Lisa Binkley




Lisa Binkley




Lisa Binkley


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Waunakee, Wisconsin


Karen Musgrave


Note: This interview was conducted online through a series of e-mails from January 23 - February 9, 2007. Lisa Binkley's quilt will be featured in The Alliance's Quilt 2008 calendar with Pomegranate.

Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave and I am conducting an online interview with Lisa Binkley of Waunakee, Wisconsin. Lisa thanks for doing this interview with me.
Please tell me about your quilt "Recapitulata (Echo Flower)".

Lisa Binkley (LB): I made "Recapitulata (Echo Flower)" in 2002 as part of a quilt show challenge. Each fall Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin hosts a lovely fall quilt and flower show. I've been pleased to participate in the show every year since I began making quilts in 2000. Every other year the exhibition includes a challenge show of small quilts. Challenge fabrics are usually just that for me--quite challenging to use, so I was excited that the bold, richly-colored challenge fabric that year was something I really liked and in fact already owned.

Most of my quilts have botanical themes. I love gardening and walking in the woods, and I'm very inspired by the shapes, colors, and life-cycles of leaves and flowers. In the challenge fabric for that year's show, I was particularly drawn to the large, stylized red flowers and the overall palette. About that time I had begun creating quilts using a sort of collage technique that combines fussy cutting and fusing individual pieces of a print with precision piecework and appliqué. The challenge fabric lent itself well to that approach.

One of the first things that intrigued me about the challenge fabric was that the 4" red flower has a small red flower in its center. I immediately envisioned using the 4" red flower as the small center of a much larger version of itself. Using Adobe PhotoShop, I scanned the 4" red flower and created a simple line drawing that defines the basic shapes in the flower. The challenge rules limited the quilt size to 24" in each direction, so I experimented with a variety of compositions, cropping the flower in several different ways, until I came up with a design that felt both dynamic and balanced. The design I chose had to allow the central red flower to be about 4" across, while keeping the quilt within the show size requirements.

My next step was to print the line drawing and create simple templates for the major shapes in the quilt. Following advice that Jane Sassaman gives in her book, "The Quilted Garden," I took each individual element as far as I could on my sewing machine before appliquéing them to the quilt top. Smaller pieces were fused directly to the quilt top, while larger pieces were fused to a medium-weight interfacing for stability before being stitched and then appliquéd to the top.

I knew I wanted to include at least some hand stitching and beadwork in the quilt, but early on the quilt began to take on a life of its own. The quilt seemed to say, 'I want to be a big, flashy, red flower, teeming with life and energy and lots of beads and thread,' so I complied. "Recapitulata" was in progress and with me when I attended a class at the Quilt Surface Design Symposium (QSDS) in Columbus, Ohio in June of 2002. A friend and I took Ilze Aviks's terrific two-day class "The Expressive Hand-Stitched Line." It was a great eye-opener, showing me the potential of very simple stitches to express movement and energy, and even to create a sort of pulse or vitality, using thread.

Building on what I learned at QSDS, I stitched away. In "Recapitulata," the simple seed stitch became pollen-like marks on the orange and gold rounded petals of the flower. And the running stitch, done in a subtle deep red variegated #8 pearl cotton, became the sap running through the outer red petals. The translucent outermost white arcing petals were created with a dense running stitch of four different shades of white #12 pearl cotton. I stitched French knots throughout the quilt as a textural contrast to the beads and to play up the feel of a flower in full bloom, bursting with pollen. Using #12 black pearl cotton, I outline stitched the individual shapes in the paisley print background to create greater visual separation between the flower and its background.

My construction/embellishment technique is a bit unconventional in that, once the main pieces are appliquéd to the quilt top, nearly all of the rest of the work, both machine and hand, is done through all of the layers of the quilt (not just the quilt top). I like the relief-like texture achieved through stitching and beadwork that makes indentations in the batting, and I like the firm body the process gives my quilts.

