Gyleen Fitzgerald makes quilts that blend color, pattern, and texture to provide a contemporary sensibility to traditional quilting. Her engineering tools and innovative techniques simplify the construction of visually complex quilts. She shares her enthusiasm for quilting through interactive lectures and workshops. Also a writer, Gyleen centers on haiku poetry, quilt project books, magazine articles and children’s books.
How long have you been quilting, and how did you get started?
I started quilting in 1981, wow, that seems like ages ago. I always sewed as long as I can remember; actually I did most crafts. I started quilting just after I moved from Philadelphia to Maryland. So I had no friends living close by and those I had from Philly were making babies like popcorn. I was a poor newly-minted college graduate and needed baby gifts; hence “let’s make a quilt”. I was so naïve, I could sew therefore I could quilt. Ha! I had no idea the quilt world was HUGE.
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Who or what inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
I am inspired by bold powerful women. Very few are artists, however what they have in common is the ability to see a vision of what could be. So they give me courage to walk my own path. On a more art level, geometry and balance is what captures my day dreams. I am an engineer so I see things then deconstruct them to reconstruct the elements. Sometimes I do this in a different form, and yet sometimes it’s just a mind game to develop a new process. For me it all makes sense because I’m a piecer, a precision piecer.
How does your love of haiku poetry influence your work?
Oh come on, it’s the math! The rhythm, putting an image into very few powerful words. I hope my quilts do that as well. Visually simple designs that appear structurally complex.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books and tools?
My designs are just launch points to their own art. So it’s all about the process to me. Learn the process, then the world opens to unlimited possibilities. I love teaching technique to empower.
Do you plan your work out all ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
I dive in. If I make a completely virtual quilt, I have no desire to produce it in fabric. I already know what it will look like. So the puzzle has been solved. The only time this is not the case is if I’m totally bored on a plane. Then I sketch and sketch and sketch.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
My official answer is yes! Since this is what I preach. I do finish, however some projects simmer a bit. So I don’t really think of them as UFOs. I actively work on 10 plus projects at a time. I love to finish vintage textiles as well. Heaven knows they have simmered for more than a bit.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? What does it look like?
Yes, I have a studio and it looks like a hot mess. I do my best work in very small spaces. There are 2 workstations but the space is like a shell game. It is only set up for one, me. So this doesn’t work well if my local peeps stop by to help me. When that happens we move to what I call, Studio B (basement). There they can spread out and have more breathing room. So working at home or all over the home has its benefits.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process? What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
I don’t like to see my stash when I work. I find it distracting and encourages second guessing color decisions. Therefore 95% of my stash is out of sight. I don’t store by color or size. Just get it in a box and close the lid. I would like to think my boxes are just perfect, 24” x 18” x 6”. Stackable is the key.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Of course I have tools. I’m a tool junkie. I’m a tool designer. And I’m an engineer. Or was that a trick question. 😉 Precision in cutting allows for variation in stitching.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
I use a lot of my engineering design tools. That’s what I rely on when I’m frustrated; I go back to my base for what I know for sure will work. Home Depot…a quilter’s paradise. Get a huge T-square, contractor metal tape measure and masking tape. Don’t skip the paint chips. I’m old school and love to draft or free hand sketch. Just the other day, I thought I needed a plumb to square up a large vintage quilt. So it’s going on my list.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
Silence. Just my thoughts and the hum of my BERNINA.
Technique(s)? What do you do differently? Do you have a signature? What makes your work stand out as yours?
Butterfly Seam is my signature technique for inset seams. It works perfectly, every time.
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
I’m working on a 13 block sampler right now. Calling them blocks is a loose definition. I’m not yet Zen with the rhythm of assembly. Each block, I try a different path. One has to be effortless, I just need to find it. Until then, it simmers.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
We all have it. We are born with it. Ego, peer pressure and judgement come later. That’s when we stop being creative.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
When I was 4, my mother thought she had a “special” child that wasn’t like the rest, and not in a good way. So thank heavens she did not put me in a box that was not mine. Whew!
When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?
Ha! Was that a joke? I’m lucky I get to make one quilt a year for me. One that is all mine, that no one wants me to teach. I have visions of complex geometric designs that just stay in my head. It’s okay because I still enjoy them. However, I so love to just stitch, to make a scrap quilt to honor the quilter of yesteryear. I’ve been working on a queen size pyramid quilt that is currently known as “Pesky Pyramids”. Because it uses zillions of 1.5” equilateral triangles.
If you were no longer able to quilt, how else would you express your creativity?
After I play with Ray (my sunshine), I would write, garden, knit and take photographs. I can’t sing!
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Yes to both. You can find me just by googling “Gyleen”, how cool is that? I have a one word brand. I have 5 active Facebook group pages and teach online as well as at guilds and the large shows.
Follow Gyleen in her Facebook groups!
Interview posted January, 2019
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