When you find something you love to do and it feeds you creatively, it’s okay to follow quilter and designer Erin Russek’s lead and pursue it with joy. As an appliqué artist, Erin has found a medium she loves so much she can’t keep it to herself, so she shares free lessons and tips for her signature appliqué methods on her website.
What inspires you to create?
Nature is my biggest inspiration. I’m just in love with flowers and leaves.
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How did you get started designing quilts? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
I had been working on a series of appliqué block patterns so I could practice my techniques and I wanted a larger block to set them with that would tie the design together. Instead of using another pattern from someone else I decided to turn one of many, many drawings into a pattern, and just LOVED the process!
Tell us about your first quilt. What was the design? Why did you make it? Does it still exist?
My first quilt was a queen-sized Ohio Star from Quilt in a Day. I loved the way the blocks were constructed. It was like magic! I made it for my bed because I was living in upstate New York at the time and I was freezing all the time. That was over 30 years ago and I didn’t do a good job quilting it so it fell apart.
How has your work changed over the years? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
When I first started quilting I was mostly piecing with a touch of appliqué. But now it’s mostly appliqué that I design myself. I would say my signature style is simple and whimsical.
Is there a part of your process you enjoy most? Why?
The designing and the stitching. Picking the fabrics is the most challenging.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is filled with free appliqué patterns and tutorials because I’m on a mission to get as many people appliquéing as possible! It’s not as hard as people think, so I hope they can see that by visiting my website.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Jingle Quilt: Piece & Applique a Holiday Heirloom?
I’m hoping that people can make the quilt then fall in love with combining appliqué and piecing!
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’m a planner…but I’ve learned that you have to leave a little room for some magical accidents.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do. It is my sanctuary, and it’s very neat. I cannot create when there is visual chaos.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I pre-make all my appliqués before stitching them. This technique is very user friendly and absolutely makes my designs work. To do this I cannot live without heat-resistant template plastic, an iron, starch, needles and thread.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I do use a sketchbook that I draw in almost every day. All my designs start here as doodles.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
It depends on what I am doing. When I’m designing or picking fabrics I need silence. Once I know what I’m doing and prepping my appliqué or stitching I like to have audiobooks on. It’s like story time at school but even better because I’m sewing, too.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think we are all naturally creative and once we find what we really love then it comes down to practice.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
I think people can be easily overwhelmed when being creative, so my advice would be to just do a little something, but do it EVERY DAY.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
I doodle or walk my dog or both.
If you were no longer able to quilt, how else would you express your creativity?
Perish the thought! But I hope I can draw and paint until I die.
Inquiring minds want to know. UFOs: taunts from the shadows or lessons learned?
Oh! Interesting question! I used to think I needed to finish everything I started. Now I realize that sometimes it’s wise to know when to quit, so I would say lessons learned.
Interview posted February 2021
Browse through more appliqué projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.