How did you get into quilting?
I started sewing as a young child on the farm in Minnesota. My mother was a seamstress and my father had an upholstery business. My grandmother Elda Wolfe was the quilter ... everyone sewed! My three dimensional skills were pretty good from a young age as no one was using patterns, so I learned to look and make things up as I went along, from watching my parents. I was always a maker and knew I’d be an artist when I grew up. I was always making all kinds of crazy things and using fabric was one thing that was always accessible to me.
When did you make your first quilt?
I made many hand patchwork pillows, doll quilts, etc. from a young age. I started sewing when I was 4. I believe my first finished quilt, was when I was 13, it’s pretty sad looking but still in one piece! I started making many larger quilts aged 14-20, and many I abandoned because I was cutting shapes sewing them together, and I couldn’t figure out how to make them perfect, they stayed quilt tops and were never finished. I find it funny now when I look back at them and see that creative free spirit who was just cutting and sewing without thinking about seam allowances etc. Now I think they are very charming quilts and I’m really happy I still have a couple of them.
Later, after I was married I stumbled on quilt blogs and saw beautifully made quilts and I thought, “Mmmm, I could do that!” And I started to learn everything I could about making quilts. It had never occurred to me to get a quilt book, as I did not learn that way. So blogs were a huge source of skill building for me as far as finishing skills, like binding, facings, etc.
Who were your early influences?
My family and my grandmother are my influencers. My grandmother was making scrap double knit polyester (crimplene) quilts all through the 70’s which is what we slept under on the farm. The bright amazing colours, which will never fade, made a huge impact on me. I thought that was how you made beautiful quilts - by cutting up fabrics and sewing them all back together willy nilly. Hence my love of scrap quilts and “made fabric”. Sewing all my scraps together and using them as “made fabric” in my quilts. What I learned from this traditional scrap process that has been around for 100’s of years was how it influences my process and how I look at building a quilt. I start with scraps, sew them together and I’m looking to make my inspiration. I then wait for the fabrics to tell me what’s next. What do I have in front of me? What do I like? What colours do I see? What can I do with it? What new pattern can I come up with etc. It’s that exploring of design, pattern and colour that excited me the most in quilt making. I’m always looking for a way to shake up my creative process so I’m not just doing the same thing over and over.
Do you have a favorite quilt that you’ve created? Tell us how you came up with the idea for this one
My quilts are my favorite at various times, usually they’re my favorite while I’m working on them and then I move on to the next journey of making a new favorite.
The process is what excites me the most when I’m creating - by the time I finish the binding I’m over it, and thinking about the next project … it’s all about the MAKING.
My most personal quilt is my Double Edged Love quilt. It changed my process, and inspired a whole series of double wedding ring quilts. I’ve made over 60 double wedding ring quilts since, and I continue to make more. It became a healing journey and full circle moments about where I grew up, and where I live now. How modern and traditional quilting can live together, and taught me how to slow down, and enjoy the process a bit longer. I do tend to work very quickly, but in piecing a double wedding ring quilt, you need patience. It’s not hard to do, but slow to put together. The quilts in the series have traveled for over three years all over the globe, and I am happy that some will be at Festival of Quilts!
Your double wedding ring quilt “Double Edged Love” (quilted by Lisa Sipes) won Best in Show at QuiltCon 2013
Was your (DWR) book already underway?
No. The quilt came first! The book “Double Wedding Ring Quilts: Traditions Made Modern” came after the entire series of quilts were made. I had not intended on writing another book so the book came about after the exhibition was organised and set to exhibit at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Textiles. I made the first 12 double wedding rings, as a very personal journey of quilts. I made them to explore the relationship about where I came from, where I live now, my happy memories of my grandmother’s quilt, my sewing background and my family's background.
Your Charity “Bumblebeans” has been running for a few years now - tell us a little about it
I feel it’s important when you get to do something you love, (quilting) that you share with others in anyway you can. I’ve run several quilt drives over the years for Transitional Housing projects for homeless families, to Hurricane Sandy victims, to womens domestic violence and recovery centres. Currently I am sending out quilts to those affected by cancer, illness, or the loss of someone very close. The programmes change, and I try to help where and when I can, with the help of amazing quilters globally in doing so. Either through finished quilts or quilt blocks that can be made up quickly to share with others.
Tell us about your collaboration with Sizzix
I have a giant list of quilts that I want to make in my lifetime! Sometimes those quilts take a lot of time to cut out, sometimes they have a lot of small pieces, sometimes I cut up old quilt tops etc. I’d wanted a faster way to change them into something new and fabulous which is where Sizzix came in. When I’m creating dies for my Sizzix line, I am looking for amazing designs that are very versatile, meaning they can make more than one design, and make my cutting easier! Precision is key on my patterns ... having a great cut makes for ease of construction. I am constantly looking to see what I can use with Sizzix. I also find that as I teach often, I come across a lot of people who find it difficult to cut. Sizzix takes this frustration out of the equation and makes it easy to sit and sew and always have amazing results.
What is your favourite die you have designed for Sizzix, and why?
Mmmm I have so many, I only design a die if I want to make it so they are all my favorites. My current go tos are the ones with a crazy amount of versatility such as the varied triangle and square dies. Rocking the house is fantastic for scrap busting and such an easy block to piece. But then the curved braid gives you something totally unique that you have not seen anywhere else!
What advice would you give to anyone interested in starting out with patchwork and quilting?
Sizzix is a great tool to start with when you are beginning, again precise cutting makes for ease of construction. When you have ease, it makes it so much fun when you have success piecing your blocks. I also say, LOOK around as much as possible to see what kind of quilt excites you. If you start out making a quilt that you must have, your excitement will stay with you through the process.
You recently opened a quilt store in NYC. What are your plans for that?
Yes! My store, VFW Quilts, opened in September 2016 - so add it to your “quilt shops to visit in NYC list!” I humbly call it my “shipping department” as all my products (my own fabrics, books, templates, patterns, threads, sewing goodies, etc.) and shipping were done from my home. Now I get to have all of it in their own space, and allow quilty friends from all over the globe to come in and say hi, talk and shop quilts!
Strangely, my husband was so happy when I moved it all out of my house … hmmm …..?? Ha-ha … it’s been wonderful for me too ... I can’t run in and fill web orders at 8pm now, I can relax and work on hand projects in the evening with my family. I do tend to work non-stop, so by having the store now open to the public in its own space, has helped me regulate my workload. Family comes first for me no matter what, so this has been a great move. Conveniently my studio is in the same building as the store, which is one building over from where I live, so my commute is perfect!
What are your hobbies outside of quilting?
If I’m not making a quilt, I’m thinking about making a quilt, or gardening or cooking while thinking about making quilt. No matter what I’m doing - I’m looking for inspiration everywhere. I take a load of photographs, and play with photography as a way to create when I’m on the road. I’m a maker to my core, as long as I’m making something - I’m happy.
So what next?
I have several new fabric lines, patterns and my next book Modern Quilt Magic will be out August 2017! I’m still traveling around to teach and lecture, but will be doing more retreats from my home in NYC. My daughter will be graduating in 2018, so I don’t want to miss a thing, so I plan on staying closer to home.