One of the final design decisions in "Recapitulata" was to include the three little Art Nouveau faces on the red petals. I enjoy whimsy in both life and art, and so I couldn't resist incorporating such sweet, tiny faces into this large, colorful flower. I like to think of my quilts as interacting with viewers, rewarding their investment of time with more to see and experience each time they move closer to the quilt. Touches like the little faces hopefully make their close-up experience with the quilt more fun and engaging.

Before dedicating much of my creative time to quiltmaking, I was an avid gardener. I've always loved the fact that flowers have an official name (usually Latin) and a common name that can vary by region. When I read about Linnaeus (the 18th century Swedish botanist) and his reverential approach to classifying and naming plants, flower names became much more intriguing to me. So the process of naming floral quilts like "Recapitulata (Echo Flower)" became a fun and challenging exercise.

My overriding goals when making all of my quilts are to create beauty and to provoke some deeper thought about each quilt's theme. Joseph Campbell's book "The Power of Myth," has had a huge influence on my thinking and my work. In it, he describes James Joyce's definition of art as that which contains "wholeness, harmony, and radiance." I am very drawn to this definition, and I use it as a kind of guide in my quilt design process, hoping that each quilt will present itself to the world as a unified object of beauty. As I worked on all of the various elements of "Recapitulata," I kept these goals in mind and constantly sought ways to tie the various elements together, always seeking unity and harmony in the design and radiance in the overall effect.

"Recapitulata" took about six months of my quiltmaking time (10-20 hours/week). It was a joy to make, and I have been honored by the reception it has received. Among other awards, it won the Viewers' Choice in the challenge show at the botanical gardens and"Outstanding Surface Embellishment" at the Road to California show in 2003. It has traveled a lot since I completed it, but it is now framed and hanging over the head of my bed at home. It still makes me smile whenever I look at it.

"Recapitulata" also substantially changed the way I have made quilts since its completion. For the last 4-5 years I have focused heavily on hand embroidery with beads and thread and very little on machine stitching. In 2003 I found another passion in life when I began yoga practice. The parallels between hand embroidery (both with beads and with thread) and yoga intrigue me. The rhythmic breathing of yoga reminds me of the in-and-out movement of hand stitching on my quilts. Both help me to focus, to make decisions slowly and deliberately, and to find meaningful ways to share my life and my work with the world. The meticulous, meditative process I follow, whether it's in yoga or quilting or life in general, is teaching me to experience life and make art one breath at a time, one stitch at a time. This process doesn't lend itself to prolific output, but it does allow me to develop my artwork with a depth that is very satisfying. It allows time to ask not only important design questions but also larger questions about themes and messages and how best to share my corner of the world with the people who see and experience my work.

KM: Lisa you did a great job answering my first question. You've mentioned quite a few people in your answer so I was wondering which artists have influenced you.

LB: There are quite a few artists who have influenced my work in various ways. Like many quiltmakers, I began exploring the world of contemporary quilts by attending quilt shows, reading, and pouring over pictures in as many quilt-related publications as possible. When I left my career as a public policy analyst in 1999 to spend more time making art and being with my kids (then ages 1 and 4), I had assumed I'd get back into weaving, which had been my primary art form when studying textile design as an undergraduate. But in early 2000, a friend showed me a copy of Paula Nadelstern's book "Kaleidoscopes & Quilts," and I was blown away. I knew then that I wanted to make quilts. I began making medallion-style quilts with ornate print fabrics, and I loved both the process and the product. My quilts took inspiration from Paula Nadelstern's work, but I knew that I needed to develop my own style and techniques too.

Early on in my quilt-making, I also bought a copy of Jane Sassaman's book "The Quilted Garden." I learned a lot technically from her book, and I have also drawn a lot of inspiration from her dedication to her work and from the beautiful way she uses thread to define and enhance the objects in her quilts. I have tremendous respect for the care and meticulous craftsmanship that Jane puts into her work, and her approach really has become a kind of role model for me in taking the time to do the best I can with a piece before I send it out into the world--whether to a show or to a new owner.

