Sharon Benton




Sharon Benton




Sharon Benton


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Cherrywood Fabrics (Karla Overland)


Copenhagen, Denmark


Karen Musgrave


Karen Musgrave (KM): I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Sharon Benton. Because Sharon now lives in Denmark, we have decided to conduct this interview by e-mail. Sharon, I want to thank you for taking your time to do this interview with me. Please tell me about the quilt you chose for this interview. I believe it is called "Demeter's Dark December."

Sharon Benton (SB): I created Demeter's Dark December as part of a challenge class. We were given a piece of fabric and the theme "The Changing Seasons." The fabric was a brown floral and I started collecting other earth tone fabrics, hand-dyed, kimono silks, commercial fabrics. I decided to do a gradated background of squares similar to a water- color quilt.

I arranged the squares on my design wall until I was pleased with the color flow, but it was a little dark. I found a soft hand-dyed orange fabric and added a few squares and it brought the quilt to life. It reminded me of a late December afternoon, barren and dark, but with a hint of light and color, promising the coming of Spring. This is the myth of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. Demeter was goddess of the harvest. Persephone was kidnapped and taken by Hades to the underworld. Demeter fell into a deep depression upon loosing her daughter and winter fell upon the earth. Finally Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone to her mother. However, before she left, Hades gave her a pomegranate (a common fertility symbol). When she ate from it, she was bound to spend a part of the year in the underworld and part of the year on earth. When Persephone is on earth, plants bloom and crops thrive. When Persephone returns to the underworld, winter sets in as Demeter retreats in hibernation.

The background is 2 ½" pieced squares. I free-motion quilted flowers, grass and leaves onto the background. The three was created from small snippets of brown fabric and free-motion stitching. The quilt measures 23" x 22".

KM: Tell me more about the challenge class. How do you use this quilt? Why did you choose this particular quilt for the interview?

SB: I took a series of challenge classes - for about three years off and on. We met every 6 weeks, and every other meeting would receive a new challenge theme. The first class was to receive the fabric and the theme, and to brainstorm or talk about certain design principles. The second class, we would present our quilt (finished or not) and ask for feedback and critique. The purpose of the class was to push yourself in new directions, work within parameters, and learn how to give and take constructive criticism.

How I use the quilt and how I chose it for the interview is really one answer! The quilt is one of my favorites- I enjoyed making it, I enjoyed looking at it, I enjoyed what it represented. It is a very hopeful quilt to me. It says to me that if you persevere, you can conquer your fears or get through your bad times. It may be a dark dismal winter, but keep looking for signs of spring, because it will come again!

I raffled this quilt back in January 2005, after the December 2004 Tsunami that devastated Indonesia. I sent emails, put a notice on my website, and pretty soon people were forwarding emails all over the country! I ran the raffle for about a month and raised $1,000.00 for Habitat for Humanity. It seemed like the right thing to do—this quilt was inspired by hope, and I was able to give to a community in need.

KM: When did you start making quilts?

SB: I started making quilts in 1997. I saw a traditional quilt at a craft show and thought 'I wish I could do that.' And then I thought, 'Well, why don't I take a class?'

I still have my first quilt - a 12 block sampler. It's pretty traditional. At the time I didn't care about the quilting part - I just wanted to piece! Quilting intimidated me, so I just tied this one.

KM: Tell me about how your interest in quilting has changed? What are your favorite techniques and materials?

I started out making traditional quilts, but got frustrated with the precision work. I was looking for something a little more free-form and discovered the challenge class that I mentioned earlier, where I discovered fusible. It was so freeing to be able to make any shape I wanted and not have to worry whether or not I'd be able to piece it or appliqué it. I soon started beading on quilts and also became very enamored of free-motion machine quilting.

As far as favorite tools, I probably would not be quilting if not for rotary cutters and rulers. In fact, in my first class we made cardboard templates and cut things out with scissors. I was so frustrated by not being able to cut things accurately; I almost gave up on quilting altogether. Luckily I found a class that taught how to use the rotary cutter and rulers and that made all the difference for me.

And buy fusible web by the bolt. I'll spend an afternoon fusing fat quarters so I'll have a ready stash of many different fabric pre-fused and ready to cut.

KM: Have advances in technology influenced your work? If so, how?

SB: As far as technology goes, I have a fairly simple sewing machine. It doesn't do embroidery or have a stitch regulator. I have found the computer to be a very valuable tool for being able to see all kinds on art; do research on a project, and for printing fabric. I like printing photos or my own abstract designs to fabric. It would be my dream to have a 60" wide printer and print yards of my own fabric!

KM: How has living in Denmark changed your quiltmaking? Do you belong to any quilt groups?

SB: So far, the big change since moving to Denmark is that I have not quilted as much! Moving and settling in was more unsettling than I ever imagined. And then there is so much new stuff to explore here, so I'm afraid quilting has taken a back seat for a while. But ask me again in a year and I'm sure there will be influences!

I have met a group through LINK, Ladies International Network of Kobenhavn. There are 7 or 8 of us who meet once a month for dinner and quilt talk. Traditional quilting is very popular here, but the group was very excited to learn about art quilting and how to make fabric postcards.

