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Art Quilts to Create and Collect

Updated on April 3, 2013

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
  • Paintstiks
  • Embroidery threads
  • Stencils
  • 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 + Quilt: Design Principles and Creativity Exercises
Art + Quilt: Design Principles and Creativity Exercises
Secrets for quilting success are presented through a variety of techniques, exercises, and insider tips to inspire novice quilters and experienced textile artists to make genuine works of art. Simplifying the basic fundamentals of art and teaching the underlying principles of the visual language, this guide explores texture, shape, line, color, and value with examples and hands-on exercises. Essential principles—such as focal point, balance, repetition, scale, and space—are paired with creativity exercises while guest essays, guest artwork, and inspiring artwork from the author allow readers to analyze how other artists utilize key artistic elements or principles and see how to successfully use these elements in their own work. Both a personal creativity coach and a guide for a hobbyist or professional artist, this reference clarifies quilting goals and takes the craft to the next level through design and composition.

Art + Fabric = Art Quilts - Thinking Outside the Nine Patch

"The House That Jack Built" by Lily Mulholland on Flickr
"The House That Jack Built" by Lily Mulholland on Flickr

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.

Angelina Fibers

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:

Angelina Tutorial on Joggles

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!

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.

Painting Fabric

The Painted Quilt - Paint and Print Techniques for Color on Quilts

The Painted Quilt: Paint and Print Techniques for Colour on Quilts
The Painted Quilt: Paint and Print Techniques for Colour on Quilts
The only book on the market that deals with the application of color to the quilted surface--a technique that creates completely unique effects.

Jacquard Lumiere Fabric Paint - Premium, heavy bodied fabric paint.

What's In a Name?

If you want to find technique books for making art quilts, try looking for surface design or embellishment books.

Comments? - Happy holidays!

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      A piece of eridution unlike any other!

    • justmelucy profile image


      7 years ago

      Oh my goodness, as Shirley Temple would have said. I am so glad that I was guided to your lens. I am creative in many ways. I love to sketch, paint, journal and sew much more. Sorry for the pun and the next one to come. As a medium, you have shared with me a new medium with which I can express myself. The idea of art mixed with word on textiles has inspired me. Great Lens. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great selection of quilts. Blessed by a squid angel.

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 

      9 years ago from Central Florida

      Lots of creative quilting ideas. You really are an artist. Added to the Squidoo Angel Quilting lens.

    • QuiltFinger profile image


      9 years ago from Tennessee

      Fabulous lens! I'm looking at the angelina fibers, but I'm getting sidetracked!

    • Senora M profile image

      Senora M 

      9 years ago

      Cool lens. I love to quilt. These look cool!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      9 years ago

      I love these things. There is a gallery near me that sells amazing ones.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      9 years ago from UK

      Although I haven't yet tried it, quilting fascinates me. You've put together an inspiring selection of art quilts here.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image


      9 years ago from Iowa

      I do enjoy art quilts. It's an interesting way to express yourself.


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