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    Art Quilts | Fall 2004 Out Here Magazine

    Deb holding one of her completed quilts - Tractor Supply Co.
    Artist Deb Richardson traded in her paints and canvas for fabric and thread — a medium that she finds "magical."

    Quilters splash on color for a new look to an age-old tradition

    By Carol Davis

    Photography courtesy of David Stephenson

    When Deb Richardson wants to reminisce about the first time she snorkled, all she must do is glance at her living room wall. There, in bright blues and aquamarine hues that mirror Bahama's brilliant waters, hangs a quilt depicting undersea life.
    Metallic threads highlight the shimmering water. Bright-colored fish made of vivid fabrics swim in small schools. Peculiar plant life adds color and interest.

    Richardson, of Ewing, Ky., is an artist who put aside her paints when she discovered, quite by accident, a new medium — fabric. She's part of a growing number of quilters giving a new look to an age-old tradition.
    Richardson stumbled upon her passion as she stitched a quilt for her bed. A self-taught quilter, Richardson simply planned to finish the quilt and be done with it. But as she stitched, she became captivated.

    "At first, it was just basically work to get through, but when I started sewing and (seeing) the pattern, that was just magical to me," Richardson says. "I thought, 'This is cool. What else can I do with fabric?'"
    piecing together a quilt block

    A quilter constructs a one-of-a-kind creation each time she pieces together a quilt block.
    Richardson respects and frequently stitches traditional, old-fashioned patterns, but she also creates "art quilts" that definitely are not your grandmother's bedcovers.

    Besides the snorkeling quilt, her other creations include:
    A grove of trees that she saw in a dream. "I dreamed of walking through a real forest and coming to a dream wood where all the seasons existed at once, side by side," she says.

    A quilt based on a photograph of her mother with her mother's oldest grandchild.

    "Wonky Houses," from a swap of a small group of Internet friends from as far away as New Zealand. "I asked everyone to do a house block, with no rules as to size or style," she says. "I then put the blocks together to make a wonderful, wacky, wonky neighborhood."

    DAZZLING COLORS

    Think bright, bold, and brilliant, and many quilters think of Caryl Breyer Fallert, an award-winning art quilt designer.
    With names such as Corona #2: Solar Eclipse, Reflection, Illusion, and Inner Spaces, Fallert's quilts are explosions of color and movement.
    "I guess what's common to all my work, whether it's recognizable imagery or abstract ... is the quality of light," says Fallert, of Oswego, Ill. "There's luminosity built into almost all of my quilt designs."

    She gets those dazzling colors and subtle color gradiations by dying her fabric herself.

    Quilting snagged her interest in 1974, when Fallert, who sewed, painted, and did needle arts, and her husband bought a farm from a woman nearly 90.

    There was a time, for example, when traditionalists rejected machine quilting. But Fallert's machine-quilted entry into the prestigious Paducah (Ky.) Quilt Show and Contest in 1989 won "Best of Show." It was the first time a machine-quilted quilt won the top award in a major show, and it caused quite a furor, confirms Bonnie K. Browning, the show's executive director.

    "She had made quilts through the entire 20th century," Fallert says. "Seeing her big pile of quilts was one of the things that initially got me interested in quilts."

    She started out with traditional patterns — for a while anyway. "I never found a pattern I couldn't change," she says.
    Her designs began to evolve after Fallert attended a national quilt show in the early 1980s. "(It) opened up my mind completely to all the possibilities because that's a show that showcases the cutting edge of what's going on in the medium," she says.

    To some, quilting may mean clinging to such traditional patterns as Grandmother's Flower Garden, Jacob's Ladder, or Flying Geese, but even those were considered cutting edge at one time. "Quilting has always been an evolving medium," Fallert says.

    There was a time, for example, when traditionalists rejected machine quilting. But Fallert's machine-quilted entry into the prestigious Paducah (Ky.) Quilt Show and Contest in 1989 won "Best of Show." It was the first time a machine-quilted quilt won the top award in a major show, and it caused quite a furor, confirms Bonnie K. Browning, the show's executive director.

    "Now, 15 years later, there is a $12,000 award for best machine workmanship," Fallert says, with a little chuckle. "I think people were confusing art with the tools that you use to make art."

    Some art quilts are quite "off the wall," made of wood and metal, Richardson says.
    "They paint on fabric, do lots of beadwork, put on transparent things like chiffon, where you can see through, with batting exposed," she says.

    Like any art form, quilting doesn't have a "right" or "wrong" way, many quilters agree.

    All that's required are two layers of fabric and a layer of batting, held together in some manner.
    The rest is up to you.

    Out Here Editor Carol Davis' favorite quilter is her mother, Ruby Hill Davis.