Amy Ahlstrom,Urban Quilter

Welcome to Arc Studios News! This newsletter features events and activities of artists, nonprofit professionals and micro business owners that are part of the creative community at Arc Studios & Gallery 1246 Folsom Street San Francisco.

Arc Studios & Gallery
Arc Studios News September 2017
This month Arc Studio News features artist Amy Ahlstrom who works out of studio #206.

A Conversation with Amy Ahlstrom                
by Sherri Cornett

As a child, riding the train to Chicago from her home in Waukegan, through the poorest and richest neighborhoods, past burnt-out, abandoned buildings and the fanciest of shops, urban quilter Amy Ahlstrom was instilled with a love of cities and their diverse, visual richness.

At the age of five, Amy already felt compelled to draw and sew, inspired by old National Geographic magazines and, her big obsession, Charles Schulz’ Peanuts. After getting her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Amy spent ten years as a cartoonist and then as a graphic designer. “Making comics, which was essentially creating mini-compositions in boxes, really strengthened my design ability in general.” She describes herself as an “image-making machine,” an analogy backed up by her numerous brightly colored, quilted works, which often become historical records of city neighborhoods.

SC: Amy, I can imagine you as a young girl, face glued to the window of the train, taking in all that is passing by. How have those earlier years in Chicago influenced living in San Francisco?

AA: I still Iove to ride any sort of public transit to anywhere I’ve never been before. Sometimes I’ll just get off a bus or train and explore a new place. When I lost my job as a designer during the first tech boom, I had no money but I did have a Muni pass, and I rode every train and bus. Even now I have every bus route number memorized. It was really cheap entertainment!

SC: These perambulations are so evident in your art. Would you tell me about your medium and process?

AA: Most of my work is urban quilting, in which I use samples of hundreds of photos I take of found imagery from city streets – graffiti, signage and sticker art – to design my quilts. I’m inspired by seeing anything new, whether it’s a patch of sidewalk or a new mural in a back alley. My style is greatly influenced by pop art, graphic design, and street art, and this is reflected in the images I choose and the way that I create compositions.

I will typically bring 6-8 images into Adobe Photoshop, where, similar to a DJ, I sample, add, subtract, change color and scale, resample and change again. Then I design the quilt full-scale, create paper patterns to cut by hand from silk and cotton and fuse these together to form the quilt top. I quilt free-motion, in that I move the fabric under the needle of the sewing machine to create patterns. It’s very similar to drawing with brush and ink; if you sew too quickly or too slowly the line quality suffers.

SC: I notice that most of the people you portray in your quilts are women. Is that a deliberate choice?

AA: Yes. Last fall I began developing a new series of portraits of women, and they are both text-heavy and more political in nature. Lately I have been creating what I call a “double reverse portrait”, in which I make a portrait twice but flip the second panel
so they are mirror images. It is fun and challenging to try to make a second quilt that is a reversed “copy” or something that evokes a screen print, in that these are made by hand and so they can never be duplicated perfectly. I exhibited the first two double portraits at Arc’s “Resistance” show that ran from July 22 until August 12.

SC: What would you like viewers to go away with from your art?

AA: I want to challenge the idea of what a quilt can be. For me, it is just as natural to make art from fabric as it is to draw on paper. That’s partly why I stretch my quilts over canvas and frame them. That said, I am first and foremost a quilter and that’s why I don’t cover the quilts with glass. I want the viewer to slowly realize that they are looking at a quilt.

I love when someone sees my art for the first time and instinctively gets what it is that I’m trying to do conceptually. It’s even more meaningful when a viewer goes deeper and wants to talk about why I do what I do. It’s one of the reasons I really enjoy participating in Open Studios and why I am currently the co-chair of the Open Studios Committee for ArtSpan in San Francisco. They give me more opportunities for meaningful interactions.

SC: Was there a moment when these interactions were particularly rewarding?

