Blocks, Repeat Units, Diagrams In Fabric And Thread

Most of my fabric art is landscape inspired, and while certainly not representational/pictorial, is diagrammatic rather than abstract’ . My brief encounter with traditional patchwork and quilting in the late 80’s left me with a love of the designs of units known as “blocks” in quilt speak, or “repeat units” as I refer to them. I’ve only ever made one traditional pattern quilt (a small wall quilt, using the Flying Geese pattern) but I own a couple of antique ones, of the Dresen Plate and the double Wedding Ring patterns.

Awful but it’s the only photo I have (sorry) of the Flying Geese wall hanging I made in a Blanche Young workshop in 1988 in Denver CO. From memory ~75cm x ~120cm.

Many of my designs are ‘repeat units’ of the kind of diagrams I hand drew to illustrate university papers in physical geography, way back in the pre-computer era. In 1988, even as I was learning about traditional quilts, as an embroiderer I always designed my own works. One day I sprayed some paint onto fabric for an embroidery background, but despite it not turning out as I expected, it did end up being a vital part of what became my first art quilt, “Ancient Expressions” ( read the full story at )

Ancient Expressions series: top l-r #12, #1, #10, #9 bottom l-r #13, #14, #3, #2

My first original designs were a series of fourteen wall quilts, made between 1988-1992, all with the title “Ancient Expressions”. Each work in that series has (1) some element of landscape features, because, of course, the nature of the landscape has a huge influence on the development of a civilisation on it (2) references to activity of man in/on that landscape via the repeat patterns which Man always gets around to making on important surfaces or everyday objects, for decoration and/or communication (3) they’re all in earthy colours. I’ve never declared the series closed, but haven’t added to it for over 30 years, either.

While I was making the last work in that series, I was privileged to attend a workshop on designing art quilts – including positive and negative space, figure and ground, colour, sets and using basic shapes, and other modules, each of which she later built out into much more detail to become a full pretty advanced, intense 5-day workshop topic in their own right. My notes from that 1991 or 1992 workshop are not currently accessible, but I remember that, really, we were introduced to probably all the things that are now individual workshops on her incredible workshop list. We worked very hard in that workshop, knowing that we were pretty lucky to have her in Colorado thanks to the policy of the wonderful art quilting group I belonged to, the Front Range Contemporary Quilters, That organisation still brings national and international top level art quilt teachers to Colorado every year. My main takeaways from that Nancy Crow workshop, her books and the lectures I’ve experienced, were (1) the importance and relevance of pattern and repetition to my art (2) focus on what I’m doing, think about why, and record what I do (3) probably least important in her eyes, but a huge plus in mine, was the brief demo she gave of the essentials of freehand cutting and piecing, a tremendous time-saving technique which I have used ever since. It results in what I call ‘organic’ lines that fit perfectly with the whole improvisational approach to pieced surface design. Many people have taken Nancy’s workshops down the years, and while I think you can often identify art quilters who’ve fairly recently studied with her, I think that people who gained most from her teaching work have worked hard to apply it to their own art until it no longer directly reflects her influences, and believe I’m in that category. I value her influence as much as I do the late great English embroiderer, Constance Howard.

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