Spotlight: Carole Lyles Shaw, Modern Quilter, Teacher, Designer and Author

Triangle Joy

Spotlight: Carole Lyles Shaw, Modern Quilter, Teacher, Designer and Author

As a modern quilter, Carole Lyles Shaw focuses on a set of tried and true design principles, resulting in work that is a bold combination of planning and improvisation. Eager to share her knowledge and experience, Carole actively shares with other quilters through her website, blog, books, patterns, lectures and workshops.

Carole Lyles Shaw headshot

Why quilting? How did you get started?

One day, over 25 years ago, I decided to make quilts for my nieces and nephews. The idea came out of nowhere—I did not sew or even own a sewing machine. So, it started as a way of making a more personal gift for some of my favorite young people. It quickly became a way for me to express my creativity by designing patterns, making quilts and teaching! I’m still making gifts for family and special friends, by the way.

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Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can develop?

Creativity is as natural to the human mind and spirit as any other way of being in the world. In my experience, there are too many negative messages that crush our creative impulses and kill our curiosity and urge to ‘make’.

It starts in grade school when we are told that the sky is blue and trees are bigger than people and whatever rules we learn. I wish that children were taught about art – all types of art—so they can learn that the principles are there to help us understand and explore and change.

How do you define Modern Quilting? What is it about Modern Quilting that appeals to you?

My definition: I start by saying that a modern quilt is characterized by use of one or more of a set of design principles….then I list the principles. Read Carole’s full post about her interpretation of design principles for a modern quilt.

  • Simplicity and Minimalism
  • Reinterpretations of the past (using traditional blocks in a new way, for example)
  • Exaggerating/Changing/Playing With Block Scale
  • Alternative grid layouts
  • Infinite Edge [no binding and no borders OR making the binding and borders from the background fabric]
  • Asymmetry
  • Open space or negative space that covers a noticeable percentage of the quilt top—usually one color or a subtle monochromatic ombre
  • Double negative space [two colors used in nearly equal amounts. My own idea but I’m seeing it in work by others now]
  • Experimenting with block scale/size – for example, making a quilt top that is just ONE large block floating in a lot of neutral space
  • Bold, modern graphics in print fabrics [and notice the new lines of batiks coming out each year!!]
  • Modern color palette in prints and solids
  • Improvisation – being willing to experiment and play with your layout, with the fabric choices and all other aspects of your design as you go along
  • Maximalism–newly emerging trend seen in social media. See Carole’s post about Maximalism.

Modern quilters recognize but then consciously move away from traditional quilt design. There is a fuzzy, sort of gray area between the definition of a modern quilt and an art quilt. I will NOT get into that debate here…..LOL…

Modern quilts appeal to me because I feel directly encouraged to explore and change as I design and make a quilt. The boundaries are wide and porous. Quilters have been exploring these design principles for hundreds of years….it’s just that the ‘movement’ self-organized in the last 15 years or so.

Triangle Joy

Who or what are your main influences and inspirations?

I am primarily a modernist and a maximalist. I love color and complex design and am also fascinated by curved piecing.

My influences: 20th and 21st century modern art from US, Africa and Europe, especially Color Field Painters; collagists such as Romare Bearden; Renee Stout; Faith Ringgold; Sonia and Robert Delaunay; Lois Mailou Jones; Abdoulaye Konaté; and too many to list. I study contemporary/emerging art even more than I look at the work of other quilters.

If you could work with any creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?

Alma Thomas. She was a 20th century painter and collagist. She could teach me about the expected and unexpected interactions of color and about minimalism.

Beatrice Wanjiku—contemporary African painter/collagist. Her use of subtle color and references to social themes.

Is there a common thread (if you’ll pardon the expression) that runs through your books, patterns and workshops?

Yes! It is have fun and silence your inner negative critic. Activate your curiosity and willingness to experiment and learn.

Quilt by Carole Lyles Shaw

Do you have a dedicated studio space? What does it look like?

My sewing room is about 12 x 12—my sewing machine; fabric storage on shelves in a closet; ironing table (small) and cutting table (48 by 24 inches). I also have a 2nd space with a closet of fabric in bins and bookshelves on one wall. Both are repurposed small bedrooms. I am fortunate to have so much space.

How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?

I try to keep the fabric organized by type (such as solids or Moda grunge or modern prints or stripes) and then color. When I went to this organization, it helped me enormously. I usually audition lots of fabrics for every project before settling on final choices.

You have done a major studio destash and declutter project. Is it ongoing? What is the most important takeaway from your experience that might help others with the process?

My destash was great! I’ve done a destash twice before —one when I was planning to move to Florida, and a major destash after I arrived here and set up my studio space. This one was a bit different. It forced me to systematically go through all the fabric in my studio and re-organize it by type and color.

Most importantly, I had to make tough decisions about what to keep and what to sell or give away because in 2019, I plan on focusing on using more solids and tone-on-tone fabrics. Having this goal helped me decide because there were lots of prints that I knew it was time to let go of. I also knew where the gaps were in my solids and tone-on-tone stash and that will help me focus any future purchases I decide to make at local shops, QuiltCon in February, 2019, and online.

Now, destashing is ongoing for me—I want to pare down my stash by about 25% this year by either making quilts (new design samples; gifts for family and charity quilts) or giving away fabric to charity.


Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?

First, my Olfa cutter with the handle that automatically retracts. It’s safer for me to use.

Next would be my design wall—I have to use a large vertical surface because I make so many design decisions at each stage of making a quilt. Even when I have a pattern draft, I often make changes as I piece the sample quilts. I love my rotating cutting mats.

I also discovered non-slip rulers from Quilters Select. My cutting accuracy is MUCH better with these rulers when I need to be precise.

The quarter inch foot with the little flange edge on my trusty Janome –love them both.

EQ8 software has made my life so much easier as a pattern designer. It’s well worth the investment for me and I’m learning to use it much more effectively every day.

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?

Audiobooks—murder mysteries with interesting male and female detectives. I like lots of plot twists and intelligent writing. I also have a list of about 20 different podcasts that I subscribe to. They are story telling or about music and arts. Some podcasts are current events oriented. So I always have a good mix of things to listen to. I don’t watch TV or movies—I need my eyes for my work.

How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?

Yes, I always have several projects in different stages. If I am focusing on sewing one project, I like to work fast so I don’t get bored.

I have lots of design ideas in EQ8—not all will be made but this software really lets me explore and then print out options.

When you begin to create, do you have a finished product in mind? Or does the work evolve?

Yes, I have either a general sketch (made with pencil and graph paper) OR a pattern design I created in EQ8. Or both….

MidCentury Modern Curves Grafitti

How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?

When I feel satisfied. When I think it is ‘good enough’. And when my design eye/brain says that it works.

Do you enter juried shows? Do you approach your work differently for these venues?

I try to make each piece using the best of my skills. When show deadlines come up, I look at what I’ve made and decide whether to enter it. I rarely make a piece for a specific theme or juried show.

When you have time to sew for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?

I’m nearly retired from my corporate life. So, nearly all my time is ‘sew for myself time’. I make quilts to express my ideas—to bring designs to life. That’s what I do.

Tell us about your blog and website. What do you hope visitors will gain?

My goal is to help my visitors learn about what makes a quilt modern and learn about ME as a modern quilter through my work. I’m now sharing more about my process – I’m open about some of the design decisions that I make along the way for new projects.


What’s next for you?

Lots and Lots of Studio Time and Design Time!

I want to publish at least 8 or more new patterns this year. I have some great designs and now I have fewer competing demands on my time. Recently I realized that I have to make the first sample myself—and I plan on having a couple of pattern testers also work on some projects this year.

I want to explore (1) working with solids & near solids and (2) making one or two 2 color quilts. And, I want to make 2 new maximalist quilts that I really, really want to get done this year!

Interview posted February 2019

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