What Does it Take to be a Maverick Quilter? An Interview with Alethea Ballard

Every so often you meet someone who just oozes talent and passion for her art. I knew the first time I saw the work of Alethea Ballard that she was going to go far. I admire her free-spirited approach to quiltmaking and her use of fabric, color, and design.

She's just as fun as she is cute!

I recently had a conversation with Alethea regarding her work and am delighted to share her responses with you today. When you finish reading this post, please take a minute to visit Alethea’s site and her blog as she has a special giveaway for our readers, as do we (details at the end of this post).

How long have you been sewing and quilting, Alethea?

While I made a quilt when I was ten, and a few more over the years, I got my first rotary cutter in 1992.  I was too frugal to get a cutting mat and quickly dulled my blade on a scrap of cardboard.  Over the years I have learned so much, but it was purchasing a long-arm machine in 2009 that really allowed me to explore my full creative potential.

Your dream chair designs are so unique. Where did you get your inspiration?

Blue Thistle Chair
Chica Chair

The inspiration for the arm-chair quilt series, and the subsequent pattern pack with all the different chairs, came first from my interest in making a quilt with a chair on it as a gift for my father.  He had been doing a series of paintings of chairs and I thought it would be a nice gift.  Alternating between chairs that I liked too much and chairs I wasn’t sure were Dad’s style, I made about a dozen pieces.  I continue to make chair quilts, as my students are continually inspiring me with their work.

Why do you consider yourself the Maverick Quilter?

For a long time I felt like an outsider to the quilting world.  Many visits to fabric stores made me feel that I was “different” than “most” quilters.  I was using strange and bright colors.  I didn’t create quilts that looked traditional. When I would bring works-in-progress to the store I got the strangest comments.  I heard things like, “You aren’t going to use THAT in your quilt, right?”  I was often asked what border I would add, when I had considered the quilt finished.  After a while, I kept my head down and just made up quilts in my own quirky way.

What would you like to share about yourself with our readers?

My working style and subsequently the Maverick Quilts book have come out of my love for fabrics.  When I find myself in a store hugging a bolt tightly to my body, I know I must buy a piece of it.  Once I have that fabric, I work to design a quilt that shows off the fabric in the size and shape that I want to see.  I let the fabric “speak,” and can often envision the whole quilt through to what it will look like finished, just by spending time studying the fabric. Other times, the design reveals itself as I work with the fabric.  One of the best parts of this process is the surprises that using the fabrics, cutting them up, pairing them with others, and sewing them back together can bring me.

I am especially excited about my newest work, which is taking the form of art quilts.  Layers of paints and stitching along with my cherished bright fabrics just make my heart sing!

Koi Pond Chairs

Laura here: Guess what readers? It’s another giveaway day–actually it’s a double-giveaway day–one from us and one from Alethea! C&T Publishing has generously donated Alethea’s book and pattern pack. Just leave your comments telling us why you would like to be a Maverick Quilter and we’ll pick a winner by the end of the day September 3rd and announce the winner on September 6th. You can read about Alethea’s books on  C&T Publishing’s blog. Be sure to scroll all the way to the end as there are several posts. For a special treat, watch Alethea on Wednesday Night Live as she shares tips for using paint to enhance her quilting images.

If you live near the San Francisco Bay Area be sure to visit Quirkology of Quilts: Warmth to Whimsy featuring Alethea’s quilts as well as that of other local quilters at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley,  205 Railroad Avenue, Danville. The show runs from August 25 through September 25, Tuesdays through Fridays, from 1 to 4 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with demonstrations.

Thanks to Alethea and all our wonderful readers.  Here’s to another week of creative sewing/quilting.


25 thoughts on “What Does it Take to be a Maverick Quilter? An Interview with Alethea Ballard

  1. I can relate to your maverick style as i too have stood in the quilt shop with people asking me or discouraging me in my fabric choices.


