From Great-Grandma’s Quilts to Gallery Walls: The Creative Journey of Linda Dease Smith

It’s always wonderful to hear of quilts being recognized in a gallery setting, and even more so when the quilter in question is a long-time friend. Linda Smith and I first met over 25 years ago in Boone, NC, as charter members of the newly formed Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild. Before long, she and I found ourselves part of a small group of five within the guild, sharing common interests and quilting road trips. We called ourselves The Common Threads, and one of our goals was to exhibit our work on a regular basis.

The Jones House Community and Cultural Center, Boone, NC; photo courtesy The Jones House
The Jones House Community and Cultural Center, Boone, NC; photo courtesy The Jones House

Our first opportunity came in the summer of 1995, when we were invited to exhibit at the historic Jones House Community and Cultural Center in downtown Boone. The month-long show was quite a success, attracting the attention of (the sadly, now-defunct) Lady’s Circle Patchwork Quilts magazine, which proposed a feature article about us and our exhibit. I was honored to write the text for that article. Here’s what I had to say then about Linda:

Linda Smith is the risk-taker (of the group). She laughs when we call her that, saying that we really mean “I jump right in when I don’t have a clue!” Not so. Instead, she is virtually fearless when it comes to quiltmaking, eager to try each newly discovered technique, viewing each step as an adventure. Her work is experimental, fresh, and exciting.

Two of Linda's pieces from the 1995 Common Threads exhibit; even then, she was showing signs of "breaking out of the box." Photo by Michael Siede.
Two of Linda’s pieces from the 1995 Common Threads exhibit; even then, she was showing signs of “breaking out of the box.” Photo by Michael Siede.

Very little has changed since I wrote those words so long ago. If anything, Linda has become even more of an adventurer and innovator. As she continues to push her creative boundaries, she seeks also to explore new venues for showing her work.

Earlier this spring, Linda’s work was featured as part of a four-woman exhibit called Wrapped Up in You at The Gallery at Macon (GA) Arts Alliance. The other three artists were clay artist Malena Bisanti-Wall, jewelry designer Cheri Lesauskis, and mixed-media artist (and the gallery’s Fine Art Director) Heatherly Wakefield.

New works by my friend, Linda Smith, were part of a recent, four-woman show at The Gallery of Macon (GA) Arts Alliance.
New works by my friend, Linda Smith, were part of a recent, four-woman show at The Gallery of Macon (GA) Arts Alliance.

Like many of us, Linda started out as a strictly traditional quilter. She made her first quilt in the mid-1970s from a kit, and went on to quilt a few tops that had been pieced by her great-grandmother. As a career counselor (Director of the Career Center at Appalachian State University in Boone), Dr. Smith spent her days helping college students explore post-graduate options. What could be more natural than exploring post-traditional possibilities for fabric and thread?

“I started ‘going off’ in the mid-90s,” Linda recalls. “I had been making tons of little nine patches that I planned to use for a Postage Stamp quilt. I realized that wasn’t going to happen, so I started to explore other ways to use those blocks.” The Skewed Nine Patch quilt (in the photo above) was one of those early experiments.

Nowadays, Linda describes her approach as “somewhere between what if and why not.” Her contribution to the Macon exhibit included a series she calls Meditation. Its 12 pieces grew from a “somewhat non-specific, between-class” exercise inspired by a class with quilt artist, Hollis Chatelain. All 12 pieces were made using the same elements: two or three rectangles, nine squares, and some lines. Each measures approximately 13″ x 16.”

Linda Smith with some pieces from her recent Meditation series shown in Macon (GA) earlier this year. Her friendly companion is China, pet of the gallery director.
Linda Smith with some pieces from her recent Meditation series shown in Macon (GA) earlier this year. Her friendly companion is China, pet of the gallery director.

“As I began making these little pieces, I decided that if I liked the design, I would take it as far as I could with different fabrics, in different combinations, to create different moods. All were made entirely from fabrics in my stash.” she says. The materials are a mix of commercial fabrics, batiks, Cherrywood hand dyes, and others that she dyed or painted herself. “It’s amazing when you stop to look at what you have. I know that some quilters don’t want to cut into those ‘special’ fabrics. I want to use them! Sometimes I barely had enough, so I had to be creative.”

Four pieces from Linda Smith's Meditation series
Four pieces from Linda Smith’s Meditation series

Linda finished each piece with a clean faced edging (see Jennifer’s April 16 post) and a sleeve on all four sides to insert flat molding. Always on the lookout for the next innovation, she adds, “Next time, I might try affixing the pieces to artist’s canvas.”

