Virginia Abrams

Photos

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Title

Virginia Abrams

Description

Virginia Abrams is a non-traditional quilter from Delaware. She hand-dyes most of her fabrics, and puts them together using an improvisational curved piecing method. She began quilting 3 years before her interview, starting with Nancy Crowe patterns and eventually branching out while studying biochemistry at University of Delaware. Abrams joined the Newark Arts Alliance and started an unofficial group, The Dyeing Ladies, consisting of other artful quilters who dye their fabrics, and some silkscreen painters as well.

Identifier

DE13

Contributor

Melanie Grear

Interviewee

Virginia Abrams

Interviewer

Heather Gibson

Interview Date

06/03/01

Interview sponsor

eQuilter.com

Location

Hockessin, Delaware

Transcriber

Heather Gibson

Transcription

**This transcript was created by QSOS volunteers and was reviewed and, in some cases, edited by the interviewee. It may not exactly match the audio recording. For citations and interview quotations, please refer to the audio-recorded interview.** Heather Gibson (HG): Hello. Today is March 16th. The time is 3:32. This is Heather Gibson. I'm sitting here with Ginny Abrams in her home in Hockessin, Delaware. Let's start the interview, Ginny, with the quilt that is hanging on the wall right before us.

Virgina Abrams (VA): This is "Pond Life" that I finished in April 2000. It's created from fabric that I dyed myself. I use 100 percent cotton broadcloth, which I purchase from Test Fabrics in 100-yard rolls. I dye it in the basement using fiber reactive dyes. I use Procion dyes, which I purchase from Prochem. I take my inspiration pretty much from the fabric. When I produce an absolutely wonderful fabric, I have to make it into a quilt. In this particular one, I had a lovely dark forest green that had some light spots in it that looked like the sun was shining through. I put it up against a blue that looked like water, which had places where the light seemed to be shining through. Then I dyed some more blues. I like different blues together. I know they don't look like they go together, but I like them together anyway. [laughter.] And then some very bright spring greens because it was the spring and those look lovely in there. So I dyed maybe four or five different light greens. Then I began by piecing a background. Some of the dark green intermingled with the beautiful blue. Then I added a few crosspieces using mostly the blues on the top and the greens on the bottom to show the bottom of the pond. Then when I finally felt I had a decent enough background, I decided to get a little bright color into the quilt. I pieced together some pieces that had greens in the bottom and various blues in the top, separated by some bright fuchsia. I use a method in which I cut the fabrics with my rotary cutter. I lay them right side on right side and just make the cut that I want. Then I mark them and pin them right sides together, and then sew them together with the very narrowest seam I can get. It's really nice to make these things in a spontaneous kind of way.

HG: Is there any outside inspiration beside the cloth, or any particular scene that inspired this quilt?

VA: No, I do have a pond in my backyard. I do have a cottage on a lake so I do a lot of observing. I like to garden a lot, so I see those kinds of things. As far as a specific scene, no. [tape is shut off as Ginny retrieves a book.]

HG: Ginny just ran upstairs and found a book by Nancy Crow, and she's going to talk about the style of using her rotary cutter in an improvisational way.

VA: I think that my first real inspiration as far as art quilts and quilting was finding a wonderful book called "Improvisational Quilts" by Nancy Crow. Nancy Crow is my hero. There's no doubt about it. She has been in art quilts for a very long time, and she has a wonderful body of work that I just love. I love the way she uses color. I like the way she uses hand dyed fabrics, and always using solids at least in her latest improvisational quilts. I like her improvisational method of making quilts so I've adapted a lot of her concepts of ways to be creative with the fabric.

HG: You have a very interesting history of how you got started in quilting. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that?

VA: Well, I've been sewing for thirty years because when I was in graduate school in chemistry, when I finished my master's I got my first sewing machine. That was in 1966, so that was a few years ago. I sewed during the time I had children. I sewed my clothes, and I sewed their fancy dress-up clothes. I did lots of reupholstery projects. Then I was working in biochemistry at the University of Delaware and I started learning how to dye silks. I just loved the silks and I thought, 'If I could sew with these and make quilts.' I realized, of course, that sewing silk is very complex so I went to cottons and started dyeing cottons. Making quilts from cottons is a whole lot more practical than silks although I am learning that you do need to go ahead and put a stabilizer of some sort, I use a fusible knit, on the back of the silks and you can manipulate them. I would far rather sew quilts than anything else. Even when I go to the lake to visit our family cottage, I take my sewing machine and all my fabrics.

