Friday, December 11, 2009

“The Magic of Fabric” by Diane Gaudynski

Diane Gaudynski transports anyone who views her work to another place. A land where feathers and swirls and circles and crosshatch and stipple and thread and needle come as near to perfection as any of us have ever witnessed. Seeing her work simply mesmerizes. Eyes search every inch, mouths form ohhs and aahhs escape like sighs and yes, some are moved to tears. In her S.O.S. inteview with The Alliance For American quilts is such a tribute to our ancestor quilters. And her retelling of what inspired the colors for the featured log cabin quilt made me laugh and feel such delight. I do hope you'll visit her interview and read about Fluffy, her feline muse. But first, get comfortable and enjoy Diane's romance with fabric that's so evident in the way she speaks of quilting, fabrics, color and this community of quilters. -- Dawn

(Photo: A selection of Cherrywood cottons for a possible class project.)

Fabric is “Magic” contained in cloth.

Quilters know this. It’s instinctive.

I recently thought my family room looked dull and lifeless in these grey cloudy autumn days, went shopping and indulged in a new silk throw pillow.

The color is bronze/umber and shines like an oak leaf in autumn, and has tiny pleats through the center part that catch the light even more, giving texture and more angles for the light to bounce from. It lights up the room.

One new piece of fabric turned a graying dull old lady of a room into a warm and inviting place. I am going to get another silk pillow today to finish the job. And do some dusting too, always helps. And then look for some silk fabric in this shade to add to my mostly cotton quilts.

Earlier this year I was at a big quilting event where progressive sessions were held, one group would leave, and for a day or two the place would be empty of all but a few quilters who stayed on to attend or teach at the next class. When the quilters left, the atmosphere at this beautiful location suddenly seemed to me flattened, depressed, void of color and life.

I sat with non-quilters for meals and discussed mundane things. When the quilters started flooding in to the registration building for the next session it was as if the sun came out. Smiles, color, laughter, joy, bags of fabric and supplies piled high made that place come to life once again. One could not help but feel better just seeing these people arrive, quilters who use fabric to express their take on life and their art. They had packed magic in their bags. I knew mealtime from then on would be exhilarating!

(Photo: Free motion machine quilting on hand dyed sateen by Wendy Richardson.)

It was difficult in that “off” time making conversation with people who did not have private hoards of fabric, rooms devoted to them in their homes, plans to add more finds at any opportunity. The quest for the perfect fabric for the next quilt is always there with us, and the excitement of the hunt or the find puts roses in cheeks, sparkle in eyes, and beauty in the finished quilts.

I have always loved fabric—the colors, textures, designs, the hand of it, the softness or crispness, the challenge of what you could do with a new and wonderful find. Before I could even read, I began my journey into fabric involvement by sewing doll clothes with scraps from our own clothes. I then progressed to sewing for my younger sister to learn all the basics (she was too young to be a critic) and then to my own clothes in high school and for twenty years after that….. until I discovered piecing and quilting.

(Photo: Free motion echo quilting on silk dupioni fabric with #100 silk threads)

During those years I learned and loved everything about the fabric: selvedges, the grainline, how it behaved in sewing it, washing and preparing it, pressing fabric, discerning the good from the not so good in quality. I shopped at manufacturers’ outlets and had access to the best wools, cottons, corduroys and hounds tooth, gabardines and batiste, silks, crepes and satins, all beautiful stuff, for great prices. I fearlessly cut into it and made clothes and decorator items, monster bed spreads that went to the floor with insets of stuffed cording. Making machine quilted bed quilts is nothing compared to the weight of that quilted corduroy bedspread I sewed on my original Singer Silver Touch ‘N Sew.

When I began piecing and making quilts, there was very little variety in quality 100% cotton available, and I made do with blends, and bright primary colored cottons, but I wasn’t happy. A trickle of quilt fabrics appeared in our new quilt shops back in the late 1970’s, and they were fabulous, like water in a parched desert. The colors, the lovely hand of them, the prints and designs, oh my. I still have remnants of the first Jinny Beyer collection, and always tell the story in my “Mud” lecture about searching everywhere for some mustard colored cotton for my quilt, made with all cool greens and purples available in the late 80’s. Mustards and khakis were not around. It was all dusty blues and old rose. I found that fabric, and it made the quilt work. It saved that quilt.

