Diana Fox has been quilting for over 40 years and now creates contemporary art quilts. Dyeing her own fabrics for just the right color, her works of art are inspired by nature. Look closely at the details on her multi-layered pieces where the background has been removed to cast shadows on the walls.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a contemporary quilter. How did you get into what you do creatively?
I began quilting in the traditional style back in the 80s when calico quilting cotton was very prevalent and one of the few quilting fabrics available. I was attending MOPS (mothers of preschool children) at a local church and some wonderful women invited me to their quilting bee, Thursday Therapy. 40-some years later we still meet, although we now have fewer members and meet less often.
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After years of following patterns, I knew that I had to find a new way of making. Art quilts were receiving a great deal of attention, and I fell in love with the creativity and freedom of expression they allowed. What began as a hobby turned into a passion and I create in some form or fashion every day, whether it’s an art date at a local museum or time in the studio.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My current series, Gifts from the Universe, is inspired by nature and this body of work is characterized by its sculptural quality and lack of negative space. It is a nod to the amazing creations of our landscape and environment.
I have observed first-hand that the tactile nature of fiber compels the viewer to examine the stitching, details, hand-made prints, etc., and ask, “How did the artist do that?” My goal is to create both an internal and external dialogue as well as to invite curiosity and reflection.
I consider myself a “quiet” activist for our planet, issuing an invitation to be in a conscious relationship with our ecosystem. The series invites the viewer to consider that we are part of nature and not separate from our earth and its wonders.
Some of the features of this work include the intricacies of the rings of a tree, an 18” blossom, a colossal sand dollar, or the beauty of a geode. My core materials for making are thread, fabric, and dye and this slow form of art is textural and multi-layered. I am committed to finding ways to employ recycled materials to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Because I have entirely removed the background, this body of work casts shadows on the wall behind it giving a slight dimensional effect. Each roundish “block” is quilted, and the edges are finished with a satin stitch. The blocks are then stitched together into a pleasing design. This process is a perfect example of letting the quilt take shape and evolve into what it needs to be.
Some of the pieces in the series are tie-dyed and thread-painted, some are raw-edge applique, some are pieced, and others I’ve utilized a paper-piecing technique.
An additional component of my creative process is that I dye my own fabrics. This allows me to have unique and custom colors and the process of transforming white cloth into brilliant hues is invigorating and adds a personalized element to my pieces.
What inspires you to create?
Creating with textiles has become such an embedded part of my life that I can’t imagine not creating. It is an essential part of my identity.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
I am most often inspired by nature, repetition, and abstracting just about any element that I can find. Certainly, color plays a large part in creating as I can often capture different emotions, such as calm or joy.
When beginning a project, do you pre-plan your entire endeavor or do you simply follow where your inspiration takes you?
Some of both. I generally have a vision of what I want to create but rarely, if ever, does the finished piece completely resemble that vision.
The Gifts from the Universe pieces are a perfect example of this. I may decide that I want to make a blue quilt or a red quilt, such as Big Blue or Red Tide. Given the irregular and unpredictable nature of tie-dyeing, I’m never sure what pattern will emerge after the final rinse. I have found that I need to dye 2-3 times as many pieces as I will eventually use so that I can achieve the desired outcome.
I know I will need around 30 blocks for a medium size piece (30” x 40”). After finishing that number of blocks and laying them out, I’ve always had to make additional blocks to fill in and complete the piece.
One of the biggest struggles is when I am required to make a quilt to fit a specific size requirement because I tend to let a quilt grow to the size it wants to be.
When making a solid plane quilt I often draw the pattern onto a template and use that as my blueprint. If I have something very specific and precise in mind this is the method that I use.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Sometimes I use a sketchbook when I’m working through random thoughts or documenting an idea. I’ve found that I use a sketchbook more often when I’m traveling. Perhaps it has to do with the freedom of being on the move or not having immediate access to the studio to work out an idea.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I’ve become more of a finisher now that I have become confident in my skill set. I believe that I have at least 5 UFO’s hanging around which I’ve started over a span of years.
Describe your creative space.
The first word that comes to mind is messy. Because I work on several projects at once I keep all my materials out and within reach for each project. I often begin a new project while having several others in progress.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works?
I’m a member of an art quilt group called 4 Common Corners, which was established during the pandemic. One of the quarterly themes was The Wisdom of Trees, which had me at loose ends as to what to make. I found inspiration on our property where we have a large woodpile that we use to partially heat our home. I visited the woodpile several times to study the character of the cut tree ends, some reaching 30” in diameter.
To obtain the texture I wanted, I chose to work with recycled materials and raw-edge appliqué. I began to wonder what the image would be, if, like the trees in the forest, the trunks barely touched. I asked, “What if I remove the negative space and work on a technique to connect the tree trunks?” That is how the Gifts from the Universe series began.
How does a new work come about?
Often one project will inspire the next, such as when I’m working in series. I usually have a running list of potential quilts to draw from.
Tell us about a time when you truly stretched yourself as an artist.
As I reflect, the years I spent studying with Nancy Crow really stretched both my mind and my skills. She is a taskmaster and didn’t settle for sub-par work. I really had to show up and be on my game in class, as well as in preparing the required homework.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
I’ve learned that I must make artwork that comes from within and celebrates my own uniqueness and authenticity. It is essential to be present with the work – creating is a total experience of body, mind, and spirit. Additionally, it’s important to be unapologetic about who we are and to develop our own voice. If others like our work, so much the better, but first and foremost we need to be pleased with our own work.
What is on your “someday” creative wish list?
I’d love to go to the Festival of Quilts in England and create Shibori in Japan. I’m also eager to explore creating 3-D pieces.
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is www.contemporaryquilter.com and my Instagram is
dianafoxcontemporaryquilter where I often post photos about inspiration or quilts in progress. I also present a lively trunk show/lecture and teach several workshops and would love to visit your group!
Other things about me:
My degree was in Organizational Development and I spent most of my paid career as a Human Resources professional. At the beginning of the pandemic, we moved to a beautiful home on 3 acres where we get to see wildlife and listen to the birds sing rather than hear traffic noise. We now have the space to foster puppies and have an apiary, and we are working on creating a large garden this year. Life is good and I’m appreciative every day.
Interview posted April 2023
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