Over the last few years, I've drawn more and more inspiration from people working in other media, especially as my interests in bead embroidery and narrative artwork grow. Within the bead world, I have learned a lot from Robin Atkins. I've taken several classes with her and attribute much of what I know and have explored in bead embroidery to her teaching. Other bead artists whose work I admire and look to regularly for inspiration are Sherry Serafini, Valerie Hector, and the beaded landscapes of Jo Wood. I also love the punch-needle embroideries of Missy Stevens and the felted and embroidered work of Renee Harris. They both seem to have achieved a clarity about their work--in terms of theme, palette, technique, etc.--that I admire and hope to eventually achieve in my own work.

I'm also very fortunate to have several close friends and a very talented artist husband who give me feedback on my work. My husband is primarily an illustrator, and he has a great eye, especially for composition and value. I sometimes get so absorbed in color or texture that I lose sight of what's happening in the value structure of a piece or whether the composition is really working. He's always willing to give insightful feedback, but is kind enough to not give opinions when I don't ask. My friends regularly see my work in progress and also give me ideas about where to go with a piece or how to accomplish what I'm trying to do.

I do think it's important for quilters (and all artists) to look to the broader art world for inspiration. This was reinforced so clearly for me when I went to see an exhibit of small Rembrandt etchings at the Art Institute in Chicago. There were some tiny (maybe 1.5" x 2") etchings that spoke volumes because of the way he handled the length, thickness, and direction of his lines. Those started me thinking at a whole different level about more varied and expressive ways to create line, movement, and form with beads and threads.

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make a distinction?

LB: That's a good question. I guess I don't really make a distinction. I remember in college being in classes where there would be the old art-versus-craft debate, and I always felt like there was no real way to resolve the debate because art can be a very subjective word. The debate can also be distracting; to me the important thing is to keep working and keep trying to improve what you're doing regardless of media. I do feel strongly that there has been and is some great art being made in the quilt world.

When I'm working in my studio, I guess I would say that I am trying to make "art." Something that is beautifully crafted, that takes into consideration the various elements of design, and that tries to speak to viewers on multiple levels. I feel fortunate in having found an art form I love so much--my whole life I've been passionate about thread, yarn, beads, and fabric. It's wonderful to get to work with them to try to bring something new and beautiful into existence. I also love being a part of the whole lineage of people (primarily women) who have been stitching fabric together and stitching on fabric with thread and beads to make beautiful objects for their tribes or communities or homes.

KM: When did you begin making quilts? Who taught you?

LB: It's hard to say when I began making quilts, because I've been sewing, playing with beads, and just generally dabbling with fiber since I was very young. (My mom loves telling the story of when I was about 4 or 5 and made a loom out of a shoe box so that I could weave a rug for my doll house.) Back in the '70s I took Home Economics in junior high and began to sew a lot of my own clothes. My mom sewed back then, so she also taught me some things about clothing construction. My stepmother knits and sewed at that time, so she gave me some helpful advice; and both of my grandmothers did a lot of crocheting and embroidery, so I had good teachers for working with yarn and embroidery thread too.

My undergraduate degree is in Textiles & Design (from the University of Wisconsin-Madison), and I made some quilts during those years, although I was much more focused on weaving at that time. Joyce Carey was my primary teacher, and she was doing some amazing large-scale art quilts for corporate commissions. She also invited quilters like Doreen Speckmann to come speak and show their work to our classes, which was great. The quilts I made during that time weren't very successful, thanks to a combination of me being overly ambitious, under-experienced, and not having great tools. I think I discouraged myself from trying quilt-making again for a while. It's amazing what some more experience and good tools like rotary cutters, transparent rulers, and reference books can do to improve technique!

My husband's stepmother is a very talented quiltmaker, and her work inspired me too. I met her when I was in college, and every time we'd go to Tennessee to visit his family, I'd get to see what she was making. She made dozens of gorgeous bed quilts, as well as a lot of other beautiful appliquéd and embroidered work for her home. She and I had a lot of great conversations about quilting and embroidery over the years.

