Quilters take the art to new levels

Published 3:05 pm Thursday, June 1, 2017

Written and photographed by Ellen Henderson

Landrum Quilt Show to highlight modern and traditional styles

The biennial 2017 Landrum Quilt Show, June 8-10, celebrates the time-honored art of quilting, both classic and contemporary. Sponsored by the Landrum Quilters, visitors can expect to see more than 180 quilts, large and small. While some are hand-quilted others feature machine and long-arm quilting, often with embroidery and embellishments.

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Many quilters today are exploring different techniques, deconstructing traditional patterns, and embracing creativity and imagination with fabrics and thread.

The four featured Landrum Quilters, all innovators, share some commonality. All have a sewing background.  All find inspiration from various sources. All view quilting as an avenue for personal satisfaction and experimentation, and all became serious quilters after moving to South Carolina.   

The common ground then ends.

Maryanne Gilbert

For Maryanne Gilbert, quilting is all about the color journey and achieving a cohesive design.

A South African-born American, she discovered quilting soon after moving to South Carolina seven years ago after seeing an exhibit at the Moses Cone Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

A self-taught proponent of English paper piecing, she now creates stunning hand-pieced hexagons which eventually become wall hangings, table covers and bedspreads.

Traditional quilters are familiar with paper-pieced hexagons found in the familiar Grandmother’s Flower Garden design. However, Maryanne’s hexagons may be coordinated by color or by random fabrics which, at first glance, do not appear complementary. No matter, since either method results in a beautiful kaleidoscope effect. 

She attributes a lot of inspiration to a book entitled “The New Hexagon” by Katja Marek, a Canadian designer with a Facebook group with more than 12,000 international members.

Some of Maryanne’s blocks resemble millefiori, the Italian word for a thousand flowers. Usually associated with Venetian glass, the term in quilting means that the fabric is sewn together with different shapes and different fabrics, then cut into sections to form patterns.

Those seeing Maryanne’s work are often eager to learn the technique. She is teaching small classes at Elaine’s Attic in Landrum and instructs a Facebook group with an international membership. For Maryanne the appeal of English paper piecing is its portability. 

“I can work on a block in any location,” she said. “It’s nice to spend the evenings watching TV with my husband while hand sewing more hexagons.” 

In the future she aspires to create and market her own English paper piecing designs.

Ruth Pollow

Ruth Pollow’s style has evolved tremendously since she first started traditional quilting in 1994.

Then she purchased patterns from other quilters and followed their directions.

Those days are long gone. Now most of her quilting is original, incorporating her love of nature, color and her involvement with birds of prey.

Ruth’s favorite quilting technique now is thread painting, the results of which are stunning masterpieces of art.

“It is fascinating to watch your design come to life,” she said.

After selecting a photo or drawing, Ruth then fuses small pieces of fabric to a bottom panel to recreate the design. Next, using her machine with a zigzag, straight or decorative stitch, she “paints” the piece with threads to add color and texture. The result is a realistic representation of the subject created with a three-dimensional effect.

As a weekly volunteer at the Carolina Raptor Center in Charlotte, N.C., Ruth has spent 20 years closely observing and handling eagles, owls, hawks and other birds of prey.

She has created some of most amazing work replicating these majestic raptors.

Ruth continues to hone her creativity and quilting skills with landscape and art quilt classes at major quilt shows and at retreats both on Mackinaw Island (Michigan) and Madeline Island (Wisconsin).

Recognition of her work has come with quilt show awards, with commissions and with a one-woman exhibit at The Woodlands of Furman last fall.

Darleen Sanford

The first time Darleen Sanford went to a quilt exhibit while living in Rochester, N.Y., she was intrigued but thought, “It’s too hard for me.”

Many years and many quilts later Darleen found a new interest, modern quilting, a style she happily embraced about five years ago.

She explained that the term “modern quilt” is applied to an improvisational style that loosely adheres to certain concepts. These include a lot of negative or unpatterned space, dense quilting – often with straight or wavy line, and a bright, graphic palette. Other elements can be minimalism, no borders, exaggerated scale and alternative grid work.

“When I discovered modern quilting, I found the freedom to try new designs very appealing,” she said.  “One of my first projects was a set of placemats with a geometric motif. When I gave them to my son, he said, ‘Nice. These don’t look like a quilt.’ ”

Asymmetry is also associated with modern quilting, as are whites, grays and unexpected colors for a quilt’s background.

Since she likes to start and finish projects in a timely fashion, she will still occasionally use a pattern designed by another quilter. She also gets ideas from blogs, websites and from members of the Greenville Modern Guild.

“My goal is develop more of my own original ideas and continue to grow as a quilter,” she said.  “For me, modern quilting is less stressful than adhering to traditional designs where matched seams and perfect points are emphasized.”

Sybil Radius

Sybil Radius creates award-winning original designs, channeling her artistry into quilted pieces ranging from wall hangings to fabric post cards to quilts.

She has come a long way from her first sewing projects, making doll clothes on a Singer treadle machine.

Attending a Landrum Quilt Show soon after moving to the area opened her eyes to the beauty and possibilities of quilting. She was hooked; however, until retirement in 2011 she did most of her quilting during summer vacations from her teaching job in Spartanburg District Seven.

Whether it’s turning her aunt’s vintage cross-stitched tablecloth into a quilt, making her own fabric from upholstery samples or recreating a fabric landscape scene inspired by her back yard, Sybil likes the challenge of discovering and using different techniques. Meeting monthly with two art quilt groups, Fiber Artists and the Focus group, has also stimulated her creative expression.

As program co-chairman for Landrum Quilters, she and Diane Hollis won rave reviews from members with their original presentations on using fabrics in different ways and on creating simple, but interesting, patterns when machine quilting.

A two-year project paid off in 2015 when her quilt, My Southern Sampler, won the Viewers’ Choice Award. Sybil combined traditional patterns with many of her own design, such as cotton bolls, peanuts, scenes of Rainbow Row and of the mountains.

Her least favorite part of quilting is precise piecing. She much prefers free form.

“Free motion quilting is very enjoyable and relaxing to me, especially since my new mid-arm machine enables me to sit, instead of stand,“ she said. •