HG: Approximately how many years ago did you begin quilting?

VA: In 1997.

HG: Okay, so not long ago. Have you found a wide body of people who also do the surface design that you do?

VA: That was really difficult because I knew the local quilt guild, which is called the Lady Bugs. And I was concerned that they wouldn't share my love of very modern looking, wild, non-traditional quilts so I went to the Newark Arts Alliance, and it was just when they were beginning a new fiber arts group with a bunch of women that also were interested in non-traditional quilts and silkscreen painting and dyeing and everything else. We ended up having a course. We had a woman come from Oregon who does wonderful quilts. It was a very hot summer, and there was no air conditioning at the Newark Arts Alliance, so we had it in my basement, which has water and an exit to the outside in case of a crisis and air conditioning. So that was the commencement of The Dyeing Ladies, and the Dyeing Ladies dye in my basement about once a month. It's pretty much the same group of women, although we invite anybody who is interested. We continue to this day. We do resists and bleaching and all sorts of things. A larger group, the Loose Threads meets monthly at the Newark Arts Alliance. We just finished a series of silk painting, which went on for about six months. Now we're going to do mosaics with pottery where you take tiles that are already glazed and break them up and then put them on another tile as a background. We're really excited about that.
HG: Is The Dyeing Ladies group part of the Newark Arts Alliance?

VA: Well, the Dyeing Ladies is sort of unofficial, but The Loose Threads is part of the Arts Alliance. I think we're going to set up an exhibit next September, which I think will be very nice. The women have been very supportive. There are people that you can go to and say, 'I'm having a problem with this quilt. What do you think I ought to do?' It's just really nice in having found so many people. I've been so fortunate.

HG: Do most of the other ladies do quilts?

VA: We have one silk painter. We have three other quiltmakers. I think you know Madge Ziegler and Deb Barr and then Celeste Kelly and Pat Field. Then Laura Spencer does silk painting. So that's more or less the core of the group. Then we have some more younger people. We have Dragonfly Leathrum who is in the group, too. It's been what I need. People learn in different ways. If Celeste learns anything she can repeat it, but she couldn't go to a book and find out how to do it. I can go to a book and find out how to do it, but I couldn't remember how three years ago I did something. But she can remember exactly what to do. We want to learn how to airbrush, and she can figure it all out. It's just great. If we decide on a certain technique we'd like to find out about, within our group we can figure it out.

HG: What group do you feel that you're more a part of, the community of fabric dyers or the community of quilters?

VA: Quilters who dye their fabrics. Anybody's quilts are very unique, but I've never taken a quilt to show to the Lady Bugs, although I've been going to the Lady Bugs for several years. On the other hand, Loose Threads had a meeting on Wednesday evening, and I took three quilts that I'm making to see what they felt about it. They'll be honest.

HG: Tell me about the different quilts that you've made since you started in 1997.

VA: The very first quilt I made was copied from a Nancy Crow quilt with different colors, but it was absolutely her design. Then I did a couple more that were very much based on her designs. Then I started branching out and got into things that are uniquely my design and I feel better about them, but I think everybody has to start by utilizing other people's designs. So I guess I have these improvisational curved piecing pieces, and I have two of them done and I'm working on a third. Then I have a couple quilts that I've made that are based on a scientific image of a mini microphone. It's one millimeter by one millimeter. I expanded it to about forty inches, which is about a thousand-fold expansion. Now I'm beginning a group of quilts that are silk, and that's fun. The magic about silk is the sort of three-dimensional effect that you get by putting the batting in. I use wool batting instead of cotton batting, which I use in cotton quilts. It has more loft so you get more of the curved three-dimensional structure of the silk to bounce the light off.
HG: Do you make all wall hangings?

