Greatly influenced by our global and personal connections, TSA Member Mary Walter is a longtime creator, educator, and certified quilt judge. In this Member Highlight, she clears up some common quilt misconceptions and shares one of her strategies for getting creatively unstuck.
Textile Society of America (TSA): Mary, please share a bit about your work process and what inspires you.
Mary Walter (MW): I am constantly inspired by pattern, line, & color. My medium of choice is fabric and quilting. I love fabric. Every style of quilting, from traditional to modern, interests me. The first is historical and the second is making history. I create what interests me. I have many tools to work with, from my formal fine art and craft education to experimenting and exploring different methods aligned with the process of quilting. I may use both machine piecing and quilting techniques combined with hand applique or hand quilting skills. My hand dyed cottons might pair with vintage Japanese fabrics, printed batiks or African indigo. I let the design and finishing techniques evolve with the quilt. Sometimes I take out as much stitching as finally put in the finished quilt.
TSA: Your work sounds very intuitive. Does this lend itself more to an individual practice versus a communal practice, or both?
MW: Absolutely both. Quilting for necessity, for warmth, for charity, or even a new baby is often the work of many hands. The community, gathering, and caring by women for others is still the strong glue and healing balm for those who may need a hand. I have been sewing with a small group of women/students for over 35 years. We’ve made a lot of quilts together. Our community outreach has expanded since social media. We sewed a dozen lap quilts for a local food bank this winter and recently sewed and sent pouches to Australia for the fire injured Koala bears.
On the other hand, I cherish my alone time in the studio to draw, design, or sew a new class project or quilt I’m entering onto a gallery exhibit. I’m an introvert by preference but will come out to share my artwork and skills with others. I lecture, teach, jury and judge at several quilt shows annually. As a young mother and frugal artist, I wanted a professional way to go places and see quilts. In 1997, with a quilting friend we attended the first NQACJ (National Association of Certified Quilt Judges) class offered in Syracuse NY. It was a challenging process akin to a master’s degree. I became a certified quilt judge in 2000. I continue to educate myself and judge quilts to qualify for my recertification every two years. I have been all over the US and to Europe to see, touch, and judge quilts.
TSA: With so much experience on both sides of quilt making, do you encounter any misconceptions about this work and how do you address these?
MW: There are many misconceptions about quilting, most centering around a nostalgia for history. Yes, some quilts were made as a frugal craft from scraps for cover and warmth and later idolized as unrefined folk art. Simultaneously, however, in the skilled hands and minds of many women, quilts of extraordinary beauty and artistry emerged. Many women were sought out for their quilting skills and contributed handsomely to the family coffers in trade or coins. Today there is a blur of sorts between the folk art and the fine art labels surrounding quilts.
TSA: Can you share some of your go-to books and resources?
MW: One of my favorite books is “Indigo – The Color that Changed the World” by Catherine Legrand. This book is a masterful work spanning centuries of history, artistry, civilization, power, wealth, and the desire to cultivate all of this from a plant. I am fascinated by the whole process of what she reveals in her book.
TSA: Are you actively collecting textiles?
MW: I have a stash of fabric that I have made or collected for 40 years. I add to it whenever I see fabric I like. I also love and collect books and magazines. I have hundreds of books on textiles and quilting, and have hundreds of cookbooks. I usually head to my kitchen to cook when I’m trying to resolve a quilting design or technical dilemma to work out.
TSA: Speaking of working things out, if given the power to master any skill instantaneously, what would it be?
MW: I would like to have a photographic memory. I want to remember every quilt I have seen and every book or article I have ever read. This would leave more room for future discoveries.
TSA: Until then, what is your first textile memory?
MW: My first textile memory is printing my name in wobbly five year old letters on the the gray green box of Singer sewing machine attachments my mother had.
TSA: What projects are you currently working on / looking forward to?
MW: I always have a lot of irons in the fire. I always have class samples to design and teach but am excited about a new partnership with Kokka Fabrics, a Japanese fabric company that is expanding its fabric availability in the US and Canada (Kokkafabrics.com / IG: @kokkafabrics). I’m their US fabric ambassador and just made my first set of circle pouch samples with their fabrics to share. My longer-term goals are to continue my surface design classes, create my own fabric lines, and publish a book of quilt patterns using them.
All images courtesy the artist