Known for precision piecing, quilt designer and instructor Jan Krentz has developed techniques to break down a complex design into manageable components. Her stunning renditions of the beloved lone star quilt have inspired many quilters to take the plunge into piecing diamond shapes, making all of those fussy angles lay perfectly flat under Jan’s careful guidance. Her books make these quilts achievable, even for quilters who are unable to attend a workshop.
What inspires you to create?
I believe I am a “maker” at heart. I was a busy child, and my Mom tells me I was sewing on the sewing machine by age 4. As the oldest of 4 children, I watched the satisfaction our mother gained by sewing, knitting and other creative endeavors. So it must have “clicked” in my head that these and other activities were positive and rewarding.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners. Your purchases via these links may benefit Create Whimsy. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.
How did you begin designing quilts? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
Due to my access to fabric and a sewing machine at an early age, sewing garments, household items, doll clothes, tote bags and similar items were my early experiments. Our parents encouraged us to pursue our interests, and I began taking clothing construction classes before age 10.
I saw a Cathedral Window quilt pattern somewhere – perhaps a magazine article – and the way the fabrics were cut, folded on the bias to create a little window frame around a 2nd square of fabric….. it was fascinating! I loved the puzzle-Origami-hand sewing aspects because they were intriguing from a “how does it work” perspective! Then my second project was a large scrap quilt of small 2” or 3” squares sewn together for use as my bed quilt in college.
Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?
I tried most of the fiber arts: embroidery, crewel, macramé, rug hooking, sewing, knitting, fabric dyeing, stamping, as well as stenciling. We also used ball-pointed paint pens called “Tri-Chem” (I think) to decorate kitchen towels and our Dad’s handkerchiefs. If it was puzzle-like and challenging, then the craft drew me in with fascination!
When you design a quilt, you seem to have stars in your eyes. Why do stars (and diamonds) appeal to you as a design focus?
When I began exploring and creating quilts, the early projects were mostly skill-building – using squares, rectangles, and strips. I learned to quilt in the 1960’s before rotary cutters and acrylic rulers existed. Eventually I tired of these basic shapes and move to more challenging designs. When working with half-square triangles, joining them in a specific way creates a diamond-like effect. I wondered why those shapes did not look as balanced as a true parallelogram diamond does, so I started playing with simple star patterns.
At this time, I was a young mother and Navy wife. So our family was transferred every 2-3 years from place to place. As I met new people, they would see my ongoing projects and ask, “I don’t know how to do that. Would you show me?” So teaching and showing quilts evolved naturally. When I began making 8-pointed star medallions many people expressed interest, so it was an enjoyable mental challenge to expand upon those early designs.
Your quilt designs look very complex. Are they as challenging as they look? Or have you figured out a way to streamline the process?
The Lone Star and other diamond designs are sequential in their construction. The fabric selection can make simple geometric patterns look dazzling – more complex than they actually are.
As a young quilter I realized that the more calmly and methodically I worked, the easier each piece matched the next piece, and so on. Through early informal “kitchen table workshops”, I explained how to tackle a project with logical steps. So each step created components to use in the next step.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Spiral Lone Star Quilt?
The Spiral Lone Star was a mental exercise to create color movement from the center to the edges of a traditional medallion. Could I construct it with strip piecing? Then how could I share/teach those techniques with others who wanted to make their own quilt? The Spiral Lone Star Quilt pattern takes a reader step-by-step to create a design that lays flat because components fit well, one to the next. It is my most requested design. I have included my teaching tips from 25 years of Lone Star workshops.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
HAH! Studio Organization is unique to each artist. As many quilters and artists are – I am a visual person. I tend to work with somewhat cluttered surfaces, because all the color and mixture of different fabrics stimulate my creativity. So that I can see what I have, storage in clear containers, clear zippered bags and totes is best for my visual system.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
I use multiple IKEA shelving cabinets with doors to store the fabric bolts as well as smaller cuts. I sort fabrics by color families or type of print if there are a large number in one style – such as polka dot, striped, ocean themed, African, Asian, floral, and so on. The doors protect the fabric from fading. I keep scraps in metal mesh baskets, sorted by color.
I also have IKEA kitchen cabinets with banks of shallow drawers where pens, pencils, sewing tools, ribbon, cutting tools, small electronic accessories and office supplies reside. Each type of item is in its own drawer, then I fill the drawers without much fussy sorting; the most often used items typically rise to the top, least-used items then end up on the bottom. Shallow drawers or trays inside each drawer are key to accessing the tools so I don’t waste time searching.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I use my computer for designing and pattern layout, eventually writing lessons and working up digital drawings. I own several iterations of Quilt Pro® and Electric Quilt® quilting design software. Quilt Pro® is my primary drawing tool, and wish I were more proficient with Electric Quilt®!
My sewing machines, rotary cutting equipment, sewing notions such as pins (of all types), many types of adhesive tape, large expanses of design wall space (8’ high x 23’ wide) and a 4’ x 10’ dining table covered with a huge cutting mat are all very useful when designing a series of quilts for family or a project for a future class or publication.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Yes, I document my process on any project. It is an ingrained working methodology. Using my digital camera (or phone) to snap pictures or short videos along the way reminds me about the setup, fabric selection, early cutting, sewing construction and more on each project.
