Jean Howard discovered art quilting, exploring color and shape in her work. She is a finisher! Referred to as the “Craft Fairy” by her daughters, she even finishes their projects left at her home. She sketches her ideas first, then works long hours to complete the intricate piecing needed to fulfill her vision to create her art quilts.
How did you get started designing quilts? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
Although I was always interested in creating things, art took a back seat during the first decades of my life, when family and career took the majority of my time. My interest in designing quilts grew over a period of time.
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As an avid quilter for years, I found that I was becoming bored while completing a traditional quilt pattern. Then I happened to attend a quilt trunk show in which the speaker showed quilts that changed my ideas dramatically and in a more interesting manner. After attending a Nancy Crow retreat, my daughter insisted that I try out her classes and my obsession with designing quilts began.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I am a “finisher”. I not only finish almost all of my projects, but my daughters call me the “Craft Fairy”– if they leave an unfinished project at my house, I will complete it for them too!
What inspires you?
The shapes and colors found in nature inspire me. I live on acreage that includes numerous flower & vegetable beds and flowering trees that I plant and tend, along with woods and creeks. These supply endless ideas for creations.
Another inspiration for me are the illustrations found in Dr. Seuss books. Their quirkiness is very imaginative and interesting to me. I’m always looking for an interesting shape to include in my work. People usually describe my work as having vibrant, striking color combinations and incorporating interesting shapes.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
I do a lot of sketching to find the shapes that interest me. Since my work is mostly curved pieces, I usually draw out the pattern I’m interested in creating and cut out the pattern pieces, tracing around them onto the fabric. This enables me to sew precisely. But, even with a pattern, I often change things up once I see the work on the wall.
Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
Sometimes I work in series, with the original piece inspiring the next, and so on. It gives me a chance to try new ideas, but stay within the boundaries I have set.
My latest series, Botanicals, was inspired by my love of the shapes and colors of plants found outside my door and inside my head. This series uses so many curved pieces that I started small, 26” x 18”, just to make sure I had the skill to put it together. After that piece was completed, I enlarged the sizes up to my latest, Botanicals 13: Pods, which is 80” x 80”.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
After working for years in a cramped 5’ x 5’ space that I shared with a washer and dryer, I now have a dedicated 13’x 13’ home studio just a few feet from the kitchen, and an additional space on the lower level of my home for my mid-arm quilting machine along with a ping-pong table covered in cutting mats to handle my large quilts.
To my quilting friends’ amusement, I share the expansive lower level space with my husband’s beloved trophy deer mounts. There is abundant natural light from the many windows in the studio spaces. The walls of my studio are painted white, and I have an 8” x 8” design wall, bookshelf of quilting and art books, and a large cabinet with shelves for fabric with a 36” x 54” cutting board on top.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
Once I begin a new project, I become somewhat of a workaholic. I like the feeling of finishing a project in order to begin something new! I usually spend considerable time in my studio, starting after breakfast and ending at 9 or 10 p.m. at night. When the project is finished, I try to take care of all the details of life that I neglected while obsessing over my latest creation.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Sometimes I listen to music as I work, but often (especially if I need to concentrate) I work in silence, listening to the birds outside my windows. The curved shapes that I sew take all my attention in order to get them to fit together!
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Rotary cutters and cutting mats are some of my most indispensable tools. I have a rotary cutter dedicated to cutting paper, along with multiple-sized cutters for fabric. I also use Clover brand water-soluble markers to mark my fabrics for cutting out patterns. These tools make sewing much more accurate and save time.
Tell us about your blog and/or website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website www.jeanhowardquilts.com invites people to learn a little more about me and see the quilts in my collection.
Interview posted May 2023
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