Studio Art Quilt Associates Featured Artist: Cindy Grisdela

Sharing an interview with a great art quilter,

SAQA Featured Artist: Cindy Grisdela

Cindy Grisdela – Reston, Virginia

Artist Statement

From my studio looking out over a lake in Reston, VA, I draw inspiration for my contemporary wall quilts from the view of nature outside my window every day. Pebbles on the path or currents in water might become part of the texture I stitch into each piece. Color combinations in bird feathers or flowering plants might slip into the palette I use to start my next design.

My abstract art quilts are designed improvisationally without a preconceived pattern, a little bit like jazz music. Each decision about color and shape influences the next and complex blocks repeat like beats of a melody, calmed by irregular plain areas that provide a resting place for the eye.

The color is the first step. Putting colors together intuitively, I use fabric the way a painter might use paint to create graphic compositions that engage the viewer from a distance, yet invite a closer look.

The texture is the second step. The stitching lines provide contrast and dimension to the piece, integrating the different elements into a cohesive whole. I do all of my stitching on a sewing machine, but it is entirely hand driven. There’s no computer program or marking ahead of time. I stitch the motifs freehand using the needle and thread of the machine like a pencil or a brush.

I come from a long line of women who have expressed themselves using a needle and thread, although curiously there were no quilters in my family. Creating with various forms of fabric and thread has been a part of my life since I was a child, and I’m self taught as a fiber artist, with lots of experimentation along the way. My formal education includes a BA in Fine Arts from the College of William and Mary and an MBA from George Washington University.

My work is represented by Chasen Galleries in Richmond, VA, and can be found in a number of private collections all over the country. I am a teacher and author.


(Click images to enlarge)

SAQA: When did you begin making art with fabric? Do you work in other media as well?

Uneven Bars © Cindy Grisdela

GRISDELA: I’ve been sewing since I was 10 and my mother decided I was old enough to be trusted with her beloved Singer. I studied art in high school and college and experimented with painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture and weaving.I made my first quilt in 1983 after seeing an article in a magazine–a queen size Trip Around the World. After that I was hooked and I spent a number of years making traditional quilts as a creative outlet while I raised my family. About 15 years ago I got bored with following patterns and started seriously trying to make my own art in fabric.

SAQA: What inspires you?

GRISDELA: I’m inspired by abstraction, color and texture. I enjoy playing with color and seeing how various colors and shapes interact. I think one of the reasons I create with fabric instead of with paint, for example, is the ability to add another dimension to my compositions by adding the stitching texture with dense free motion quilting. I want the stitching to be an integral part of the composition, not just a means to hold the three layers together.

SAQA: Have any artists or art movements influenced your work?

GRISDELA: I have a degree in Art History, so there are always lots of influences rattling around in my head. I love Abstract Expressionism, especially the Color Field School of artists. Matisse’s cut outs are important to me, as are Klee, Kandinsky and Klimt. I’m also drawn to the work of Robert and Sonia Delaunay. Among quilt artists, I am indebted to the work of Gwen Marston, who was an early influence.

SAQA: What techniques and materials do you use?

Nautilus © Cindy Grisdela

GRISDELA: I use hand dyed fabrics to create almost all of my current work–mostly by Cherrywood Fabrics. I experimented with dyeing my own fabrics a number of years ago, but realized that’s not my skill, so I’m happy supporting others who do it well.All of my work now is created using improvisational piecing techniques and free motion quilting. I enjoy the dialogue that happens when I’m just cutting out colors and shapes intuitively and letting one decision lead to the next. It’s a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, only I get to decide what the picture is going to look like. I do all my quilting freehand, without marking ahead of time or using a computer program.

SAQA: Where do you create?

GRISDELA: I have a studio in the basement of our townhouse on a lake. I look out on the lake while I’m sewing and it’s a very peaceful retreat. The commute downstairs is great too! I also have a shared space with nine other artists a short distance from my home. I’m the only fiber artist in the group, but it’s good to be around other creative people and share inspiration. I try to spend one day a week there.

SAQA: How do you reconcile the art-making and business sides of your creative life?

GRISDELA: That’s the tough part. For the last ten years I’ve been traveling extensively showing an selling my work at fine art and fine craft shows all over the country. I do about 12-14 shows a year. I also have an active blog and presence on Instagram and Facebook, and I’m a regular contributor to the SAQA Journal.

