A lot of us have a quilting bucket list–techniques we want to try, quilts we’d like to make, and quilters we’d like to learn from. Tops on my list is taking a class from Gwen Marston—I’ve been in awe of her work for years. It appears I’m not alone, as Gwen was tapped to be the keynote speaker at QuiltCon West this week, where she’ll share her views on Liberated Quiltmaking: It’s About Making It YOUR Way.
“Liberated” quilting, or making quilts without patterns, is Gwen’s forté and she’s pursued it since she first stitched a “freeform” Log Cabin quilt in 1987 (this was after 10 years of making traditional quilts). In the foreword of her 2010 Liberated Quiltmaking II book (an update of her 1996 Liberated Quiltmaking), she talks about realizing she was attracted early on to quilts that were “unorthodox quilts—the ones that held surprises.” She appreciated their disregard for the rules of quilting and says “…quilts like these hold my attention longer than their predictable, well-organized, color-coordinated, pattern-based, uptown sisters.”
Cutting loose from those well-organized, color-coordinated quilts isn’t always easy, and Gwen loves helping quilters slip the bands of predictability and give these methods a try. Over the years she’s taught numerous classes and workshops in the U.S. and abroad, including retreats held near her Beaver Island, Michigan, home for 30 years. Though she no longer teaches them (she handed the reins to sisters Sue Nickels and Pat Holly, she still teaches and lectures: in 2016 you can find her at Asilomar, Madeline Island School of the Arts, the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, and, of course, at QuiltConWest.
While her QuiltCon West classes are full, there is much to be learned from her books —she’s the author of 27 of them, including Liberated String Quilts, Collaborative Quilting with Freddy Moran, and 37 Sketches. And here’s a sneak peak of a Martingale book due out in August: A Common Thread: A Collection of Quilts by Gwen Marston, which will definitely inspire readers with images of 80 quilts spanning more than 40 years of work.
Studying her quilts in person provides lots of inspiration, too—there have been 29 solo exhibits of her work. I had the good fortune to see an exhibit of Gwen’s medallion quilts at the AQS show in Des Moines in 2012 (apologies for my less-than-sharp photos), and one of QuiltCon West’s exhibits will be of her Abstract Quilts in Solids.
Not all of us will be lucky enough to sit at the feet of this master quilter. But we can all benefit from the some sage advice she shares in Liberated Quiltmaking II under the heading of Quilting as Play. “Don’t stress out. It won’t help a bit. Most of us aren’t quilting to add more stress to our lives. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to suffer to make a good quilt.” Words of wisdom, appropriate for quilters of every stripe.