Spotlight: Judy Gauthier, Quilter, Author and Store Owner
Judy Gauthier loves helping new quilters get started with a strong set of basic skills that they can use to build their creativity. With that, they can bring some joy to their own part of the world.
How long have you been quilting? How did you get started?
I have been quilting for about 25 years. However, I was a sewist for a long time before that. I started sewing my own clothes at the age of 9. I was in 4-H for 9 years. Back then, the 4-H groups were large and the competition at events and style shows was very stiff. You learned a lot from the judges and the 4-H leaders.
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What is the most important skill for a beginning quilter to master and why?
The most important skill for a beginning quilter to master is to learn to accept guidance from more experienced sewists. I think if you had asked me this question 5 years ago my answer would have been different. I would have said that learning to cut straight or learning to piece accurately was most important. However, today the younger quilters are mostly interested in photographing their quilts and being popular on social media without learning the proper tools of the trade. I think that they need to take classes from older quilters that have proved their mettle.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think that it is both. I think that you can train your brain to be creative if you think that you’re not. One of the best ways is by looking on Pinterest or reading magazines. Develop a style that you like and start experimenting with different art forms. Creativity comes in many different forms such as cooking, organizing, etc.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Tantalizing Table Runners?
I would love for people to get excited about setting a beautiful table and making a beautiful life. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make your surroundings beautiful. When you do this you feel happy and relaxed in your space.
You have written about and made a lot of scrap quilts. Why do you make scrap quilts and what is it about them that draws people in?
I love scrap quilts because of the interest level. I love to combine fabrics in ways that are surprising, as well as use up what I have from other projects. A big part of that is because I love to sew many things other than just quilts. The scraps remind me of all of my loves…it’s like a walk down memory lane.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your style, what would they say?
I think they would say it’s a little boho chic. Mostly because I love scraps, and the chic part would be because I love to set a beautiful table. I also like bright and loud fabrics, and I am sure that they would describe me that way too.
With all the details involved in running a quilt shop, how do you make time to create?
I often create late at night. I am a nurse by trade, and always loved the later shifts. My body works well after 5.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I am a finisher, so I don’t have any UFOs. If something is languishing in a pile I give it to Goodwill.
When you begin to create, do you visualize the finished piece? Or does the work evolve?
I usually visualize the finished piece. The part that evolves is the fabric that I am going to use. I rarely set out a group of fabrics to begin with. I set a color palette, but then I grab the scraps of fabric from that palette as I go along.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do have a sewing room and it makes sense to me and only me. But my stuff is all over the house. Luckily, I have a family that doesn’t mind. I have cubbies along one large wall and the fabric in those is separated by color. Then I have clear bins with scraps all separated by color. My cutting table is usually so cluttered that I can’t cut on it without clearing it off first. The room is very sunny.
What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?
I like to store things where I can see them. This is very important to me. I would suggest to people that things be as visible as possible. Don’t put fabric in drawers or in closets where they can’t be visualized easily. Always store in clear tubs or on shelves that are out in the open if you can. And, ALWAYS keep your sewing machine in a place that is not out of the way. I always tell young mothers that come into the shop that they should have their sewing machine in places where they are the most frequently. An example of this would be next to the washer and dryer, which is where mine was when my kids were little, or in the kitchen where you make meals.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
My indispensable tools in my sewing space are a wooden skewer that I use as a stiletto and a hemostat. I use the skewer to move the fabric toward the presser foot even when I am using a walking foot. This keeps everything feeding equally and evenly. I like the hemostat for grabbing things, and for turning things right side out.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
Yes, see the above answer!
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I love to listen to the sound track for Hamilton and I have played it over 1,000 times. Now I am listening to an audio book, and then sometimes, if I am concentrating too hard to listen to a book, I turn on Pandora. My favorite thing, though, is Broadway musical soundtracks.
What other kinds of creating do you enjoy?
I like gardening in the summer, and I love to plant seeds in spring and then watch them sprout.
If you had to choose one color palette to work with for an entire year, what would be be and why?
I would choose orange, red and pink, and everything from the warm side of the color wheel. We live in Wisconsin, so I need the warm colors to reflect on my retina.
Do you have a mentor?
My mentor would have been my mother. Since she has died, I would have to say that the person that I would look up to the most even though she is not a true mentor to me would be Nancy Zieman. There was no way that she was not the most genuine sewist that there ever was. She knew her stuff inside and out, but she was modest and humble. There was no “BSing” her way through a project. If she did it, you know it was done correctly.
If you had the opportunity, what creative person, past or present, would you like to work with and why?
Nancy Zieman: I did have the opportunity to work with her. I was on her show for a two part series and that was very, very exciting. Other than that, my favorite creative person is Lin-Manuel Miranda. Talk about creativity coming from every pore! He is complete and pure genius, even if it’s not sewing creativity. He is, bar none, brilliant.
Interview posted March 2020
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