If you opened up your GPS or Google maps and did a search for the intersection of traditional and modern quilting, I bet the pin would drop right on top of Malka Dubrawsky. Malka has an amazing eye for taking basic patchwork quilt blocks and giving them a fresh and contemporary spin using color and freehand cutting and piecing.
I’ve known Malka for several years and it was fun to catch up with her in Houston earlier this month when she was in the Open Studios area of Make It University!™ with Cloth Paper Scissors. With her new book, Fresh Quilting: Fearless Color, Design, and Inspiration coming out, I wanted to ask her a few questions that I know are on many contemporary quilters’ minds.
Q. Your quilts and quilt projects definitely put a modern twist on the traditional quilt, but unlike most contemporary art quilts, most of the projects in Fresh Quilting are useful or useable. Why is it important to you to make “usable art”?
A. I like making functional items because I think that functionality completes the circle. I love the idea that something I made will touch or assist or beautify an everyday task for somebody else or even myself. I enjoy giving a handmade quilt to a new baby or reaching for a bag that I’ve made myself. I feel like it makes the ordinary special.
Q. You often use traditional shapes like hexagons and log cabin patterns. What elements of your designs make them modern?
A. I think several elements are important to modernize a traditional pattern. The first is a willingness to play with the pattern itself, break it up, change the dark/light values or remove value differences, radically change the scale of the pattern. I use all these techniques to look at tradition in a new way. I also feel like adding color and a willingness to improvise makes a traditional design feel fresh and contemporary.
Q. Where do you find color inspiration?
A. The answer to that is where don’t I find color inspiration? Certainly I look to other textiles, especially from other cultures. I love the textile traditions of India and Africa and draw a lot of color inspiration from that. But, I’m not above turning my car around to take a picture of a building or house that’s combined colors in a striking way.
I’m also an avid student of art history and find color inspiration from everything from illuminated manuscripts to the work of the Bauhaus weavers.
Q. What other kinds of art or needlecraft do you do, and how does that influence your quilting?
A. I do a fair amount of knitting, which is pretty funny considering I live in Texas and we only get about 2 months of “winter” every year. I do draw a lot of inspiration from knitting designs and textures and the color intensity of hand-dyed yarns.
A. Letting go. I hope that doesn’t sound flippant or dismissive, but I think that setting aside measuring tools and just relying on your eye to see what’s needed and to execute that with a rotary cutter or scissors is an underrated skill.
Q. What is your most useful tool and why?
A. My seam ripper is without a doubt my most useful tool. I make loads of mistakes and change my mind at least 50 times a day. I can’t work without a seam ripper and I keep them all over my studio even sticking them in my design wall so I never have to search for one.
A. This is going to sound way too philosophical, but I really do believe that patchwork endures because it mirrors our lives, especially women’s lives, so well. Our days are patchworks of activities and roles. We put a piece of ourselves into being wives, mothers, employees, referees, gardeners, you name it and we divide ourselves into it. And, amazingly, it all comes together to create a unique and beautiful whole. Well, so does patchwork. It gathers a little of this and a little of that, puts it together with something as simple as needle and thread and creates a new, unique, and beautiful whole.
Q. You include several patterns for making a baby quilt. Are these really easier to make than a full-size quilt, or just faster?
A. Baby quilts are faster, because they’re smaller, but that doesn’t mean they’re easier. I think folks are more willing to try a complicated technique with a baby quilt because it won’t require them to repeat the difficult process quite as many times.
Q. If you could give quilt artists just one tip or share one bit of philosophy, what would it be?
A. Don’t be afraid of color. It all works together. I really believe this and I’m so sad when someone tells me they don’t think they know how to put colors together. I always reassure them that of course they do. All they have to do is embrace the idea that it all can work together.
I love that mantra: Embrace color, be fearless, make a modern quilt!
Here’s more incentive to get going on a fresh, modern project: Scroll down for a $5 rebate coupon you can use at your local independent retailer when you buy any Interweave product there. Choose a book like Fresh Quilting, our 2011 calendar, a magazine–it’s your choice!
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