Quilt artist extracts inspiration from the abstract

Shirley Gisi of Colorado Springs titled this “Quilt Noir,” basing it on mid-century abstract paintings and the dark film mysteries of the same time period. She won the Pfaff Master Award for Machine Artistry and $5,000 at the 2013 International Quilt Festival in Houston. The quilt is entirely pieced, even the rings, and the quilting is geometrically straight stitched on her home machine.

This abstract art quilt by Shirley Gisi received the Best Use of Color award and $1,000 earlier this year in the Road to California Quilter’s Conference and Showcase.

“Star Struck” has been on display this weekend at the Denver National Quilt Festival. Shirley Gisi says she enjoys layering fabrics and using a color wheel to give her quilts a look of transparency. She also uses synthetic fabrics as well as cottons.

SHIRLEY GISI This Colorado Springs quilter draws her original designs on computer paper with ruler and pencil, enlarges them on a copier and traces the pattern onto freezer paper.

Are you familiar with the term “abstract landscapes?” Hmm. Sounds like an oxymoron, you say?

That’s what Shirley Gisi thinks, too, yet she admires some oil paintings of the Southwest that are referred to that way.

“I’m a big fan of Ed Mell of Tucson,” she says.

His work in abstract landscapes inspired the Colorado Springs quilter to try similar images in fabric, and she’s happy with the outcome.

In fact, Gisi has made several purely abstract quilts (sans the landscape aspect), one of which won $5,000 and the Pfaff Master Award for Machine Artistry at last fall’s Houston International Quilt Festival.

Titled “Quilt Noir,” it is based on mid-century abstract paintings and the dark film mysteries of that time, hence the name.

Another of her abstracts, “Second Encounter,” won $1,000 and Best Use of Color in the Art Abstract category at the Road to California show earlier this year.

That was after winning Best Wall Quilt in 2013 at Denver National.

Gisi says she aimed for the look of transparency in layering geometric shapes in “Second Encounter,” which is primarily pieced with some appliqué.

Two more of her quilts, an abstract landscape titled “Yellow Sky” and another quilt titled “Star Struck” are in competition this weekend in Denver.

She’s also featured in the most recent issue of Machine Quilting Unlimited magazine.

Gisi says her abstract quilts may be appealing to judges because she uses solid-colored fabrics and straight-line quilting — both hallmarks of the modern quilt movement.

Whatever the trend happens to be, if you’re doing it, people seem to take notice, Gisi notices.

When she first delved into abstract design, she checked out books from the library to study the art concept.

Now she draws her own designs on computer paper with ruler and pencil, has them enlarged and draws them onto freezer paper, numbering the pieces and making registration marks.

Then Gisi chooses fabrics with the help of a color wheel.

“That’s the fun part,” she says. “I like to use transparency and layering in my fabrics, so the color wheel is important for that.”

In “Quilt Noir,” Gisi wanted muted colors and a sepia feel for the dark hue, so gray ombre fabric (shaded or graduated in tone) gave the effect of color change.

Inner and outer rings were intersected by lines, but those were all pieced, she says. Because she wanted the rings to be shiny, she made them of polyester shantung.

“I often experiment with synthetic fabrics,” she says, adding that she often uses a stencil cutter to melt edges so they won’t fray.

Gisi enjoys trying new sewing methods and is quick to encourage others.

“I quilt on a home machine, so there’s no special equipment needed,” she says. “I don’t have a fancy longarm machine. I do a straight stitch, and I turn the quilt, no free-motion quilting.”

Hers is a Pfaff machine with a built-in even-feed foot, which she says is helpful but not essential.

Although Gisi is productive, she says “I’m not a production person. I take as long as it takes to get it right.”

I’d say she’s getting it right … with an intuitive eye for color and a precise hand for success. And that’s no oxymoron.

Email Sherida.Warner


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