  2. I really, really want to become a Maverick Quilter! I love those big, bright prints and I am hoping to develop both the courage and the eye to put them together into something that’s as exciting as Alethea’s…or even half as exciting! I keep studying her work and trying things out, and I figure that one of these days I’ll get it!


  3. I’ve got some really gorgeous, bold and fun fabrics but I don’t know how to put them together – please help!
    Thanks for introducing me to Alethea’s work. I’d love to see more to help me become a maverick quilter – thanks for the opportunity 🙂


    1. Ahhh yes, Wanda. Those beautiful large scale prints catch my attention every time! It’s so nice to find some inspiration for their use, rather than hiding them on a back. Best of luck with the giveaway.


  4. I have loved every quilt of Alethea’s that I have seen. I need to get out of my rut of traditional quilt and Alethea’s book will help me do that.


  5. Hi Maverick Quilters and wannabees – sorry for the delay in responding to ALL your heartfelt comments. I just returned from visiting two Guilds located in the Gold Country of the Sierra Foothills (one of the best areas in California btw!). I’m delighted to read that you are as inspired by the work of Alethea as I am. Thanks so much for taking time to stop by and best of luck with the giveaway. If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to post a comment on Alethea’s blog as she too has a giveaway item. All of us at SHWS thank you for being such loyal readers.


  6. I’m not a maverick quilter, but I aspire to be one! I’ve never been one to “color inside the lines” and am ready to let my inspiration guide me. I need a little help to get the courage to move ahead!


  7. I wish I could say I’m a “maverick” quilter but alas, I’m not. However, I am so inspired by quilters like Alethea. I would love to win her book so I can figure out what to do with all the large scale fabric I have purchased but just can’t bring myself to cut.


  8. Like the interview. I love me some big designs on fabric, but haven’t quite made the jump yet to doing my own thing, but I can feel the urge creeping up on me!


  9. Comfy chairs, just the right ones to curl up in and study this new book you are giving away. I love those big prints and then I am afraid to use them. This book might just have some solutions. Thanks for the giveaway.


  10. I would like to be a maverick quilter, but it sure is hard to trust myself enough to be bold and experiment. Maybe the book would help me take chances with my quilting.


  11. good thing alethea ignored all the comments from the non-artists of the world. quilts are an art form and should be respected and know that you can do no wrong in art. create for your own passion, fun and legacy. what a boring world if all the quilts were the same!!!


  12. I would love to try and be a maverick quilter…maybe winning this awesome book would be just the inspiration I need! Love the chair quilts!!!


  13. Alethea Rocks! With love from a fellow maverick. If you don’t win the book, get yourself to a quilt store (NOT online) and buy it!
    Great interview, Laura!


  14. I love Althea’s chairs and her fabrics. I also love going into stores and finding novelty fabrics. I discovered fabric postcards about 6 months ago and I call it a “play day” when I get to go through my novelty fabrics and create a new postcard. Good luck to you on your new book, and I’d love to be the owner of a copy of it!


  15. I have always loved the dream chair pattern – just need to find the perfect fabric. I think when you’ve been doing traditional quilting for many years it’s exciting and inspiring to “meet” someone like Alethea. Her excitement and “free-spiritedness” just makes you want to do something different, out of the box, out of your lane!


  16. Alethea sounds like so much fun! I’d love to break out of my self-imposed quilting rut and try something really amazing like one of those beautiful chairs!


  17. After making traditional quilts and following someone else’s pattern since the 1980’s, I feel a
    kinship with Alethea and her maverick style. Boy, would I love to win this book!


  18. This was a great interview and I could feel the “fun factor” from both of you. With the great array of fabric available it is important to look at ways to change things around. I know just what you mean about finishing (border, what border). It is an individual perception as to when it is done. I work with a small group of talented quilters twice a month doing art quilts and can confirm your excitement over the use of paint too. Keep up the great work.


  19. I’d love a copy of the book — it looks inspirational. I already consider myself a maverick quilter — and I like Alethea’s idea of letting the fabric speak. thanks for the chance.


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