Unfortunately for my kids, I don't have one of those stories of making quilts for them when they were babies and then getting hooked on quilting. They're now 11 and 8, and I have yet to make either one of them a bed quilt (although I've made some baby quilts and blankets for nieces, nephews, and friends' babies). But I'm still planning to make my daughter and son each a bed quilt at least before they leave for college.

I guess I began making quilts seriously in 2000, after leaving my work in urban planning and public policy analysis. As I think I mentioned earlier, leaving that career provided a great opportunity to spend more time with my kids and get back into making fiber art. Seeing a friend's copy of Paula Nadelstern's book Kaleidoscopes & Quilts was what really got me into serious quilt making (or, as my husband calls it,'Type-A Quilting'). I'd never seen quilts like Paula was making, and seeing them just made me want to make quilts. I've always loved ornate patterns and complex, symmetrical designs, so her techniques and imagery really appealed to me. My early quilts (from 2000 to about 2002) were all either variations on her techniques or quilts that I made based on designs I had developed for weaving back in college.

For two years I was the program coordinator for the Mad City Quilt Guild in Madison, so that was a great opportunity to organize lectures and workshops by people whose work I admired and who I thought would be of interest to the guild. Jane Sassaman's lecture and workshop were the highlights of that experience for me. QSDS [Quilt Surface Design Symposium.] classes I took with Ilze Aviks and Jason Pollen and classes I took at IQA-Chicago [International Quilt Association.] and the Valley Ridge Art Studio with Robin Atkins were also wonderful and enriching experiences for me as a quiltmaker and fiber artist in general.

I feel like I've been very fortunate to have many people serve as my teachers over the years. In addition to the people I've known and with whom I've taken classes, I think of many people I've never even met as some of my teachers—thanks to their books, articles, websites, and sharing their work through quilt shows.

KM: Tell me about your studio.

LB: My family moved from Madison to Waunakee (about 12 miles northeast) about a year ago. Part of what prompted the move was the need for more space, especially studio space for my husband, Ed, and me and play space for our kids. I'm very fortunate to now have really nice studio space. Our lot slopes down toward the back so that the lower level is fully exposed in back. The lower level is bright and nicely finished so that it doesn't feel like a typical basement. My studio and Ed's are side by side in the lower level facing the back yard and nature preserve behind our house. The whole studio/play area is pretty open, with some partial walls separating the two studios and playroom.

My studio is about 13' x 20' with windows facing west and north; it's open on much of the other two sides. I've got a great, sturdy work table with built-in shelves that faces west and overlooks the backyard and nature preserve. It's white and has three color-corrected lights on and around it to help me with detail work and minimize eye strain. It's a great place to work and is where I sit to do most of my handwork. It's also a great place to watch the many birds we get in our yard. I've got a large old gate-leg table along the north wall that I use for my sewing machine and CD player (I listen to a lot of books and poetry while working). There's a pretty large ironing station on an old beat-up mission-style sideboard that we inherited in a previous house and a large cutting and work surface on top of the stacks of storage drawers I have full of my somewhat embarrassingly large fabric stash. I've got a pretty big collection of books for inspiration and reference too--quilt books, books on beadwork and other fiber art forms, books on architecture, trees, leaves, flowers, clouds, landscapes, and world religions--all of which I keep in my studio. I've got a large bulletin board near my work table that I use to pin up small quilts in progress. I'm also planning to eventually put up a larger design wall that I can use for large quilts and photographing my work.

I have this fantasy of keeping an orderly studio with only one or two quilts in progress at any one time. But the reality is that it's pretty messy all the time, and there are always about 10-15 quilts in various stages of development. I was heartened about this when I was listening to Robertson Davies' Cornish trilogy on tape. In "The Rebel Angels" one of the characters says 'Too much cleanliness is an enemy to creation, to speculative thought.' So I just look around my studio and remind myself that it is actually a sign of creativity and lots of active thinking.