Probably I spend about half my time on the business side–writing, applying to shows, keeping my website up to date, marketing, and other business. I like to spend time in the studio in the morning and early afternoon, because that’s when I’m most creative, and work on other business later in the day. I have to keep lists and work backward to make sure enough time is allotted to keep my inventory up for the shows, so sometimes I’m writing blog posts or marketing pieces on the road.

Lime Medley © Cindy Grisdela

SAQA: Have you published books or been a guest on an art-related media program?GRISDELA: My new book, Artful Improv: Explore Color Recipes, Building Blocks & Free Motion Quilting, was just released by C&T Publishing in October 2016. It’s a friendly guide to creating your own original art quilts without a pattern, using simple design principles and improv techniques.

SAQA: What are you working on now? What’s next?

GRISDELA: I will continue doing shows, although probably not as many in 2017, since I’m doing a lot more teaching in conjunction with the book. It’s such fun to see a diverse group of artists come together for a day or more to explore their individual creativity. Each person’s work is different from the others and different from mine because we all bring our own personalities and history to the table.

I also have plans to work on a new series of larger improv quilts. The great thing about improv is there’s always something new to explore!

View more of Cindy Grisdela’s work on her website and SAQA Juried Artist Member profile

Connect with Cindy Grisdela on Facebook and Instagram

Follow Cindy Grisdela on Twitter and Pinterest


Couching Threads and Creating Fabri

I have several small spools of yarn I inherited from my mother. I was drawn to keep them by their bright colors. I don’t know what my mother had used them for. But I wanted them for something. I didn’t know what though. They languished in my studio for a long time before a perfect use came up.

Several years back at a large quilt show, I saw a piece that had a large amount of yarn jammed on top into big blob. To be honest I didn’t like effect at all. But it gave me the idea to use the decorator threads and interesting yarns in a more orderly way. I stumbled upon a way to creating texture for my pieces.

After I have chosen the colors I want to use, I take a long strip of cotton fabric, 20”-40”long and 5” to 6” wide. I tried using other backings like ribbon but I didn’t like the effect as well. The ribbon was slippery and was not easy to sew with. I couch (zigzag) the threads to the cotton fabric. I don’t worry about the lines being straight. I also prefer to match the sewing thread color to the yarn as that the color of the yarn stands out more; the stitching appears invisible. But that is a personal choice one can make. A thin thread can be doubled or tripled to become thicker .  I repeat couching similar or different threads on the cotton fabric. Remember to leave space for the seam allowance and don’t sew too close to the side edges of the cotton fabric. Sometimes I keep the threads straight and sometimes I cross one thread on top of another.  I like the movement this creates on my quilt. Overthinking this process is not necessary. I find it fun and relaxing. If things don’t turn out as I would like then I can just save the piece for another project.  After 5 or 6 threads have been couched, then I randomly cut them into pieces to use as fabric.

It is easy to find interesting yarns and threads at flea markets or garage sales. There won’t be enough for a scarf or a sweater but there will be more than enough for your couching creating fabric projects.


Maria Shell, Alaskan Quilter

Faculty Profiles: Maria Shell
For more than 35 years, QBL has brought world-class faculty to Central NY for 2 weeks each summer. This year, we’ve invited Maria Shell to teach two signature workshops  Abstraction through Color, Pattern, and Repetition (2-days) and Making Prints out of Solids (3-days). Maria Shell’s work is grounded in the tradition and craft of American quilt making. She strives to take the classical components of a traditional bedquilt and manipulate them with the hope of creating surprising combinations of pattern, repetition, and color for the viewer.

