Two hours with Gwen Marston

G'day all!

A couple of weeks ago, I hopped on a ferry (with my car!) and took off to Port Gamble.  The Quilted Strait was hosting Gwen Marston, a luminary in the improv quilting scene and all-round quilting bad ass and enemy of the quilting police.

Did you know that she doesn't think that points need to match?

Can you hear the quilting police having conniptions?

Anyway, I had no idea what to expect.

Mammatus clouds - full of om!

The trip across was fun - there was a howling wind blowing up the Sound and the clouds and the wind and waves were magnificent.

In the calm of a bay

I may have had a little accident with the credit card in the quilt shop too... they had some excellent low volume fabrics.

What did I find?   A slim lady with an iron-grey triangle bob who was always in motion during her talk.  After the talk she had a sit down, but she did talk for two hours!   There was lots of humour during the talk - she's well aware of what the quilt police have to say about her work.

Gwen is constantly in motion
She grew up on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle - that's about two-three miles from where I live now.  After she married, she ended up in Michigan, and a collection of antique quilts in a museum there sparked her interest in quilting.  She was a tailor by trade and a crafty type.

After a move to Salem, Oregon, a Mennonite church there had a quilt show and Gwen's interest grew.  She eventually asked if they would show her how to quilt, and a monster was born!  They showed her how to construct quilts and how to hand quilt them.

Gwen took the lessons they taught her and ran with them.  It was an act of God if the applique worked.  Whoops, that block isn't quite right - it's mis-pieced.  What a shame.  It will work anyway.  Traditional quilters had a life and made quilts as they went with what they had to hand.   Their quilts were not predetermined and predictable.  One can see the hand of the maker in their quilts.

Traditional quilts did not follow The Roolz.   Points didn't match.  Lines weren't straight.  Appliques were uneven and not symmetrical.

They had no patterns.  The look of the quilt was not pre-determined (presumably beyond a certain idea of it must have an eagle and a rose on it).  And from that, Gwen started creating.

She played.  She sewed a triangle to a square and voila, a house!  Sew a square on top, a window!  But it's pretty low, that's a basement window.  She had no plan, she just sewed scraps together.

Scraps from a workshop

I notice a lot of these scrap quilts have bunches of red in them.  Gwen likes to collect scraps from the workshops she runs (she is finishing teaching this year) and sews them together.

Liberated stars are not even 

She developed the idea of liberated quilting - quilting that does not follow The Roolz.  Points do not have to match.  Squares, triangles, rectangles, hour-glasses, whatever shapes do not have to be exactly the same.  Having them inconsistent in size makes them more lively.  Having strips like the borders around the quilt above and below not fit perfectly, having the triangles cut in half adds movement to the quilts.  She doesn't do maths to make exactly the right length borders - traditional quilters didn't!  Having things not be symmetrical gives them interest.

Can you hear that funny sound?  That's the quilting police having heart attacks.

The angles!  Triangles don't run nicely to the corners
on this liberated medallion quilt

Block size not consistent?  We can still make that work with little bits and pieces added here and there or blocks sewn together and then bits added.  Run out of that colour?  Sub in another.  Rectangles in rectangles not all the same size?  That can still work.  Quick, where are the smelling salts?

Blurry but you get the idea of different size blocks

The "mistakes" make the quilts interesting.  She speaks with authority but is often wrong.

She doesn't like putting blocks for quilts in progress up on the design wall and critiquing them - oh that block should not be there, it should go... umm... to the third row over there.  NO!  Don't do this.

Antique quilts had screaming colours, not just brown.

She uses a ruler if she wants a straight line, it isn't all cutting out with scissors.  The shapes on her appliqued quilts were cut out with scissors and you can see where some repeated shapes, like a strip of triangles, were all cut out by folding and clipping the sides off the folded material.  This is how they used to cut the fabric!

She sees too much emphasis on precision.  The quilting police have many people convinced that it must be perfect.  (Have you ever heard me apologising because my points aren't perfect on my quilts?  Cos I do!  Now I realise my quilts are liberated ;-)  If quilts are too rigid they may as well be paint by number jobs.

Her publisher had a suitcase full of her appliqued quilts, which were of lesser interest to me, but there were still things to be learned from them, like how things were cut out, how borders were made (scissors and folding).

After the talk, I went for a little wander around Port Gamble, popped into the Artful Ewe and bought a braid of lovely top, then headed back home.

How has the talk changed my quilting?

Not much so far, but I've been working on pre-existing projects.  I'm less likely to be worried about making things perfect - as long as they go together and play together more or less likely, that's good.  I might play with some scraps more instead of chucking out anything under a certain size.  It's given me more confidence to go and play with things, but currently I don't have time to play - I've got a bunch of projects on the go.

Not scraps!  Piles of inspiration!

Speaking of which,



  1. I loved every word of this post!! It's wonderfully written, and I love hearing about Gwen Marston. I'm a huge Gwen fan and could listen to her talk forever. It's her down to earth attitude mixed with enthusiasm for just sewing things together. I'm so glad you got to see her in action.

  2. How very exciting. I am quite comfortable with that attitude in my knitting, and I am getting that way with quilting, though I do like my points and seams to match, but then I like my sock stripes to be identical too. I love her quilting no-Roolz!!


Post a Comment

I enjoy getting comments but if I don't have your email address, I may not be able to reply 8-\

Popular posts from this blog

Griping - A very gross post

Seattle Six

Australia Day 2013 - a long way from home