Try to keep up with quilter and teacher Christina Cameli. We dare you. Christina designs both improvisational and structured quilts, creates free motion quilting designs, writes books on quilting, teaches in-person and virtually and designs fabrics for Maywood Studio. Oh, and she is also a practicing midwife with an active family. Her ability to shift easily from structured to free-form work and then back again keep her creativity nimble and her ability to work with both traditional and modern quilters fresh.
What inspires you to create?
Curiosity! My creation is usually the result of this urge or instinct to make, to experiment, to try it out.
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Which came first? Women’s healthcare or quilting? Do those two passions influence each other in any way?
I was interested in midwifery before I became interested in quilting, but they have both evolved together and informed each other. I feel I am a better teacher because of the ways I’ve learned to communicate as a midwife, and I feel I am a better midwife because of how I have learned to structure information, as a quilting teacher.
Why quilting? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
I have dual love affairs with both geometry and color, and in quilting you get them both! But it’s also a very immediate medium that you touch directly, while it’s being made, rather than indirectly through a paintbrush. In addition you use it by touching it once it’s finished, instead of only looking at it when it’s done. I like the kinesthetic experience all the way around. And then there’s the resourcefulness of turning bits of fabric into something large and wonderful.
You manage to have a healthcare practice, make quilts, teach quilting, write quilting books as well as enjoy your family. Are you a Time Lord? What time management tips do you have for us mere mortals?
Maybe I could be a Time Lord! But I think I’m just a run-of-the-mill weirdo who has some convenient habits and a lot of help.
The habits that help me put more into the world are that I rarely watch TV (except for Friday night “pizza movie” nights with the family). And I don’t do that much social media. I have an uncle that jokes “TV asks so little and it gives back even less” and I think he’s right!
Also my life situation, with my kids and step-kids at their other parents’ half-time and my husband sharing all our household’s tasks, means I have time to focus on my work in a way that was harder for me in years gone by. Also this year I hired a virtual assistant who helps me with the tasky-stuff in my business. So now I can focus on bringing my new ideas into the world.
Do your books have a common theme? Which title is best for newbies? Which one do you recommend for more experienced quilters who want to stretch their skills?
All but one of my books is about quilting, and mostly about free-motion quilting. (The other one is about wedge quilts).
For people who are brand new to Free-Motion Quilting I wrote First Steps to Free-Motion Quilting.
For people who are getting comfortable and wanting to try new motifs I wrote Step-by-Step Free-Motion Quilting.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
That’s a good question. As an artist I can have a hard time seeing my work objectively. I certainly have an obsession with wedges, a pretty good color sense and a love of movement. I have a sense of the textural effect of quilting as well as a freedom in how I put my quilting motifs together in an improvisational way. Because I don’t rely on quilting for all of my income, I can keep it more art than business. That gives me a freedom that is really valuable as an artist.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
With piecing I used to be an improviser and I still do that for fun! But in the fabric/pattern world, improv is hard to package. So now I plan more upfront and tend to write the pattern first and then sew it.
In free-motion quilting I worked the opposite direction. I used to more rigidly follow designs and now I am more likely to quilt spontaneously with less planning.
What do you enjoy most about creating an improvisational quilt? How about when you create a quilt pattern designed for others to replicate?
Working with improv is all about listening to my intuition and trusting it and seeing how even when I don’t know what’s ahead, it’s usually something lovely. It is a great chance to immerse myself in color and enjoy the in-the moment discoveries and decisions and the reveal of what the work becomes in my hands.
Quilt patterns give me the comfort of a well made plan going as it should, and seeing my ideas come to life in a timely way. I can turn off my brain, do the same thing over and over, and get something beautiful. I like the idea that because I made a plan I can tell other quilters how to get the same results.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your quilts? How does a new work come about?
What a great question! I think my work usually starts either with geometric fascination (like my wedge quilts) or a particular challenge (like – can you make a cactus quilt? Or, what’s a new way to use a strip roll?). Sometimes I have had a completely new flash of inspiration, and sometimes I’m not quite done with a previous idea. So I return to it and see what else I can find as a possibility.
The process is something like: Get an idea or a curiosity. Sketch it. Imagine the process required to construct it. Try making a mock up in illustrator. Adjust or abandon plan. Try sewing the pieces together to see if the shapes actually come together the way I’m thinking. Adjust or abandon plan. Figure out how much fabric it would take and whether those are reasonable quantities and/or if reasonable quantities of fabric give a reasonably sized quilt at the end. Adjust or abandon the plan. Write out the pattern. Illustrate the pattern. Choose final colors and make the pattern. Rewrite the pattern with the things I learned/changed while making it. Reillustrate the updated pattern. Ask other people to make the pattern, then adjust or abandon the plan.
Many quilters look at free motion quilting as something in the “I-could-never” category. What three things should they know about giving it a try?
Some people have received a fear about free-motion from other quilters. But you don’t have to be burdened by other people’s anxiety and worry
Most machines can free motion quilt – maybe not the largest quilts or perfect show stoppers, but they can get the job done. So I think you can do it with whatever machine you have. But if you don’t want to right now, that’s ok too.
Whatever you put your attention towards tends to blossom, ripen, and expand. If you keep spending time with free-motion quilting you will discover yourself quilting designs that used to look impossible to you.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do! It’s a 10-foot by 12-foot room off our bedroom that used to be a sleeping porch. (Our house was built in 1910.) It has beautiful windows on two sides for lots of natural light. All those windows means it doesn’t have a great space for a design wall, but I have workarounds for that. It is small enough that I need to keep it clean to keep the work areas accessible. I love being in it whether I’m teaching or sewing.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I’m looking around right now and I think I would feel pretty stuck without my quilting gloves or my sewing machine. Anything else I could likely manage without!
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I do keep a journal with me all the time, but it’s mostly a to do list so I don’t get distracted, which is terribly easy for me. When it’s time for me to sketch I usually do that on my tablet so I know where to find it again when I need it. Drawing is a part of the process for me sometimes but not all the time. Sometimes I just design completely in Illustrator. I like for my quilting work to feel like play, so I experiment with how I approach it a lot.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
When I’m creating in the moment as in improv, it’s usually quiet. If I’m just chugging through a pattern I wrote and there’s not much to ponder, I keep an audiobook on!
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think we all have our own flavor of creativity. I also think that as we spend time using it, and learning from others about their process, we learn more how to hear how our creativity wants to come out, and how to get out of its way. So both!
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 feel pretty fascinated by Gustav Klimt and would love to understand him more.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I hope people can see some pretty things, find the info they need and sign up for a class or two! www.christinacameli.com
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Yes! I love in person and virtual events. Email me at [email protected]
Interview posted September 2022
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