VA: No. I made quilts for a lot of beds at the lake in New York state, where we have a cottage. I'm in charge of sewing what needs to be made. Because my daughter's wedding is going to be up there I have two king-size quilts that I've been making. I made a Bear Paws one and then I have another one I'm making. King-size quilts are very difficult to quilt with a home sewing machine. I've found somebody to do the quilting, and I'm absolutely thrilled. I have made four single bed-size quilts and two queen bed-size quilts, and now these two king-size. I think I'd rather make wall quilts because you have much more freedom with them. You also feel that they're going to last forever, while a bed quilt is going to get used and it's not going to last forever. Not that these will last forever, but the opportunity for lasting longer is greater, which I think is important to women my age who begin quilting and who've made clothes before, because clothes don't last. They go out of style. Your body doesn't fit them anymore. If you're making clothes for yourself, your kids are gone so you can't make clothes for them anymore. Making clothes for yourself is less inspiring because it's for an old body that you don't really want to look in the mirror at. But it's an opportunity to make something that's going to go on the wall, and the wall isn't going to change dimensions. I think that's one of the reasons why women really love quilts. It is something that you can make using the skills you have, yet it's going to last. I also like the fact that with quilting I can take on my design board and hang up the different pieces of the quilts to try out what it's going to look like. I have a lot of time to think about that. I usually have about three projects going so that when I get stuck I can go to the next project, keep watching, and then if I need to go down and dye fabric I can. I have upstairs a quilt that I dyed eight pieces first to try to get the right color! It's nice to have the dyeing as something different from sewing. So you have enough balls in the air to keep it fascinating, to keep going.

HG: How do you feel about the issue of utilitarian versus non-utilitarian? Some would say that things you hang on the wall do have a purpose. Do you have an opinion about that kind of thing?

VA: No, but I've read a lot about history and I know a lot of quilters who feel tremendous passion about using old pieces of fabric rather than wasting fabric. My method with the improvisational piecing does not conserve fabric. I use a lot, because when you curve a piece like that a lot is wasted. It's much more conservative to cut squares and rectangles and triangles. I do have a quilt upstairs in which I used my mother's silk dress. My mother has Alzheimer's and she taught me how to sew, and I'm very glad to have it there. But I think that that's not as strong a reason for me to quilt as for other people. I do understand that there are a lot of people for whom quilting is conservative.

HG: As I'm looking at this, I wonder if you have a piece of fabric that you've dyed a certain color, do you cut it according to certain spots in the fabric that seemed to have turned out in a way that's pleasing to you?

VA: Absolutely, and conserving certain spots. To make absolutely sure that I was going to keep this space and to keep that space up there [pointing to spaces on quilt], and I'll show you on the one upstairs, I worked very hard because there didn't turn out to be as many light spots as I thought I was going to get. With the pieces I'm putting into it, I'm putting light places in there. I have no art education, so everything I do is what I think is going to look okay. I have a very dear friend who teaches art history, and she's given me books. It's important that I know the words of art speak. Initially I had trouble, like calling what one does a "piece." And just learning what people who talk about art talk about. Her specialty is twentieth century sculpture, but she teaches everything, so I have lots of twentieth century paintings to look at. Like Rothko, I just love what he does. If I could figure out how to dye fabric like Rothko paints--I'm sure I won't, but it would be cool if I could.

HG: How do relate the terms "art" and "craft" in terms of what you do?

VA: I've read a number of things about art and craft, so that what I'm saying isn't necessarily my own. From what I've read, a craft is something that you make that is useful, and art is something you make to be looked at. I don't see any harm in having something that is useful that is beautiful to look at, too. Certainly some of the beautiful wood things that are made and beautiful pottery that you can still use, that's still art. I guess I just think that an art is something that is just beautiful to look at, but you can still appreciate it as far as being useful. I realize it's a huge problem and much has been written.

HG: As I'm sitting here looking at this quilt, I'm so amazed at how it looks so perfectly put together. What about the term "craftsmanship" within art?

VA: That's sort of different because craftsmanship is the way you put it together. In looking at the quilts that I've seen, and perhaps I haven't seen as many as you have since you went to Houston, but there are quilters that bring all sorts of things to quilting. There are people who are wonderful seamstresses. The quality of their sewing is fabulous. There are people that are wonderful hand quilters. I'm not a hand quilter. I do everything by machine. I piece by machine, and I quilt by machine. There are people that are so inventive about using other kinds of things stuck on their quilts, like buttons and extra kinds of things. I favor sewing everything down. I would like not to have extra strings and things like that, but I think that's a personal choice. There are certainly lovely things out there that Susan Shie and James Accord do with these fabulous things. There are all sort of styles. I think it's sort of the way you want to put things together. Even amongst Loose Threads, each of us has a different concept of how to make a quilt.

HG: Ginny, can you tell me about the threads you use in your quilts?

