Idiosyncratic Quilting

It’s been a while since I bought a quilting related book, but I decided to spring for Paula Kovarik’s “At Play in the Garden of Stitch: thoughts that come while eyeing the needle.” Like the capitalization in the title, Paula’s work goes counter to standard practice. There are no feathers or flowers, lines are usually spiky, and her motifs often display a subversive sense of humor. In other words, she’s not to everyone’s taste.

I first saw her work at Quilt National in 2015, and again in 2017. Both entries are done on old linens and are whole cloth.

Paula Kovarik, Quilt National 2015
Paula Kovarik, “His and Hers Insomnia” Quilt National 2017

But, back to the book. First, let me tell you what this book is not about – specific FMQ patterns, step by step instructions, or student work. Instead, it’s about how Paula works and specifics of some pieces she’s made.

She doesn’t use fancy equipment. I didn’t see a longarm in the photo of her studio. She uses basic fabrics and old linens, and sews mostly with black and white thread. Her approach is process oriented – lots of practice that begins with working out design ideas on paper and proceeds to building up a story in stitch on cloth.

Doodling practice for “Glyphs”
Paula Kovarik, “Glyphs”

The book includes exercises to do on fabric squares after first working up ideas on paper. Other exercises address how to create focal points in the quilting (Paula calls them heroes,) add a bump, and one line drawing with thread. From what I gather, the last is best done after lots of practice on paper. Here’s my go at the fenceposts exercise. It was kind of fun, not something I often say about FMQ.

My thread doodling

I think the piece below is an example of one line drawing.

Paula Kovarik, “Do The Doodle”

I was surprised that Paula quilts with her feed dogs up. I tried it and found I needed to set the stitch length to at least 3; otherwise the resistance was too much for me. Another surprise was that Paula cut up one of her Quilt National quilts and used the pieces to make other work, including decorative masks. I have cut up quilts that didn’t work or I didn’t like, but if one of my pieces was in Quilt National I’d construct a shrine for it in my living room. I guess I’m not evolved enough to have such a “kill your darlings” attitude.

To sum up, this book can encourage you to jump in and take risks, and see quilting as process rather than product. It actually has specific ideas I hope to use in future quilting. I don’t think it will appeal to everyone, but sometimes it’s stimulating to see how a quilter can jump the tracks and live to tell the tale.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Art quilts, Books, Inspiration, Techniques

12 responses to “Idiosyncratic Quilting

  1. Thanks for recommending the book. It sounds fascinating. I’ll have to go track it down. Take care.

  2. Laceflower

    I currently have her book from our guild library, which I requested they purchase and am enjoying it and fascinated by it. Have been doing lots of drawing but not with the needle, yet.

  3. I had not heard of her before, so thank you for writing about her. I love how she has pushed super-traditional materials into such an original direction!

  4. Marni Fisher

    I love your last sentence!!

  5. On October 3rd I was teaching at Visions Art Museum, in the gallery, it was the day before Paula’s exhibit was taken down. What a treat to see her pieces up close, not only wall quilts but 3-D pieces on the tables and hanging from the ceiling. As a member of VAM I recently attended (via Zoom) a meet the artist event with Paula in her studio! I think there was a gasp as she described cutting up her Quilt National quilt. I was surprised that she had a successful graphic arts business for 30 years before quilting. I used to say, I do free-free-motion quilting, my rules just go, that’s why FMQ is fun for me. Even if a different style, I’m glad you felt that fun.

    • I have come to realize that I just can’t do pretty FMQ because doing it bores me. Some of Paula’s techniques, like add a bump, make FMQ interesting. Lucky you to see the exhibit in person.

  6. Cindy and I also bought the book and have the same opinion as you do about her quilting. It is so crazy it’s good and like you said the thought of cutting up a quilt from quilt national is just as crazy. But she seems to do that sort of thing quite often if you follow her on Pinterest. Makes me really think she is either loony or a genius or both. I love her work and how her mind can create such complex FMQ signs.

    • I also like her what the hey attitude towards trying something. You don’t know whether it’s a good idea until you try it. That said, it’s clear she plans much of her work, given her use of the acetate sheet to see how a design would fit.

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