It takes a happy village to raise a smile
I recently embarked on a vicarious vacation compliments of art quilter Karen Eckmeier. Her frequent travels abroad greatly influence her fabric creations.
By paging through her instruction book “Happy Villages,” I felt the warmth of a Tuscan sun on terra cotta homes, dark green cypress trees towering among them.
A turn of the pages, and the coastal lure of ocean breezes summoned me into a seaside village stacked high on a Greek isle.
Palm trees waved over the rooftops in a tropical turquoise scene of Bermuda, and the realistic architecture of a Peruvian village caught me in its spell.
Eckmeier loves to travel, and her brightly colored fabric collages — measuring 16 inches square — are snapshots of her journeys.
“The colors and scenery definitely inspire and influence my work,” she says.
An artist, teacher and pattern designer, Eckmeier lives in Kent, Conn. She will be in Grand Junction this week, lecturing and instructing students in her collage technique.
At 9 a.m. Wednesday, she’ll speak on “Accidental Landscapes and Happy Villages” to members of Sunset Slope Quilters at American Lutheran Church.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Eckmeier will present “Oops, My Edges are Showing!” for the Colorado West Quilters Guild at First Christian Church.
She’ll teach a “Happy Villages” fabric collage workshop Thursday in Grand Junction. That session has been filled for several weeks.
Eckmeier started making art quilts in 1996, and she gained success with those through national and international shows. In 2002, she officially made her hobby a business, The Quilted Lizard, offering patterns of her designs and teaching classes.
Eckmeier says she discovered a way to cut free-form curves and angles, then topstitch them together.
“Instead of trying to reproduce a drawing, I aimed for a feeling,” she explains.
After teaching what she calls her layered waves technique for a few years, Eckmeier realized that little landscapes were appearing in her final product.
Both her “Layered Waves” and “Accidental Landscapes” employ the same technique, “but with a different approach and outcome.”
Her approach to collage, however, does away with neatly turned edges and topstitching. Instead, she cuts rectangles, triangles, trapezoids and other shapes from fabric, lightly gluing them together to form a village with rooftops and tiny windows, doors and steps.
Finally, Eckmeier covers the design with netting, or tulle, and quilts over the piece with her sewing machine to hold all the layers together.
Paths and steps intrigue her.
“I wonder where they lead and what I will discover along the way,” she says.
The step and window shapes are symbolic of Eckmeier’s journey as an artist, unsure of her destination until she arrives. Sometimes her journey takes her to the center of a city and other times to remote cliff dwellings, as evidenced by the examples in her “Happy Villages” book.
All three of Eckmeier’s quilting techniques are playful, “and the end result is always a surprise,” she says.
Since last August, she has made three new Happy Village collages. Two of these have been juried into the American Quilter’s Society Show later this month in Paducah, Ky.
Eckmeier now is working on a fourth collage that will measure 50 inches square, much larger than her other miniature versions.
As a side adventure, she is making mandala, or circle format, quilts with collage and fused shapes. That has led Eckmeier to another pattern series she calls “Circle of Friends.”
“I’m not sure where this will lead me, but the circular pattern has already influenced the format of a recent village piece,” she says. “Every step I take seems to influence the next.”
Eckmeier’s goals for her art are simple: “It needs to make me smile.”
Her art makes me smile, and I’ll bet it will have the same effect on you.
Email Sherida.Warner@ gjsentinel.com.