As an art teacher, Amanda Nadig inspires her young students to create in ways that are important to them. As a textile artist, Amanda is most at home in the quilt medium, slow-stitching repurposed materials into new works of art. And the bonus for her students? They get to create with Amanda’s leftover materials, fostering a new generation of fiber artists.
Before becoming a quilter, I painted with acrylic on wood. I used to build up paint and sand away layers, add more, sand more. I took a lot of time mixing custom colors that I wanted to pair together. Then I had to wait for the paint to dry between layering.
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When making a quilt, I can add and remove shapes almost immediately, and the colors are already “mixed” and ready to use. My materials are practically free because I source most of my materials secondhand. I can create interesting effects by layering different opacities of fabrics to reveal or conceal what is underneath. That process is much like the effect a wash of paint can achieve!
Quilting fits easily into my family life. I can sew in my living room while waiting for dinner to cook or quilt while my son is snuggled next to me drawing or reading. My artwork is portable: I can make art in the car, at the doctor’s office, and outside at the park. And best of all, the repetitive motion of a running stitch slows me down, keeps my hands busy and takes my mind away from things I might worry about other times of the day.
Where do you source the materials you use in your work?
I visit estate sales and thrift stores often to refresh my collection of secondhand fabrics (clothing, pillowcases, sheets). And then when I get bored with fabrics in my studio, they get donated to my art classroom. Then my students get excited about their “new” material to work with!
Even though I prefer to not buy new fabric, I’ll sometimes buy cotton muslin for backing quilts as well as batting or wadding. But this recorded conversation with Carol Paik called “Batting Practice” has me considering the many alternatives to store-bought batting.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Both! I’d say I’m an improviser because I never know what a piece will look like until it’s finished. I’m pretty impulsive and would rather just dive into the creation process. I prefer to cut and sew and not worry if it’s going to lead to a successful piece or not. This mindset takes the pressure off and is the reason I am always making so much new work.
On the other hand, I am a total planner when it comes to curating fabrics for a quilt. I want to have complete control over the feel, color, and shape of the fabrics I work with in a quilt while allowing for chance to happen in other areas of the process along the way.
These curated piles usually feature muted fabric, some pops of color, some variation in textures, and several values and intensities of one color. Ironing the scraps in the piles to discover what shapes they’re already in is my next step. Then I’ll sew a few pieces together and just see where that leads! Shapes sewn together lead to bigger, more interesting shapes and ideas. Then I just keep arranging them on my floor in different ways until I’m really excited about a composition.
How do you know when a quilt is finished?
I look for a comfortable balance. I work a lot with asymmetry, balancing the denser areas with the larger spaces and shapes. After I finish hand quilting, I step away and make sure there is not too much visual weight in one area. I can fix any issues by adding denser quilting or contrasting thread. I’ll often photograph a quilt I feel is finished (on the floor and outdoors in natural light). When I view it that way, I notice if the quilt “needs” anything more.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
The first time I collaborated with my children on a quilt was early in the pandemic; we were all on lockdown. I was carefully weighing what I could control and what I couldn’t control. With the extra time to quilt, I took over our living room floor and kitchen floors with patchworks. Since we were all trapped in this space together, I gave my sons scissors and invited them to cut into a quilt top I had made. Then I allowed those holes to guide my composition!
For the next month, I incorporated all the techniques to “repair” this quilt top. I used hand appliqué, reverse appliqué, embroidery as well as mending techniques like patches and weaving. I allowed my quilt to be cut apart and I could not control where those cuts occurred. My youngest son started cutting the largest hole in my quilt top and I almost jumped to stop him. But I refrained myself and trusted the process. That’s what a collaboration is. I was embracing chance, welcoming the unknown, and making the best of what was handed to me. I love this quilt; it’s a real snapshot of that time for my family in the early stages of the pandemic.
Is teaching art in a public high school what you expected it would be?
When I started out as an art teacher, I thought I was supposed to have all the answers and that my job was to teach my students technical skills to make “good” art. But this is very different from what I now feel my role is!
My job is to show up daily to create an inviting and safe space where my students learn tools to make successful work they are proud of. I design lessons that challenge and incorporate found materials a lot. But my goal is that everyone’s work ends up looking unique at the end. It’s important that they know I am not the expert and that we all solve creative problems differently. That makes for an awesome classroom community! There is a lot of giving each other feedback, a lot of experimenting and my students know that the process is just as important or more than their end product.
I have worked into my quilts a lot of techniques I’ve practiced first in my classroom, such as printmaking, sculpture and texture, drawing and painting, embroidery and collaboration. It’s hard for me to get through a day of teaching without a student giving me an idea for something I want to go home and incorporate into my own work! So to sum it all up, it’s a lot like the quilt community on Instagram! We encourage and inspire one another!
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
I have some powerful magnets that I love for picking up stray needles I leave on the couch, floor and other places in the home. They even suck up needles from between the floorboards! I also love my handmade paper mâché shelves that I use for storing my hand quilting threads! It allows me to see all the colors I have to work with and it is long and narrow so it fits between two windows on my studio wall. I first got the idea to make cardboard custom shelves from quilter Heidi Parkes. (Read our interview with Heidi on Create Whimsy.)
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I set up my website in 2020, and it really began as an archive of my finished work, while my Instagram feed @amandanadigart has been a place to record and share my artistic process. Now that I have been moving towards exhibiting my work more and applying to artist residencies, it is nice to have a portfolio and artist resume as well as a space where folks can contact me about commissions and exhibitions. I’ve also been selling my work on Etsy, but I’m working on moving my work to my shop on my website. It feels really special to mail my work to new homes!
Interview posted May 2022
Browse through more quilt projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.