With an ongoing love for learning new techniques and a passion for the work of unsung textile artists of the past, Allie Aller creates fiber art that blends those two sensibilities. She uses the timeless design principles she learned in college to create enduring art.
How long have you been stitching? How did you get started?
I learned to knit when I was 5 and have had some kind of needle and fiber moving through my hands ever since then….6 decades now. Cross stitch, embroidery, quilting in many genres, weaving, embellishment. I was a design major in college, and I still use the basic education I received there to this day.
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What inspires you?
Color inspires me the most—in landscapes, weather, skies, gardens, seasons. I live in the country up on a hill and am lucky to be surrounded by these elements all the time. I grow a lot of flowers—the climate here in SW Washington is great for that.
Also, I have always been completely turned on by fabric, and have quite the stash to prove it! These days that same passion has been focused on vintage textiles and how I can incorporate them into my work in my own original ways. The blending of the work of our anonymous stitching sisters from the past with my own is a very moving and thrilling experience for me.
Are there recurring themes in your work?
Flowers for sure. I think that combining textile elements in unusual ways recurs as a theme as well. My 15 years focusing solely on crazy quilting set the stage for that, combining different fabrics, weaves, textures…. Doing this creates its own kind of narrative, which I love. It’s kind of like poetry to me.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your style, what would they say?
I suppose that my work is generally very happy, and leans towards the “pretty”. I just aspire to make functional and decorative objects that are as beautiful as I can manage, full of energy.
Tell us about winning your first major award at a national quilt show. Is it still a thrill?
My first major award was in 2003 from the American Quilters Society, taking 2nd Place in the Crazy Quilt category they had at their (then) Nashville show. I had made a large wall quilt combining crazy quilting with a landscape aesthetic, trying to create a piece that was both abstract and representational at the same time. It was about Lake Michigan, where I grew up, and which I missed very much (having moved to the Pacific Northwest as a young woman.) The quilt took me a year to make….and I was absolutely delighted that “Summer Lake Day” took a prize.
How has the legacy of quilters who have gone before you informed your work?
It is so intriguing to me, how mainstream design and construction in quiltmaking has evolved over the last 150 years or so here in America. I love seeing how trends and fads move through the collective “consciousness” of work being done by hundreds of thousands of quilters. It feels like today we can draw from a very, very deep well.
In what ways have you modernized traditional approaches to quilting?
The tools I have speed things up beyond our great grandmothers’ wildest dreams. The choices I have of what to work with are practically unlimited now, and we are all exposed to infinitely more variations and innovations in people’s work via the internet than ever before. It is as though our freedom is truly unlimited….but at the same time, as Joe Cunningham says, “Quilting is in America’s DNA”. The patterns are timeless, many of the same ones universal in other cultures, too. I build with them, always.
The free online resource, The Quilt Index, has over 90,000 documented quilts from museums, collections, and state study projects. It is a goldmine for inspiration and study!
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
A person may not be born with musical talent, but if she loves music so much that she listens every day and practices on her own instrument, my guess is she will inevitably become creative in the music she plays, and better and better at it too. I see quilting exactly the same way. So I do practice a lot, and I love it a lot. Therefore I would say my creative ability is not innate; I have worked at it all my life. But, importantly, my passion for creativity IS innate. I’ve always had that, have always been driven to make things. My cousin Tracy is a born artist—everything she touches is magically original and so cool. She was definitely born with pure talent.
How would you say your creativity has evolved over the years? What triggered the evolution to new ways of working?
Ah, the muse! She leads me from somewhere deep inside, so I follow as best I can without understanding how any of that works. I do know how to pay attention to her very closely by now, and not force things, but rather follow her natural direction, as fast and as hard as I can. She takes me lots of different places, and I get a lot done, so changes in my work can happen fairly quickly.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Improviser, totally. Except now I have taken up a serious study of free motion quilting, which I resisted for a long, long time. But currently it is a design element I need in my work, so I need to develop my skills. Also, this involves marking my quilts ahead of time. I never used to do that!!!
Do you focus on one piece from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
I am absolutely a monogamist quilter, one project at a time from start to finish.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
Most definitely a finisher. I have just three tops that need quilting, but that is because I’ve been afraid I’ll wreck them until I get better at the quilting part. This combination of Broderie Perse and Crazy Quilting top is one example. But I’ll get there!
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, how is it organized?
Yes, I have a sewing room. It has windows on two sides looking out over the Washougal River Valley through the treetops on our hill. I have the best room in the house. It has a design wall, and the other wall has bins and shelves. Also, my fabric is in bins under the tables; in the adjacent living room there is an armoire with all my vintage textiles in it but I seem to be outgrowing that….
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and other creative supplies?
Fabrics and threads are sorted according to “type” and color in clear bins so I can easily see what’s in there, but I store them out of the light. My sewing room does not look very organized, but I know where everything is!
If you could have just 5 items in your studio, what would they be and why? How do they improve your work?
1. Design wall. I have to be able to see my project on the wall while I am designing and making it.
2. Very large table. I can set up cutting, ironing, and sewing areas on the same surface so that there is no time or motion wasted when things are happening fast.
3. The best possible array of sharp scissors – no explanation needed there.
4. Accurate, thick, huge cutting mat and huge square rulers. Keeping things squared up and straight is vital so that what is going on in the design can come through. Poor craftsmanship detracts from even the best design.
5. My Bernina 770 QE. I love my “Tuna Boat” (my name for it because it is so huge and heavy.) Because it does whatever I ask of it, and I ask a lot.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
Silence, or Dodger baseball, or rain and wind. That’s it!
When you travel, do you stitch on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
I do. In a soft tote I bring whatever I’m stitching on, scissors, glasses, an assortment of hand sewing needles, a marking pen and small templates, (crazy quilters have wonderful templates for marking seam stitching patterns) and the threads I think I might use.
Tell us about your blog. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My blog, AlliesinStitches, has been fairly moribund over the last few years, as I prefer to post on Facebook and Instagram. But it has a huge body of work on it, with key words on the right side of the page for easy access to techniques of interest. My son is a software guy and he coded that for me.
But I post what I’m working on all the time (also garden pictures, of course). I love my interaction with friends and viewers.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I am currently “on sabbatical” from teaching and lecturing, concentrating on building a new body of work for what I hope will be my fourth book. I will be at the International Quilt Festival in Houston this fall though (2019) demo-ing my stained glass technique in the Oliso Home booth (they make very cool irons) and also in Deborah Turner Ursell’s booth of vintage textiles, stitching on examples and talking vintage with all who come by. Come see me!
Here is a 2 minute You Tube of my Special Exhibit at Road to California of all my Stained Glass Quilts:
Finally, I have begun to accept commissions. My latest was a wall hanging for Camp Newaygo, a summer camp in Western Michigan, where it now hangs in their lodge. What a great project that was! So contact me at [email protected] if you are interested in pursuing a project of your own with me.
Interview posted August 2019.
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