Posts tagged ‘Gyleen Fitzgerald’

Inspiration Interlude: “Quilts: Unfinished Stories with New Endings”

Tuesday to Wednesday, we wound up with an official blizzard that dropped another 22″ of snow on us in a little over 24 hours.  Of course, the 25″ that fell Friday to Saturday hadn’t had a chance to melt yet.  So I ended up with another day off work, a bit of snow-blindness, and a chance to finally pore over the book I bought with some of my Christmas money.

Quilts by Gyleen X. Fitzgerald

"Quilts: Unfinished Stories with New Endings" by Gyleen X. Fitzgerald

As I’ve posted before, I was fortunate enough to hear Gyleen Fitzgerald speak at our November guild meeting, giving her lecture about the project that grew into her 2008 book.  “Quilts:  Unfinished Stories with New Endings” is about finishing vintage blocks and tops from the first half of the twentieth century using modern fabrics and techniques.  Gyleen and her friends amassed a collection of unfinished blocks and tops from antique stores, yard sales, and gifts from family members of deceased quilters, and turned them into finished, useful quilts using contemporary fabrics from her stash.

This is not a typical quilt book in any way, which is a large part of what I like so much about it.  I have an entire bookcase of quilt books, many of them following the same formula of technique-project, technique-project.  There are certainly many good uses for these formulaic books, and for the new quilter who wants to look at a picture and make that quilt, they’re perfect.  Gyleen’s book is more a quilt lifestyle book:  part scrapbook, part storybook, part coffee table book.  While patterns and instructions are provided for ten of the quilts, they comprise only the last quarter of the book.  Everything that comes before is the meditation, celebration, and inspiration that make this work such a jewel.

The book itself is gorgeous:  hardbound, with a dust jacket, in an oversize format that really allows the photography to shine.  Following a brief introduction to the project, there are three main sections to the book.  The first, “Untold Stories,” is a series of fictional letters that Gyleen composed, creating plausible backstories and personae for the unknown makers of the vintage blocks.  These are presented in a scrapbook-style format, made breathtakingly real by their pairing with actual vintage photographs from her own and her friends’ family collections.  This technique succeeds in creating a connection between the modern quilter and the women who anonymously made these pieces and left them behind, unfinished.  Gyleen Fitzgerald’s letters remind us that quilters have always quilted for many of the same reasons:  to celebrate births and marriages, to fulfill the creative urge, to take part in community.

The second section, “The Journey to Finishing,” gives the story behind the decisions she made in turning each top or block collection into a finished quilt.  It’s a peek into her thought processes that I found absolutely fascinating.  An attractive, successful finished quilt sometimes seems inevitable:  of course that’s the perfect background fabric, naturally that border completes it.  Here, Gyleen shares the reasoning behind the choices she made, both in the practical considerations inherent in working with vintage textiles such as managing fraying and inconsistent block sizes, and also in the designs themselves, from layout and fabric choices to borders, quilting, and binding.  I find this type of discussion far more helpful in my own quilting than any specific set of instructions ever could be, because it focuses on problem solving:  this is what I faced, this is what I considered, this is what I chose to do.  The quilts are beautiful, but they weren’t inevitable:  they were the result of a deliberate set of choices, which could have diverged at several points.

The final section, “New Beginnings,” introduces patterns and instructions for ten quilts, five of which (I believe) were made from scratch using the same patterns that were found in the vintage textiles.  This was an aspect of the project that was discussed overtly in the lecture, when she displayed her entirely contemporary (and usually smaller) iterations of the traditional block designs side-by-side with the vintage inspirations.  Other than the cover picture, in which the two Spider Hexagon quilts are shown together, this parallel is not highlighted in the book (and although one Spider Hexagon quilt is in soft, country, Fig Tree Quilts-type colors, and the other is on a black background with a graphic Kaffe Fassett border, they are both made with vintage blocks.)  Then again, as the focus of the book is the vintage textile project, I understand the choice not to emphasize the secondary project of “remaking” the quilts.

This section of the book also contains the most traditional “quilt book” photography, with square-on full portraits of the featured quilts.  The rest of the book contains the more styled photography reminiscent of high-quality country living magazines, in which the quilts are draped over fences, chairs, and clotheslines; I admit that, despite the beauty of the photographs as art, I was initially frustrated by my inability to see the entire quilt in many of the pictures.  However, the shots in this final section, combined with the fact that each quilt appears multiple times throughout the book, soon dispelled that concern.

