The Quiltmaker as Artist

“As a creative person, you are especially sensitive to the world around you.” -Matt Tommey


The word makes me uncomfortable. It conjures up projects that are too grandiose for a person like me to create. Using the word stops progress on my work. Even today, it is difficult to for me to say that I am an artist. Yet, after making a few quilts in my lifetime, the stitched products proclaim the efforts of a creative soul.

God hardwired creativity into our beings. According to Matt Tommey, “your artistic expression, created in and with the presence of God, can literally carry His presence into the earth and effect change.”1

Making a quilt can do that? Just by sewing together fabric into calm designs to encourage and inspire, or appliqueing material into statements that ignite discussion, the resulting quilt represents my connection to God as an artist. “Art is the creative process of a creative mind and creative hands. Quilts, in fact any form of needlecraft, uses fabric and thread as media to create a unique object that can be viewed, interpreted, admired and discussed. A quilt, any quilt, clearly falls under the definition of art,” according to Emily-Jane Hills Orford. Those who create art are artists.

nine patch quilt


The Stages of Creativity

Actually, following the steps of creativity provides insight into why quilt making is an artistic expression.

Step 1. Preparation. This is the stage when the quilter browses through pattern books, searching for the design that best fits the life experience or emotion that is brewing just below the conscious mind. An inkling. A drawing to certain complicated cuts, or stark simplicity. Fabrics that are hand dyed or from feed bags. Forms that expand the vision or focus it on details. A time of exploration.

Step 2. Incubation. Mulling the possibilities for the next project, life goes on with reckless abandon. It is like a flavorful stew that only gets its tastiness from slow cooking.

Step 3. Illumination. This is the “Ah-ha” moment when the mind settles on the type of message this quilt will bring to the world. An accumulation of decades of fabric scraps to fashion a history of the family from pieces of Easter dresses, Christening suits, wedding gowns, or everyday gear. An applique that denounces materialism or bullying. One repeated pattern that exemplifies a quote. A quilt that brings beauty to the home. A project that will be donated to a cancer patient. “Your creative calling is close to the heart of God. He is your creative Source. His is the voice in the night that awakens you with new inspiration and desire.”2

Step 4. Verification. This is the time when the needles fly and the thread bobs between folds of material. Scissors make a concise path through fabric. An idea is being crafted into a finished form, bound and stitched with calculated attention.  This step brings to life the vision of the quilt to be shared with the family and the community. This release of creativity provides life-giving energy. It screams “artist!”


The Artist Within

When I think about the quilts that are the product of my own fingers, there is great satisfaction. The golden autumn colored patchwork with Mallard ducks on it that wrapped my son as he lay on a bunk many miles from home as a young man. The purple and navy marbled material in a Roman stripe that warmed my sister for years, then sent with my granddaughter as she went to college so she could snuggle in our combined love. The sampler lap quilt with Noah’s Ark designs that I made with my daughters at a sewing class. The nine patch fashioned from small squares of fabric samples that I purchased for fifty cents at a garage sale when my husband and I were newlyweds. All the memories in these comforters bring my soul resolution. Their colors and designs proclaim that I am, indeed, an artist. Made in the image of a creative God.



“They told the story of her life
Just as surely as if her needle
Had been threaded with ink and
Her beautifully evenly spaced stitches
Had become words.”  -Elaine Hedges

Photo of artist’s palette, nine patch quilt, bed with quilt, artistic quilt

  1. Unlocking the Heart of the Artist by Matt Tommey, page 93.
  2. Unlocking the Heart of the Artist by Matt Tommey, page 93.

One Comment:

  1. This Fall, I’ll be teaching a class on Art at the local University (OLLIE program). One of the first things to be said on the first day is that throughout history, much of what we have preserved in our museums was not created to be art. It was created out of the love and necessity in PEOPLE’s hearts.

    The ingenuity brought about by necessity (functional items), beliefs (faith and ceremonial objects such as those related to funerals etc.), records (pictures of historical events, people or places), illustrations (picture stories told in pictures in churches, public buildings, artwork in homes, books…) and on and on…. are archived in museums around the world as a record of the cultures that have come before us.

    Many of these objects may not have a monetary value as such, being scratches on a rock, clay that has been molded and fired, reeds woven into a basket, or scraps of cloth arranged in a pleasing fashion for loved ones Yet, the selfsame steps that the artist goes through have been trodden by these peoples… the thoughts, needs, inspiration, catharsis, use…. and more.

    Art is not just what makes it into the museum or gets put in a frame. Art is a frame of MIND from the human heart that reaches outward. Some of the most sincere artwork is done by young children… for, what is art?

    Quilts are one of the many, many media available for immersion into the heart. Ask yourself… who, what, where, why, when and how…when you observe the handiwork of what you encounter. Putting a monetary price on it is artificial. As Rilke says, “Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism. Only love can grasp and hold and be just toward them.”

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