Spotlight: Silke Cliatt, Fiber Artist

Homeage to the Quilters of Gee's Bend

Spotlight: Silke Cliatt, Fiber Artist

It’s never too late to start something new, and those things you loved to do as a child re-emerge later as a foundation for future creative work. That’s what Silke Cliatt discovered when she retired from teaching children to create and focused on her own need to make art.

Silke Cliatt Headshot

How did you find yourself on an artist’s path after teaching art in elementary school?

During my teaching years, I always came home tired because I worked to help every child experience success. While that was rewarding, I yearned to create beautiful objects myself.

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Why textiles? Why art quilts?

Growing up in Germany after WWII, we sewed out of necessity, but I love fabric, period. When I retired, I bought a small isolated cabin in the north Georgia mountains. I had a fireplace installed and for the two-story chimney I wanted a quilt. The learning curve was huge which was important because I love learning.

What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?

The source of inspiration varies, though most often it is the question “I wonder if I can do that?”.

Homeage to the Quilters of Gee's Bend
Homeage to the Quilters of Gee’s Bend

Do your quilts have stories to tell?

Some of my quilts tell stories, but others just showcase beautiful fabrics. For example, Dijanne Cevaal inspired the Guardians. The basic shape is hers. I asked and received permission to follow in her footsteps. Some years ago, she printed an outline for a guardian (she calls them Sentinels) and sold them inexpensively to women all over the world who embellished them and sent them back to display in big exhibits. When I found out about it, it was too late to participate, hence my “recreation”.

Guardians of the Four Seasons

If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your style, what would they say?

My quilter friends have been quilting for decades (compared to my 4 years). They say my quilts are different. As a self-taught quilter, I do not emulate anyone; I take risks, solve problems. I am undaunted. So how long something might take does not intimidate or stop me.

When you begin to create, do you visualize the finished piece? Or does the work evolve?

I regret that I cannot visualize. I start with a challenge and a vague idea, and then I listen to my inner voice.

Silke Cliatte Southern Carmine Bee Eaters
Southern Carmine Bee Eaters

How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?

I start new projects all the time. Once I have met “the” challenge, I often don’t care to finish because another exciting challenge (or two, or three) is waiting in the wings. Oh yes, I always work on several projects at the same time because I just cannot wait until I finish one (if ever) to start a new one.

Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?

A friend talked me into participating in the Kaffe Fassett challenge “I am an artisan”. The quilt had to be 60×60″, using his Artisan collection. With most of my quilt appliquéd, I pieced and quilted the background first. After a week or so of channel quilting, I discovered the background had shrunk dramatically! But I did not want to add a border. After much deliberation, an idea emerged and then I attached circles on the outer edge that extended half way, bringing the size back to 60×60″.

Dancing with Joy
Dancing with Joy
Dancing with Joy Detail
Dancing with Joy – Detail

Do you sell your work? If so, where can people find it?

Yes I sell my quilts but I do not market, I am not good at it. I guess I am more interested in the creative process. So, most of my sales are by word of mouth.

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

I have recently added a studio with a see-through roof to my cabin so that I see the sky and trees while sewing, but really my entire cabin is my studio.

Silke Cliatte Quilt
Quilt Detail

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?

My Karen Buckley scissors! I own 5 pairs because I bury them all the time under fabric piles. Otherwise I improvise: my sewing table is a $15 second hand computer desk with an opening sawed out so the sewing machine sits on the pullout tray but is flush with the surface.

Guardian of the Flowers
Guardian of the Flowers

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

I thrive on silence because it is what allows me to hear my inner voice.

Guardian of the Forest
Guardian of the Forest

Does creativity come naturally or do you have to work on it?

In post-war Germany, knitting, crocheting, embroidery and sewing were our entertainment. I am grateful for that because I believe it is easier to be creative if one has skills.

Silke Cliatte Quote

What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavors?

I believe all humans are innately creative. I feel fortunate that I was destined to acquire skills that led to creative expression.

Enjoy more of Silke’s work on her website.

Interview posted July 2019

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