Spotlight: Cheryl Malkowski, Quilt Designer
Hooked on quilting from the moment she tried it, Cheryl Malkowski has crafted a career from her passion. In addition to designing for fabric companies, Cheryl shares her enthusiasm for precise piecing and yes-you-can free-motion quilting techniques through her books and classes.
How long have you been quilting? How did you get started?
I started quilting in 1993 when a group started up at my church. At once I was addicted to the process and eager to go off script. I started two quilts simultaneously for my kids, and, while I made the first one according to the pattern, on the second one, I couldn’t resist making the colors gradate across the whole quilt.
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Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?
As a child, I did a lot of drawing and coloring with crayons and pastels. My girlfriend and I also made little dresses for our troll dolls with bits of felt, lace and fabrics we found in her mom’s sewing basket.
How is your work different now than it was in the beginning? How is it the same?
In the beginning, I worked mostly with traditionally printed fabrics and made quilts from other people’s patterns. Often, my choice of materials was not the highest quality. Once I started using batik fabric, I rarely make anything from any other kind of fabric.
About 4 years into my quilting journey, I worked really hard on a quilt that had certain fabrics fade drastically in a matter of months. Now I only use the best I can find. And it is very unusual for me to make a quilt designed by someone else. I have to really love it, because once I have seen something finished, I’m usually done with it.
Doodle Quilting Mania builds on the concepts and designs included in Doodle Quilting, so yes, I recommend tackling Doodle Quilting first. The basic concept of both of these books is that by learning a few simple shapes, and I mean really learning them, backwards, forwards and sideways, a person can then put a string of them together in any size for any purpose one might have in a quilt.
What is the biggest challenge beginning machine quilters face?
The biggest challenge facing beginning machine quilters, in my opinion, is the fear of not knowing where to go next. This can be resolved by really learning the different motifs you will use. Once you know a motif and understand how it works, you will be able to make better decisions while you quilt, in order to fill your space or purpose. Being able to draw the shapes is the first step. Translating that into quilting is the next step, made easier by having command of the motifs.
There are some motifs that start and end in the same place, or nearly the same place. I call these Boomerangs. There are others that you can use to go all the way around a quilt without starting and stopping. I call these Travelers. Most allover quilting designs are a mix of these.
There are some designs that start in one place and end on the other side of the motif. Knowing where you are going to end up is a really valuable piece of information when you are looking to fill a certain area. For example, if you have space that needs to be filled to your left and you are using a motif that starts on one side and ends on the other, it would be best to start that motif on the right so that you end up on the left to fill that space. I know that is pretty basic, but if you realize you have that option, it can make your life much simpler!
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do. We used to call it the family room! Over the years, I have inched my way into the whole room. Sorry, not sorry. I have a long arm machine, a sit down mid arm quilting machine set into an antique library desk, upper cabinets around half of the room, a large, U-shaped desk that I had made by a friend, with a raised cutting surface. There is a design wall and a pressing center made from a mission style buffet. The desk area with the sewing machine and computer is light and bright, looking out onto the only garden I have that is safe from dogs and wildlife.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
Buy more cabinets? Is that a tip? It works for me! I keep my fabrics sorted by color, mostly in rectangular baskets from Ikea on shelves inside a barrister’s bookcase. Or in buffet drawers, or in cabinets, hmm, sometimes in furniture! Who says you can’t use a trunk for a coffee table?
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I design pretty much everything I make using Electric Quilt software. This has been really important for me when working with fabric companies because they want to see what the quilt will look like when it is done. And I can see which fabric works best in which place.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but I love my non-computerized, simple straight stitch sewing machine! It has a knee lift for the presser foot for easy chain piecing, goes really fast, and has a mechanical thread cutter. Simple, easy, quick!
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
I love my camera for decisions I can’t seem to make in EQ. When I take a picture of fabrics I am auditioning for a border and then load it onto my computer, somehow taking all the surrounding stuff out of the way makes the decision more obvious when I look at it on the screen.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? What kind?
When I’m writing, silence. When I am piecing, old movies or TV shows where I already know the characters so I don’t have to watch, or be concerned if I miss something. But when I am quilting, I either listen to an audiobook, usually a mystery, or a mix of lots of different kinds of music so it doesn’t get boring.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
I make time for creating by just going downstairs into my studio. Everything else kind of disappears when I’m in there. I WANT to create daily, but some days have other priorities, so I don’t concern myself with that too much.
When you begin to create, do you visualize the finished piece? Or does the work evolve?
Depends on the purpose of the project, whether it will be planned or evolve. When a project is for someone else, or a company or a book, I generally have it planned in advance. For myself, I may get a general idea of what I’m up to, then make the elements and see how they work best together.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
My biggest challenge has been learning to work with LOTS of different fabrics in the same quilt, like a whole collection of Batiks. I learned to organize them by value, and make some movement happen in the quilt using those differences in value to my advantage.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I used to think that we were all the same in that regard. But the longer I worked at this, the more I realized that it really did come easier to me than to some of the people I have taught. I am a firm believer that you can learn these things.
Specifically, I hear people say they are not artistic all the time, but they dressed themselves that morning, and they look fine, so there is some creativity at work there. And then, relating to machine quilting, there is the fact that they know how to write their name in cursive. That requires a smooth line and curls. So that is a starting point for learning to do free motion machine quilting.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
When I am stuck, I go visit a gallery or museum with other artistic media, like to a glass-blower’s studio, or a gallery full of paintings. Sometimes, a walk in the forest or on the beach can also be helpful.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
I would want to interview Claude Monet if I could. Having visited his gardens and seen his paintings, there is something about the way he played with light and color that I find breathtaking. The only painting I found myself weeping in front of, for the beauty of it, was his.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I love to lecture and teach. Getting to witness the light bulb moment, when a student finally gets a technique, is one of the best things in life! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. My Facebook page, where I normally post whatever I’m up to, is here: www.facebook.com/cherylmalkowski.quilting. My website: www.cherylmalkowski.com, and my Amazon Author page: www.amazon.com/author/cherylmalkowski
Interview posted December 2019