An early education in oil painting gave Heather Black an appreciation for strong design principles. She carried that love of composition with her into the world of quilting where she translates her attraction to strong graphics into the soft medium of fiber. With fabric as her canvas, Heather has given up the chore of cleaning brushes!
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I’ve always been creative, and thankfully my parents recognized that at an early age. When I was in elementary school my mom signed me up for oil painting classes. I loved them and continued to oil paint through my 20’s and only gave it up because, honestly, I hated the cleanup which often meant that I ruined my brushes and brushes are expensive. When I started quilting, I hadn’t had a creative outlet for years and instantly fell in love with the entire quilting process, from inspiration and designing to the final stitch in the binding.
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How does your background as a painter influence your quilt making?
My early introduction to painting definitely piqued my curiosity about design composition. This curiosity helped me look for design principles in my everyday life. From overhearing conversations between adults to watching Bob Ross, I continually hunted for what made a painting say what I wanted it to say. As I began designing and making quilts, I used all these tips and tricks. I looked at the quilt as a giant canvas.
Where do you find inspiration for your quilt designs?
Many of my quilts are inspired by fond memories growing up or reading about historical events, but I also am inspired by the process. I like designing quilts and even though these quilts don’t have an inspiration story behind they still have the love of creating inspiring them.
Is there a signature theme that connects all of your work?
If you were to ask someone familiar with my work over the years they may say that the quarter circle or Drunkard’s Path is my signature but I have just as many quilts and quilt patterns without any curves so I’m not sure that fits. I think more and more my signature is an unexpected color palette and a mix of values to create depth and movement.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’m a planner! I even plan my improv sewing. It’s just how my brain works. I find I’m more creative when I have a set goal that I’m trying to achieve. I like knowing where I’m headed rather than seeing where the project takes me.
There are many quilting styles – why does modern quilting appeal to you?
I love the clean lines of modern design. My house reflects a more modern decorating style with a little bohemian mixed in. I don’t know if I’m so much drawn to modern quilting as much as I’m just making what I like, which happens to be more modern.
You do a lot of curved piecing. Do you have any advice for quilt makers who find curves challenging?
I think the biggest challenge for people struggling with curve piecing is thinking of it as if it is essentially different from straight piecing. Whether piecing curved or straight seams, the quilter sews one stitch at a time. Different techniques help control where the next stitch will go, like pinning, stitching more slowly or shortening the stitch length. All of these techniques are useful in straight piecing, adding to efforts to feel more in control.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Design, Make, Quilt Modern?
That no matter what your background or schooling you can make quilts uniquely you. This can mean designing from scratch or customizing your favorite pattern.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Yes, my basement. I have a fairly large rec area in my basement where I’ve set up a desk for designing and work, space for a cutting table, sewing desks, shelving for fabric and even an area for my longarm.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
After years of working for a McDonald’s franchise I’ve learned to “clean as you go.” This means that I have several trash cans in my sewing area. It’s great to have a place for unusable scraps and any other disposable items. This keeps my workspace clean and I am much more able to create in a clean organized space. I also have a large collection of acrylic templates. Because I do sew with curves frequently, it’s nice to have the template I need on hand, whether I use it as-is or customize its use for a new look.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I design in Photoshop and I have a collection of quilt designs saved on my laptop. I have two folders: quilt designs and quilt queue. When a design really excites me, I put it in the quilt queue as a possible design to make. I keep all my other designs in the quilt design folder. I’ll look through them from time to time. Sometimes I rework them into something I would like to make, or I use them as a jumping off point for an entirely new design. In a way these two folders are my sketchbook.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I usually have a movie on and occasionally an audiobook. In both cases they are always something I’ve seen over and over again so I don’t get too wrapped up in the story. My mind can drift in and out of a familiar movie or book effortlessly, giving me what I need to devote to my project.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I do! I teach both on piecing and designing. Lately, I’ve been doing zoom lectures and workshops. While I miss interacting with quilters in person, it has still been good to connect with new people and guilds. The best way to get in touch with me is email: [email protected]. I’m currently booking for 2022.
Tell us about your blog and website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting? How did you come to name your blog “Quiltachusetts”?
My blog explores more details about my quilts and projects. I love sharing why I chose to do one thing over another or the inspiration for a quilt or fabric line. There is a link to my blog on the website but my website is also a store. I sell my fabric, patterns, books, notions and basic solids in my shop.
I often get asked if I live in Massachusetts, because of my blog. While I do have ancestral links to Massachusetts, I’m a direct descendent of Pilgrim Isaac Allerton and Nathanial Ball whose home is now the Minuteman National Park. But I have never even been to Massachusetts. My late husband, Stephen, use to call my quilting, “Quiltachusetts”, so when I started my blog I used that as a way of remembering him and all the support he gave me in my quilting efforts.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
Much like everyone else, COVID has been a new challenge to my creativity. I’m a person who gets more done when I’m already busy. Quilt shows were cancelled so I didn’t have show quilts to make, plus some of my workshops were cancelled and I just ran out of things to keep me busy. I found it hard to motivate myself to create. To try and get out of this I started giving myself deadlines. I submitted to magazines and had projects picked up for publication. I’m still not up to full speed, but when I look back at 2020 I actually created much more, including 2 new fabric lines, than I perceived I had.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe it is both. People can have an abundance of natural talent, but even then, they’ll have to hone their skills. I truly think that if there is a desire to be creative you have some talent. For example, my mom is not creative; it doesn’t upset her, it’s just who she is. She’s an amazing woman, but because she’s not creative she has no desire to create. Eric Liddell, Olympic gold medal sprinter and missionary to China stated it this way:
I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast! And when I run, I feel His pleasure.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
It’s important to know what you like and dislike. This can be especially difficult as we grow and change creatively but taking the time to evaluate the likes and dislikes will stop you from trying to force yourself to design or create something you’re just not that into anymore.
How do you keep all the balls in the air? Is there one you wish you could drop? Which one will you never give up?
As I talked about above, I like being busy and the challenge of a deadline. I don’t expect that I will be doing the exact same thing years from now but I’m sure I’ll stay busy. I would really like to explore more fabric design and maybe another book in a couple years.
Interview posted February 2021
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