VA: Yes. Because everything that I do is machine quilted, and because I use a whole lot of color, for the top thread I always use monofilament, which is a nylon thread. The bottom thread is always some other cotton. Some people object to the glint that you get from the plastic monofilament, but I think I need to have a thread that isn't showing up so that the dyed fabrics show through. That's what I want to be seen. It's always a question of how long that thread will last, which I think is a question with modern quilts anyway, putting different kinds of things on them. I try to use 100 percent cotton thread for my sewing thread and for my bobbin thread when I quilt.

HG: Have you ever dyed threads?

VA: I haven't, except the quilt that I have upstairs. I'm making a very large quilt, and in order to dye the background I have to sew two pieces of the fabric together. I had to make sure I had 100 percent cotton thread when I sewed it together. Other than that, I haven't dyed the thread because I can usually find enough threads to match.

HG: Tell me about the different techniques you use to get these beautiful patterns in the dyeing of your fabrics.

VA: We use a low-liquid dyeing method. In normal dyeing your objective is to get the most even dye job you can possibly get. To do that, you stir a whole lot and you have a whole lot of water, so that the chances of an even number of the dye molecules hitting the fabric are much greater. Our objective is to have as much texture and unevenness in the dye as we can possibly get. We dissolve the dye in very small amounts of water, and we crunch up our fabric in these large sweater boxes, and then we pour the dye on and leave it. This gives us a whole lot of different textures. Sometimes we don't put the dye fixative immediately, which is soda ash, so you have an opportunity for the dye to move through the fabric and give different colorations. That's our major method. We scrunch it up in different kinds of ways to give as much pattern as we possibly can. I dye lots of pieces of fabric because I buy it in 100-yard rolls. We can also get "seconds," so that's even less expensive. It's $3.60 a yard if we get firsts. If I can manage to get seconds, they are $2.00 a yard, so I can afford to waste a little bit of fabric, which is nice because if you know something didn't work so well you can try again. Of course, repeating anything exactly is out of the question. I try to write it down, but I'm never as noble as I should be. Plus, the first day you make up the dye solutions from the dye powder you get a much darker dye than if you save them. I have an old refrigerator in the garage and I keep the dye solutions there. We use the dyes as long as we can, but it's pretty much a hit-and-miss. There's not much scientific about it.

HG: There's chemistry.

VA: There is chemistry. I went to the University of Delaware and I checked it all out to find out as much as I could. Because lots of them are under patents, it's hard to get the precise chemical structure of the dye. I got as close as I could to figure out what was going on so I knew what we were doing. Each dye behaves in a slightly different way. The way we work in The Dyeing Ladies is I order all the dyes, and then I keep a running total of the costs and then we pay $5.00 each time we come for the dyes. Then I can buy the soda ash and urea that we use in large 40-pound bags from Agway. We used to wash everything in my washing machine, but it's really worked out better for people to bring plastic sacks and take their stuff home and wash it at home. People buy fabrics from the 100 yards I buy, which makes it easier because most people don't use 100 yards of fabric up very quickly.

HG: They buy the undyed fabric?

VA: They buy the undyed fabric, yes. Sometimes people will say, 'Please stick half a yard in your sweater box that looks like a great color! I'd like some of that.' So that's nice.

HG: What appeals to you about using dyes to work with your fabric rather than fabric paints?

VA: It's faster. It's much faster. And it's fun. Also, I've never really used any figured fabric, anything with pattern. I really like solids. But yet the patterns that I get offer enough variation in it. I was first attracted to Amish quilts because they do not use any patterned fabrics. I love the colors that they use, and I love the way black accentuates and brightens the fabrics. A lot of my first pieces had black backgrounds.

HG: Tell me about how quilting has changed your life since you've started doing it. How has it influenced your life now?

VA: I certainly quit teaching biochemistry! I just really love quilting, and I'm never at a loss for something to do. I sit down in front of my sewing machine and it's almost as if the cares of the world are lifted. It's really, really wonderful. I've turned into an NPR [National Public Radio.] junkie, I think. I mostly listen to NPR while I sew. I also have a television in my sewing room because I watch football. If NPR says, some wonderful world-changing event has just occurred I can turn to CNN to see what's going on. My family puts dibs on my quilts as I make them. I have populated the cottages and my sister's house and my two daughters have quilts. It's great, and my husband's not upset. He just says he supports the silk makers in China because I have a lot of silks downstairs and cottons. I'm 58 and my husband is 61. He keeps talking about retiring, which of course petrifies me because here I have this wonderful unfinished basement completely loaded with all the fabrics and dyes. I've just found peace realizing that I could rent a storehouse, which had a washing machine and dryer, and water source. I could dye there and it would be all right. I just love to quilt. I like reading about it and I like going to look at it. I also have looked at a lot of the modern painters, too, the twentieth century painters, which can give you color ideas and all sorts of other things.