KM: We share the same the same fantasy about our studios and I love the quote! How does your quiltmaking impact your family? How do you balance your time?

LB: I'm glad you like the quote. I've got a whole journal and computer file of favorite quotes I've collected over many years--from books and poems and other things I've read. I love the insights on life that I get from people who can word them so succinctly and/or beautifully.

How does quiltmaking impact my family, and how do I balance my time? These are really good questions. I think the issue of balance is one that so many women wrestle with as they try to do the things they need to do and want to do.

So far I've opted to let my family's schedule pretty much dictate mine, although as my kids get older, I have been working toward their greater independence giving me more time in the studio. Since I began quiltmaking in 2000 I've completed about 4-6 quilts each year, with far fewer than that in some years. I mostly just work in the studio when my kids are at school, although I also use that time for exercise, school and community volunteer work, and basic household maintenance like grocery shopping. So I end up working in the studio about 10-20 hours per week, often closer to 10. Long car trips (like we take on vacations or to see family in Chicago or Tennessee) are also great times for me to do hand stitching, especially since my husband is a better driver than passenger. When I can, I'll work a bit in the evenings or on weekends, but that's pretty rare. Between kids' homework, music lessons, sports, and family meals, when my kids are home and awake, I'm pretty busy. At times like the few weeks around Christmas and late summer, after a lot of scheduled kids' activities have ended, I may not get in the studio at all. I really admire the quilters who are able to work more than I do and are better at drawing boundaries for their work time, but that just hasn't seemed to work for me or my family so far. At the same time, I feel very fortunate to be able to be a stay-at-home mom, because otherwise I can't imagine I'd have any time for art at all, not to mention having a lot less time with my kids. In a perfect world I'd be higher energy or more organized or would somehow do all I want to do with my family and community and still work 20-30 hours each week in the studio, but I am pretty content with what I am able to accomplish in the real world.

As I try to envision the next 10 years, by which time both kids will presumably be off in college, I envision it as a time of gradually increasing my studio time and working toward consistently improving all aspects of my quiltmaking skills. It feels somehow significant that my daughter would likely leave for college the month I turn 50, with my son three years behind that. I could very easily envision trying to build up toward a more full-time career in quiltmaking and related activities by the time I'm in my 50s. But I've also learned not to plan too far ahead; life has a way of changing in unexpected ways. For now, although I sometimes feel pretty scattered, I am really happy to be making/showing/selling art quilts, being so involved in my kids' lives, and being involved in their schools and our community.

I think my quiltmaking impacts my family primarily in positive ways. My husband is enormously supportive of what I do, which is wonderful. He gives me a lot of good design feedback, and he's always encouraging when I get a 'thanks but no thanks' letter from a quilt show. He spent enough years in art school to remind me that with juried shows, you just have to 'play the numbers.' Apply to lots of shows with the hopes of getting into some reasonable percentage of them. If anything, he thinks I should devote more time to quiltmaking, but he really leaves my schedule up to me to determine.

My kids are also very supportive of what I do, although I think they do get tired of going to quilt shows sometimes. I do think it's good for them to see that I have something I'm pursuing in a professional way, even if I don't have an official job I go to each day. My daughter loves giving me ideas for my quilts, some of which I end up incorporating into the quilts. Right now I'm working on a set of three small embellished quilts for a commission for the new University of Wisconsin Children's Hospital, and she had a great idea for the first quilt that I think is making it better than it would otherwise be. My son frequently comes into my studio to look at and ask me about what I'm doing; and both kids love playing with all of the beads I have. When my son was a preschooler, he loved to go 'bead hunting.' He has that great 20/20 vision of a young kid, so he'd find all kinds of beads buried in the carpet under my work table that I never knew I'd dropped. Our home studios are also a plus for our kids because they're great sources of supplies for dioramas for school projects, Girl Scout stitching and beading projects, and the occasional school quilt project (I think I've been involved in three so far).

