Artist or Artisan?

My book club has been reading The Color of Ice. I would call it a “mid-life coming of age” story. You know, independent woman redefining her life in her mid 40’s. While that part of the story was a bit cliched, there is an interwoven story line involving glass blowing (the hunky glass artist, naturally!) and the artisan’s description of his work, which is taking place in Iceland. That part of the story got me thinking about our work as quilters.

This is what captured my attention!

I like to call myself a “fabric artist”. The term “sewist” sounds forced, and has no poetry. Artisan is a good word, too, and it got me thinking about the varied approaches to the arts of applique and quilting.

When is fabric “the tool” for expression? When is the pattern the tool? Are they both simply tools? And when do inspiration & expression come into play?

Fabric as The Tool

Sometimes, a pattern and the fabrics are simple tools, here used like paint to compose the Lily Rose pattern with Japanese style fabrics as my choice of media. The fabrics are the driver here and my staring point. No greater meaning than beautiful fabrics arranged to delight the senses.
Detail of Lily Rose.
This version of Lily Rose was created using all Klimt fabrics, which are a bit of an obsession of mine. I love the rich, saturated colors and the graphic prints. Here I used the Klimt fabrics like a painter dipping their brush or palette knife into colors.
Lily Rose/Klimt detail.
This version of Nelke (another Esther Aliu pattern!) was a vehicle for using Stonehenge prints. I love the water color quality of Stonehenge and all the texture it brings to a piece.

The Pattern as The Tool

The Queen’s Garden pattern is the focus of this quilt. The pattern is the inspiration and the fabrics and quilting mere tools to expound on the pattern’s sweet language. This was a request from a dear friend, and one always pours a little something extra into quilts made for a specific and loved person.
The tiny details are the medium of expression in this quilt.
Wonderful symmetry in this Queen’s Garden center. I could dream up dozens of ways to create this center in many different colors.

Inspiration & Expression! Lighting does strike and when it does, it is magical.

The pattern is Love Entwined 2, by Esther Aliu. This one came to me in a sudden inspiration. The pattern designer was representing Love in its glory, But for me, there was a very personal component that took me from the death of a spouse and bereavement to meeting my new partner and experiencing the full cycle of love again. Love, but un-entwined. From left lower, is the winter of love…love’s death. Left top is love’s re-emergence, tentative. Right top is love’s full bloom. Right bottom is love florishing. In this case, my need to express feelings was the driver; the pattern and the fabric were both tools. The Artist’s approach, where my desire to express what was meaningful to me drove the work. It was an artist’s journey and a very cathartic one.

Love “Un-Entwined”.

I had planned to make a Shelly (pattern by Esther Aliu) quilt to use up left over Klimt fabric. Just all clam shells using a fabric I loved. Simple. And then- AND THEN- I came across the Klimt panel in the center. Suddenly, the piece appeared in my mind, the whole thing all in a blazing moment and I sewed as fast as I could to capture my vision. The Klimt fabric became tools to express the picture in my mind and the feeling it evoked. The pattern was a tool for the jumping off point of the inspiration. There is a small, hard to see pathway just left of center, leading into the forest depths, drawing the viewer in. The material (fabric) was shouting at me while I made this quilt! An artisan approach as the Klimt fabric was certainly speaking its own language.

“Come Walk With me, the Forest Said” is the name of this piece.

Whether it is a favorite fabric line that leads us to seek out a pattern, an exciting new or old favored pattern that seeks material, or inspiration, the quilting arts are such a satisfying medium. In addition to the visual beauty, we quilters have a deep relationship with the feel and texture of fabrics. We collect them, cherish them, and sometimes have difficulty releasing them to serve as tool. (Yes, some call that fabric hoarding!) And then there are the processes involved in our quilt making, each step that leads to to completion of a project, and the challenges that arise during each project.

Are you a traditionalist, craving colors and patterns inspired or from by the past? Do you love pastels and soft, romantic images? Perhaps you crave bold modern shapes or quilts that tease the eye. Maybe you are a technical wizard and math nerd who relishes constructing a complex pieced quilt. Or are you a color junkie like myself? It doesn’t matter. We are all artists and/or artisans.

Happy quilting! Lennea


  1. I agree; we are all artists and/or artisans, depending on the project. I’ve always defined myself as a quiltmaker. I am happy making quilts. Recently, I’ve rediscovered needle turn applique and I am now in my happy place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoy needle turn machine on projects with larger pieces and do needle turn for bed sized quilts. It gives a lovely, smooth look. Glad you found your bliss!


  2. Fabulous, what a way you have with words ans story telling. You bring all alive, thank you for the inspiration you invoke in me x. I look forward to your next brilliant thoughts

    Liked by 1 person

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