Ardyth Davis


Ardyth Davis.jpg


Ardyth Davis




Ardyth Davis


Le Rowell

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


White Stone, Virginia


Le Rowell


Note from Le Rowell: Because Ardyth and I were not able to be together to do a live interview, at her request it was decided to do this interview via e-mail over a few days.

Le Rowell (LR): This is Le Rowell and I'm conducting an interview with Ardyth Davis for the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories, a project of The Alliance for American Quilts. Because Ardyth and I were not able to be together to do a live interview, at her request we are doing this interview via e-mail beginning today, Monday, May 22, 2006. Ardyth, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Please tell me about the quilt you chose as your touchstone piece.

Ardyth Davis (AD): The quilt is called "Disc 1/Green." I made it in 2002. It is pleated silk, seamed together on the pleater, and manipulated into a circular form. Added are crochet silk 'balls,' added for accent. This was my first "Disc," which was made some months after surgery for breast cancer in 2001. I wondered at the time if that had anything to do with the design of this piece.

LR: Talk a minute about the fabrics and techniques you used to create this piece.

AD: I used Thai silk in this piece, and Tinfix brand liquid silk dyes. I have been using these dyes for a number of years, as they are easy to mix. I have a sample book of dye swatches with corresponding formulas so I know what the results will be. I can adjust these basic formulas to get any color I want. My procedure is to design the piece on paper, to scale, so I know the square footage my dyes have to cover. It takes .1 milliliters of dye per square inch of silk, so I mix accordingly. I also have to figure the take up of the pleats per inch, the pleating takes up four times the amount I need of finished silk, so my cutting plan (also on graph paper) has to be accurate. The size of the lining and casings also has to be figured in.

This piece was the first "Disc" I had done--I had planned a rectangular piece, but wasn't happy with the result, so played around with the pleated and painted pieces until I got something i was happy with. I added the dyed silk crochet balls as a change in texture. The piece has a painted silk backing, and a small amount of batting inside, held together with hand stitching. I usually dye a bit of silk thread to work with on my pieces - for seaming and stitching layers together.

LR: How do you use this piece?

AD: It is hanging in my living room and I show it occasionally. I don't think I want to sell this one.

LR: Tell me about your own interest in quilt making.

AD: I really don't think of myself as a quiltmaker, just as an artist who works in the textile medium. I was in my late thirties when I took one course in traditional quilt making, but decided it was more oriented to pattern than to the sculptural qualities of manipulating fiber. I had done knotted work for awhile, when I was with the Fiber Workshop at the Torpedo Factory [in Alexandria, Virginia.]. Knotting is very slow, which makes the cost per square foot pretty high, so I was looking for an alternative way to get that ridged texture and shaped form which was part of the interest I had in knotting. Then I discovered the possibility of creating a textured surface similar to knotting by using a smocking pleater. One is limited somewhat by the small size of the pleater, but I have solved that problem by using smaller sections of silk and joining them on the pleater after they are painted and steamed (which sets the dyes and the pleats).

I worked as a graphic designer until my and marriage and children came along. I wanted something art-related that I could pick up at night after the children were in bed - something that didn't involve isolating myself in the studio where my art materials (wet media) were. About that time, I became interested in "stitchery" as an art form. I had always sewn and did embroideries for a while. I began to enter shows and was asked in 1975 to join the Fiber Workshop. As a member, I worked a few days a month at the gallery, and was able to show and sell work there. Got to meet many fiber people, members of the Workshop and the general public who were interested in fiber. This was about the time I heard about the pleater and could see the possibilities of making textured wall pieces. I taught myself by experimenting with the pleater and started to dye my own silk. I work in the studio almost every day when I can. 30 hours a week??

LR: What is your first memory of a quilt?

AD: When I had measles at age six, and on the bed was a quilt my grandmother had made - blocks with circles of different fabrics surrounded by yellow 'bars.' It was fun to discover all the different designs my grandmother had used in the (commercial) fabrics. My grandmother was the only one in the family that had made a quilt. Two of my first quilts in a Quilt National were called "Tied Bars."

LR: How does quilt making impact your family?

AD: Only my husband and I are here. Sometimes dinner is late, or I have to work long hours if I have a deadline, but things are pretty laid back now because I am not committing myself to a lot of shows. I hardly do commissioned pieces for businesses anymore.

LR: You mentioned surgery for breast cancer when talking about the piece you chose for our interview. Have you ever used quilt making to get through other difficult times?

AD: Always through working with my hands—quilting, gardening, painting walls!

LR: What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

AD: Sure, it is fun, but a challenge, always. Always problems to solve, so it's not relaxing until you make decisions about where you are going with a piece, then it is fun to move ahead with the actual work.

LR: What aspects do you not enjoy?

AD: Marketing, paperwork, shipping work. Writing 'statements' (that is putting into words what a piece is all about). I'm never quite sure myself, so how do I explain a piece of work. It starts out with an idea (maybe), but then can turn into something quite different.