Being a quilt artist requires an extensive library of fabric. When you begin a project or find your work “needs” something, not sure what, you will always have that library and be able to rummage through it and find what the quilt needs. Maybe it’s my favorite mustard, maybe hot pink, or dusty teal or scarlet or aubergine. Maybe something not 100% cotton, as first we turned to nothing but cotton, learned our craft, and now have branched out into including any kind of fabric in the universe in our quilts. We indulge shamelessly in fabric.

(Photo: A block from my quilt “Shadows of Umbria” which featured large scale vintage type fabrics floating in a sea of heavily quilted Cherrywood cottons.)

I machine quilt my quilts on a home machine, and have to adapt what fabrics I choose so that they will work with a machine stitch, allow proper tension, not stretch and distort, etc. Fabrics are auditioned for color and scale of print, but also for how they will handle when machine quilted. Will the thread morph nicely with the fabric or will it sit on top and look stringy and pathetic? Will quilting show? Will the fabric sabotage my skills in quilting, or showcase them?

I use starch frequently to stabilize fabrics for cutting and piecing. It helps tame unruly fabrics and washes out of the finished quilt nicely.

And I make prototypes. My students get so tired of my telling them to audition the fabric, and the quilting that will be used on that fabric before piecing the quilt top. I have saved many a project from becoming a UFO because of pre-washing the fabric selection, layering it with the batt chosen for the quilt and the backing as well, and doing some quilting on it in the design planned for that fabric. How it handles in the machine, how the thread colors look on that choice, how it looks in then end all help me decide if I will use it or not.

(Photo: Here is a sample of a prototype: I quilted a small feather design on the fabric designated for my tote bag, tried out the thread colors, backgrounds, shading with pencils or ink, and then used this information on the real project.)

I have a stack of center squares from a log cabin quilt all with different quilting designs, including the one that was the final choice. It is obvious all the other designs were second best but I didn’t know that until I took the actual fabric and quilted it in the options.

As you gain experience the need for prototypes and extensive testing of your fabrics is decreased. Your knowledge base will fill that need.

Do I pre-wash fabrics? Yes, always. I like to know what could happen if and when the finished quilt is washed, and I like to control that outcome. So each fabric is hand washed separately in very hot water with a bit of quilt soap until no color runs, then washed in a load of fabrics in the washer, rinsed thoroughly, dried in the dryer on low, folded and used. They are washed right before cutting for the quilt so they are fresh and clean and don’t bother my allergies.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s more important to use a fabric that I can control, that showcases my quilting well, that behaves in the finished quilt, that doesn’t run or bleed, and that looks wonderful than to fall for the next best thing or the pretty face in the new assortments for sale.

I’ve also learned not to worry if a fabric will “go” with the others in a quilt. If “you” love it, it will work just fine.

Fabric is the bedrock of quilting and it pays to take time to find and use what works best plus gives you the payoff in fabulousness that you need.

Fabric softens the rough edges of our lives, gives visual warmth as well as actual warmth, is a comfort in times of joy and hard times as well.

Keep quilting; your work gets better every day, plus you’ll use up some of your fabric library!

Visit Diane Gaudynski's website and blog, too. Can anyone ever get enough of her work? Don't forget her several books and DVDs and classes.
Photo: My cat Arnie in his youth would always find  fabrics, cut or uncut. He seemed to find the right colors to set off his handsome good looks too.)


Anonymous said...

Diane, Your quilting is SO rich and gorgeous. Reminds me of the Medieval beauty of an embroidered bodice for instance. My own quilting is so cavalier...lots of crossovers and irregularities. HaHa! Good thing our genre will accommodate both styles. -- Pamela

Anonymous said...

Diane.. You are incredible.. your quilting is exquisite.. Sometime I really want to take a class from you.. and I'm in your backyard.. Menomonee Falls, Wi... Hope to see you soon...

Diane Gaudynski said...

Thanks for those lovely comments - I do think of the "medieval" look when I quilt, love that richness and complexity. I try to be more modern but always seem to go back further and further in time for the look I achieve. Yes, plenty of room for all styles of quilting, something for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, mature, inspiring work and words. Thank you Diane and Dawn!

Linda Laird

Nancy in IN said...

WOW quilting is super. I have your books and keep trying; that is the key practice, practice, practice. Maybe I'll get to take a class with you.
Thanks to both of you.
Nancy in IN