HG: What do you think about quilts in museums these days and quilts in art galleries and the relation to modern art?

VA: I attended a conference last January at the National Women's Museum of Art in Washington, DC, which was a conference called "The Art Quilt in the Year 2000." It was run by the New York Art Guild, and they clearly had invited curators from different museums to come and talk so that they could make their case that quilts, particularly art quilts, were really art. Many of the women that did art quilts had an art background. I do not and some of the very wonderful quilters don't. But many of the quilters that are wonderful art quilters do have fabulous art backgrounds, and these quilts should be considered for hanging in galleries next to twentieth or twenty-first century art. The curators stood up, and I think they were convinced. I think there are more quilts that are going to be considered. They did say, 'But we have a problem. We have a storage problem. If we take a quilt as a permanent piece in our gallery, we have to preserve it. And there are things about the quilts that we don't know about. We don't know about how modern battings are going to last. We don't know about some of the things that people use on their quilts that are extra added things.' So that's an issue. They are bulky and big. I've talked to other people who say, 'that's nonsense.' People make modern pieces of art that have all sorts of weird things like [Willem.] de Kooning has paint that won't dry and all sorts of other things.

HG: Do you see a difference between quilters who have been quilting and then decided to make art quilts, and then the artists who have chosen quilting as their medium?

VA: Perhaps that leads to people who have a sewing background, and then people who just have an art background but weren't necessarily seamstresses before. I guess so. I guess it's just the way they choose to utilize their ideas and make them into quilts. Some quilts are beautifully sewn and then there are other quilts that aren't so beautifully sewn, but from a visual standpoint, they are just as striking. I think, also, if you look at photographs, photographs take away the seamstress-like quality, you know the quality of the sewing. Once you're twenty-five yards away from a quilt, you don't really know how it is put together. It's only when you get close to it you can actually see how it was put together. Also, lighting has so much to do with how a quilt looks. I'm sure it has to do with how paintings look, too.

HG: What part of the quilting process is most important to you?

VA: I guess because I'm an impatient person, I'm always anxious to get onto the next step. But I think that in reality, I love to dye the fabric. Putting the color on the fabric is so exciting and color is what drives the whole process for me. I like the sewing part and I really like the quilting part, too. I don't quilt by hand. I quilt by machine. Sometimes finishing the last quilting bits to get a piece done, well, I have to drive myself to do that. I like to finish things. But I like to keep several things going at once.

HG: Usually quilters that I talk to like to have several projects going at the same time.

VA: I agree, because you do get stuck. It's the process that you want to do that's exciting and it's restful. If you're stuck then you can't do anything unless you have two or three projects going.

HG: With those two or three projects, are you in different steps of completion with those or are they usually at about the same place?

VA: No. Like upstairs, I have two pieces that are just on my design walls and I'm looking at them and thinking about how I'm going to combine them together. Another one, I just have to do the finishing handwork on it. Then the fourth one, I'm just finishing piecing it together and I have to look and see what needs to be done, and then I'll have to get it quilted. I'm hopefully going to be going to the lake, so I'd like to get it far enough so that I can have it all ready to go.

HG: So you take your quilts on the road with you.

VA: I do. It's hard to get everything together. It's nice to keep my handwork for when I'm on the road.

HG: I've almost forgotten to ask you, can you tell us about the special exhibit that this quilt will be in?

VA: Oh, this quilt was accepted at Quilt National, which is the first contest that I've ever entered. I'm absolutely amazed and excited about it. The opening will be May 25. My whole family says they're going, so I've arranged hotel rooms for them. It will be in Athens, Ohio in the Dairy Barn Exhibit Hall. The exhibit will be on from May 25 to September 3. Every other year they have quilts and the other years they have a bead exhibit there. Then Quilt National goes on traveling exhibits to various quilt shows throughout the Unites States. For instance, part of Quilt National will be at the Lancaster Quilt Show, which is this weekend. I don't know if this will be chosen or not, but this particular quilt was chosen to be on the T-shirt that is to commemorate Quilt National. I haven't seen it yet, but I'm very excited about it.