LR: Describe some of your quilt-related activities.

AD: I am in the New Image Group in the Washington, D.C. area. They are women who work in textiles - not always quilts. I don't get to many of the monthly meetings as I now live three hours away. But we keep in touch by email. No quiltmakers in this area—I show sometimes at the local Art Center, and I've had pieces in a local gallery, but tastes are pretty conservative here. I have given some slide talks and they have been well received, but people here are still puzzled by anything other than painting and drawing.

LR: What do you think makes a great quilt?

AD: So subjective. I look for individuality, fine craftsmanship, cutting edge work (sorry), the innovative use of color, pattern (or not), unusual surface treatments.

LR: What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

AD: Innovation in color, textural treatment. Not too interested in imagery - I like the more abstract works.

LR: What makes a great quiltmaker and how do they learn the art of quilting, how to design, choose fabrics, color?

AD: All of the above [that I just mentioned] especially new and innovative use of the medium. I don't know how 'great' quilters learn the art of quilting, expertise comes in a variety of ways, but mostly by continued work in your medium, and a sense of what you are pursuing. Machine quilting, hand quilting, tying, gluing—anything goes as far as I'm concerned, just so it is well designed and well crafted.

LR: Are any of your pieces in museums or collections? If so, where are they?

AD: The Renwick has one of my pieces, and I've done commissions for businesses over the years: Xerox, Howard Hughes Medical Center (several), IBM, Marriott, Health South, UVA Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente (several), Levi Strauss.

LR: Have pictures of you, your quilts and/or patterns been published? Where?

AD: A number of my quilts have been published, mostly in show catalogs: Quilt Nationals '83, '85 (Award of Excellence), '89, '93, '99, 2005. FiberArt International 2001, a shibori patterned cone construction. Spotlight '88, '89', paper construction; knotted wall piece. Surface Design Journal, Summer 1999, page 39; pleated silk hanging and short article. Surface Design Journal, Summer 2004. (page 54) Hive Project: New Image Artists in a collaborative project - each of us (12, I think) made 64-12-inch squares of our own designs and all the works were hung together, (the edges intermixed) as one BIG installation. My pieces were shibori (tied resist) muslin squares with similarly patterned (but also pleated) "x"s applied. I knew one of the artists was doing "o"s, so I figured we could have a large tic-tac-toe game.

Art Quilts: Playing with a Full Deck, (page 68-69) (King of Diamonds); FiberArts Design Book 7, p.105; The Quilt Digest 5, p. 35; Knots and Nets 1988 (Show catalog); The Art Quilt, Robert Shaw; America's Glorious Quilts, Duke and Harding; American Craft, April/May 1981.

LR: You mentioned Quilt Nationals so I know you have exhibited. Have you won any awards? If so, please describe them

AD: 1994 Finalist, Hines/ACC Artwork Competition, Cincinnati, Ohio; 1990 Virginia Prizes for Visual Arts-Crafts; 1989 Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation/NEA Regional Craft Fellowship; 1985 Award of Excellence, Quilt National '85, Athens, Ohio

LR: Why is quilt making important in your life?

AD: Creating an art object is the focus of my life, right now not necessarily a quilt, although I am working in fiber at the moment. Once you are creating something, that action sparks other avenues to pursue—and so it goes. My quilts do not reflect my community or region. Ideas come from nature in general.

LR: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

AD: I don't think much about why quilts are important (assuming they are) in American life.

Certainly, people collect old quilts as artifacts, and enjoy the colors, patterns, designs, size, and maybe even use them. The value for me (historically) is that women used to make quilts for their families and for them to hand down to the next generation. Now they have become more of an Art Object, and I'm not sure that is a good thing. Time will tell.

LR: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

AD: Textiles are fragile, probably not a good idea to expect them to last indefinitely. Keep light levels low and vacuum occasionally.

LR: What has happened to the pieces you have made?

AD: Family members have pieces (not necessarily quilts) I have done for them, and I have done many commissioned pieces [see my resume.] for businesses. Some are framed in Plexiglas. I have many here at home.

LR: How can we encourage quilt making in young people?

AD: Exposure (in person) to all kinds of art, art books and show catalogs. Make sure they have a variety of materials to work with, including fabrics and threads, and the tools to utilize them.

LR: What trends do you see in quilt making today?

AD: Beats me. Probably something utilizing technology. Right now, I am studying the insides of an old computer for design ideas--

LR: What is the future of quilting in America?

AD: I think quilts will take their place with other fragile ephemeral things - some will be handed down and not used. Some will be used and wear out. Some will be in museums and cared for. Thank goodness there will usually be photographic records.

LR: Is there anything else that we haven't touched on that you would like to include?

AD: Can't think of anything more. Thanks so much for including me in this project, and for all your hard work.

LR: You are most welcome and thank you, Ardyth, for agreeing to be interviewed for our Q.S.O.S. project. Our interview is concluded today May 24, 2006.



“Ardyth Davis,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,