AA: During a residency at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, I had asked the community to send me pictures- of themselves, their neighborhood, and the places they loved- to be considered for inclusion in a quilt. At the opening one of the people depicted in a quilt, a local singer, showed up with her whole family. It was so wonderful to meet all of the people connected to the images and to see them along with art that I created. It was the inspiration for my new portrait series.

SC: And finally, what is it like to have your studio at Arc and be part of the Arc community?

AA: Arc is really a kind and supportive family of artists and partners. There is a great vibe in the space. Each show and opening brings an entirely new crowd and opportunities to open my studio and interact with folks. The partners who run Arc are truly dedicated to having Arc be a destination for art, artists, and the art-loving community. I appreciate all of the hard work that goes into making this place hum and I love the history here.

Amy Ahlstrom’s website is
Sherri Cornett is a curator, consultant and artist living in Billings, Montana.

Amy Ahlstrom, Double Diamond     

Sunlit Boulders- a work in progress

Sunlit Boulders

Sunlit Boulders is an art quilt with curved line piecing, Scribble Quilting and couched decorative yarns and threads. My first intention was  to highlight the Native American batik shown on the left on the first photo. As I chose different fabrics, I decided that I would minimize their use. When I removed more of that fabric, I was happier with the way it looked. It’s okay to change ideas in midproject if it doesn’t look or feel right to you.


Photo 1

Photo 1 I am auditioning fabrics that complement and contrast with the batik fabric. Using  strips of fabric, I couch(zigzag) a variety of decorative threads and yarns to the strips. I cut the strips apart into varying lengths without much forethought.

Photo 2

Photo 2  I am still auditioning fabric. Some pieced strips are left over from a previous project. Notice that the reddish fabrics will be eliminated.


Photo 3

Photo 3  I start to cut up the strips of couched yarns to add to the quilt. I am trying out where I like the pieces, moving them around. Dark strips frame the piece. Some pieces are beginning to be sewn together. Figures from the batik stand out enough.

photo 4

Photo 4 Tucks are added to some pieces to add texture. Notice that some pieces have been moved around. More small pieces are being sewn together.

photo 5

Photo 5 I am not afraid to cut up fabric. I can always use the fabric at a later date for a different project. More tucks are added to fabrics. Some batiks symbols have been eliminated.

Photo 6


Photo 6 All pieced together and ready for batting and backing.

Photo 7

Photo 7  Scribble Quilting is complete. Edges need to be trimmed and cut straight.

Photo 8

Photo 8 The finished art quilt represents my mantra of color, texture, and movement.


Abstract Art Quilts- a work in progress


Color! Movement! Texture! are my main goals for my abstract art quilts. Color is where I begin. What colors do I want to work with? I found a piece of linen at Fabmo, a nonprofit that redirects materials from the San Francisco Design Center. I really liked the variety of colors in this one piece. This became my  inspiration, find other fabrics and textures with the same colors for my abstract piece.
Oddly enough, several years ago four quilter friends and I  were having trouble choosing colors for a donation quilt we wanted to create together. One friend suggested that we find a fabric and choose the colors from that fabric. At the time I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what she was saying. However, when I saw this multicolored linen and got inspired, I immediately understood what she had been trying to have us do.

Once I have chosen a color or two,this is  when the fun begins. I go through my fabrics to find additional fabrics. At this step, I don’t reject much.

photo 2  Here are the fabrics I chose from my stash.
photo 3 I couched (zigzagged) decorative yarn on contrasting fabric. I matched the color of the thread to the color of the yarn to make the yarn stand out. Then I cut up the strips and use them as fabric.
photo 4 I place small pieces of fabric on my design wall. I move them around before sewing them together.
photo 5 A detail of the pieces sewn together
photo 6 Another detail of the pieces sewn together
photo 7 Another detail of the pieces sewn together
photo 8 Here is the finished quilt, Spring Break.



