or will not do? Labels don’t get to decide. I do. I get to decide, and I am not afraid.

Son’s Liberated Baby Quilt

This morning Jim and I cleaned a room, the room our son refers to as mine. When we moved to this house, my room was intended as a guest room, as well as for my sewing and crafts. It is again the guest room, but it no longer holds my studio. Now the family room and his room hold my long-arm machine, domestic machine, and all my quilting supplies. His room is no longer his, though he won’t officially recognize its change in status.

The room we cleaned this morning has Son’s remaining belongings, a bed and a dresser. One of the other remnants of his life with us hangs on the wall. It is a small quilt I made for him, what I call his baby quilt. In fact, I made it when he was 20, a few short years ago.

His life has changed dramatically since I made this, going from college student to Air Force pilot, from Iowa to the Pacific Northwest, from in love to engaged. My life has changed, too, as has my quilting.

When I made this quilt, I wanted to try new things. I had a Gwen Marston book (the first of the several I now own) and wanted to try the “liberated” style. I did not love the process of making the quilt. It did not feel “free” to me but both chaotic and contrived.

My evolution in quilting makes this more comfortable now than it was then. Last summer I finished a quilt that uses some of the same liberated approach.

African star 1

African Star. 42″ x 44″. July 2014.

Truly liberated quilting need not be “anything goes.” Nor does it need to include contrived, even patterned (or paper pieced!) “wonky” stars. Liberated quilting at its best is mindful quilting. Rather than mindlessly following someone else’s pattern and rules, we can make decisions thoughtfully. We can follow recognized design principles to break the rules. We can create for ourselves. Sometimes that means perfect points and evenly spaced blocks. Sometimes it does not. We are liberated when we choose for ourselves.

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!