Spotlight: Jenny Lyon, Quilter, Garment Maker, Teacher and Author

Jenny Lyon Poppies

Spotlight: Jenny Lyon, Quilter, Garment Maker, Teacher and Author

With good instruction and practice that brings you joy, successful free motion quilting is at your fingertips. Ask Jenny K. Lyon how she knows – she wrote the book, after all! She brings the same dedication to creating what she loves with her art quilts.

Jenny Lyon Headshot

What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, Free-Motion Quilting from Ordinary to Extraordinary: 3 Steps to Joyful Machine Stitching in 21 Days?

The most important message I have to convey is that you CAN free motion quilt. Everyone who wants to can!! And while we’re at it, let’s make it fun. I want students to “plactice”, that is, let play meet practice. Figure out what is fun for you and plactice that. I have several great suggestions in my book.

Tell us about developing a “mission statement” for a quilt.

I like to write a simple “Mission Statement” about what I’m trying to do with a particular quilt. There are so many twists and turns in the making of a quilt! I would find myself diverted by a technique or the quilting. This is not like a Mission Statement in business! It’s a simple thing. For example, my “Poppies” quilt was inspired by the California Poppy. The Poppy is a glorious red/orange/yellow and most art based on the Poppy celebrates the color. What intrigued me was the negative space between the quirky stems. My Mission Statement was simple: “To capture the whimsical nature of the negative space between the poppies as they mass together in a field.” It simply expressed my inspiration for that piece.

Jenny Lyon Poppies

How long have you been quilting? How did you get started?

Although I came from a quilting family, I didn’t quilt as a kid. I would watch my Mom piece them and then send them off to the Amish ladies in the area to be hand quilted. One of the main reasons it did not interest me was because she used colors that did NOT appeal to me.

I made my first quilt in the early 1980s while living in Houston. Rotary cutters were new! I hand quilted that sampler quilt and did not make another until I moved to California in 1999. I didn’t quilt during that time as I was busy raising my boys. Once they got to be double digits, I thought I could make another run at it. I hit the ground running and haven’t stopped! I decided early on that I would not have anyone quilt my work for me. That just seemed weird and besides, I had no money. Now the quilting is my favorite part!

Jenny Lyon Stars 'n Stripes

Who or what has inspired/influenced/empowered you?

Diane Gaudynski! I admired her work and devoured her books. Then I got to take a workshop from her for 5 ½ days at Empty Spools Seminars and it literally changed the way I quilted and looked at the quilting process. Her work was exquisite and much more artsy than I realized. She poured her heart out as a teacher. I also took her for 3 ½ days at Paducah and really refined my work. She has been a huge influence both as a quilter/artist and as a teacher. Her teaching style was fabulous. She was personable yet very professional and pushed you by making you feel like you could do so much better. And she meant it when she said that I could continue to write her for advice, questions, guidance. It is my goal to be as generous, skilled and engaging a teacher as she was.

I am also influenced by being an active member in Studio Art Quilt Associates. The caliber of artist in SAQA is amazing. I’ve learned so much at Conferences and also I literally have real friends around the world through my involvement with SAQA. Steel sharpens steel. Being a member of SAQA has at times been intimidating because the bar is set high but that just keeps me reaching higher as an artist.

Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?

My studio is fabulous to me! I now have 2 full rooms for my teaching and creating supplies. Due to a recent remodel my space is bright and edited with abundant storage. The remodel forced me to get rid of some perfectly good fabric and supplies that I no longer used, creating a much less cluttered studio. I have abundant light, an 8’ x 8’ design wall and room for all my fabric, notions and supplies to be stored and organized. My beloved BERNINA 765 faces a bright window with beautiful grasses and trees beyond. The remodel also forced me to get organized and I’ve kept it up. It feels great to create in a space that welcomes me!

Jenny Lyon Studio

Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?

