There are some artists whose work always puts a smile on your face. For me, this is the case with Malka Dubrawsky, whose vibrant and candy-colored fabrics and quilts are always cheerful, bright, and wonderfully whimsical. I'll take any excuse to chat with Malka about her fabric dyeing adventures, her bold and unusual fabric choices, and her latest quilting endeavors, but this interview was motivated by a couple very specific facts: Malka's new book, which will be available in December; and her Open Studios event at International Quilt Festival/Houston (stop by and see her this Friday, November 5th, from 3-5 pm).
One of the most notable things about your work is that you combine commercial fabrics and your own dyed or over-dyed fabrics. What are some of your favorite techniques for creating your own fabrics?
One of my favorite things to do to commercial fabric or un-dyed linen is to use a wax resist technique. I literally do that on a daily basis, either over-dyeing or taking color out. I’m very much a pattern person so I don’t create much representational imagery on my fabric. I like repeat patterns and big patterns.
You use such striking combinations of colors and pattern. How do you make decisions about combining fabrics? Where do you get your inspiration from?
When it comes to combining various fabrics, I use color as my guide more than the weight or feel of the fabric. And a lot of this work is really intuitive. I have a degree in printmaking from the University of Texas. While I was there, I learned a lot that still influences my work—especially the Bauhaus, from Josef Albers and his color field paintings to Anni Albers and her weavings. I still remember an exercise that we did back in my two-dimensional design class. We were given boxes of 40 pieces of paper in every color you can imagine, and had to create something from them. Thanks to this background, I think still about colors influencing each other and what that means. And sometimes I see an unusual combination in nature or somewhere else, and realize it actually looks quite good together.
A lot of my choices and the confidence I have in making them are based on the belief that you can’t really ruin a color—you just make it more or less bright based on where you place it. I really stand by the belief that there are a lot worse things that could happen than putting together two colors that don’t quite go. Worst case scenario: just take them apart!
You have a new book coming out with Interweave, Fresh Quilting: Fearless color, design, and inspiration. What’s the primary focus?
The book is really focused on celebrating color and all the choices that we have today when it comes to commercial fabrics—they’re amazing. There was a time when we didn’t have choices. Now we have an incredible array of them. Think of all the solids and prints that are now available in so many colors, some with just the slightest shade of difference between them. It’s a great time to be making stuff out of fabric. And when you put fabrics together, it shouldn’t cause anxiety. Hopefully you will develop a sense of adventure.
A lot of the projects in this book are things I wanted to make for a long, long time: ideas that I’ve carried around with me. It also contains a bit of what I’ve just started to working on, which is supersizing a single block and blowing it up to huge proportions. Basically, this book celebrates ideas I’ve had for ages, and the joy of putting fabrics together—it’s a celebratory experience.
What are you most looking forward to about International Quilt Festival/Houston, which starts tomorrow? I know you’ll be one of the Open Studios artists in the Make It University!™ with Cloth Paper Scissors® area on Friday, November 5th, 3-5 pm.
In my Open Studios I’ll definitely make one of the projects from my new book, or at least several blocks—but I hope I’m interrupted by visitors who want to chat! Festival is so fabulous and I drive down every year because I only live three hours away. I remember going while pregnant with my 16-year-old daughter so it’s been at least 16 years or more. But while the reasons I go have changed over the years—whether for the quilts, or the vendors, or my own events—I just love the energy and the fact that they can transform the entire George R. Brown Convention Center. I love that they need to reassign the Men’s rooms to Women’s!
You see really amazing stuff, especially in the vendor booths. There are folks who come from Africa and India. One time I bought an antique embroidered pillow cover. There’s always such an array of things to see and to touch. If you can come, you should come.
What new ideas have you exploring lately? Where do you think your quilting will go from here?
As I said, I definitely have lots of ideas for supersizing things. Taking traditional blocks, semi-traditional blocks, or even just simplified blocks and blowing them up to amazing proportions. I love the graphic possibilities of something like that. I’ve thought about the hexagon string baby quilt (on the cover of International Quilt Festival: Quilt Scene Winter 2010/2011—what if that whole quilt was just one hexagon amongst many? Imagine the graphic impact that would have.