HG: What an honor. That's fantastic. Again, what's the title of this quilt?

VA: This is called "Pond Life." My brother-in-law is responsible for the naming. His background is in art and I take pieces that I'm working on to him often. He often turns them upside down and says, 'See, it looks much better this way.' He always has good things to say, and he is responsible for the naming of this one. I had several other names, but he said, 'It really looks like "Pond Life."' So there it is. I think it really does. My sister and brother-in-law have been very supportive in all my quilting efforts. She actually helped me get my new machine, which is a Bernina. It has been very helpful. Quilting with my old Singer, I could do it, but I'm far more accurate with this one. You can dial in the precise stitch length, so I really have a consistent stitch length. It stops with the needle down, so the whole piece doesn't shift as I rearrange things.

HG: What's pleasing to you about the machine quilting?

VA: I guess my make-up is such that I would not hand quilt. I did take a hand appliqué course at our local quilt shop. I decided that since I hand appliquéd the piece that I would hand quilt it. I took the course last April, and my piece is still not hand quilted. I still haven't finished it. I think that because of the speed of machine quilting, I can machine quilt, but I don't think that I could hand quilt. It's just not within my soul.

HG: To you, what makes a great quilt?

VA: I love the modern art quilts, and the eye appeal. I just love it if it looks dramatic and has a wonderful appearance so; it's what it looks like.

HG: I know you've done some reading on the history of quilts, so tell me how you feel about quilting in the history of America and in women's history.

VA: I've read a number of books about quilting because I'm fascinated that I didn't seem to see as many quilts in Europe, but yet there were many, many quilts here. The first book that I read about the history of quilts was written from the standpoint of the role it played in women's lives and how it could be something that was extraordinarily useful for women in American, to make quilts that could be put on their beds and be utilized. Yet they could be an expression of artistic endeavors. They talked about times when women could spend a lot of time quilting. Then, for instance in the twentieth century, there were the Depression-era quilts. Then there was a long era when there were really not many quilts at all after the Depression. Then, in 1976 when we celebrated the Bicentennial, and everybody returned to quilting and then to the art quilt movement itself. Quilting today, I understand, have saved sewing machine stores and the fabric and quilt stores. Now I've been reading a book about quilting from a European standpoint. This particular woman is German and she can trace a lot of the old quilting patterns from England and Scotland and Ireland. Of course, patchwork itself is an ancient tradition. You can see it in a lot of African traditions. The old silk quilted petticoats from the French tradition, and then the silk Swedish wedding quilts are just gorgeous. I guess the Germans had wonderful feather quilts, which is what I prefer to sleep under.

HG: You really have done quite a bit of reading on the subject.

VA: I'm a book person, I guess.

HG: Is quilting, to you, a woman's art?

VA: There are some wonderful men quilters, but by in large, most of the quilters that I know are in fact women. Certainly, the Lady Bug Quilting Guild is all women. Tim Harding does silk quilts. Michael James does quilts. Then Susan Shie and James Accord. There are men quilters, but just not a whole lot.

HG: We're about out of time. Is there anything else that you'd like to talk about? We're going to go upstairs and downstairs.

VA: About combining the dyeing with quilting, I know people say that there are more and more hand dyed fabrics that are in quilts these days. I think that gives you so much more freedom designing something because not only can you get a color that you really like, but then you can make dilutions to get colors that go with the fabric. The work that I'm doing upstairs that has the dark green, I made five or six dilutions to get brighter and brighter greens. It's funny because sometimes the way that colors dilute you don't exactly get what you think you should. You get a light green or a light blue-green because the green is made up of a blue dye and a yellow dye, and one of them is stronger at a lighter dilution than another. I just think it gives you such a better way of going about doing it instead of driving around to different quilt shops looking for store fabrics. I can just go downstairs and see if I can dye some more of the fabric.

HG: Do you keep a stash of fabrics that you've made around?

VA: Oh, yes. That helps when you need a bright accent color and don't really have any idea of what on earth would work, but you think maybe reds. So I pull out all the reds I've got and look. Then if one red is sort of okay but not quite right, then I can go look for the in-between colors.


HG: I'll shut the recorder off and then we'll talk about what's upstairs. [tape is shut off and restarted in Ginny's sewing room.] Ginny's going to talk about how she pieces things.