KM: Tell me if you have ever used quiltmaking to get through a difficult time.

SB: Yes. I made a couple pieces commemorating September 11. They were very dark - black and red with frenetic stitching and abstract images of broken buildings. They weren't exactly pieces you'd want to hang on the wall, but I poured all my emotion into them and it was a very cathartic experience.

KM: What have you done with these pieces?

SB: One is in a drawer of unfinished pieces - I got as far as I could with it and I don't think I will ever finish it - it has served its purpose. The other one was purchased by a friend. She had no idea what inspired it - I didn't tell her. She liked the energy that came from it. Interesting how a work can feel one way when you are making it and say something totally different to someone else. Hmm, I actually just found a photo of it. It's much brighter than I remember.

KM: This is a great quilt! What made you choose to withhold the inspiration? How important do you think artist statements are to a piece? And finally do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make a distinction?

SB: I guess I withheld the inspiration because of my friend's reaction to it. She saw something so positive and energetic and I didn't want to change perception by telling her what it was really about. If she could draw positive energy from something that sprang from a tragedy, then maybe that puts good vibes back out in the world.

I am ambivalent about artist statements. There are statements that have moved me - I am thinking in particular about a quilt by Seattle artist Cathy Ericson called "Bunny Dreams." It is made with blue and white Shibori fabrics with a bit of orange and featured images of rabbits. I thought it was cute and well executed, then I read the artists statement and it was all about a Japanese American boy having to give up his pet rabbit when he moved to another home. Reading the artist statement moved me to tears- and still does! (You can see the quilt here:

I have struggled with the artist/quilter thing for the past few years. I am not a quilter in a traditional sense, although my artwork springs from those traditional works. In describing my work to those unfamiliar with it, I utter the word quilt and immediately get 'oh - my grandmother is a quilter...'And then I describe my work, which is nothing like grandmother's quilt, and it seems to confuse people. I've started describing myself as a textile artist and call my pieces as "Artworks in Fabric" Don't know if it's any less confusing, but at least I don't have to get the image of a cozy bed quilt out of their mind as I try to explain exactly what kind of artwork I do.

So, I guess the short answer would be: artist.

KM: You talk about your artwork springing from traditional works. Let's expand on that a little. Which artists'/quiltmakers' have influenced you? Whose works are you drawn to and why?

SB: Caryl Bryer Fallert is the first name that springs to mind. I think here quilts were the first "art quilts" that I ever saw. They were so different from anything I'd ever seen. Jan Beany and Jean Littlejohn are so innovative in what they are doing with hand and machine embroidery and using funky materials that I find their work very freeing - their work is all about creating texture and using anything from embroidery to painted fusible web to melted and painted Timex. Basically anything you can get through a sewing machine is fair game!

I adore Liz Berg's work, her choice of simple colors and shapes and layering.

As for traditional quilters, Diane Gaudynski does amazing machine quilting. Her quilt Butternut Summer made in 1998 still blows me away - the muddy colors, the texture. It is a very traditional quilt, but something about it just pops!

As far as other artistic influences, abstract painters of the early 20th century have greatly inspired me, Wassily Kandinsky's colorful funky shapes and black lines (that look like lines of stitching to me!). Paul Klee created several pieces that could easily have been rendered in fabric. I'm very attracted to his color sense and geometric style. Sonia Delaunay painted in the 1920's. Her work, even then, was evocative of the 60's pop-art. She also designed textiles.

KM: Let's move more into aesthetics and design now that we've talked about your influences, etc. What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful? What makes a great quiltmaker?

SB: Color is definitely what makes my quilts sing. I love color - I love to experiment with color and juxtapose unlikely combinations. That's what brings me joy.

KM: What makes a great quiltmaker?

SB: Hmmm - I'm not sure I can answer that. I think it comes down to what the individual enjoys doing.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting out?

SB: Advice to someone starting out - keep at it! It took me forever to get free-motion quilting, then one day it just clicked. I almost gave up on quilting after my first class, but then decided to try another class. Find a teacher you connect with and who encourages you continue. There are important construction techniques and design aesthetics you need to know, but don't get caught up in rules for rules sake. Use what works for you.

KM: Describe your studio.

SB: My Denmark studio is pretty cool. We chose this place for the studio space. Our apartment is on the top floor of a four story building (no elevator). We have a two-story flat with our bed room and a studio on the top floor. There are wooden floors and white walls and the space is very open. One wall is windows and the light is amazing! I see the changing sky throughout the day and the cats join me upstairs, snoozing in the sunspots.

I have a sewing desk my husband built for me that holds two machines; a cutting table; an ironing board at sitting-level, and three cupboards to hold fabric and supplies. I'm not particularly organized, so sometimes it takes a while to find things, but that's just how I work. I have some of my quilts on the wall along with a quilt block made by my 6-year-old niece, Fiona. She's very into sewing and I hope it's something we will share for many years to come.

KM: I know you're headed off on vacation. Thanks so much for doing this interview with me.

SB: Thank you for this experience. It has really forced me to think about why I do what I do and my inspiration, as well as the history and tradition of quilting.

KM: The interview concluded on May 4, 2007.



“Sharon Benton,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 13, 2024,