Victoria Findlay Wolfe is always busy making something, especially colorful quilt tops with a modern esthetic. In demand as an instructor, Victoria balances creating, teaching and owning a retail store in New York City.
Why textiles? Why quilting? How did you get started?
I started sewing as a young child on the farm in Minnesota. My mother was a seamstress, and my father had an upholstery business as well. My grandmother, Elda Wolfe, was the Quilter. Everyone sewed! My skills three-dimensionally were pretty good from a young age, as no one was using patterns, so I learned to look and make things up as I went along from watching my parents. I was always a maker, and knew I’d be an artist when I grew up. I was always making all kinds of crazy things, and using fabric was one thing that was always accessible to me.
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What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?
I made many hand patchwork pillows, doll quilts, etc., from a young age. I started sewing when I was 4, and I believe my first finished quilt was when I was 13. It’s pretty sad looking but still in one piece! I started making many larger quilts from 14 to 20, and many I abandoned because I was cutting shapes and sewing them together, and I couldn’t figure out how to make them perfect…. Ha-ha…they stayed quilt tops, and were never finished. I find it funny now, when I look back at them and see that creative free spirit who was just cutting and sewing without thinking about seam allowances, etc.… Now I think they are very charming quilts, and I’m really happy I still have a couple of them.
Tell us about your grandmother’s influence.
My grandmother was making scrap double knit polyester (crimplene) quilts all through the 70’s, which is what we slept under on the farm. These bright and amazing colors, which will never fade, made a huge impact on me. I thought that was how you made beautiful quilts, by cutting up fabrics, and sewing them all back together willy nilly. Hence, my love of scrap quilts, and “made fabric”. I sewed all my scraps together and used them as “made fabric” in my quilts.
What I learned from this traditional scrap process that has been around for hundreds of years was how it influences my process and how I look at building a quilt. I start with scraps, sew them together, and I’m looking to make my inspiration. I then wait for the fabrics to tell me what’s next. What do I have in front of me, what do I like, what colors do I see, what can I do with it, what new pattern can I come up with, etc. So it’s that exploring of design, pattern and color that excited me the most in quilt making. I’m always looking for a way to shake up my creative process so I’m not just doing the same thing over and over.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Playing with Purpose: A Quilt Retrospective?
I broke the book down into the morsels I find the most important when looking back at your work. Besides recognizing where you’ve come from creatively and how you’ve grown, it’s realizing that making mistakes is essential, giving yourself permission to explore, and the healing power of your creativity by being a storyteller. The quilting art form is a powerful tool to find out who you are.
Do your quilts have stories to tell?
I have always tried to make quilts that told a story or captured memories of events in textiles. I need that aspect to make a successful quilt. So I rely on my intuition to tell me that I have captured something of myself within the work. That part is what I enjoy the most about quilting.
Finding that “moment” is also a great way to search for inspiration. It’s part of understanding why you create.
Sometimes the story is about a personal event, sometimes it’s a feeling for a particular person or my mood on that given day. I can look back through these works, and although they may not look super-exciting to the viewer, there is significant purpose within the quilt for me to hold it as a powerful object in time.
Tell us about your creative warm up exercises. How do you decide what to do, and what is the impact on your artmaking?
All of my books are about process. I am a process quilter. 15 Minutes of Play is about play, experimenting and looking. By creating “made fabric”, like my grandmother did, I let the fabric tell me what to do next. Warming up with a process like this for 15 minutes reveals colors, patterns and new ideas.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
I have a 28’ X 15’ studio with windows across the front of the space where my JUKI long arm sits. It’s pretty much the width of my space plus a few feet on either side!
My studio is not in my home, but in the building next door to where I live, and my store is in the same building. So my commute is not very big! I rarely get off my block unless I am traveling, as all my time when I’m home is spent there getting caught up and starting new projects.
Quilters Dream Cotton Batting covers my long walls from floor to ceiling. This cotton batting can hold quilted King size quilts with no pins!!! The batting is only tacked up at the top ceiling edge with thumbtacks and hangs loosely down to the floor. I can work on 10 to 12 quilts at one time.
In addition, a baker’s rack organizes all my projects that are in line for finishing. I have three stations for sewing and piecing. All are Juki Straight stitch machines, JUKI 2200 QVP MINI. I also have a JUKI 2200 QVP sit down machine for quilting.
My cutting table, custom made for my height, has storage underneath, and I have one large bookcase, with 5 cubbies X 5 cubbies for fabric, folded neatly and organized by color. I also have another shelf that holds all my current fabrics that I design, on bolts.
I have an industrial Reliable 300IS System for pressing and a custom made (by me!) ironing table pad. Leftover wood, batting and cute fabric make a great pad to fit a banquet table. It’s large, and great for pressing king sized quilt tops!
The best part is at the end of the day, I can lock the door and walk away from the daily mess.
How does a fabric convince you to relocate it to your studio?
I love all colors, as well as all fabrics. I’m not a fabric snob – I love repros, civil war, traditional, modern, contemporary fabrics, and all colors and styles of fabrics. I buy it all. Including more of the double knit polyesters – they are lovely to sew with! I do think my color sense was formed early by the luscious colors of the 1970’s. I like palettes to have a slightly off-color palette norm. So I guess I’m nostalgic.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
My JUKI 2200 QVP Mini straight stitch machine is my workhorse. It’s a fast, hardworking, great stitching machine. The best.
When you teach, what is your goal for your students?
To learn that no quilting trick is hard to master, you just need a few minutes and an open mind to learn it. Give yourself permission to do so by making mistakes and powering through.
I love giving people the permission to PLAY, and watching the light bulb go on when they learn something new. So sharing the joy that creating gives me, and having others find that joy makes it all worthwhile.
How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
What is on your design wall right now, and what is next for you?
I work on 10-12 quilts at a time, so there is lots on my design wall! I make many commission quilts for private customers and collectors. And I have a couple of new fabric lines and patterns in the works that you all will be seeing in the next year. I’m still traveling around to teach and lecture, but will be doing more retreats from my home in NYC.
Interview posted April 2019
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