Spotlight: Candyce Copp Grisham, Fiber Artist and Author
Candyce Copp Grisham has taken the classic Dresden quilt block and transformed it into a bright, cheery and versatile design element. She is enthusiastic about her discoveries and shares them in workshops and new book.
Why textiles and quilting? Why Dresdens? How did you get started?
I have always been a sewer! When I was nine, I started making jumpers, shirts and other clothes. I saw an ancestor’s quilt at the Smithsonian when I was 13 and that totally hooked me on quilts. Then I taught myself to quilt from books in high school and never stopped. I have always loved to play with, cut up and sew fabrics, and quilting is my go-to place.
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Once I mastered the how-to of piecing and quilting, I started playing with changing traditional patterns into something new, contemporary, different, modern or transitional. I love log cabin quilts and have played with improv, curved and different settings.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
When I started experimenting with the Dresden design, I wanted to figure out how to make different sizes and edge treatments by machine. I had no idea where it was going to go. I grabbed a pile of fabrics (all Kaffe Fassett line) and started making Dresden plates. They ranged from 22” round to 4” round. Once I completed them, I played with the layout. I didn’t want it to be traditional, so I overlapped and layered and tried out different backgrounds. The Modern Dresden was born.
I couldn’t stop there. I continued to experiment/design more layouts, different piecing within the wedges and even different uses for the wedge that creates the plate. And I haven’t grown tired of it yet. I consider this an artistic series. Use the wedge for straight lines as in borders, rows or simple table runners. You can further piece parts of Dresden wedges within each wedge to create completely different looks. Layouts range from 3 plates to 45 depending on the size and desired result.
What makes a successful quilt?
A successful quilt is: one I love that feels balanced in color, value and layout. It is made with good techniques and is put together well and finished. Piecing, appliqué and quilting are balanced. The fabrics need to make me love them and feel good when I see them.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Dresden Quilt Blocks Reimagined?
I love teaching the Dresden blocks/quilts as a workshop for 1-3 days. It encourages creativity and play. It works for confident beginners and experienced quilters. I teach many little tricks and techniques, so students go home with some ah-ha tools. One uses a seam ripper in a stand to cut threads when chain piecing. I have made a wooden pressing bar which I sell for pressing open seams. I invented a small cardstock template to help get evenly pressed points on the Dresden with points. My book, Dresden Quilt Blocks Reimagined shares these and other tips.
My book is not so much a project book as it is a technique book. It lets the reader learn the basic technique and then go from there to create a unique result. I don’t want readers to feel this is a “pattern” book. It shows how to make the basic plates, expand on edge designs and pieced wedges and then encourages creativity in the final product.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? What does it look like?
I am lucky to have a large space to work in. One area focuses on fabric and piecing. I have a wall system of pull out wire drawers for my fabric which is sorted by color and fabric type (African, batik, Kaffe). My patterns and books are on a bookshelf, and I have a medium size cutting table. I sew with my older, trusty Bernina 1230. I bolted two insulation sheets covered with batting to the wall as a design and inspiration space.
A Gammill longarm (I used to quilt for other people) occupies other space with room for supplies such as fusibles, backings and battings. I have an additional small space for painting, dyeing, stamping – fabric mixed media. My husband and I share this space in our lower level, his for music and mine for art. I don’t limit myself to one kind of quilting – I love all fabric art and do quite a bit of fiber art as well as piecing. (The Gemini in me loves both sides). I experiment with techniques that create fiber art – still always back to fiber. I love taking several-day workshops from teachers I admire (Jean Wells for example) to really delve in and build my own interpretation.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
I work 95% of the time in my “studio” and occasionally at retreats. When I am in my studio, I find that I spend more time thinking about something new, making rough sketches and trying out different samples before I go to the final product. Once I am going for the final it usually comes together quickly. I have learned that if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t and then I’m in the right place to revamp it. I usually design in my sketchbook journal with a rough sketch, and then proceed to fabric.
If you were no longer able to quilt, how else would you express your creativity?
If I couldn’t quilt? I can’t imagine but I would probably find other ways to express my creativity. Gardens, hand stitching, drawing, photography. Although I often take hand stitching with me on trips I rarely do it. I just take it in case! I like to take photographs and play with images and inspirations that I can take back to the studio. Color in nature is especially inspiring to me.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have? Do you focus on one piece from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
I have various projects in various stages of completion. This works for me. I can always work on something depending on my timing, frame of mind and deadline. I get a lot done because I seldom waste time.
So when asked, “How long did it take to make that?” I usually answer 50 years. But that doesn’t mean 50 continuous years on a single piece. A lot of time at the sewing machine goes into being comfortable with my skill level and expertise. This gives me confidence to step outside the box when I teach. Students tell me I am a patient, confident, encouraging teacher.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe people can learn a lot from basic principles of design and skills. Yes, some people are more “Creative” – I believe their vision is different. I also truly believe you must do the work, rely on yourself to reevaluate and occasionally rely on others to help you figure something out. Basic problem solving comes into play.
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
One of my recent challenges was creating a three-dimensional piece, a fiber totem. It just wasn’t working, and I had to admit that, reevaluate and re-plan. Instead of proceeding with my original plan and theme, I stopped, found the problem and determined how I could change it. I was able to cut the piece down, still add the elements that made it work and move on. I am happy with the results.
What’s next for you?
I hope to continue with some new Dresden quilt designs, focusing on some of the pieced wedge blocks, some different backgrounds, using different fabrics for the same quilts, and I have a design in mind for a large quilt. I plan to teach and develop more multi-day teaching workshops and generally share my love of quilting. Also, I teach other classes besides the Dresden plate, but that is my most popular. I have programs developed for Dresden Blocks & Quilts, Creativity & Tools of the Trade.
Interview posted July 2019
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