“Cut-loose Quilts” with a tenuous link to cheese making
Years ago, on a somewhat random day trip, a not-unfamiliar occurrence foreshadowed my future founding of Significant Seams. As my partner met with a sequestered nun to learn how to make cheese, I studied the phone book and the local map. (Who said I don’t know how to have a good time?)
I was looking for, and found the nearest quilt shop, and charted a route home that took us to visit it. It was charming and rather tiny, in a small glen in a big wood, in a cute little Americana house. Unusually, I didn’t buy any fabric there. On this occasion I bought a quilting book – a book unlike any other I had seen……
Perhaps that phone book reading, or maybe the map making, or for that matter the prayers of that sequestered nun, had an intervening role in my selection: ” Cut Loose Quilts.”
Queue the music… “Footloose, cut loose, everybody get footloose….”
Sorry, I can be guilty of a little too lateral a brain. This is relevant though. By this cheesy road trip I knew I loved to do patchwork. I firmly thought of myself as mediocre at it, a classic hobbyist, and a bit dorky etc. Nonetheless, for those who truly knew me, I was already dubbed “a quilter.”
This book played a vital role in helping me believe it, and even more, and believe myself to be capable of being an art quilter.
This book did two fundamental things for me.
- Its outrageous and bold color (local friends please excuse the missing ‘u’ – I am in fact an American in Britain) schemes made me question the dorkiness factor in patchwork
- It made me think differently about the geometry, metrics, and most importantly ‘precision’ I associated with quilting (and my mediocrity)
Together, these two considerations began my journey from hobbyist and fabric addict to “artisTeest.” And by extension, to the founding of Significant Seams.
Okay I still struggle to fully embrace the ‘artist’ label. Nonetheless this book and its explicitly ‘slapdash’ attitude and ‘break the quilting rules’ notions changed my thinking from self-deprecating poor piecer to a thoughtful creator. I mean here, it freed me to think less about traditions and techniques and more about meaning and impact, and if you’ve followed Significant Seams for long, you will appreciate this distinction, and the importance of this book.
Significant Seams, and the quilts I create, are now intentional and hopefully evocative. The organisation unabashedly strives to use textile crafts to ‘strengthen the seams of community’ and through our community quilt programme share the confidence, impact, and empowerment of making, or sometimes reappropriating, meanings. How you make things does matter, and of course, individual capability is a factor in the outcome. Having ‘how-to’ knowledge is critical to getting the outcome you want – but knowing what you want, or what you want to say, is absolutely vital! While the sentimentality can be a bit embarrassing – or maybe a bit uncomfortable – “significance” comes from embracing the truth of what we want and need.
Don’t get me wrong, Cut-Loose Quilts by Jan Mullen is absolutely a book about technique. The technique it teaches presumes a bit of patchwork experience, but it teaches it in an accessible way that means you don’t need to have patchwork experience. In fact, for first-timers, it helps teach fundamentals of making quilts while reducing the most intimidating factor: our tendency to look at the precision of joins and fabric intersections, by making these a design element. As a teacher I think this is hugely sensible, because there are a lot of steps in quilt making.
The patterns in this book can be followed quite precisely by those more comfortable with this approach. The first quilt I made from this book was a wedding gift for my cousin, and I did follow Jan Mullen’s palette and instructions precisely (See page 67).
However, the title of the quilt patterns in the book follow a bit of a formula: they all are framed with “Making (traditional pattern name) Like Mine.” This points to this book’s distinctive additional strength as a design book.
The author is a teacher, and she has ensured this book is infused with empowerment. She wants us to use the technique she uses as a starting point. Each quilt and the pattern that accompanies it has a “color story” blurb – telling us why and how she put together the palette that she did. I think this makes simply reading this book, whether or not you make something from it, especially helpful from a design perspective. Many quilt books have an introduction section about warm versus cool colors, with color wheels and other art basics, but Mullen’s approach uses examples and her thought process to allow the reader to think through what they like and don’t, why it may or may not work, and takes the practical starting point so many patchwork enthusiasts have in reality: an impulsive purchase of a fabric that we simply love, and aren’t sure what to do with.
Here’s my latest fabric in that category:
Perhaps it captured my attention because of the underwater quilt I’m making?
How do you think I should use it?
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