If any unexpected challenges arise in the design or construction, then I take specific notes about the issue and photograph my solution. Should a better approach or construction method arise, I document those ideas, too. Later, these notes and photos are an invaluable resource when re-tracing my steps to create a workshop, or use that project as an impetus for the next project.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I enjoy a variety of input: total silence when writing or calculating numbers, and open windows provides a great “nature soundtrack” by birds, wind in the trees and neighborhood sounds. When working on repetitive tasks, music or audio books are great background sounds. I rarely “watch” TV, but use the background sound for variety. Like many creative people, it’s difficult to tune out audible distractions by family, friends, and background chaotic noise!
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce?
Creativity requires time and space to ponder, play and problem-solve. So it is difficult to produce “on demand” within a time frame. Ideas and inspiration will be mentally percolating for months before I am aware of it; other times I have an idea and act upon it right away. I start with a basic concept, draw up the block or design to create a sketch or schematic “blank” to which I can make multiple coloring sheets and work out a shaded or overall color placement plan. Other projects grow organically by cutting shapes and staging them on the design wall. I move pieces for better color and value “flow” as I add more sections.
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
In 2015 I was commissioned to create a king-sized bed quilt with the Diamond Landscape technique. The quilt would be a full bedspread and hang to the bottom of the bed frame on 3 sides.
- the overall size of the piece,
- changing the scale of the diamonds themselves,
- finding and creating a harmonious blend of hundreds of fabrics,
- hand dye-painting some fabrics to create a rosy sky or deep shadowy water and
- working with the client through continued correspondence with photography.
I added extra height to my design wall area and worked on the upper area of the design by using a multi-angled ladder with a plank to create a raised platform. As the design filled in, I also found and auditioned printed shapes – flowers, leaves, birds and so forth to add detail to the composition. I presented major additions to the client in advance for approval before permanently adding them to the design.
The huge quilt top was custom quilted by a local quilter, Wendy Knight. Afterwards, I knew I could measure the bed and finish the quilt at its required size.
The client measured the bed surface to the edges, and the “drop”– the dimensions from the bed top to the desired length on the three sides. I actually cut the finished quilt top to the width of the bed along each side, then trimmed and seamed the remaining quilted edges to the top for a custom fit. The seams were covered with bias backing strips to match the backing fabric. I trimmed the lower two corners to a rounded shape, then attached the binding. The finished quilt was lovely, and the clients were very happy!
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Each person has innate interests from an early age. Then parents, friends and educators nurture (or squash) those interests as a child grows up. Exposure to a variety of people and ideas are influential to stimulating creativity.
Each hands-on activity exposure – cooking, sewing, painting, reading, gardening, photography, athletics, camping, hiking, swimming, mathematics, science, puzzles, problem-solving, invention, creative design, structure building and so forth become part of your mental resource “stash”. Even those boring activities you watched or experienced in your youth become genuine possibilities for adult interests and vocations.
Therefore, creativity appears to be a life-long quest or learning process. Some people are more curious about the world around them. Some are physically active, and sports or physical challenges come naturally to them. Others appear to enjoy mental challenges, thinking about a process or concept until they can explain, draw, design or build their project.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
That is a great question! It would be difficult to name just one person to interview!
I have taken advantage of the 2020-21 Covid Quarantine to watch a variety of online presentations by creative people, learning from others world-wide who share, teach and express their own interests via video classes and lectures.
The power of the Internet, linking similar interests, activities and avocations provides a great resource of untapped knowledge. So I am discovering new people, places and activities that would not be accessible in my everyday life. My quest for knowledge is growing as I age. What a stimulating, exciting world we live in today!
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Yes, in the past 25-30 years I have actively traveled to teach and present trunk showings of my quilts. I currently work from home and presented a 7-week Spiral Lone Star Quilt Along on the Facebook platform with free video presentations for technique and step-by-step demonstrations to make this popular design. I am currently available for Zoom lectures to any group worldwide. I’m also considering whether to film many of my popular workshops in digital format. I can be reached through my webpage: www.jankrentz.com.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is a contact point where you can learn a little about me, see the books and products I have created and see my current teaching schedule.
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?
The current world of Covid19 and quarantine time at home has permitted most of the world time to explore and change direction. The climate of workshops and lectures is evolving from in-person to online video presentation. I am interested in filming more demonstration-type workshops to benefit many more quilters, while presenting fewer in-person events due to the rigors of shipping quilts, display models and teaching equipment. The current challenges of travel, shipping, gathering in large groups and conference room rentals requires many people to re-think, re-fresh and re-tool their outreach methods.
My heartfelt recognition and thanks to those people who have been on the front lines, keeping us informed, healthy, supplied with food and medical care. We owe our lives to community leaders who demonstrated problem solving and design solutions in a world-wide crisis.
Join Jan’s Spiral Lone Star Facebook Quilt Along
Interview posted July 2021
Browse through more quilting inspiration and projects on Create Whimsy.