Today’s Q.S.O.S. Spotlight is about genealogy. But not in the way you’re thinking! Sometimes, in searching the Q.S.O.S. archives, I find small, delightful connections between interviews. Today, I was reading an interview of Canadian quilter Lorraine Roy from 2008. In it, interviewer Bernie Herman mentioned a project by quiltmaker Dominie Nash. His question was about ‘quilt genealogies’–the way that quilts relate to each other and their history, their lineage, connections, and references.

Both Dominie and Lorraine shared their thoughts about the way the quilts they made referred to their own past work, their evolution as quiltmakers and artists, and their quilt making process. These two Q.S.O.S. interviews are very different conversations, but they’re all part of the great family of quilts and quiltmakers.

In the spirit of quilt geneologies, this week’s Spotlight starts with an excerpt from Dominie Nash’s 2001 interview, as she explained the great variety in projects she’d been working on recently:

For a while I had been obsessively filling up areas of my quilt with little tiny pieces of fabric and I decided I wanted to simplify, so that at least for me worked here because as you can see the shapes are not as complex as some of my earlier work. And it led to a series which I’ve been very pleased with I’ve done five altogether… 

The series that I worked on before this and I don’t think I’ve finished with it is called “Peculiar Poetry” and it’s done in very much the same style although as I’ve said the use of fabric is a little more complex. Each of the big shapes was filled with many more smaller pieces of fabric and from the same color range to kind of create an overall color for each shape. And then I’ve done, I’m working on a series that I call “Deconstruction/Reconstruction” where I take old quilts that I’ve done that I haven’t been happy with and cut them up and recombine them to make new quilts so I’ve done maybe five or so sets of those. I have more candidates waiting in the wings. And then is a series called “Chimera” which involves taking pieces from one quilt and using them as a starting point for the next and those are based on drop cloths that I accumulate when I’m dyeing and printing the fabric. So with most of them I’ve taken a whole piece of cloth that has a lot of paint and dye splashed on it and I add some to it and use that as the ground for the quilt and then add, pieces on top of that from the previous quilt, do stitching and printing on top of the whole newly assembled piece…

I don’t usually know when I do the first one or even two whether it’s gonna go on and I have some that have just sort of dead ended. But I like to work in series because it’s a way to develop my ideas and have what everybody seems to want is a body of work that kind of hangs together. I never say, you know I’m going to do ten or four or whatever, it just happens and at some point with some of them I might say this is finished and with others I know that I may come back to them. But I usually have two or three different series that I’m working on at the same time which may not look anything like each other. So I have to be careful when I’m presenting my work not to confuse people.

7 years later, Bernie Herman interviewed Lorraine Roy and mentioned Nash’s work, sparking a conversation about the ever-evolving technique and passions of an artist:

Bernie Herman:
Your thoughts on this question make me remember two conversations with two very different artists working in the same medium. First, some years ago Dominie Nash described a quilt project in which she made a quilt, rent or cut it into parts, recycled those parts into a second generation of quilts, rent or cut those into bits, recycled those fragments into the third generation, etc. In the end, many generations later, traces of the original continued to surface. Second, Irene Williams of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, explained a process in more or less these words, ‘Every quilt I make remembers all the quilts I’ve ever made and all the quilts my mother, sisters, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers ever made. In fact, every quilt I make remembers every quilt that has ever been made in this place.’ So, in the context of quilt genetics (for want of a better phrase), how do your quilts, using the example of “Luck and Skill,” express their genealogies?

Lorraine Roy: My first love in textile technique was embroidery. Even though embroidery techniques were not taught in the area where I grew up, I sought out every possible source of information and was able to master quite a few different types, including canvas work and white work. Needless to say, these are slow painstaking methods of expression, and I wanted to work larger, faster, and in an even more painterly way. Over 20 years I developed the collage technique that I now use, but only in the past 10 years have I been using quilting as a way to finish and present the work (I was previously stretching onto frames). Because my imagery is so strongly influenced by the linear and painterly character of embroidery, my hangings are rarely called ‘quilts.’ In fact I have never made a real quilt, and because French Canadians have a stronger tradition of weaving and rug hooking, I was never exposed to them while growing up. 

So we could say that “Luck and Skill,” like all my other hangings, expresses its genealogy by referring more strongly to the linear and painterly elements of embroidery than it does to the traditional construction of quilts.

As for visual genealogy: grids have appeared in almost every one of my series in some form or another. One of the reasons I was so drawn to my early Canvas embroidery was the orderly rows of stitches and the rhythmic motion of the work itself. I respond to grids in other artists’ work as well, so I suspect it’s simply part of my natural inclination or vocabulary, a symbol of order that balances beautifully with more chaotic elements…

[E]ach piece I make captures (in the best way I can) one moment in a continuum of moments. It is not perfect but it has built on previous experience, and is a step to the next level. Just because one individual piece is not perfect does not mean it has less value. On the contrary, it has much to offer someone who is truly observing and searching – the mistakes, the inconsistencies, the omissions, the triumphs and failures – they are all there, plain to see. Each viewer enters it, contributes to it, and grows with it, in his own way. The viewer is a co-creator with the artist.

You can read more quilt stories on the Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories page on the Quilt Alliance website.


Posted by Emma Parker
Project Manager, Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories