Spotlight: Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry, Quilt Artist
An icon in the quilting world, Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry paved the way for lovers of machine quilting and bold design. She created quite a stir in the quilt world when her quilt Corona II: Solar Eclipse won Best of Show at the American Quilters Society show. As the first machine-quilted piece to win this coveted award, Caryl opened the door for every machine quilter who followed.
Tell us a little bit about what you are up to now!
I retired from teaching after I married my husband Ron, five years ago. I’m still making quilts and showing my work whenever I have a chance. We travel a lot, just for fun, to new (for us) places. I find lots of inspiration in our travels. I enjoy just making the quilts that are most fun and interesting for me, and not having to think about how each one will be used as a teaching tool in my next workshop. On the other hand, while I don’t miss any of the logistics involved in traveling to teach and lecture, I do miss the excitement of sharing what I have learned with people who are just starting out. To continue to satisfy my “teacher side” I am reformatting my patterns, workshops, and lectures (as time permits) and putting them on my website as free downloads. They are on my “Articles” page.
How have you balanced your personal life and your creative endeavors? Any tips for creatives just embarking on the journey of being a teaching artist?
Hmmm… I’m not sure I have ever been all that well balanced. After my first husband became disabled, it was necessary for me to earn a living, so I figured out ways to make money in the quilt biz by teaching, publishing patterns, starting an internet store, and eventually building a large, studio/gallery/workshop center in Paducah, Kentucky. Every day I had to get up, decide on my most important tasks of the day and focus on them. I did not have some of the distractions others face, since I don’t have children, and I’m not very domestic. Everything I do is related to quilting. These days I’m married to a wonderful man who supports me and encourages my creative endeavors, so I can devote my time at home to making the designs that interest me the most.
As far as advice to teachers just starting out… everyone has a different reason for wanting to teach. If you need the money, then be sure you have something to sell in order to supplement your teaching fees and choose venues where you will have several days of teaching in a row. If you don’t need the money, pick the venues where you will have the most fun, see your friends, eat the best food, etc. Listen to the questions people ask you about your work and then organize your classes around the answers if you’re not sure what to teach.
I always say “you never know where the muse is hiding”. Sometimes I get ideas from the most unlikely sources. A good example is my button weed series. And, here is another link to more of my button weed series.
Here’s a digital slide show in which I show the whole process from inspiration to the finished Button Weed quilt.
I have several more slide shows and free tutorials.
I generally have more ideas than I can possibly use, so when it’s time to begin a new quilt I try to pick the idea that seems the most fun and interesting at the time. Naturally after a lifetime of traveling all over the world, I have found lots of inspiration from the things I’ve seen and photographed. On the other hand, sometimes, as I’m making one quilt I just start wondering what would happen if I _________? I suppose it’s up to others to say if my work has evolved. One idea does lead to another, but occasionally I go back to my file folder of doodles and pick up on a sketch I started 20 years ago.
I don’t often work pictorially, but occasionally I take a photo that I want to interpret in fabric. The most recent is Lepidopteran #4.
On the other hand, I did another lepidopteran quilt the same year, and although it was inspired by a photograph, the design is completely abstract. Read the story of Lepidopteran #5.
How has your work and technique shifted over the years?
When I first began quilting, I tried every technique I heard about and used a lot of different materials. Eventually I realized that what I enjoyed the most was working with cotton fabric in a relatively conventional way. My interest is in the image I am creating and the emotional impact of the colors I am using.
Since the late 1980’s I have used only my own fabric. For many years this meant only using my own hand-dyed and painted fabrics. In 2003 I began licensing some of my hand-painted designs to Benartex and I have created a number of collections for them over the years. Since doing my first collection, many of my quilts have been a mixture of hand-dyed fabrics and the commercial fabrics from my collections. In 1989 I developed a method of joining curved templates that is fast, easy, and precise. I call it applipiecing and I have been using it and teaching it ever since.
When and how did you discover your talents for art quilts?
I can’t remember a time that I didn’t make art. Even when I was a very small child, I can remember my father giving me a pencil and paper to draw on to keep me from squirming when we were sitting in church. I just always loved making things with my hands, sewing, knitting, painting, even woodworking. Talent? I suppose I realized that I might be good at art when I started winning awards in national shows.
When was the moment that you realized you had your own voice as a quilt artist?
I think perhaps other people realize that you have a unique voice before you do. I just always did what interested me, and after a while, other people started telling me that they could recognize my work in the shows, probably because of the brilliant colors and all the curving, organic shapes.
Does your creativity come naturally or do you have to work on it?
Well some days it comes more easily than others. I do occasionally run into a creative block. I have found that the best way to get over that is to just start working, even on a small simple piece. My best ideas seem to come when I’m actually making things with my hands, rather than just thinking about them.
Why did you choose fabrics as your medium to express your creativity?
Since I was a young girl I had done both painting and sewing, as well as trying almost every other medium. In my late twenties my first husband and I bought a farm from a woman who made quilts and after seeing her quilts, I thought quilting would be one more fun thing to try. No one warned me that it was addictive. Once I started using fabric as an art medium, I found my heart.
What do you think is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Well, all of the awards that my quilts have garnered over the years have been very exciting, and I like to think that I have created some beauty in the world that will outlast me. On the other hand I suppose what has been the most satisfying has been helping other quilters find the keys to unlock their own creativity.
What is the best piece of advice you’d give a new art quilter?
Follow your heart.
Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing? Please explain.
I keep a file folder of sketches and ideas. When I’m ready for a new project I often sort through this file. I see what captures my imagination on that day.
It’s a little of each. I do a lot of playing and improvising at the drawing stage. Once I have evolved and refined a drawing, I project it onto paper and draw it full size. At that point, I know what my shapes will be, because the paper drawing gets cut up and becomes the templates for cutting my fabrics. Sometimes I plan the colors ahead of time and sometimes I just choose while I’m doing the piecing. Most of my machine quilting is just doodling with thread and making things up as I go.
In the case of one of my recent pieces, Fossil Fantasy #1, I documented the entire creative process from start to finish, including tips, techniques, and studio pictures. It’s a whole free workshop.
Do you work on one piece at a time, or have different pieces in different stages of finishing? Do some just stay in the UFO (UnFinished Object) state for long periods of time?
Most of the time I work on one piece at a time. When I first met my husband Ron, we were spending half the year in Paducah, Kentucky, and half in Port Townsend, Washington. At that time I was working on a series of sixty-five 30” square quilts for a traveling solo exhibition. During those years, I would piece the quilt tops in Paducah in the winter and quilt them in the summer in Port Townsend. Now that I’m living full time in Port Townsend, I’m pretty much back to working on one thing at a time.
What is the one tool that is essential in your studio?
Oh gosh. I couldn’t pick just one!!! I need a good sewing machine, Gingher scissors, a dependable, leak-proof iron, and a light box. There are many others, but that’s a start.
Where can people find your work?
Every quilt I have ever made, that I took photos of, is on my website, with full documentation. In many cases I have included original sketches, progress photos, photos of the original inspiration, etc., etc. I like to keep the story with the quilt.