An interview with Maria
All of your quilts have such bold graphic colors- have you always worked this way? If not, how have your quilts changed?
This is my very first quilt. (right)
So, I would say that from the beginning I have loved bold graphic colors and compositions. I remember studying for hours and hours quilts that I liked. I wanted to figure out what I liked about them and how I could duplicate that. It really is about creating contrast through pattern, color, or value.
You also have worked on many community quilt projects. Can you tell us some more about that and the people you worked with?
I started making community quilts as a way to justify my quilt making obsession. I tried to make a community quilt for every baby that I knew in Valdez, Alaska. I would collect the blocks from other moms and then stitch them together. Lots of quilters helped me make those quilts happen. I have written about these quilts in several blog posts listed below.
In the fall of 2014, I was an Artist in Residence at the McColl Center for Art & Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina. A big part of that residency program is community engagement. I worked with a formerly chronically homeless population to build a community quilt to be installed at Moore Place, their new home. That was an amazing experience and a spectacular quilt. If you would like to know more about my residency, Moore Place, and HOME the community quilt we built, you can by following these links.
I love the deep meaning of community quilts-we are literally stitched together.
The underlying structure of many of your quilts is actually a simple grid, can you tell us more about how you get so much complexity and variety out of grids?
For six years, I have been working in series called Color Grids. They are based on a traditional quilt block that goes by several names including The Red Cross Quilt, Stone Mason’s Puzzle, City Streets, Crossed Square, and my favorite, Squares and Square. It is essentially an uneven nine patch. One of my missions as an artist is to claim the traditional quilt block as a legitimate art form.
I have challenged myself to use this same grid over and over again-just like a gridded traditional quilt. But instead of things remaining static, I expand and contract the grid while also filling the space with different information-color, print, shape, and line are always changing within the constraints of the grid.
Funky Monkey has a slightly different format. If you look closely you will see that Funky Monkey is really sixteen blocks placed in a grid with sashing. The direction of the lines within the blocks creates interesting figure ground work. The eye moves back and forth trying to decide exactly what is ground and what is figure.
With Solstice, I introduced print into the mix. I am still exploring how to successfully do this.  Adding print to the mixture definitely opens up some new possibilities, but it also complicates things because it is one more variable to contend with.
What do you like most about teaching Abstraction through Color, Pattern, and Repetition?
  I love this class because it really is the sum of what I have been working on since I began making quilts. The students start with an image of their own and, with my help, figure out how to abstract it. The compositions that have come out of this workshop are amazing! Here is Wendy Hoag’s quilt that she started in this workshop.
What do students take away from this workshop?
 Students get the opportunity learn about how I use color, pattern, and repetition to create abstract work, and they discover that creating original work is exciting and do-able.
What do you like most about teaching Making Prints out of Solids?
Making Prints out of Solids is a simple concept with mind boggling opportunities. We all recognize prints in our every day lives-stripes, polka dots, herringbones, chevrons, and even plaids. In this class, we recreate and piece our own prints. It is super exciting. This is sample of what the students learn how to make in this class.
What do students take away from this workshop?
Students will learn a lot about color and how pattern and repetition can be used to create dynamic compositions. They will also get a clear handle on how to cut and piece improvisation-ally  while also learning some slick technical tricks to help all those pieces fit together in the end. Kate Yates made these two quilts after taking this workshop. I think they are incredible!

More Classes & Information on QBL 2017

QBL Classes  Housing Participant Information
How to Register QBL Quilt Show QBL 2017 Brochure
Questions? Call the Schweinfurth Art Center at (315)255-1553 or email today!

New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Schweinfurth Art Center · 205 Genesee St. · Auburn, NY 13021 · 315.255.1553 ·
Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn, NY 13021
Sent by in collaboration with
Constant Contact

Alice Beasley, fiber artist

Upcoming exhibitions for Alice Beasley.
Come See the Gator in Chief
Exhibit: June 3 – June 28
5327 Jacuzzi St., Suite 3-C
Richmond, CA 94804
Opening Reception: June 4 from 1 to 4 p.m.
In this solo exhibition, I’ll be exhibiting several works never seen in the Bay Area before including “Feeding Time at the Swamp” and my “Undercurrents” series of underwater ballets.
Last Chance
The Neuw Politic: Artists Explore closes at the Petaluma Arts Center
on May 20.  Artists from throughout northern California give their take on the current political scene.  My quilt “No Vote No Voice” was named first prize winner.
“No Vote, No Voice,” quilt, 60″ x 36″