I am an unabashed BERNINA girl! I have sewn on BERNINAs since I got my first “real” machine in college. A great machine, no matter the brand, is an absolute necessity. You need to love your machine and become one with it. Now that I have a proper design wall, I have to admit I would be hard pressed to live without it. And maybe this is a silly thing, but I love the vinyl wood-look flooring in my studio. It’s easy to keep clean and find pins upon and it’s gentle on the bare feet. I can push my chair across the room to retrieve a spool of thread or to peruse my fabric – love that!

I also love Patsy Thompson’s Quilt Suspension system, a super simple way to handle the bulk of a quilt. It makes quilting a large or heavy piece very doable on my domestic machine. I would not want to quilt without it.

And then I have this rolling cutting table that I designed – oh how I love that thing! The main surface is 48” x 36” and is the exact height of my bent elbow. There is open shelving below and each end has an 18” surface that I can flip up, giving me a total of 7’ of space! It rolls around my studio and it is The Best!

Jenny Lyon Prairie Afternoon

Do you use a sketchbook? How does that help your work develop?

I’m kind of embarrassed that I don’t use a sketchbook often but that’s how I roll. I do definitely sketch out ideas but they are rough sketches and certainly not captured in a proper sketch book. I admire those who sketch every day and have their thoughts beautifully captured in sketchbooks. Sigh.

What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?

My sons were both musicians and I purchased proper well-weighted black sturdy music stands for them. I use them now all the time and could not live without them. They hold fabric right next to my design wall as I’m auditioning fabrics, I can corral and move smaller projects around the house as I work on them in different rooms, they hold class supplies out of the way when I’m packing for a teaching gig and sometimes they just hold junk from my cutting table so that I can use it!

Jenny Lyon Morning Breeze

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?

I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I get distracted by music or movies and most podcasts. I need something that is audibly entertaining, not visual yet light enough to not interfere. So I will put something entirely vapid on TV like Real Housewives, America’s Next Top Model, etc. It works for me!

How do you stay organized when working with multiple design ideas and processes?

Until my recent remodel, I worked in a dank, crowded and gloomy space. There was no way I could effectively work on more than one or two projects at once. I adapted and it trained me to “focus and finish”. I will have some of my starting seeds for the next project on my design wall, but most times I will only work 1-3 projects. Even then, I really only focus on one project. If I hit a moment when the project needs to marinate, I will work on another project, but once my mojo returns to the original project, I will go back to it and finish.

Jenny Lyon Emerge

If you have just 30 minutes to spend in your studio, what do you work on?

Whatever I’m working on! I am really big on capturing those small blocks of time. When I first started quilting I yearned for those Big Blocks of Time – oh what a luxury! Then I realized that just does not happen so I purposefully began to capture those moments of free time to just sew a seam or two or partially bind something, tidy up, etc.

Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people must develop?

For most of us, “natural creativity” is bunk. It’s work to make good art; you have to make a lot of bad art to make a little bit of good art. You have to develop it. Although there are a very few “gifted” artists, over the long haul, it’s hard to tell the difference between perseverance and talent. Creativity is in all of us and is not just for the gifted. I feel very strongly about that. One of the tricks, if there is one, is to find ways to develop your creativity that you enjoy. It’s still work, but you want it to be a joyful process. Persevere until you find what gives you joy and there you will find “talent” and creativity.

Jenny Lyon April on the Vacant Lot

How do you work through creativity blocks?

Show. Up. Really, that’s it, just find something to do, even something mundane. I might pick up a charity quilt, piece improvisationally with no end game in mind, clean up or organize my studio. What I must avoid at all costs is getting all torqued up about hitting a block.

If you could work with any creative person (past or present), who would that person be?

Oh, just to name a few….Betty Busby, Phillipa Naylor, Carol Soderlund, Paula Kovarik, Yoshiko Jinzenji, Pam Holland, Jennifer Denicolis Meyer, Phyllis Cullen, Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry. Cas Holmes. Amy Meissner. I probably forgot some. Some of these are way out of the mainstream of what I currently do, but I greatly admire their work and/or dedication to teaching. I’m not even sure all of them teach, but I would love to study with any of them!


Jenny Lyon QuoteRead our interview with Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry on Create Whimsy.

Browse through all of our Spotlight interviews on Create Whimsy.



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