Spotlight: Geraldine Warner, Fiber Artist
Fiber artist Geraldine Warner had never quilted, but knew she wanted to somehow paint with fabric. Working mostly with silk, she immerses herself in every part of the creative process, from initial design concept to the integral free motion machine quilting.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person? How long have you been quilting? How did you get started?
I have created with art and sewing all my life, though I chose journalism as a career. I grew up in England and recall that when young I had a strong urge to make pictures out of fabric rather than paint, but I knew nothing about quilting or how to pursue that idea.
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For several years, while in my 20s, I worked in Paris and spent every spare moment painting or visiting museums and galleries. I have lived in the United States since 1986. When our daughter took up ice skating, I enjoyed making costumes and props for competitions and shows.
When she stopped skating, about 15 years ago, I looked for something else creative to do and decided to try to make a quilt out of scraps of stretch velour—the only fabric I had. Encouraged by the result, I continued making quilts, often using unconventional fabrics. For a time, I sewed pieces of recycled aluminum cans in my quilts along with new, recycled and hand-dyed silk fabrics. But the aluminum bent when anyone folded the quilts – a problem. I still use mainly silks.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I sketch potential quilt ideas but sometimes the drawing just serves as a starting point for a quilt. When I’m working intuitively, I find a rough sketch to be extremely helpful because it gives me an idea of where to begin. Even though I might not follow the sketch once I get going, it’s there to help me get back on track if I get stuck. I’m not good at following a pre-set plan but just working intuitively without any preconceived idea has not been a successful approach for me either.
What inspires you?
The natural world inspires me because leaf and flower motifs and sometimes birds frequently appear in my quilts. Art of any kind inspires me. I would love to make quilts that look more painterly, but it’s proven more challenging than I imagined.
Does your work have stories to tell?
Although I’ve done some figurative quilts, I prefer abstract. Usually, I prefer to translate a mental image or idea into reality. That, to me, is the magic of being an artist in any medium—to convert an idea into an actual piece of work you can share with others and that is open to their interpretation.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
The process begins with applying fusible interfacing to my selected fabrics. Then I start cutting and piecing as you would with cotton fabrics. I love curves so it’s very similar to tailoring. Making a quilt can be like setting in perhaps 30 or more sleeves of various shapes and sizes without a pattern, but, strangely, I find it enjoyable and satisfying.
It’s rare that I start a quilt without at least a concept, but as the piece develops I try to be in tune with how it wants to go. I love unexpected developments. Often a hitch will turn out to be an exciting opportunity to add an impromptu creative element or go off in a new direction.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your work, what would they say?
They would probably mention my emphasis on free-motion quilting, and the silk fabrics I use enhance that. I enjoy quilting as much as I like making the quilt top and don’t think of them as two separate processes. To me, the quilting is part of the design.
Do you enter juried shows? Do you approach your work differently for these venues?
Entering judged shows is not something I think about while working on a project. When I’m done, if I think it’s show worthy I will enter it where I think it’s appropriate. I find feedback from judges very helpful. For example, comments some years ago about how I began and ended my quilting stitching made me pay more attention to that detail, which has improved the look of my quilting. That’s something my friends probably wouldn’t have mentioned.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
While I’m making one quilt, I’m often thinking about the next but I usually only make one quilt at a time—unless it’s not going well and I have to put it in a time out. I might have a hand-stitching project going on at the same time, just for a change of pace or so I can step away from the sewing machine.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I sew in a small room in our home that used to be our office. Now, it’s a studio/office. It’s smaller than I would like ideally, but it beats sewing on the dining room table and clearing away every meal time like I used to do. I have an extremely small design wall so I lay my projects on the floor. I think if you have the drive to create, you can overcome the obstacles.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I tried listening to audiobooks while quilting, but each time I reached a decision point in my quilt I lost the plot of the book. Same with podcasts. I just enjoy background music that I might or might not be conscious of. I usually have National Public Radio’s classical music playing.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
My chalk liner is one of the handiest tools I have. I use it to mark cutting and sewing lines. Because the chalk brushes off easily, I can use it to audition various options. I also use it to mark general quilting lines. My most essential material is interfacing, which I buy by the bolt. I interface all the silks before using them.
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 have always admired Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry, who has been making spectacular ground-breaking quilts for over 40 years and continues to evolve and impress with her creativity. I love the bright colors and the flow in her work. Another quilt artist I admire is Sheila Frampton Cooper. The spontaneity of her work as well as her color palettes intrigue me.
Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a single mentor, but as a member of a small group called the Wenatchee Art Quilt Organization (WAQO—pronounced wacko), I receive invaluable encouragement, inspiration and support.
What areas of your work do you hope to explore further?
I’ve always liked three-dimensional artwork. Adding a third dimension opens up a whole new range of design possibilities—and challenges. I am contemplating more sculptural pieces but of a different kind from my bowl series.
Interview posted July 2020