VA: If you use this improvisational curved piecing method, you lay the fabric on a cutting board with the right sides up on top of each other. Then figure out exactly where you want to have the seam and then holding them as still as you can, run the rotary cutter down. Then I mark it so I know exactly what I want to match up. I have the two right sides up. About every two or three inches, I'll mark it with a chalk pencil so that it does ultimately rub off. Then you have to lift up one side and lay them together, and then use the narrowest seam you can get. The seam that I use is just under 3/16 of an inch. I don't pin anything but the top because pinning takes too much time. You pin the top and then I just hold it with my right hand and with my left hand, I guide the two pieces.

HG: So would you say that this allows for error?

VA: It allows you to have a free, wonderful line. You can't have it curve too much because that's really difficult. So if you put a really tight curve in it, then you might have to pin it and be more careful. Gentle curves are much easier to do. There are people who do improvisational quilt piecing who don't mark at all. I think marking helps a whole lot. I also try, as much as I possibly can, to keep the grain the same. I can't always do that, and that gets you into trouble sometimes. So as much as I can, I'll keep the grain relatively constant. I keep the directionality of sewing the same, too.

HG: Who is the quilter that you learned this from?

VA: From Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer, who is a quilter who comes from Portland, Oregon. She's the next door neighbor of Ann Johnston who wrote the book about dyeing. She does wonderful things with dyeing, which is why the two of them have worked together. She taught us not only to dye but also to do quilt piecing. This is another one of my design boards, and this is another silk quilt. I've got it pretty much together, but the hand sewing still needs to be done.

HG: And these are commercially dyed silks?

VA: These are commercially dyed silks because in order to get the wonderful brilliance and shimmer that I like you have to have the warp and the weft different colors. I can't do that by dyeing. This is another fabric that I'm just sort of entranced by. It has aqua and a red and this wonderful avocado green. So I have these other pieces that I've dyed. I'm not terribly sure what I'm going to do with that. Something wild and wonderful.

HG: It seems almost a shame to cut these up because they're so beautiful.

VA: You're right.

HG: Have you ever done a whole cloth quilt where you piece anything together?

VA: I haven't. With most of them, it starts as a whole cloth and I cut into it, so I can certainly do that with this.

HG: This is really art in itself.

VA: Yes, I know. This piece will be wonderful. I think the purple will go with the aqua and the purple will go beautifully then these are two pieces that I made into a diptych. That was interesting, getting them exactly the same size. I wanted them different but close enough that they would go together. This is the lime green that I dyed eight pieces in order to get it right, but I think it's still too bright.

HG: It's a bright green.

VA: It's a very bright green. I don't think this is turning out to be my most favorite. I was really quite taken by this beautiful blue multi colored piece.

HG: That's why you have all the different colors intermingling together, and yet they remain separate colors.

VA: It's from Ann Johnston's book. I think it's called "Dyeing by Accident." It's called the parfait where you take several pieces of fabric and you scrunch up one and put dye on the bottom and you put another fabric on top. Then you wait awhile and then put the dye on again. You have dye slowly creeping through the fabric from the bottom and also from the top, which allows you to have different colors. And you certainly don't stir anything. To work with silk, I back each fabric with a fusible to improve its handling. In working with silk, you have to be very careful with the iron temperature. That's the only problem I've had. What's bad is you get little dots of the fusible plastic showing through on the top and that's really bad. It really does give it a lot more hand. It's pretty decent. I prefer the knitted fusibles. There's one called "Touch of Gold." Supposedly, it will stay on the fabric for maybe two weeks and then it falls off. It's there long enough to manipulate, but then it leaves so you still have the beautiful hand of the fabric. So that might be better. This is my machine, which is computerized.

HG: Let's see, it's a Bernina Artista 180. Is this the kind that you can download patterns into?

VA: You can.

HG: Have you tried that?

VA: I haven't. I actually didn't buy the embroidery unit. It has an alphabet so that you can choose want you want. I do that and that works very well. Here you can set whether you want the needle to be up or down. This knee lever raises the presser foot, which is wonderful. It's been pretty nice. It's worked out very well. Well, I guess we've done it.

HG: This is Heather Gibson. We've been talking to Ginny Abrams in Hockessin, Delaware and it's now 4:58pm.

Collection



Citation

“Virginia Abrams,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed February 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2.