Few people are lucky enough to discover something that feeds their creativity so much that it becomes a specialty with endless options. Maxine Rosenthal is that lucky. An idea from her 8-year-old daughter sparked the One-Block Wonder phenomenon, with no two quilts alike, even when made with the same fabric!
Why textiles? Why quilting? How did you get started?
Where to begin. I started quilting because I wanted a quilt. There is a familiar ring to this. I started knitting because I wanted a ski sweater and I knew they were too expensive to buy. So I joined a local quilt guild and what they made astounded me. They also had a frame and would get together for days on end to finish a quilt. It was a great community of encouraging women.
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The first quilts I made were small and I hung them on the wall with great pride. My husband’s aunt came to visit and I was working on a small quilt, something she could not understand. then she asked if I was making a knee quilt.
How did you become interested in kaleidoscopes as a design feature? How did the One-Block Wonder quilt come about? Epiphany? Trial and error? Meticulous plan?
My small quilt guild had a quilt show and they invited me to show a quilt. What? Me? Good enough to be in a quilt show? My daughter was 8 at the time and I told her to look around at the quilts and I would make whatever she liked for her 9th birthday. She picked kaleidoscopes and that was my start.
I was in awe at how one fabric could produce the huge variety of kaleidoscopes that it did. As I played with these kaleidoscopes, I did not want them on a background. That looked like bullseyes to me and I wanted more of a watercolor effect, moving from one color to the next. The notion that moving one block to another location completely changed the whole quilt, has kept me fascinated all these years.
What do you look for when shopping for fabric to use in your quilts?
I look for fabric that has large focus patterns on very little background. Small items on a large background will make a very boring quilt, whereas large flowers close together with little background will be a great quilt. I try to put a bit of the original fabric on the back of the quilt to see how far one can get from the original.
Are there any parallels between your career as a software developer and your quilt designs? When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
As a software developer, I looked for a way to solve a problem and this type of quilting is quite similar. This is solving the problem of getting from one color to the next. I do not plan anything in advance. I know people like to audition each hexagon before beginning to sew them together to make the very best kaleidoscope. But I never do that – it takes the serendipity out of the mix and it also takes a very long time to sew when you do that. For me, the surprise I love is when I press.
The fun is putting the kaleidoscopes together to create something that was not there before. The design is the only part that holds my interest. I sew to get to the designing and enjoy the surprise as the blocks fit together to make something that flows. Sewing the blocks together makes the design tighter and more beautiful. The hardest part for me is putting on the binding. I feel so done by then and I can’t wait to move on to the next piece of fabric.
What does your studio look like? Where does the magic happen? What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
My studio is a mess of stuff. I try to be organized, and then well, it gets out of hand pretty quickly. I can find things when it is a mess, but when it is all cleaned up, I can find nothing. So I only remember where it was when it was a mess. All the designing happens on the wall. I have attached insulation to one wall and then put cotton batting over that. Fabric will stick to the batting and I can push a pin in and the insulation behind the batting holds it.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person? Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe that everyone is creative, though not in the same way. My parents thought art was only what is painted on a canvas, so they never believed that I was creative. They taught us early in life that things belong a certain way. When I was in elementary school, the teacher wanted to give us a hint of algebra and put on the blackboard ‘n + n =’ and asked if we knew the answer. I excitedly raised my hand and said ‘m’. The teacher laughed and then everyone laughed and I felt embarrassed. It has taken me well into adulthood to realize how narrow their view was. Years ago, I was teaching a class and one of the women asked if we were allowed to do something. No one allows us, but we have to allow ourselves. Too often the glass ceiling is inside us.
Interview posted March 2021
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