Surface design expert digs deep for sheer bliss

This detail of Maggie Weiss’ “Iris” quilt illustrates her technique of textile collage with silk organza, which she recently taught in a Grand Junction workshop. The entire quilt measures 60 inches by 72 inches and was shown at the 2009 Denver National Quilt Festival. It also appears in “500 Art Quilts” published by Lark Books.



“Up in Flames” was made with surface design techniques by Maggie Weiss. The quilt, 48 inches by 48 inches, is a commentary on a fire at her mother’s home.



Maggie Weiss of Evanston, Ill., says her first class in non-traditional quilt making was an eye-opener. “Those women were burning rubber with their sewing machines,” she says.



After 35 years of quilt making, Maggie Weiss has perfected her techniques to a point she calls “sheer bliss.”

That’s how she refers to her textile collages of silk organza, fused in layers for a three-dimensional translucent effect. Intricately cut silhouettes of flowers, such as iris and crocus, are the focal points of her work.

Two of her art pieces, titled “Iris” and “Canopy,” appear in “500 Art Quilts” by Lark Books. More examples are featured in “The Art Quilt Collection: Designs and Inspiration from Around the World” by Sixth & Spring Books.

Weiss of Evanston, Ill., recently flew into Grand Junction to teach her techniques to two dozen quilters in a two-day workshop. She also spoke on the topic “Personal Geography — Mapping Life in Quilts” to a gathering of the Colorado West Quilters Guild.

As the sixth sibling among 10 children, Weiss learned to use a sewing machine when she was in the fifth grade. From then on, she was hooked on craft projects, garment sewing and finally on quilts.

Over the years, Weiss has become an expert in surface design, using such methods as dyeing, painting, stamping and thermofax silk screening.

The first time she took a non-traditional quilting class, Weiss says it was an eye-opener.

“These women were burning rubber with their sewing machines,” she exclaims.

Soon after, Weiss began to develop her own original designs. Many of those she shared at her local lecture through a Power Point presentation. She also praised a variety of teachers with whom she has studied for their influence and direction. David Walker of Cincinnati, Jane Dunnewold of San Antonio and Patty Hawkins of Estes Park are among them.

Weiss quotes South African activist Desmond Tutu: “We become persons through other persons.”

“I believe that’s especially true for quilters,” she says.

In some of her art quilts, Weiss imbues a spiritual aspect, a result of her studies of Divine Feminine concepts.

“I learned how pagan symbols were adopted into organized religions, too,” Weiss says.

She is especially partial to Day of the Dead observances in Mexico and some parts of the United States. These are celebrations of deceased loved ones, often depicted as smiling and dancing skeletons in homes and cemeteries.

It’s a great holiday, Weiss says. “I wish it could be that way all over our nation.”

More than 20 years after her sister, Patricia, died in 1981, Weiss made a black and white art cloth in her memory. Along with a crayon rub of her sister’s headstone and silk screening methods, she included the printed obituary and a figure of their father falling to his knees at the news of his daughter’s death and his wife cradling his head in her lap. That image represents her parents’ grief, Weiss says.

Later, after a fire at her mother’s home, Weiss created a quilt titled “Up in Flames,” further mapping her family’s story because she believes “it’s the job of an artist to record what he or she witnesses.”

She also feels an obligation to share her skills with others through teaching. That extends to children.

“Learning to sew at an early age made an important difference in my life,” Weiss says.

Because of that, she and a friend sponsor an after-school Sewing Club for middle school students, both boys and girls, at a school in her Evanston community. It’s become even more essential since the financially strapped school was forced to discontinue home economics classes.

Rather than have the children miss out, Weiss spends one afternoon a week at the Sewing Club, for at last 16 weeks a year, sometimes more.

Photos of those students and their quilts are posted on her website, http://www.maggieweiss.com.

One of the highlights for her and the students was helping them make quilts that they then delivered to the neonatal intensive care unit at an Evanston hospital.

This generous endeavor brings Weiss closer to another of her artistic goals: to bring beauty or awareness into the world.

Email Sherida.Warner @gjsentinel.com.


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