In addition to my immediate family, I feel very blessed to have tremendous support from my parents (mother, father, and stepmother), my in-laws, my sisters, and even from friends of the family. It's really sweet how proud my whole family gets when I get a quilt accepted into a big show or have other good news like a big commission or something like that. I think I get a lot of energy and inspiration from all of that support.

KM: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups or organizations? How important is it for you to be around other creative people?

LB: For about the last six years I've been an active member of Madison Contemporary Fiber Artists (MCFA). MCFA is a group of anywhere from 20-40+ women (by default, not design) who are interested in various forms of fiber art; most are quiltmakers. We meet monthly to share work, give each other feedback, and plan group shows. I enjoy participating in the group because I love experiencing the creative energy of other artists and because being in MCFA creates nice opportunities to show work. I had been a member of Mad City Quilters Guild for several years, but a couple years ago I felt the need to cut back on evening commitments, and so I ended up dropping out of the guild.

I'm very fortunate to have some good friends who are also active in the fiber world. Several of us met and began getting together about five years ago as an off-shoot of the quilt guild--people getting together who were interested in contemporary art quilts. Over the years some group members have left and others have joined. For the last year or two it's really been more a group of four friends getting together; but because we're all always making something in fiber--quilting or knitting or dyeing fabric or rug hooking--we share what we're doing and give each other feedback on our work too. Besides getting together for coffee or wine and conversation, we also go to quilt shows and sometimes classes like QSDS or IQA together, which is great.

My husband teaches in the Art Department of the local technical college, so we're lucky to also know a lot of other local artists (his colleagues, their spouses, some former students, and other connections we've made through them). Many of the people we know through his work are painters, especially landscape painters, so those relationships have created some wonderful opportunities to see great artwork and to spend time with others who share the need to create.

Being around other creatives is very important to me; I really can't imagine my life without that. I think it's part of the reason my husband and I have gotten along so well for the 23+ years we've been together. That need to create and explore one's psyche in physical form is not something everyone shares. It can be a pretty lonely world for people if they don't have at least a few like-minded friends. Just being around other people who understand the seemingly uncontrollable need to buy a certain book or fabric or art supply, or the need to stop and ponder and marvel at a particular color or form is fun, but it's also a source of real comfort--of knowing there are other people like you in the world.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge for quiltmakers today?

LB: I've really been pondering this question since I got it. In so many ways things just keep getting better for quiltmakers--better tools, amazing selections of fabrics and threads, great reference books, magazines, web resources, and teachers, and lots of opportunities to see and participate in shows. I think back on some of the stunning antique quilts I've seen and wonder what those quiltmakers could have done with all we have available to us today. Given how much more we have available to us--both in terms of time and resources--compared to quiltmakers 100 or 200 years ago, the biggest challenges I see are really all within the arena of people wanting to make contemporary art quilts. I think there are a couple of challenges in that area.

One aspect of the challenge is how quilts are viewed by some or even much of the non-quilting world. Quilts are made for so many different reasons--home accessories, garments, bed quilts, wall quilts in traditional designs, one-of-a-kind art quilts, etc. So I think it's still a challenge for the general public and even for people interested in the arts to hear "quilt" and know what to expect and how to view it. Add to this the fact that the lines between traditional designs and contemporary or original designs can be pretty blurred. So how does a quiltmaker who is trying to make quilts as an art form and trying to be taken seriously in the art world clearly distinguish what she/he is doing from quilts that may be stunning but are really made for other purposes? Should there even be such a distinction? People like Nancy Crow and Michael James and many others have clearly been able to do this with very innovative designs and hand-dyed or nearly solid fabrics. But what about the quilts made with larger-scale commercial prints and those with designs at least rooted in traditional quilts? I think it's often harder for those quilts to be viewed as art quilts.

