I’m self-taught as a quiltmaker and dyer. I’ve taken a few workshops over the years, but almost all of my knowledge has come from experimentation and experience. I’ve always loved geometry, color and cloth, and it seems that quiltmaking is the perfect marriage of these loves.
I began work as a fiber person in 1981. Initially, I had a desire to just play with the stuff, be involved with it. I would do virtually anything on commission, following anyone’s ideas or instructions. This resulted in a flirtation with a wide variety of styles and techniques. Each project presented different challenges, but all along I was playing with the colors and developing my color sense — the single thing that most clearly defines my work.
So it seems to me that at first, I was strictly a craftsman. A good craftsman, and with imagination and a quirkiness unlike the strictly-by-the-books crafters who abound in quilting…but mostly that was because I’d be bored silly just following instructions. I made my own designs because it was interesting to do so, and a challenge that I genuinely enjoyed. I did not really have very firm visions of what I wanted to do artistically, and at the beginning definitely welcomed the various constraints that commissioned work placed on me. But all this time, I was watching myself, apprenticing to myself, and eventually I did have some real ideas of my own. By the time I did, I had developed the skills to carry them out!
After a couple years of commission work, I started doing high-quality craft shows in the northeastern United States. For my first several shows, I would take one large quilt to display while I sold smaller items. A breakthrough came for me when I started taking more than one quilt to the shows. I had a swing-out display built that would hold 6 quilts at once, so I was motivated to try and fill this. As I sold quilts at shows, I’d make more quilts to display. I got a stronger and stronger sense of what was really my work. I discovered that almost always, the quilts that produced the most excitement at the shows were the ones I was most excited about; the newest piece would usually sell first.
One thing that contributed to the development of my own aesthetic was the sheer volume of work that I did, big and little. I could play with something and not lose much if it didn’t work out too well; usually somebody bought it anyway! If I took a risk and it worked, then next time I could go a little farther without being scared out of my wits!
The single most important turning-point in my work came when I started dyeing my own fabric. My dyeing has never been an exercise in control; I purposely let all sorts of chance occurances affect the dyeing that I do. Maybe this goes back to the love of the materials; it’s almost like a conversation with the fabrics that I’ve made: “What do you want to be?” Over the years, my design emphasis has increasingly shifted towards attempts to use particular pieces of fabric: “How can I best show you off to advantage?” I now use exclusively my own hand-dyed cotton cloth for all bedquilts and hangings (including the backs!), and keep hundreds of yards of dyed fabric on hand (more all the time!).
For many years I resisted the label “artist.” My attitude was that of a craftsperson, which to me meant that the emphasis was in the doing — the process rather than the result. One of my associations (whether right or wrong) with “works of art” had to do with a certain preciousness, an attitude that “this piece is my heart, my soul, it needs to be perfect…and that when it’s perfect, it really tears me apart to have to sell it.” That whole attitude seems too painful to me! I strive to make enjoyable, livable items, and to exchange them for money so that I can continue with the making, which is the real satisfaction for me.