Up Close Quilting with Caryl Bryer Fallert

July 5, 2012

For the next installment of the Up Close Quilting series we sat down with quilting artist Caryl Bryer Fallert.

Caryl is an internationally recognized art quilter whose award-winning quilts have appeared in hundreds of national and international exhibitions, collections and publications.

Some of her honors include 2009 International Quilt Festival Best of Show, the 100 Best Quilts of the 20thCentury, NQA, Masterpiece Quilt Award and selection as one of the 30 most influential quilters in the world. She has lectured and taught in 11 countries and recently opened Bryerpatch Studio Workshop Center in Paducah, Ky.

Q: Thanks for joining us, Caryl. Your formal training was primarily in design, drawing and studio painting.Caryl and APQS George What got you interested in quilting?

A: In 1974, my husband and I bought a farm in Missouri from a lady named Ida Vohs. Ida was 89 years old and had quilted her whole life. One evening we visited her home, and she opened the door to a closet full of quilts and started pulling them out. I was transfixed. I had been sewing since I was 10 years old, and making art since before I could remember. This was the perfect marriage of art and fabric.

Q: What do you like about quilting?

A: Even when I was a painter I loved texture, and I often added textures to my canvases before I painted them. One of the big attractions of quilting is the texture created by the stitching together of the layers. The act of machine quilting is often as close as I get to meditation. I try to make each loop and swirl as beautiful as possible, and I can get lost in the process for hours.

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

Caryl Checks and Balances QuiltA: After meeting Ida in 1974, I went right home and bought a book about quilting from the literary guild. I found a picture inside called Rail Fence and decided that looked easy enough to tackle. I had a book of wallpaper samples with fabric swatches, and I made a rail fence with them, using 5/8″ seams. What I learned by making my first quilt was that I had a lot to learn, so the next book I bought had some basic instructions on quilt construction. There was not a label on it warning that this was addictive, so I plunged ahead, and the rest is history.

Q: What inspires you when you’re quilting?

A: Inspiration comes from almost everything I see and experience: nature, landscape, tiny details, storytelling, and even abstract philosophical concepts. Images often just appear in my mind when I’m day-dreaming or when I first wake in the morning. These images are gifts, so I’ve learned to pay attention to them.

Q: What are three quilting tools you can’t live without?

A: Sewing machine, good scissors, quilting gloves

Q: You recently opened the Bryerpatch Studio in Paducah, Kentucky. What is the studio all about, and what made you want to open it?

Caryl Giraffes in the PaintboxA: For many years I fantasized about having a place where students could come to take classes, and where I could surround myself with creative people. My studio is designed to promote creativity and positive energy. The art and objects I choose to bring into my space are intentionally uplifting and inspiring. I welcome visitors, so don’t hesitate to stop by when you are traveling through Western Kentucky. I am open by appointment or by chance. If you call ahead you can be sure to catch me. If you ring the doorbell and I’m here, I’m usually open.

Q: When and how did you transition from viewing your quilting as a hobby to viewing it as works of art?

A: In November of 1982, I was hand quilting a medallion quilt inspired by patterns in one of Jinny Beyer’s books. I was a flight attendant for United Airlines at that time, and I carried the quilt around in my garment bag and hand quilted during my out-of-town layovers. On a layover in Buffalo, New York, I ran out of thread, and the desk clerk at the hotel sent me to a quilt shop a block away. During my visit the shop owner invited me to a lecture featuring Jean Ray Laury at the Amherst museum in Williamsville, New York.

Jean Ray Laury turned out to be a witty and articulate Californian, with a master’s degree in art from Stanford On the Wings of Dream University, who made quilts as art, and traveled around the country talking about them, and got paid for it. At that moment I knew without a doubt that I wanted the whole package.

I went right home and designed my first completely original art quilt. That led to my first quilt show, my first award, my first two publications, and my first quilt in a museum collection. 15 years later I was the featured speaker at the same conference at the Amherst museum in Williamsville New York.

Q: What APQS machine do you use?

I use the George for all of the quilting demonstrations in my machine quilting workshops. It is absolutely dependable, and it is easy for both my students and me to see where we are going, because the head doesn’t block our view. We also LOVE the table that comes with it.

Q: Do you have any tips for people who are about to purchase their own machine? What are the most important things to consider?

A: There are lots of things to consider. The most important is which kind of machine (longarm or sit-down-push-through) best fits your style of quilting and skill level. The two different kinds of machine set-ups require completely different sets of skills, and each has a slightly different vocabulary of possible patterns. If you are already an accomplished machine quilter with a domestic machine, you may want to consider the George so you can continue using the skills you already have.

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

A: Lyrical