The other challenge I see related to quilts being viewed as 'art' is the challenge of quiltmakers sometimes not having much familiarity or comfort working with the basic elements of design. I include myself in this camp. I think most art-quiltmakers are at least familiar with the elements to consider when developing designs, but we are often not so firmly grounded in this approach and in using it in our artistic processes that we are always successful in creating really well-designed quilts. What I often see--especially when there are lots of quilts to look at in a large exhibition--is a high percentage of quilts with amazing technical merit, but not as high a percentage of quilts that seem to have successfully factored in all of the elements of design. So the challenge seems to me to be this: How can quiltmakers feel as comfortable and confident in our approach to design as we are in the technical aspects of quilt construction and actual quilting? Many times when I've really been wowed by a quilt, I find out later that the quiltmaker came to quiltmaking from one of the traditional fine arts like painting. It frequently shows. There's just an attention to line, shape, composition, balance, value structure, overall palette, etc. that really makes the quilt stand out even in a large group of quilts. So when quiltmakers come from so many different backgrounds, what kinds of things would be useful resources to help make their approach to design as intuitive and fluid as, say, their approach to free-motion quilting? And how can we quiltmakers get detailed and informed feedback about our work in order to build on the design aspect of our art-making?

KM: What do you think about the importance of quilts in America? And how do you think American quiltmaking has influenced the world of quiltmaking?

LB: I do think quilts are a really significant part of America's cultural history, and I'm so glad there are people and organizations working to preserve quilts and share the stories of the quilts and quiltmakers with the world. I remember in a History of Textiles course in college learning about nomadic tribes that traveled around the middle east and would weave these gorgeous, intricate rugs in the middle of the desert. While they were traveling, they would roll up the partially-finished rugs, and spin the yarn they'd later weave, while riding on the back of a camel. Each tribe or region would have its own symbols or significant shapes that communicated about that particular tribe to other people. The same was true of shapes and patterns used in early Native American rugs, and I love that it was also true of early American quilts. I think it's significant that historic quilts have that kind of connection to textiles from other cultures and other parts of the world; it's a really rich history--whether it's patterns that communicate about the state or region of a quilt's origin, patterns that were used in the Underground Railroad to let runaway slaves know where it was safe to stay or which way to travel, or things like the stunning Amish quilts that sprung from a religious society forbidden to use representational images. Quilts being made today are definitely a part of that amazing lineage, whether they look like traditional quilts or are entirely different. I hope that quiltmakers today see what they're doing as part of a very old tradition of communicating, provoking thought, and creating beauty by stitching thread on fabric.

Quiltmaking seems to be generally recognized as an American art form, but it's wonderful to see so many other countries participating in it. For several years I subscribed to New Zealand Quilter, and it was always fascinating to see what was being made on the other side of the world. Understandably, where a person lives, what they see each day, and what their neighbors are doing all influence the look of the art that comes from that area. Quilts from New Zealand generally had a different (and wonderful) look that distinguished them from many American quilts. I think the same is true of many of the quilts coming out of Japan. Even though many of the Japanese quilt designs are at least rooted in traditional American quilts, there is a certain sensibility that distinguishes them, and I think that's wonderful. So I see American quiltmaking as being the original inspiration for quiltmaking elsewhere in the world, but I think it's great that quiltmakers in other countries have taken the art form and enriched it with their own palettes and cultural design sensibilities. Now those quiltmakers are becoming the basis for a quiltmaking lineage in another part of the world. It's a great reminder that the world is at the same time a much smaller place (because of the internet, the ease of travel and shipping quilts around the world, etc.) and still a place of rich and unique histories and approaches to making art.

KM: What advice would you offer someone starting to make art quilts?

LB: I probably have far more advice than anyone starting to make art quilts would want, but here's what I've learned so far on my own journey:

Have fun; realize you're on a journey of learning and discovery that you're taking one stitch at a time, one piece of fabric at a time. Savor the time you have with the materials you love and in exploring what it is you have to say as an artist. Don't be in too big a hurry to get into juried shows or win awards or try to get recognition for your work. Those things will likely come as you develop your own technical expertise and your own voice as an artist. Focusing too much on those things, especially early on, can end up constraining you artistically and making your work less than it otherwise could be.