For more information on couching threads refer to my previous post.…d-creating-fabri/

Studio Art Quilt Associates: Featured Artist: Maria Shell

Maria Shell is an inspiration  to artists around the world.

SAQA Featured Artist: Maria Shell

Maria Shell

Maria Shell  Anchorage, Alaska

Artist Statement

Since 2011, I have been working in a series called Colors Grids. This has been a very satisfying explo-ration of patchwork as art. I love to layer pattern on top of pattern. Essentially, I am piecing, with my sewing machine, my own prints. These quilts are modern day tapestries of color, pattern, repetition, and stitch.

According to Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, my Color Grid quilts are inspired by and related to the following quilt blocks–The Red Cross Quilt, Stone Mason’s Puzzle, City Streets, Squares and Square, and my favorite, Crossed Square.

Limiting the structure of my work to the traditional quilt block has allowed me to go deep into color and print. How do I get color to vibrate? How do I get a self made print to read against another self made print? How can I stitch these elements together so that the viewer sees not only hundreds of scraps of fabric but also the SUM–the whole as greater than its parts? What would happen if a traditional bed quilt ate a healthy dose of psychedelic mushrooms? Those are the questions I am trying to answer.

Vintage and contemporary commercial solid and print cotton fabrics, as well as hand dyed cotton textiles I have created are the materials I use in my work. These textiles are improvisationally and ruler cut and then stitched into a two dimensional surface. Once I create this pieced canvas, I spend hours on my long arm quilting machine stitching the top to cotton or wool batting and a fabric backing. The final step is to bind or face each individual piece.

TRIBE © Maria Shell

Beyond my love of the process of making a quilt—the hours of stitching, designing, ironing, and cutting—I am also a fierce advocate of the quilt as a legitimate art form. Many art quilters shy away from the word quilt and work actively to bury any references to the tradition in their work. They use the materials and techniques of the quilt while publicly denying its ancestry, preferring instead to align themselves with mediums more easily recognized as fine art—painting and photography, in particular.For years I have stood alone on this issue. My friends would say, don’t call yourself a quilter—there is so much baggage there! And I would say that is the point, but it is not baggage—it is a tradition and a history, and I stand on the backs of those who went before me with the hopes of moving this craft into new territory that celebrates the past while simultaneously embracing the future.

What makes me happiest is to create the most wacky colorful beautiful quilted compositions I can and then share them with the world.


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

SHELL: I started stitching when I was four years old. My mother let me use old clothing, and I made all kinds of things in the way that children do—stuffed animals and dolls, handbags, and pillows. I did not have sewing patterns or fancy fabric. So, I went at creating with what I had. My mother promised me a sewing machine when I turned ten, and I held her to it.

I think of myself as a maker whose primary medium is cloth and stitch. There is something about working with these materials that makes me feel good about myself and the world.

Dance Party at Tamara’s House © Maria Shell

I am obsessed with daily art projects. Last year for Project Every Day, I wore only clothing I had made for an entire year. Every day my youngest son would take my photo in the same place—the dirt road we live on. I would then post that image on Instagram. Right now, I am very intrigued by paper collage. I started with cough drop wrappers. Every day, I add a new material (usually paper) into that day’s composition. As I run out of a particular material it disappears from the compositions. I have been posting a new piece every day on Instagram. I am not particularly good with mixed media, but I am loving the journey.SAQA: What inspires you?

SHELL: I am constantly inspired by pattern, repetition, color, and the traditional quilt block

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

SHELL: I think of my work as hard edge painting made with stitch and fabric. The Hard-edge painting style is related to Geometric Abstraction, Op Art, Post-painterly Abstraction, and Color Field painting. Some of my favorite artists are Frank Stella, Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and Bridget Riley.

SAQA: What techniques and materials do you use?

SHELL: I am about as old school as you can get. I always say we piecers do three things—we cut, we stitch, and we press. I use a ruler, and I don’t use ruler. I use vintage and contemporary cotton textiles and hand dyed fabrics. I stitch on a Bernina 640, and I quilt on a Gammill Classic Plus.

