Texture can be achieved in many forms and, in the art world, it often results from the way in which materials are used. Some quilters introduce embellishments such as beads, buttons, ribbons, or embroidery stitches to add that rich “I just want to touch it” look to their work. Adding visual texture through fabric and quilting designs requires a trained eye in making fabric choices and a creative and skilled hand with quilting stitches.
When we chose “texture” as the theme for this month’s posts, I thought of Sue Rasmussen and her stunning, award-winning work. She has mastered the art of combining fabric and machine quilting to give the visual texture to her work that causes many of us to ask “how did you do that?”
I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Sue at a retreat last summer. I’m delighted to share her thoughts and work with you.
What brought you to quilting?
I think fate played a huge part in my career as a quilter. When I was 10 years old, I was waiting at the Monterey County Fair to show my horse, and my father took me inside the Exposition Hall. A woman was demonstrating a machine that could actually make buttonholes by simply turning a dial on the front of the machine! I had never before seen a sewing machine in my life. I am sure no one in my family had ever touched a needle, let alone a sewing machine. I was fascinated, and glued to the floor. Finally, after several fruitless attempts to get me moving, my father asked me if I wanted it. He bought me everything: the table, the chair, all the attachments, and a brand new Bernina as my first sewing machine! I taught myself how to sew and three years later, I made my first quilt. I later graduated with a degree in Textile Sciences from UC Davis.
As a young adult, working full time in Corporate May Co, I quilted in my spare time. I made quilts for gifts, took a few classes, and began to win local awards. My local quilt shop, The Quilt Emporium, soon asked me to teach classes for them. As a ‘full time mom’ of two boys, I quilted, lectured, taught, and competed professionally.
What kind of quilts do you make?
Primarily, I make machine-pieced quilts, although I will make a fused quilt every now and then for charities. I do almost no handwork besides a few embellishments. My real quilt passion is curved pieced landscape and pictorial quilts. I took assorted landscape classes 15 -20 years ago, and when I took a workshop from Ruth McDowell, I became hooked on her piecing technique. I like the clean edge of a pieced image rather than those attained through raw edge, glued, or fused quilts, and I prefer the soft hand of a pieced quilt. I have been creating and showing my pieced landscapes for nearly 25 years, and teaching for over 10 years.
How do you attain texture in your quilts?
Texture is an extremely important design element for pictorial and landscape quilts. In my quilts, the fabric choices and the machine quilting create the texture. I began, professionally, 24 years ago as a machine quilter and teacher. As a teacher, I am constantly reflecting on the choices I make to give my quilts the desired texture. The machine-quilting stitches are an integral element of my quilts, adding the visual texture and dimensional aspects of the piece.
I view the quilting as a secondary quilt layer, as important as the pieced work itself, which–if taken and viewed separately on a white piece of fabric–would be considered a significant quilt in and of itself. The machine quilting must complement the design, adding texture to the Grizzly Bear ’s fur and dimension to the roughness of the tree trunks in Poipu Point. Thread choices are very important, and I do most of my quilting with Aurifil Threads, for whom I am a specialist.
Equally important, is the texture implied by the fabric. Fabrics are generally flat and one dimensional, but the right fabric choices can visually “imply” texture with the color and pattern. Multicolored fabrics suggest more visual texture than solids or fabrics with little pattern, and can create in the viewer’s mind a texture that is solely imagined, such as the fractured granite in the Mountain Lion or the smooth, marble-like texture of the cement arches of the Colorado Street Bridge.
What is your favorite part of quilting?
I love auditioning and choosing the fabrics. Seeing the pieces come together to build the quilt, then watching the design or image come to life, gives me great pleasure. I’m always thrilled and happy to watch a quilt like the Grizzly Bear or the forest in Winter’s Approach come to life.
As I build the design up on the wall, adding a piece, sometimes removing it to try another. The quilt will take a surprising and gratifying turn. My excitement and anticipation are almost more than I can stand. I will happily work way into the late hours or will spend a solitary weekend in my studio working on a project. I make every quilt as if it were for me, choosing fabrics and images or patterns that I love. In this way, every quilt I make shows a part of me and a bit of my personality in it. I hope my quilts reflect that to the public or to the new owner.
What is your least favorite part of quilting?
Hmmm… I guess finishing the quilt. After I have machine quilted it, I have mentally moved onto the next quilt project, and the binding, quilt sleeve, and label seem tedious to me. In fact, I often trade my machine quilting with my friend Judy L. who does all the finishing for me. I honestly view myself as the winner in this deal.
What do you enjoy the most about being a professional quilter?
Quite simply, I enjoy thoroughly the interaction with my students. I LOVE to teach. I love seeing the “aha!! moment” in their eyes when they have learned something or accomplish something that before has eluded them. I take teaching very seriously. It’s my job. I have nearly endless patience and sincere encouragement for my students, and I always try to bring humor and enthusiasm to my classes.
What do you do in your free time?
I raise and train Golden Retrievers. I have been involved with this breed for over 30 years. My dogs are all obedience, conformation, agility, and therapy dogs. They are a fun, loving and active breed, always happy and energetic, and I take my outlook on life from them. In fact, occasionally, when my sewing machine acts up, and I say a few mean things to it in a rather harsh voice, my little girl Ellie is instantly by my side with tail wagging and a reassuring lick to soothe and calm me down. What better friend could you ask for?
Sue has recently written and self-published her book, Quilting 101: What Every Quilter Should Know. Her book explains everything from machine needles, threads, battings, pins, and marking tools to home-sewing-machine maintenance. She shares a wealth of information not only in quilting, but in textile science in this informational book. It is a wonderful reference guide, assisting quilters who are interested in the details of making top-quality quilts. Sue has generously donated a signed copy of her book for one of our readers. Simply leave a comment letting us know how you feel you could benefit from this book. I will announce the winner in my next post on July 10th. To purchase a copy, simply e-mail Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you Sue for sharing your time and quilts with us. To learn more about Sue, view her body of work, and check her schedule of workshops, please visit her at www.SueRasmussenQuilts.com. She will be filming four segments for The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims this August in Montana and invites you to view them in 2013.
Happy Sewing Everyone!