All the way from the USA, Bonnie McCaffery shows off her amazing work.
Mother of three grown children (as well as three cats and a golden retriever), Bonnie McCaffery runs her business with her husband who helps handle the details of the business in order to free up some time for her to be creative. She lives in a rural area of northeastern Pennsylvania and has a studio separate from the house so the cats are not allowed to play in the fabric.
When did you start quilting? I started quilting after having my first baby there seems to be an itch in the fingers to play with fibre. I started with cross stitch and quickly turned to patchwork. This was 22 years ago and it has been my passion ever since. Im basically self-taught although I have taken classes for fun and techniques over the years.
Favourite colour? I love clean, clear colours best. It would be difficult to select just one or two colours as my favorite. I am not a fan of the muted colour palette, although there is a place for all of them.
Describe your stash? A painter can mix any colour he/she needs but we as quilters need to buy the colours we need. This is my rationalization for my fabric purchasing. I have a good size collection of fabrics, which are stored on bookcases that occupy at 8ft square wall space. Of course theres more hidden in bins in a few other places. The interesting thing about my fabric storage area is that my husband has installed a sliding door system for a design wall in front of the bookcases. Felt-covered foam is mounted on the sliding door system. This is a great place to preview designs, it protects the fabric in the bookcases from excess exposure to light and it allows the wall space to serve a double purpose.
How many reels of thread do you have? It would certainly take a while to count them, so I wont. But I can give you a good guess maybe 400 spools? I have metallic thread, invisible thread (YLIs Wonder Invisible Thread is my absolute favourite), sewing thread, decorative thread, heavier threads, silk threads and lots more. I never realised how much I had until you asked.
Hand or machine? I am definitely a machine person, though I did start in the traditional manner of hand quilting and hand piecing. I have too many ideas of things I would like to do and never enough time. My machine is my friend: it helps me achieve the things I dream of.
Type of sewing machine you use? I love my Bernina. I own an 1130 and Bernina loans me an Artista 200E. This gives me a chance to also experiment with digitized machine embroidery.
Favourite technique? I have developed my Fantasy Fabric technique of capturing various things (like cut fabric, ribbon, thread, yarn, metallic stars, Tintzl, and lots more) under a sheer top layer of fabric (usually tulle netting). The layers are then stitched together with invisible thread. The resulting fabric can be bordered and quilted as is, or it can be cut up and pieced or appliquéd in a quilt. The beauty of this technique is that you can create complex looking quilts quickly and easily. Sharp points and deep curves are not a problem. The tulle on the top layer is only visible if you look very closely. My newest passion, however is painting faces. I have been teaching beginners to paint faces on fabric and then they are able to add hair and clothing using the Fantasy Fabric technique. People are always excited at the results in class. The secret is that there is a guideline drawing under the fabric so you do not have to be an artist. The guideline drawing shows you exactly where the shading and features must be.
Do you own any quilt books? I probably own about 100-200 books. I especially love technique books. I also purchase books on art, artistic techniques, embroidery and design.
What is your top tip? I love to teach students about free-motion stitching. My tip is that I recommend experimenting with leaving the feed dogs UP rather than dropping them. If you lower the feed dogs, the fabric slides much to easily and you have very little control. However if you can leave the feed dogs up, they will grab the fabric each time, making it much easier to control the size of the stitches. Not all machines like the feed dogs up, so you will have to experiment with your machine.
Most admired living quilters? Hollis Chatelaine and Caryl Bryer Fallert: these ladies are incredible artists and lovely people as well.
Are you a member of any groups? I belong to a local quilt group that has about 130 members. In the past I was a very active member serving on a wide variety of committees. My travel and teaching keep me from doing that now although I still go to the meetings whenever I can. I am also a member of International Quilt Association and American Quilters Society.
Where do you sew? My husband gave me his garage, which he finished it and added lots of lighting. It is a peaceful place to be able to go and create. My passion for quilting has taken me to a world of travel and teaching which I love. The sad thing is that I dont get to quilt as often so I try to schedule empty weeks between teaching classes in order to have some creative time.
Do you have a day job or other commitments? My career is teaching quilting and writing books. Who would ever think that this is one of the careers available when you graduate from school? I am blessed to do what I love and be able to share it with others. I try to leave gaps in the schedule so I can still enjoy what I love. Currently Im working on a book on Painted Faces.
Proudest quilting moment? Every time a student shows a quilt started in my class. These are my grandchildren (the quilts that is). I was there when they were conceived. It is always so exciting to see what students do with the faces they paint in class.
Where do you get your inspiration? I see inspiration everywhere. Peoples faces, magazines, tile floors, nature, architecture, cards, art, other peoples quilts, books, techniques and everywhere. I try to keep a scrapbook for cut out pictures and I also carry around a small notebook to doodle in while I wait. I love seeing the City & Guilds notebooks of students in Embroidery and Patchwork and Quilting.
Best museum for inspiration? On my visits to England I have really enjoyed the V&A clothing exhibit. In the States the International Quilt Festival is an extraordinary exhibit of quilts. I always come away filled with inspiration. My passion is for quilting but I am also very intrigued by a type of embroidery done in India called Zardozi. It is beautiful hand stitched gold work. My dream is to visit India and learn how to do this. If there is someone out there who knows how to make my dream come true, contact me.
Preferred sewing thread? YLI threads. I especially love their Wonder Invisible Thread for quilting and free-motion stitching. It is the best invisible thread on the market and Ive seen so many invisible threads during my teaching that do not work well. YLI Wonder Invisible Thread really is the best.
What wadding and why? I use Pellon Fusible Fleece. I love that it can be fused to the backing and it makes my quilts lay nice and flat.
Do you teach and if so what is your favourite subject? I teach all over the US and I have had quite a few international teaching trips. I just returned from my fourth trip to England and I'm planning another trip around August/September 2005. I love to visit quilters in other countries and experience their lifestyles. I love teaching the 'Painted Face' workshop: students are always amazed at what they can do. The secret is that there is a guideline drawing under the fabric so you do not have to have great artistic talent to paint a face. The 'Floral Sampler Fantasy' workshop is another of my favorites: students create three floral blocks in one day. The secret is that they capture artificial flowers under a layer of tulle. The 'Fantasy Fabric Sampler' workshop is also a fun class to teach. My favourite lecture to give is my 'Inspiration and Development of a Quilt Artist' lecture. There is always something for everyone. It covers a broad range of quilts from traditional to contemporary. Everyone can relate to something along the path. I love sharing what I love. The moment when a student begins to believe 'Yes, I CAN do this' is so exciting. I love to show people that they can have fun with it.
Ever travelled in search of quilts? I was a recipient of the Jewel Pearce Patterson Scholarship that sent me to Innsbruck, Austria to the International Quilt Expo, which whetted my appetite for international travel. Since then I have had five more trips when I travelled and taught in Sweden, Denmark, England, Ireland, Scotland and France. Of course, everywhere I travel I get to see quilts.
What are your quilting goals? To share my quilts and their stories as I travel and touch other peoples lives. I would love to exhibit more and dream of someday winning at the big shows. At the moment my goal is to get the Painted Face book published (available later this year).
If you would like to know more about Bonnies work see her books Fantasy Fabrics: Techniques for Layered Surface Design and Fantasy Floral Quilts: Creating with Silk Flowers, both published by Martingale & Company (That Patchwork Place imprint) and available from Amazon. For more details check out her website Bonnie McCaffrey
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