Art Quilts to Create and Collect
From Craft to Art
I grew up sitting under the Methodist church ladies quilting bee quilt as my mom and the other ladies hand quilted each week. Both my mom and my grandma tried to teach me how to hand quilt and even piece a quilt using cardboard templates but it never really took hold for me. I DID like designing them, though. Fast forward fifteen years where I found myself an art major (much to my surprise) and my art teachers thought my work was like that of designer William Morris. I think somebody even mentioned that I should design fabric. Fast forward another 25 years and art quilts started coming to my attention. It seems there were a lot of us artistic types out there who wanted to take our affinity for pattern and color without having to worry about whether or stitches were invisible or our corners matched. Collage had been growing as an art form, as well, so it's only natural that fabric would become the next substrate for mixed media artists.
I have designed some quilts but I wouldn't go so far as to say they're pure art quilts. Not that I know of any clear definition, but it seems to me that an art quilt involves doing some sort of surface design on the fabric and possibly some extensive quilting that is often more embroidery than traditional quilting. Adding other elements to the quilt are often part of it, too. The main thing is that there are three layers with some kind of batting in between.
Below are some of the things I have seen used in art quilts.
"Word Game Quilt Kit" by Phoebe Baker on Flickr.
Art Quilter's Wish List
- Dyes for hand-dying fabrics
- Textile paints, especially Jacquard Lumiere metallic paint
- Stamps to stamp images on fabric
- Embroidery threads
- Photo editing and digital painting software
- A Spoonflower account
- Angelina fibers
- Beads and sequins
- Books for techniques and inspiration
Art Quilt Technique Books - Take One of Each
Art + Quilt - Design Principles and Creativity Exercises
Art + Fabric = Art Quilts - Thinking Outside the Nine Patch
I grew up with quilts and was trained to be an artist. When art quilts started coming on the scene in the 1990s I felt an instant connection with them. Like art dolls, art quilts step outside the boundaries of the classic block or applique quilt. They don't have to be perfect. They don't have to be symmetrical or be in colors that look good with your decor. They are meant to be hung on the wall and add to the ambience of a room that way.
Art quilters have their own tools and language. Some of the work I've seen is absolutely spectacular. But ultimately I think art quilts are more about letting the wild artist self out to play with textiles and color and fascinating embellishments. There is beginning to be a middle ground now where traditional quilts meet the untamed art quilt. I have seen beautifully pieced quilts that have colorways that make the viewer have that thrill of the unexpected. Those are art quilts, too.
Sometimes an art quilt is a piece made to look like a traditional painting or drawing only with fabric, dye and thread instead of the usual materials. Most art quilts, whether representational or abstract, have that extra zing that make the audience say wow!
The good news is that you don't really have to be an expert quilter or artist to make a beautiful and compelling art quilt. Mistakes can turn out to be an interesting element that draws you in. If you just like playing with colors and not so much the form, an art quilt is a good place to do that.
If you are a traditional quilter who feels the itch to try something new, there are amazing new materials to work with that bring new textures and forms to the quilt. Or try beading your quilt or attaching a funky textured yarn.
I think art quilts are accessible to everyone who is ready to play outside the box.
Quilting Arts Magazine - The latest in art quilt techniques
I have a subscription to this magazine and it never fails to inspire.
I'll admit I've seen these shiny fibers and not really known what to do with them. So I went hunting for some online tutorials to share. The basic idea is that the fibers are heat bondable, so you can lay them out any way you want to and then cover with a nonstick craft sheet. Then apply heat with an iron to set the fibers either to other fabric or to itself to make a fabric of its own.
Here are some tutorials:
GretchenArts (not me) Angelina Fiber Demo Video This is very cool. Heat the fibers on a wood block stamp and give the finished fabric texture.
Little Heart Ornament This is a cute and shiny little stuffed heart ornament, plus links to more info about Angelina Fibers.
Crazy for Paintstiks!
Paintstiks - These are large soft oil pastels
Paintstik Rubbing Plates
I saw a demonstration of this and it's like magic! You put a piece of fabric over the rubbing plate and then rub the paintstik across the fabric until the patterns emerge. Here is a selection to choose from.
The Painted Quilt - Paint and Print Techniques for Color on Quilts
Jacquard Lumiere Fabric Paint - Premium, heavy bodied fabric paint.
Cloth Painting Books
What's In a Name?
If you want to find technique books for making art quilts, try looking for surface design or embellishment books.