Like many Modern Quilters, Debbie Jeske began quilting with traditional patterns and techniques. But once she knew the “rules”, she decided to experiment with breaking them and now creates quilts that she pieces improvisationally. But don’t be fooled into thinking that improvisation means random. There is a method behind Debbie’s design process. She sets parameters for herself, then feels free to stray from the traditional within her own guidelines. The resulting fiber art is vibrant, cohesive and uniquely Debbie.
How did you get started quilting? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
I started quilting because of a friend’s prompting. I had admired her quilts, and she suggested I learn and then we could do it together. So I took a beginning quilting class, and haven’t really stopped since. When I began, years ago, I was a very traditional quilter, but about 10 years ago, I discovered the modern quilting movement, and though I had been a sewist and crafter since an early age, it was during that time that I began to accept that I was indeed, an artist.
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Who or what are your main influences and inspirations?
Now, as then, it is other makers, who open my eyes to the possibilities, both in design and technique.
Compare the quilts you made at the beginning, the quilts you made 10 years ago and the quilts you make today. How are they different? How are they similar?
When I began quilting, every stitch was by hand, and I made very traditional blocks and patterns. Every quilt included sashing and borders, and fabrics were all prints.
10 years ago was when I began dabbling in the modern aesthetic, I tried solid fabrics for the first time. I took classes and joined bees to have exposure to more “modern” designs, including improvisation. By now, everything was machine-pieced, and I was just getting comfortable machine-quilting my quilts.
Currently, I use a lot of solids in my work, and the majority of it is improvisational or modern traditional. Sashing and borders are rare, and I machine-quilt nearly all of my own quilts. What has remained similar throughout my quilting life is my 2” cut binding, though now it is usually cut straight of grain, where for years, I cut it on the bias, just like I learned in that beginning quilting class.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes and no. My husband and I share an “office”, and one half of that room is my studio. He jokes that he’s relegated to one small corner of the room, and that isn’t far from the truth. So yes, it’s half of a room, but with dedicated cutting, sewing, and pressing stations as well as a large closet that holds my stash and supplies.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Obviously, all the basics are imperative, but I think my hera marker was really life-changing, as far as my quilting process goes. It removed a lot of the stress I experienced with marking and has helped me have better results overall.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I do not. I have a sketchbook, but I rarely use it. And instead of a journal, I use my blog to keep track of all of my work, documenting processes and techniques for future reference, as well as all of my finished projects – quilts and other sewn items.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
Most often, I choose one or more fabrics, possibly an inspiration prompt, and just start playing. I feel like my rotary cutter and cutting board are my “sketchbook”, along with my design wall where I like to start building and see what I come up with. I’ll take phone photos before rearranging things; often many, then peruse them to see what is most speaking to me. I also leave pieces on my design wall for days (or occasionally for weeks) so I can see it often and mull over where I want to go next.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
Honestly, it’s pretty random. Inspiration-wise, I’ve run the gamut of being inspired by another person’s work, a style, something in nature, a food item, a specific technique or a photo. As far as process, I usually create a pile of blocks or slabs that fit within the current focus, and then go to my design wall before deciding where to go next. It’s usually pretty fluid, and the direction could change at any stage.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Folks have told me that they recognize my work before they know it’s mine. I don’t really “see” that, but if I do anything differently, it’s that I’m willing to try anything and just see what happens. I do love maximalism, as well as creating a piece and then cutting it up to create a new thing.
As far as techniques, there is one finishing touch that I am kind of known for… and that would be matched binding. Tutorials for both Straight Matched Binding and Angled Matched Binding are on my blog. Also, I hosted a Crosscut quilt along several years ago, and my tutorial for Crosscut blocks is still being used regularly. I enjoy seeing those quilts pop up in my Instagram feed!
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
I follow folks on social media that do what inspires me, I take classes and refer to books. And then I experiment with fabric.
Is there a part of your process you enjoy most? Why?
I think the beginning – the fabric pull and initial piecing (that sense of promise!); and the ending – binding, and seeing my ideas and effort played out.
Interview posted August 2021
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