Suffice to say, I love this book, and heartily recommend it.  It is a wonderful book to pore over, and lends itself well to revisiting on multiple occasions when different moods might steer the reader to study the photographs on one instance, linger over the letters on another, learn how to handle vintage textiles on a third, and study construction details on a fourth.  It is not a textbook on textile preservation, or an introduction to piecing, nor was it meant to be.  Rather, it is one quilter’s journey through a project she felt called to, with triumphant results.

Please visit Gyleen Fitzgerald’s website for books, patterns, hand-dyed products, workshops, haiku, and more!  www.colourfulstitches.com

February 12, 2010 at 7:30 pm Leave a comment

ABC: Always Be Closing

I want to be a finisher.

I have been very fortunate in the past six months to be privileged to hear both Bonnie Hunter http://www.quiltville.com and Gyleen Fitzgerald http://www.colourfulstitches.com speak at guild meetings.  Both of these ladies make fabulous quilts and are wonderful motivators, cheerleaders for the hobby.  Most importantly, though, they are FINISHERS, and they want the rest of us to be finishers, too.  Getting to hear both of them speak was the extra push I needed to declare 2010 to be my Year of the UFO, and to start this blog as a way to both work through the process  myself in a (semi-)organized fashion, and to have some accountability for it as well.

I’m a fantastic starter.  I love to start projects.  That’s an intoxicating, fascinating stage, like falling in love.  Choosing the fabrics, puzzling through the design decisions, imagining the finished product — this to me is what it’s all about.  I’ve long said that if all the quilts I’ve made in my mind somehow popped into being, my house wouldn’t be big enough for all of them.  Unfortunately, my house is starting to appear to not be big enough for my unfinished projects.

Almost every quilter I know has UFOs — the dreaded UnFinished Object.  The few quilters I know who DON’T have UFOs tend to be the hyper-organized, one-at-a-time type that I can’t relate my personality to, and I don’t necessarily want to emulate.  Quilting is my hobby, my playtime; when it becomes too achievement-focused I lose the happiness behind it, and then what’s the point?  I like being able to switch projects when something’s not working, when I need inspiration, or just when a project isn’t speaking to me any more.  I never want to be so rigid in my quiltmaking discipline that I can’t make that wedding, baby, or prayer quilt because it’s not on the schedule.  If I see a new idea or technique in a magazine, at a meeting, or on a show, I want to feel free to play with it while it’s fresh and compelling rather than waiting until the current project is cleared.  Worst of all, from past experience I know that when I’m forcing myself to work on just one project and it’s not going well, I just stay away from quilting entirely rather than work on a project I’m not feeling passionate about.

The problem arises when the set-aside projects never make it back to center stage.  Instead, they stay in limbo, becoming the source of my Quilt Guilt.  It’s a lot easier to start something new, with exciting new fabric and new ideas, than to pull out an old project and attempt to get myself back in that frame of mind.  Why did I abandon this piece?  Did I run out of fabric?  Did something not work?  Is there something actually wrong with it?  Or did it just get “bumped” for a gift or a deadline?

I hope, through this blog project, to go through my backlog of UFOs and try to identify the reasons they ended up in a cabinet or closet instead of on a bed.  In the process, I hope to learn more about myself as a quilter and as a person, and hopefully keep from building up such a collection again.  I also hope I manage to entertain those of you who choose to read this, and perhaps inspire a few more Finishers.

The title of this post comes, of course, from the classic David Mamet movie, “Glengarry Glen Ross.”  Early in the scene, Alec Baldwin (so young!  so thin!) as the nightmare consultant to an office of down-on-their-luck real estate agents, tells Jack Lemmon, “Put down the coffee.  Coffee is for closers.”  While I certainly don’t want Alec Baldwin’s character’s style of motivation (Tim Gunn would be far more helpful), that speech was the first thing that popped into my head when I said I wanted to be a finisher.

Enjoy!  (Language alert, it’s Mamet.)


January 23, 2010 at 8:04 pm 1 comment


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Siamese Cat on Sewing Machine

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