From Linda Smith's Meditation series (13" x 16")
From Linda Smith’s Meditation series (13″ x 16″)
Detail of piece shown above
Detail of piece shown above
Another piece from Linda Smith's Meditation series (13" x 16")
Another piece from Linda Smith’s Meditation series (13″ x 16″)
Detail of piece above
Detail of piece above

In addition to the dozen 13″ x 16″ pieces, Linda continued to experiment, this time with size, ultimately expanding her series to include one larger piece (20″ x 24″) and a few small framed pieces.

As an extention of her Meditation series, Linda made one larger, and two smaller, framed pieces.
As an extention of her Meditation series, Linda made one larger, and two smaller, framed pieces.

These days, Linda splits her time between three locations: Boone, Macon, and Amelia Island, FL. (After the Macon exhibit closed, the remaining pieces of her Meditations series went on to the Amelia SanJon Gallery in Fernandina Beach, FL.) While she admits that working from three places can be a challenge, she manages to cope very nicely. Boone remains the center of primary operation, “but I carry my Pfaff everywhere.”

Her quilting continues to become more collage-like. To this end, she takes not only quilting classes, but collage classes, recognizing that “the two overlap and inform each other.” She enjoys combining paper collage and quilted fabric.

One of Linda's pieces combining paper collage and quilted fabric
One of Linda’s pieces combining paper collage and quilted fabric

The fiber pieces are completed first and then hand-stitched to a collaged or painted canvas. Leaves and trees are a primary recurring theme and although she is often pulled to the more abstract (as in her Meditation series), trees and leaves always seem to pull her back.

Detail of Linda's piece combining paper collage and quilted fabric
Detail of Linda’s piece combining paper collage and quilted fabric
The Artist's Way (book) by Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way (book) by Julia Cameron

For the past few years, Linda has belonged to a small group in Boone comprised of visual artists of various media who expand and inspire her– who encourage her to think outside the box. This group, an offshoot of a 12-week Artist’s Way workshop series, forced her to think of herself as an artist. “It’s been a very powerful experience for me.” At the same time, she continues to “treasure and cherish” the traditional quilting community, particularly through her membership and participation in Macon’s largely traditional Heart of Georgia Quilt Guild. Evidence of this dual appreciation is evident in her Macon home, where old and new pieces exist serenely side by side.

Two quilts by Linda Smith, one "vintage" and one recent
Two quilts by Linda Smith, one “vintage” and one recent
A closer look at that quilt on the wall: Linda's Funky Flowers
A closer look at that quilt on the wall: Linda’s Funky Flowers

As for sources of inspiration, Linda lists “lots of classes, lots of books (mostly quilt-related at first, but now expanded to include more art-related books as well), attendance at art shows and galleries, and Pinterest. I find so much inspiration there!”

Her advice to those quilters who want to try something new: “Don’t be afraid, don’t worry about what others will say about your art, forget the quilt police. A couple of years from now, my work may look totally different, which might be a good thing. I like to evolve.”

We’ll be watching, Linda!

Before I sign off, I’ve got good news for two SHWS readers–the winners of the double giveaway in our recent First Quilt, Latest Quilt post featuring Verna Mosquera. Ginabeth is the winner of the Prima Ballerina pattern and the packet of eight fat quarters from Verna’s Pirouette fabric line and Kathy Renz has won the packet of 5″ Pirouette charm squares. Ladies, please contact us via seehowwesew@gmail.com with your snail mail addresses and we’ll get your winnings on the way. Thanks again to Verna for providing so generously for our giveaway.

‘Til next time, happy stitching.Darra-signature

Quilting Modern—A Collection of Improvisational Projects with Contemporary Flair by Jacquie Gering and Katie Pedersen

On behalf of my blogging sisters, I want to start with a huge thank you to all our readers–we hit 100,000 views in our anniversary month. Thank you, thank you and keep coming!

In my quilting life simplicity always trumps complication and that’s probably why I’ve got a taste for books and patterns for making modern quilts. Sure I love paradigm-shifting bravura quilts, but if I’m going to buy a how-to I’m going to choose something that promises easier satisfaction. For me, minimalism is welcome therapy:  a lot of white space, clean lines, pared-down geometry, and a dose of quirkiness. That’s why Quilting Modern:  Techniques and Projects for Improvisational Quilts by Jacquie Gering and Katie Pedersen from Interweave Press is such a pleasure—and a surprise:  Jacquie has been quilting actively only since 2008 and she’s scary good!