SAQA: Where do you create?

SHELL: I have two studios. The main studio is in our home in Anchorage. My husband has built fabric and quilt storage all around the room—it is a highly functional space. I have two sewing centers—one is an old desk where my Bernina lives, the other is a long arm quilting machine. On the front of the studio is an L-shaped cutting station with a view of our front yard.

My second studio is very primitive. It is the back half of an old garage which is attached to our dry cabin in McCarthy, Alaska. There are holes in the walls where the summer breezes comes through, and it is totally powered by the sun. It also has a huge design wall.

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

To Agnes Martin, with Color © Maria Shell

SHELL: I spend at least half of my time: teaching; writing blogs, lectures, and grants; using social media, and connecting with people via phone and email. I like to get that work done first and then I can go into the studio. If I start with the studio, I have a very hard time quitting and moving into office, but I never have a problem quitting the office work and moving into the studio!SAQA: Have you published in art-related media?

SHELL: C&T is publishing my first book this year. It is called Improv Patchwork: Dynamic Quilts Made with Line & Shape. You can preorder the book here.

I did a short interview for the Quilt Show at the 2016 International Quilt Festival and I am taping a longer episode in August of this year.

I am also part of the SAQA video Stitching Together a Global Community.

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

SHELL: I just received a fellowship from the Rasmuson Foundation to create 12 new large pieces based on the curved quilt block called Flowering Snowball. I have done a lot of linear work over the last five years, and I am very much looking forward to this new challenge.

I have joined a new small art group called Cloth in Common, and I will be producing new work based on challenges suggested by the members.

Project Every Day—the project where I wore only clothing I have made for an entire year—is moving into the next phase. I am hoping to make a stop action flip book style movie and a series of 12 quilts composed of the remains from the clothing.

I will also be having a solo show at Hello Stitch in Berkeley, California in November & December of 2017.

View more of Maria Shell’s work on her website and SAQA Juried Artist Member profile.

Connect with Maria Shell on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to her Blog.

Underwater Fantasy Art Quilt- a work in progress

My underwater fantasy art quilts are created on a table rather than on a design wall. I call it the fabric layering technique. I create a scene and then cover it with tulle netting and free motion quilt the three layers(back, batting,top) together.
I begin by choosing the top fabric. I prefer to choose a fabric with some dimension already on it, light and dark spaces. If I choose a dark background, then I will choose lighter colored materials for my  plants, fish, rocks and other items . If I choose a lighter background, then I will choose darker colored scenery.

Step 1 -The back fabric is flat on the table. A piece of batting is laid on top of that. You can see the white batting  hanging a bit over the edge. Then I laid a piece of moddled commercial fabric on top. The piece is about 14″ by 14″. I let the fabric’s different shades of coloring do part of the work in creating interest and depth in the piece. I lightly baste the layers together with an Avery glue stick.


Step 2-For this piece, I cut out light colored rocks and placed them in the foreground. I cut out irregularly shaped dots of different colored batik fabric for the jellies(formerly called jelly fish). I place the jellies as if they are swimming in the current.


Step 3- Next, I cut out plants and place them between the rocks. I add decorative threads for the tenacles of the jellies being aware of the movement of the water. When everything is in its place,I  baste the pieces in place with a light dab of glue.



Step 4-I cover the scene with tulle netting and pin the tulle in place.


Step 5- I free motion quilt the three layers together. I lower the feed dogs on my machine to allow me to move the piece however I want. The quilting  creates another level of movement.


Step 6-I finish the piece by zigzagging the edges twice. For larger pieces, I often attach a facing and turn it to the back and stitch by hand.


Here is a photo of the back of the piece where you can see the machine stitching easier.


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.


Alice Beasley, fiber artist

Upcoming exhibitions for Alice Beasley.
Come See the Gator in Chief
Exhibit: June 3 – June 28,2017
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

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.