Designer improvises her way to creative freedom
In the 1970s, many now-famous young comedians showcased their material at Los Angeles’ famed comedy club, The Improv.
Today, renowned quilt designer and instructor Becky Goldsmith of Sherman, Texas, uses her “material” to introduce her version of an improvisational technique in cloth. It’s a free-form style sure to awaken your creativity and inject a fair amount of levity into your sewing studio.
Goldsmith will be in Grand Junction this week teaching a workshop on “Improvisational Quilting” and lecturing about how to use color in your quilts.
She and her business partner, Linda Jenkins, who lives here in Grand Junction, are the forces behind Piece O’ Cake Designs. They’ve been designing quilt patterns and fabrics and publishing books together since 1994, successfully maintaining a long-distance professional relationship. They also operate the business from a website.
Their trademark is using bright, playful fabrics that put a contemporary spin on traditional patterns, and they are masters at needleturn appliqué. Both women work on different projects at times, Goldsmith says, noting how she was influenced by the famous Gee’s Bend quilts with their modern art interpretations.
“I spent many months working in an improvisational style — letting go of my ruler, loosening up my appliqué style,” she says.
The quilts that came out of this time became one of the Piece O’ Cake books, “Appliqué Outside the Lines.”
Goldsmith, who has a degree in interior design, often finds herself returning to this freer design style, and she’ll teach it Thursday in two different patterns for all skill levels, “Picasso’s Garden” and “The Ground (as seen from above).”
“The first is so-named because it is a cubist version of leafy vines,” she says, explaining that artist Pablo Picasso was one of the first “cubists,” flattening forms, “making shapes less round, with straighter edges. Elements inside shapes moved around — for example, eyes and noses in faces were not always where they were in nature. But the figures and objects in his paintings were easily recognized.”
In “Picasso’s Garden,” rectangles represent leaves; they are not leaf-shaped, “but you can definitely tell that there are three vines.”
“It is my humble homage to that artistic movement,” Goldsmith says.
On Wednesday, she will speak on “Let’s Talk About Color” at monthly meetings of Sunset Slope Quilters and Colorado West Quilters’ Guild. It’s amazing what you can learn about color by just paying attention, according to the website promotion of the lecture. Goldsmith will share what she has learned about color through the years and how she uses it in her quilts.
She also is working on a new book about color, describing it as a practical guide, not particularly heavy on color theory.
“I hope it will be full of information that quilters really want to know,” she says.
Besides writing a book, Goldsmith juggles another project, joining the 2013 renaissance in English paper piecing, particularly the hexagon pattern. You may have noticed it in quilt shops and magazines. As a savvy quilt designer, she was quick to spot this retro trend in an industry that seeks to tempt newbies or nudge some nostalgia for yesteryear techniques.
Paper piecing dates to 18th-century England, with immigrants bringing the quilt style to America. One of its most familiar forms is called “Grandmother’s Flower Garden,” a time-consuming pattern that became most popular in the United States after 1925.
For hexagons, six-sided pieces were cut from paper, fabric was folded and stitched over the paper, then the hexagons were stitched together into mosaic quilts. Sometimes, newspaper was used as the base and left in the quilt, allowing historians to determine when the quilt was made.
Nowadays, papers are cut from card stock and come in various shapes, such as hexagon, diamond and triangle.
“You baste fabric around them and then whip-stitch the pieces together,” says Goldsmith, who is working with another company to develop card stock paper patterns for a variation of the Joseph’s Coat design.
“It’s an old pattern, but these new papers give quilters a whole new way to approach the design.”
Like keeping a classic garment in your closet, perhaps several decades even, chances are it’ll rise to the surface of contemporary style once again.
Paper piecing is easy and allows a quilter to sew patterns that are difficult to piece on the sewing machine. One of the most appealing features is its portability, “allowing you to sew at times and in places where you could not work on your sewing machine,” Goldsmith says. “It’s possible to get a lot sewn in these moments.”
That’s a major selling point for many of us trying to eke out more spare time for our tactile art in this new year.