Up Close Quilting with Ann Johnston

July 5, 2012

For the next installment of the Up Close Quilting series we sat down with quilting artist Ann Johnston.

Ann is a talented longarm quilter who has an international reputation for her beautiful hand-dyed fabrics and art quilts. Her years of experimentation with dye and fabric have led to piles of quilts, worldwide travel, numerous shows and exhibitions, five books, and more than a few aches and pains.

The second edition of her book The Quilter’s Book of Design was recently released andprovides insight into her design processes and lots of examples of her quilts. She also regularly teaches dyeing and designing workshops to quilters all around the world.


Q: We feel very lucky to have you take the time to talk with us. Thank you! What came first – dyeing or quilting?

Countless 2 - Quilt By Ann Johnston

A: I started quilting in the early 70s and started dyeing fabric a couple of years later because I couldn’t find 100% cotton in very many colors.

By the mid 80s I was using only my own hand printed and dyed fabrics. My stash of traditional calicoes eventually went to our local school quilt projects. Having the shelves full of fabric with my own colors and patterns has strongly influenced my quilt designs.

Q: What did the first quilt you made look like? Do you remember the colors and patterns?

A: This is a vivid memory. I purchased fabrics in 1970 at the local market while my husband and I were in the Peace Corps in Lima, Peru. I reverse appliquéd flower shapes together by hand to keep me busy in the quiet hours in our one-room apartment.

Returning to the US with a finished top two years later, I bought filling from a mattress store that was 4″ high with gauze on both sides! It took three years to stab stitch it by hand. I thought it would be my only quilt until I learned how to piece by machine and quilt with a running stitch.

Q: And why do you continue to quilt to this day?

A: I quilt because I can’t stop. I am curious and want to see what the next one will be like. I haven’t been able to leave the dye-painted fabrics unquilted, without the extra layers of design and texture that are added with my stitches, whether by hand or by machine.

Q: What is your all-time favorite quilt? Why?

Mighty 1 Quilt by Ann Johnston

I usually love the most recent pieces I have finished because I am still mentally involved in their making.

Q: What made you want to purchase an APQS longarm quilting machine?

A: I was making quilts of all sizes, but when I injured my left shoulder quilting a large bed quilt on my domestic machine, I decided I had to change. In 1999, I took four days of lessons from Marylin Badger who taught me that I can adjust the tension and threads to do whatever I wanted, any size.

Q: What were your concerns when deciding to purchase a longarm machine?

A: I left Marilyn’s studio and was hooked, but I was afraid there would be a long learning curve for me on how to maintain and trouble shoot my own machine.

I rented an APQS Millennium at a local quilt store for more than five years and realized that I could do it all myself. I finally purchased one in 2007 and I come into my studio every day now, delighted to know that I can start sewing without any tension issues and if there is a problem with the machine, APQS is prepared to help me with whatever I need.

Q: If you had to describe your quilts in one word, what would it be?