Now through May 20
Petaluma Arts Center

230 Lakeville St.
Petaluma, CA
Dynamic Diversity: Quilts by African American Artists
This show opens at the Texas Quilt Museum from June 29 through October 1.  My piece, “A Kiss Goodbye” will be among those exhibited.  Other artists include Marion Coleman, Carolyn Crump, Michael Cummings, Michele David, Valerie Goodwin, Carolyn Mazloomi, Dindga McCannon, Valarie Poitier, Frances Porter and Sidnee Snell.
“A Kiss Goodbye”, 59″ x 44″
June 29 through October 1
140 West Colorado
La Grange, TX 78945
National African American Quilt Conference
Lawrence, Kansas will be the host city for the first National African American Quilt Conference. In conjunction with the convention, the Lawrence Arts Center will be presenting a group exhibition of six quilters.  I am delighted to be showing “I Always Try to Keep an Open Mind” along with several works at this exhibit.
“I Always  Try to Keep an Open Mind”, quilt 56″ x 48″
July 12 through August 19
940 New Hampshire St.
Lawrence, KS 66044
Reception: July 28, 5 to 9 p.m.
More Shows Coming
I have additional exhibits coming up this summer and fall including “Blood Line” which will have its first local exhibition this fall at the Harrington Gallery, Pleasanton, CA.  So stay tuned.
Visit my website:
Fybrart, 1018 Park Lane, Oakland, CA 94610

Eucalyptus Sculpture at UCSC Arboretum

Jamie Abbott, Barbara Downs, and Roy Holmberg are collaborating on a fabricated and forged steel and painted concrete with vermiculite sculpture representing Eucalyptus pods and leaves. Their vision of placing this twenty foot scolpture against a fence as if blown by the wind is brilliant. You can see their very different and compelling installation and 10 other fabulous installations at the UC Santa Cruz Art in the Arboretum : Environmental installations exhibition starting May 20 till November 17.
Opening reception is May 20. 3-6pm.

About Jamie Abbott, Barbara Downs, and Roy Holmberg and their installation titled 3+7
Jamie Abbott, Barbara Downs, Roy Holmberg
Fabricated and forged steel, with burlap, concrete and vermiculite

On our first trip to walk around the arboretum, looking for inspiration, we quickly zeroed in on a eucalyptus grove; our initial inclination was to build something in the grove using the bark that littered the ground as our main material.

On our second trip, looking at specific sites, we started collecting eucalyptus seedpods, and had an idea about a very large pod or groups of pods. As we collected more samples, Roy found a twig with leaves and pods, and with that in mind we visited yet again to look for a specific site for a large version of that twig. When we saw the fence, we started thinking about the relationship of a twig and a fence.

To some extent, the fence dictates the sculpture, and their relationship is important. The idea that the twig would blow in the wind and be caught by the fence was the genesis of our final sculpture idea.

Working in collaboration is both rewarding and challenging. We each bring our own skill set and ideas to the mix, with combined experience in metal work, drafting, horticulture, painting, mixed-media sculpture and forging. Our own working methods may be quite different from what we’re doing as a group.

Because we’re a group, it’s helpful to have the sculpture planned in great detail in advance, so we worked with templates and a scale model. This type of planning helped us to cement our ideas (no pun intended), and to articulate with each other what it is that we are after.

Ultimately, we are making the sculpture that we are able to make *with each other*, in a collaboration, and it will be quite different from what each of us might make individually.

Jamie Abbott

Born in Syracuse, New York, Jamie Abbott now has a studio in Santa Cruz, California. He earned his BFA and MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. He was an instructor at Cabrillo College from 1973 to 2013.

He has shown regionally and nationally and has numerous private and public commissions.

“My background in sculpture spans more than forty years and my use of materials and process covers the traditional as well as non-traditional methods. The fundamental aesthetic issues: such as composition, asymmetry, form, line and plane are primary issues/concerns I refer to when designing my work.

The aesthetics of presentation of my sculpture envelops the work from its beginning stages. The visual value of the work as scene by the larger audience is so dependent upon the totality of the finished work. It culminates with the adage that the work must speak for it’s self.”
(831) 239-3511
2575-C Mission St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Barbara Downs

Born in Virginia, Barbara Downs now lives in Santa Cruz, California. In 1983 she earned her BA at UC Santa Cruz in studio art, focusing on traditional lithography on limestone.

During this time, she made her living as a draftsperson, doing electro-mechanical drawings on vellum, and later in AutoCAD. Among other jobs, she did mechanical design and drafting for an early private rocket company.

