Five Minutes with Quilt Artist Jacquie Gering
Jacquie Gering is a quilt artist and, as a former Chairman of the Modern Quilt Guild, was part of a team that brought the idea of Quiltcon to reality. We caught up with her in her temporary garage studio in Kansas City to find out about her life in textiles, the joys of QuiltCon and her upcoming exhibition at the show.
ECT: Today your work is well known, but you never made a quilt before 2009?
JG: No, although growing up as a Mennonite little girl I had learned to sew and my great grandmother, grandmother, and mother had all tried to teach me to knit, and to tat, and to crochet. I made my own clothes, but didn’t love it and I stopped as soon as I got my first job and could buy myself what I wanted wear.
ECT: So what changed?
JG: I had been an educator for many years, most recently working in tough schools across the US and I was tired of the travelling, so I quit my job. Soon after I went to see an exhibition of work by the Gees Bend Quilters, and I found it so inspiring. Quilts are part of my Mennonite family tradition, but I had always just thought of them as blankets. These were so different - there was something quirky and whack-a-doodle about them. I also learned that quilts have a history as platforms for messages, and as I’m also passionate about lots of issues, I knew quilts were how I wanted to express my creativity.
ECT: Did you teach yourself?
JG: I did. Quilting is challenging but it’s really about sewing in straight lines, and I had the basics so I typed ‘how to make a quilt’ into Google… I might not have any formal training, but I have given myself a lot of training. When I was an educator, the Professor I trained with had this saying, “think you can, work hard, get smarter.” It was aimed at inspiring children, but it works for adults too and it’s how I have tackled the quilting world - if there’s something I don’t know, I try and learn it. I’m not afraid to make mistakes and to fail.
ECT: How would you describe your aesthetic?
JG: I thrive on simple. Too much gives me hives and I don’t love repeated blocks or the complexity that quilting can be about. I used the catchphrase is ‘re-thinking quilting’ because, although tradition is my touch stone – everything starts with tradition after all - it doesn’t have to stay there and it shouldn’t be stifling. The great improvisational quilter Gwen Marsten used to peer over the shoulders of people in her classes and say, “what would happen if…” and I love that. We should all be able to try different methods.
ECT: Tell us something about your process?
JG: It’s really flexible. I believe there’s a connection between the hand the creative brain, so I don’t use technology very much. I love graph paper and old school tools – including carpentry tools I inherited from my dad. ( I put grommets in with hammers and his 60inch wallpaper ruler is perfect for cutting long lines.) I do a lot of cut paperwork using craft foam (a rubbery construction paper that cuts really nicely with a craft knife), because I find playing and moving things around ignites my creativity. I sketch too but I hardly ever draw out a design and duplicate it; ideas always evolve as I make.
Perfection is the enemy of joy for me (although I am a perfectionist to the max and I have to work really hard to get rid of those tendencies). Slight inaccuracies – a line not quite matching up for example – are the signatures of handmade work. I also want quilting to be fun and I rebel against the whole quick quilt/fast quilt thing. I just want to savour every stitch and enjoy the process.
ECT: You will be showing 25 quilts at QuiltCon Raleigh in February 2024 – can we have a sneak peak?
JG: I still haven’t decided which quilts to take. I could just take 25 from my cupboard but I don’t want to do that, so I think it will be about a third to a half new work, plus some iconic pieces that people will want to see, and some historic pieces which show where I started. These three are on the list at the moment, but I can’t guarantee they will be at the show!
Yoshiko Jinzenji is one of my quilting inspirations. She is a Japanese quilter and is both the master of tradition as well as the master of minimalism. I actually learned of her as an artist long before I started quilting because she has a connection to the University of Kansas and Hallmark Cards, which is based in Kansas City and the Spencer Art Museum in Lawrence, Kansas on the campus of KU has a collection of her quilts. When I started quilting, I learned that the quilt shop in Lawrence carried her fabrics. I don’t use many prints in my quilts, but hers are an exception. The MQG invited Yoshiko to teach at QuiltCon and I was thrilled to be a part of her class and learn from her. It is the only quilt class I’ve ever taken. This quilt is a homage to what I learned from her and uses her fabrics for the cross and for the back of the quilt. Simple may seem easy to many people, but it is a true challenge to create a simple piece that is visually interesting and graphically impactful. It is quilted with a sashiko inspired quilting design.
Bridges was made in 2013 after I moved to Chicago. I was walking the city every day with my dog, Bruno, and I noticed the bridges we crossed and came upon on our walks. It was later I found out that Chicago was the city of bridges. I fell in love with the lines, the repetition, the shapes, and the graphic impact of bridge designs. None of these are actual bridges, but only my representation of the features I responded to. The bridges are placed down the centre of the quilt as a division representing life prior to my move to Kansas City and my new life in Chicago. It was quite a transition and I needed a bridge to get successfully from one to the other. The quilt is densely matchstick quilted with vertical lines and the words, 'span', 'passage', and 'connect' appear in the unquilted areas as well as the city names Chicago and Kansas City.
F1 stands for Formula One. I made this quilt in 2021 during the pandemic. My oldest son turned me onto Drive to Survive on Netflix during our isolation due to covid and I fell in love with Formula One racing. I started watching all the races and was intrigued by the design of the cars, the design of the tracks and the personalities of the drivers. I was hooked. This quilt was inspired by the tires on Formula One cars and the track designs. This quilt also provided an opportunity for me to experiment with quilting designs inspired by my studies of sacred geometries.
ECT: This our first tour to QuiltCon – why should it be on every quilters’ must-see list?
JG: As one of the people who helped to set up QuiltCon back in 2013, I can’t speak about it without being so proud of it. It’s largest modern quilt show in the world and if you want to see the top work in the modern quilt world, you have to go. Most of the other big quilt shows around the world are put on by big for-profit companies with lots of staff, but QuiltCon is essentially a Guild show organised by a very small staff and a lot of volunteers who really work hard. The programme is incredible. We’ve always been really proud of the fact that we pay our teachers like professionals, so we get the best instructors and the lectures are a bargain – you can buy a four day lecture pass and see all these amazing people for one price. And we have special exhibits too which are one of the ways we highlight some of the quilting communities that are sometimes not seen, such as the Social Justice Sewing Academy and young quilters - our Youth Quilts category is wonderful. There is so much innovation and things you just won’t see anywhere else.
We are delighted to going to QuiltCon Raleigh 2024 - if you would like to come too, you can book your place here
Jacquie will be giving the featured lecture, 'The Touch of my Hands; the Soul of a Quilt' at QuiltCon on Saturday 24th February. Tickets are $14.40 for MQG members, or $18 for non-members and should be purchased direct from QuiltCon 2024.