Would You Like to Design Your Own Quilt?

By Cindy Alford

I have a long standing kinesthetic relationship with fibers—I like to touch. It feels elemental, like something from another lifetime. Knitting, crocheting, reverse applique, embroidery, needlepoint, weaving, and sewing—I’ve dabbled in them all. But quilting is my favorite; the texture created by quilting is like nothing else.

My sensibility as an artist was formed during the years I pursued an art minor at a small college in Oregon. The art department was in an old, two story house. The biggest room downstairs was devoted to the gallery. The art shown was varied and of high quality, but the significance for me came from the fact that I looked at each show once or twice a week for as long as it lasted. I learned to see, to experience what I saw, and most importantly, to trust my opinions.

I was still a long way from thinking of myself as an artist.

Twenty years later, I struggled to say, “my quilting room,” and, “I am a quilter.” Joining several other women to form a small group was pivotal, because I learned to put my work up on the wall, stand back, and really look. I learned that I couldn’t make a decision about my art in my head because the reality seldom resembled my imaginings. I had to see my work in order to make decisions.

I always begin a quilt with the fabrics. That necessarily led to designing my own quilts, because I needed a design to fit the fabrics. This need led to that magical feeling of being lost, totally absorbed in the moment, playing with ideas, and creating something I liked.

The part of quilting I like most is the decision making. I may design a whole quilt at the beginning, but the plan always evolves. I start with something and then add and subtract and try out and discard as I go along over a period of days and weeks. I often have several projects going at once on the design wall that stretches across the room. Many times a day I stop and look, have an idea, try it out. Look again. This process is what keeps me coming back. Alive. Working.

For me the hardest part of being an artist was getting to the point where the joy of the process outweighed the fear of making a fool of myself. I always came back to the question, “What do I have of value to share?” The big shift came when I realized that the purpose of making art was my joy in the process, not what was produced. I hope to spread that joy of creating art by bringing together a community of quilters, on the internet, focused on designing original quilts.

The idea came about from reading a book that described an experience I was having: when I searched the internet for quilting, all I seemed to find were sites selling something. The book also proposed a solution: curated websites. In his book, “Curation Nation,” Steve Rosenbaum asserts that we need a way to filter the tsunami of information coming at us from the internet. He proposes that we need a kind of “home base” for our interests, a site that we can rely on to bring us the best of what is available. In other words, we need help searching and filtering and focusing on our particular interest.

So, that’s what I’m creating: a site devoted to the designing of quilts. But I don’t want to do it alone. I’m in search of a community of quilters who, like me, don’t like to follow instructions and are learning to design their own quilts. If this describes you or someone you know, please go to www.greatauntsula.com. I named the site for my great great aunt Sula whose quilt I own. In July I will be starting a “Design Along” group. If you are a quilter, you know about “Quilt Alongs,” which give instructions for a new block each month. “Design Along” will involve trying out a specific design technique or process and sharing your project with others as we go along. I hope you’ll join me and we can see where this will lead.

I moved to Vadito, New Mexico ten months ago, after visiting the state for years. I have lived in many parts of the US and in two foreign countries. New Mexico is unique in three ways: the emphasis on art; the Native American presence; a focus on the spiritual life. I also love the small towns (one of the reasons I choose to live in a village on the High Road to Taos), the mountains, the forest and the changing weather of northern New Mexico.

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