Friday, March 25, 2016

Member Profile: Allison Wilbur

We have a new co-rep for our region! Allison Wilbur recently answered a few questions so we can all get to know her better. You can also visit these two websites to learn more about Allison: and

Allison Wilbur

When did you start making art quilts?
My earlier quilts were definitely traditional and based on my love of quilts formed as a child sleeping under my great grandmother’s flower garden quilt. She had made one for each of her grandchildren and had them hand quilted by her church group. Quilting seemed a natural outlet for me - my mother was a painter and my father a cabinet maker, so it felt like a comfortable combination of color and geometry. I soon found that I changed patterns, then began to make my own patterns, then gradually began to move away from traditional pieced quilts. My first art quilt was in response to a challenge where we had to take a quote and change it and then incorporate it into a quilt. I used a line from Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul,” and changed feathers to butterfly wings. I still love this quilt and it hangs in my bedroom, a good wake up sentiment to greet me each morning.

What is your work like? What styles or techniques do you use?
If I were to choose several key elements that characterize my art, it would be machine quilting, color and foreign textiles. Founding Quilt for Change with my husband, Dick Wilbur, has certainly led me on a path of a series of quilts that talk about the condition of women around the world and the struggles they face (to learn more about Quilt for Change, visit our website - - or Facebook page.)
I like to have a lighter style of working as well to balance that and so have done many pieces inspired by foreign textiles and motifs. Many of these pieces make it into my lecture “Trip Around the World,” which I share with quilt guilds in New England. I have greatly appreciated our regional SAQA discussions on finding your voice as an artist and writing an artist statement. As I have begun to exhibit more outside the traditional quilt show venue, I have had to learn to write about myself and my work, which has been a struggle. The quilt below, Gifts a Mother Passes on to Her Child, was made for the Quilt for Change exhibit in 2009.
How did you learn the techniques you use?
For at least the first decade I quilted I took as many classes as I could. I was very fortunate to have Ted Storm, the Dutch quilter extraordinaire, as one of my first teachers (hand appliqué). Even though it was a short class, it gave me an example of the art of quilting that has always stayed with me. Since then I have broadened my class selections to branch into new areas - fusing techniques with Esterita Austin, painting on fabric with different mediums with Hollis Chatelain and Jamie Wallen, indigo dying with Carol Ann Gotrian, hand stitching with Anna Hergert. I am encouraged that the large quilt shows are offering more and more classes in art quilt techniques and more art quilts in their shows. I definitely prefer to take technique-based classes rather than project-based classes and now that I am teaching classes myself, I focus on techniques as well (machine quilting and sashiko classes are my most popular). I also learn so much each time I put an exhibit together for Quilt for Change. Challenge exhibits are an amazing way to see multiple interpretations of a theme and I love the reveal of seeing the varied entries.

Are you working on a particular theme or series now?

I now seem to be in the middle of a water series as there are three exhibits calling for water themes this year. Bounty of the Seas is now being shown in Geneva, Switzerland at the Quilt for Change "Water is Life" exhibit at the United Nations. I am working on an entry for our regional SAQA “Currents" and “H2O” for the national SAQA show. Even if my pieces are not accepted, I often find that having a challenge, Call for Entry, or theme helps me work.

How do you work? What is your design process?
I gather images from Pinterest, the web, books, magazines and my own photos. I then do a small study drawing, then scale it up to actual size. I often piece the background and use freezer paper to create the details which are fused on with misty fuse. More and more I am using my own hand-dyed or -painted fabric in my work. Once the top is complete I often use trapunto on larger shapes to create depth. Finally, I machine quilt it using my longarm. I use a large variety of microfilm motifs to create texture and movement. Often I quilt words into the background.

What are your sources of inspiration?
Sometimes it is a fabric, sometimes a theme. I once bought a hand embroidered piece from India at a local thrift store and put down everything I was working on to make it into a quilt. I just felt like it was shameful to have something so beautiful in a thrift shop and not being celebrated and admired. I mixed Amish style piecing with the very non-American color choices and stitching motifs to make this quilt, "East Meets West".

What is your studio like and when do you like to work?
My studio is like a tidal pool, ebbing and flowing from neat to a wreck. We moved a year and a half ago and chose a house with what has become my two-room studio off the garage. One room holds my longarm, the other is my sewing and painting area. The woman I bought the house from had a vending business, “Nifty Thrifty Dry Goods” in which she sold vintage lace, trims, buttons, fabric and much more. She was going out of business and I bought a lot of her merchandise. My studio was therefore immediately full!!!

What are your goals or aspirations for your art?
My number one goal is to follow Cate Prato’s advice “Make good art.” I am easily distracted by everything else, and need to spend more time away from my computer and in my studio. I spend a great deal of time teaching, quilting for others, organizing exhibits, and volunteering for various quilt related groups and some days I have to remind myself to take time for my own art.

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