'The Uncommon Quilter' by Jean Williamson

Jeanne Williamson

Potter Craft US$25.00

ISBN 0-307-38122-6 (s/b 160 pages)

The title not only relates to her new book but also aptly describes Jeanne Williamson herself. Described by some as the founding mother of Journal Quilt making, Jeanne started making a quilt a week back in 1999 as a way of making time in her busy life to experiment with new ideas and techniques, even just to have the time to make mistakes.

Inspired by another artist who had decorated a paper sandwich bag every day for a year, Jeanne knew she would not have the time to make a quilt a day, but decided to commit to a quilt a week. She set herself some rules; she was not allowed to throw out the piece and start again. Each quilt would be dated, numbered, and annotated with details of what was happening in her life or what the quilt was about.

Heartbeat, January 2001
Heartbeat, January 2001

She started making quilts that were 8 x 10in (just a bit smaller than a magazine page) and then each year would change the format; some are quite small at 4 x 6in, others are square but none are large. All the quilts in any year are the same format. This restriction in size means that most do not take long to make; Jeanne did not use long complicated piecing or appliquéd sequences or seams that match, allowing her the freedom to focus on the design and on the materials she has chosen to use. She refers to her quilts as whole-cloth quilts as she starts with a basic sandwich and then develops the design from there. A good tip to follow is to make the sandwich larger than the finished item requires and then use a template, perhaps slightly off centre, to choose the most pleasing area of the design.

Autumn Leaves, November 2002
Autumn Leaves,
November 2002

Her new book is split into four chapters, each focussing on a different area of design: plastic, paper, surface design and fibre. Each chapter starts with a short introduction on particular materials used. The quilts shown here each illustrate the use of unusual materials that many of us would not have previously considered suitable for a quilt. In Heartbeat, made in January 2001, Jeanne noticed the red netting covering a box of clementine oranges. She says, the discovery practically gave me heart palpitations - the subject of this quilt. I like this because I expect many of us buy oranges or satsumas in little netting bags, but how many of us would have thought before to add them to a quilt top?

Let Them Eat (Chocolate) Cake, December 2004
Let Them Eat (Chocolate) Cake,
December 2004

Another quilt incorporating plastic is Autumn Leaves, made in November 2002. Jeanne has used some plastic sushi grass but says you could substitute paper cut in a similar style. Never having eaten sushi, I dont know if this grass is common, but it is tempting to pop into my local Japanese restaurant to ask for some!

In Let Them Have (Chocolate) Cake, made in December 2004, Jeanne has sewn the image first and then filled in the stitch outlines with fabric paint, carefully letting each colour dry before adding the next. The only applied piece is the whole cake shape which was added to the sandwich first; the rest of the details are added with fabric paint. If you are adding the paint after stitching you dont need to worry so much about how the paint responds when you stitch through it.

Amsterdam and Paris Vacation, June 2000
Amsterdam and Paris Vacation,
June 2000

I particularly like the quilts where Jeanne uses holiday memorabilia she has collected. In Amsterdam & Paris Vacation, June 2000, Jeanne has actually prepared the sandwich and netting before her travels and cut a small slit in the top of each pocket, as the holiday progressed she added items to the pockets and hand stitched them closed. In her book there are other examples of adding items, but using different approaches, without netting, for example. The book is beautifully produced with a full size - or larger - image of each of the 52 quilts shown, with instructions on the opposite page. It is a delight to browse through and to be inspired by and I know there are ideas I will be using this year. It is a musthave book for any contemporary or aspiring art quilter. To buy a copy of The Uncommon Quilter, see Jeannes website. It is also available from Amazon. We dont currently know of any UK quilt shops that stock this book, so if you find one please contact us.