Detail of Tipsy City quilt from Quilting Modern

Together (well, sort of, they managed to collaborate while living separately in Chicago and Seattle) they’ve woven an interesting assortment of techniques and block formats to deliver an instructional book of 21 quilts and home décor projects.  Interweave’s party line is that the duo uses “improvisational technique to make contemporary graphic quilts,” and that is certainly true, but they’ve managed to make the improvisation doable for anyone who wants to tackle the projects.

Jacquie and Katie outline the processes they used to create the quilts and offer an interesting range of construction alternatives. The goal is not so much exact reproductions, but original quilts based on their designs. I like that approach because I’m one of those students who tends to tweak class projects to suit my own ideas—I’m a show-me-the-way-and-I’ll-find-my-destination quilter.  Even if your taste runs to more directed projects, Quilting Modern offers the details you’ll need as well.  There are projects appropriate for all skill levels in the book and a detailed primer on quilt making essentials for the novice.

Detail of Urban Garden quilt from Quilting Modern

What is more the duo delivers 7 core techniques to build a modern quilt-making vernacular. They’ve tweaked familiar blocks so they dance to a new beat, but I couldn’t help seeing similarities to Gee’s Bend “housetop” variations in some of the projects in a what’s-old-is-new approach, like the Blue Ice quilt (shown below in a detail image). That’s the ultimate reality about making quilts–traditional blocks are essentially always modern, it’s how we deploy them that determines whether the quilt’s design is timeless or representative of a particular period.  Coincidentally, I just read an article in the most recent issue of  Traditional Home magazine about an award-winning Southern chef named Sean Brook that described his restaurant’s fare as having “historic roots with a modern disposition.” I couldn’t help thinking that the words also describe Jacquie and Katie’s take on contemporary quilting making.

Detail of Blue Ice quilt from Quilting Modern

And so, if your quilt making taste runs to contemporary fare, or if you have a newbie you want to lasso into the craft, Quilting Modern is a great start (and gift).

Curious to know who won the Spoonflower giveaway?  Before I spill the beans, I absolutely must applaud the many intrepid commenters who wanted to jump into designing fabric–Wow!  The winner of the giveaway is JoJo!

Until next time, keep those sewing machines humming!

Neutral Palettes: Sophisticated and Sensational!

Black adds drama to a neutral palette.

When I examine my fabric stash, it amazes me to see how many neutrals I’ve accumulated. For someone who’s usually drawn to and inspired by bright colors, it’s odd that neutrals take up more than their fair share of space, and when I do my annual sort through the “too-much-ever to-use-in-a lifetime” stash to make room for the new, I rarely give them up.

The versatile neutrals are especially wonderful for masculine quilts and, depending on the pattern selected, the results can range from traditional to contemporary. Here’s a quilt I made using the Urban Chic pattern for my niece and her husband as a wedding gift. The décor in their home is ultra modern, so I used lots of black, taupe, and cream fabrics with geometric prints.

Neutral palette using Urban Chic pattern.

Mother Nature provides a bounty of neutral inspiration, from stones to beach grass. One of my favorites is high-desert landscape (soft gray-greens and creams)–very yummy!

If you’re interested in a book on neutrals, try Alex Anderson’s Neutral Essentials from C&T Publishing. It’s full of information and includes seven projects using the neutral palette. C&T has generously donated a copy for today’s giveaway!

My blogging sister Darra has a charming little quilt featured in the book. It’s so cute, and very Darra with the buttons and rickrack.

Look for the project instructions in "Neutral Essentials"

Here’s a detail of another neutral quilt I made which favors more of the brown, tan, and gray hues. It was for my favorite nephew Joel and his wife:

Another of my favorites!

Several years ago, I attended Empty Spools Seminars at Asilomar, CA, where I took Sylvia Einstein’s Dancing Rings workshop. The pieced-rings design is based on the classical Double Wedding Ring pattern. Sylvia is a phenomenal teacher and it was an inspiring, creative four days; however, I had chosen a neutral palette for my quilt and everyone else in the room was using brilliant, bright colors. I felt like a dandelion in a field of poppies. Once I got it out of the classroom, however, and away from the “colors,” it turned out to be another of my favorite quilts.

My dancing rings "dandelion"

If you haven’t tried working with the neutral palette, you’ve missed something special. Don’t forget to add glorious grays and beautiful blacks. Grays used to be difficult to find, but in the last couple of years they’ve been popping up in lots of fabric lines. Gray adds a modern sophistication to the traditional creams, tans, and browns.

To be entered in the giveaway for Neutral Essentials, post a comment telling me how you might like to explore neutrals. Or, if you’ve used them, let me know what you’ve created. The winner will be randomly chosen from comments received before midnight Friday, February 10th, and announced in my next post, Tuesday, February 14th.

Happy sewing!