Study the world around you with the eye of an artist--where do you see interesting color combinations, shapes, patterns, textures? All of that can feed your creative process. Study your predecessors--both in the quilt world and in the broader art world. Attend quilt shows and art exhibits and study what you see. Read lots of art and quilt magazines, websites, and books like the catalogs from Quilt National exhibitions. There's so much to be learned from really looking at other people's work. Find a local quilt guild or fiber art group--somewhere that you can connect with people who are already doing what you want to do and are willing to share their knowledge. Also seek out (personally and/or in print/on line) experienced quiltmakers whose work you admire. Learn all you can from them and then use that to inform your own work. You can do this without copying their work but by incorporating what you learn into what you create. Do subscribe to some good magazines to keep you up-to-date on what's going on in the fiber world. A good bookstore and a little research will show you what's available. Take classes when you can. You may be able to find some local classes to begin learning what you feel you most need to learn (whether that's technical, design-related, finding inspiration, or something else). If possible, also take some classes at larger venues like QSDS. It's amazing to see what's being produced in places like that; the teachers are terrific and well-respected, and it's great to be able to be fully immersed in making your art for 1-2 days or 5 days or even longer.

Buy some fabric and threads that really excite you, but don't buy huge quantities. Chances are your taste will change some over time, and there's only so much fabric you can donate to school projects or use on the backs of your quilts. Also invest in some good basic tools--a rotary cutter and mat, transparent quilting rulers in a few sizes (6" x 24"; 6" x 6"; 12.5" x 12.5" are my favorites), a good pair of scissors just for fabric and thread that you won't let your kids use to cut construction paper or doll's hair. If possible, find some vertical space where you can temporarily pin up work in progress to view vertically and from a distance; this really helps in making judgments about value and composition. Invest in some good lighting, whether portable or fixed. Find a place in your home that you can work. Some pretty stunning things have been made on small kitchen tables (read about Jane Sassaman and Paula Nadelstern for inspiration). Don't feel that if you don't have a lot of space or time you can't pursue this. If you really want to make art quilts, go for it; you are creative enough to find good ways to overcome any obstacles you may encounter.

And my last bit of advice is to celebrate the fact that you are joining a wonderful cultural stream of people who have, throughout much of history and much of the world, sought to express ideas and celebrate beauty by stitching things together. Learn about that history and then see what only you, with your unique perspective and skill set and life experience, can add to the rich world of fiber art.

KM: I have really enjoyed our time together and I truly hate that it's ending. You are wonderful. Is there anything else you would like to add?

LB: Thanks Karen. I have thoroughly enjoyed our time together too, and I am truly honored to be included in the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. In addition to simply enjoying the interview process, I found it to be a wonderful way to gather my own thoughts together about quiltmaking, what I am doing with my work, and how that seems to fit into the bigger quilt-world picture. What a treat. Thank you for a wonderful experience.

The only other thing I'd like to add is a word of encouragement to new quiltmakers in particular to follow their passions, even if they don't always seem logical. When I began making "Recapitulata (Echo Flower)" and realized what I had committed myself to in terms of hand-stitching and beadwork, a lot of people thought I was at least a little nuts. But I knew that it was something I wanted to pursue, and I truly loved the process of making it. I put a lot of myself into that quilt for about six months, but in return it has said "thank you for creating me" in many wonderful ways. I've heard pretty much this same story from other quiltmakers who have taken the plunge of letting a quilt take over and tell them what needs to be done; so I'm not saying anything new. But to newer quiltmakers especially, if you're working on a quilt that you truly love, and it begins to tell you where it wants to go, listen. Enjoy the process, enjoy the product, and know that by letting the quilt take over, what you are really doing is adding your own unique artistic voice to the amazing world of quilts.

KM: Lisa, thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. My interview with Lisa ended on February 8, 2007.



“Lisa Binkley,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 12, 2024,