Barbara’s art now spans multiple mediums including painting, drawing, encaustic and sculpture. She has shown regionally and nationally. Her work is included in the collection of the University of California as well as various corporate and private collections.

“I work in multiple mediums with little allegiance to specific subject matter, though my bodies of work are conceptually and aesthetically connected. While disassembling and reorganizing the visual information and materials at hand, I investigate themes of containment, confinement, and the protective or aversive shielding of precious internal information.

“My work involves real and vigorous physical action: scraping, erasing, stitching, nailing, welding. I often paint with large rollers for a broad mark, and then scrub and mar the surface. This physicality brings out an “object-ness” in each piece.
(831) 234-1154
2573 Mission St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Roy Holmberg

Native son of the Golden West, grew up in Southern California and have resided in Santa Cruz since the early 80’s. Navy Veteran, registered Landscape Architect and retired burecrat. Opened my art studio in the year 2,000 and have been in numerous local, regional and statewide shows..

“I do not engage in the fancy art speak, so I will just describe my processes in terms that a blacksmith would understand.

“I work in metals, ceramics and wood using a variety of tools to shape and mold materials into pieces that strive to capture the spirit of the craftsman era. I particularly enjoy working with hot forged metals which allows a normally rigid material to become plastic and able to be worked into fluid organic shapes. Nothing like getting a piece of steel hot, hitting it hard and shaping it into a thing of beauty.

“For most of my work I use a combination of materials and it is not uncommon for me to incorporate found objects into my pieces. Raw materials may originate from a scrap yard, flea market, yard sale or be found washed up on the coast. Gathering raw materials can often be as challenging yet rewarding as constructing the work. I enjoy creating my pieces and take special satisfaction from turning cast off items into artistic work.”
(831) 251-5657
2589 Mission St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060

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Art Quilts vs Bed Quilts

People unfamiliar with quilts or even art quilts have asked how they are different. As I have made the transition from making  bed quilts to creating wall art, the question is something that I have lived through. May I offer some generalizations?  Bed quilts and art quilts are made with the same tools; sewing machine, rotary cutters, cutting boards, see through ruler, a variety of feet for their machines. Many of the techniques are also the same; three pieces sewn together, applique, stitch in the ditch, binding and others. Bed quilts generally have squares or blocks of fabric sewn together. Bed quilters prefer to use 100% cotton. It is the best fabric to work with, it lies flat and most importantly, it is washable. When a quilter moves away from the necessity of washing their piece, a whole new realm of fabric possibilities open up.

For me, foregoing the use of patterns also forged my way toward art quilts. I have been “scarred” by my pattern disasters. I flatly refuse to use them anymore. By not following anyone else’s ideas, colors, or materials, I have been able to create my own style.

Silk, linen, synthetics, yarn and decorative threads have become my go to materials. I am very focused on redirecting fabrics and materials to keep them out of the landfill. I keep the smallest pieces of fabric to try and find a use for it instead of placing them in the trash. Of course, my first focus is on creating a beautiful piece of art that someone will want to live with.

Scribble Quilting

Scribble Quilting is a colorful, artful and an interesting way for me  to quilt.   The quilting thread lines cross each other; creating positive and negative space.  The actual sewing lines are the positive space, and the negative spaces are the shapes created by the lines.  Lines undulate, curve and wave.  Do the lines you’ve made draw your eye and keep your interest?

Like many great ideas, Scribble Quilting was discovered by accident.  I was making a baby quilt and decided to quilt curvy lines with my walking foot instead of straight ones.  I used one of the built-in stitches on my sewing machine which made regular, gentle curves.  Soon, I wanted to make the curves wider.  Switching back to my usual straight stitch, I began gently moving the quilt from side to side by hand to make wider curves than my built-in stitch had allowed.   It was fun, and the lines looked more interesting.  I kept quilting, experimenting with contrasting thread colors, and finished many of my art quilts this way.

I called this technique Scribble Quilting because, during my thirty-eight years of teaching, I noticed that some students showed their frustration with what they considered unsuccessful art projects by scribbling all over them with four or five different crayons or pens.  It always caught my attention; to me, it looked like a party with confetti falling all over.  As I quilted my pieces, drawing lines with multiple colors and crossing over them repeatedly, it reminded me of scribbling.

Next post, more on the process of Scribble Quilting including photos.


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