How Can Beginner Quilters Make The Transition From Traditional Blocks To Contemporary Quilts?

Most of the people here are beginning quilters who make traditional patchwork blocks.

How can we make the transition from those traditional blocks to your quilts, which are very contemporary by comparison?

Ricky: You have to be willing to try. Also, nobody should ever feel like they should move from one genre to another if they’re comfortable where they are and are doing what they like. The only reason to make that transition is if they have an inspiration to do it.

As far as the direction they would go, that’s a hard question to answer. Technique is one thing. People get ideas in their head. They have a quilt they want to make but just don’t know how to get there.

If you only know how to sew squares together or maybe how to sew half-square triangles together, then you’re limited to two things for every quilt you’ll make. If you then learn how to appliqué, you can at least add some appliqué on top of those squares or half-square triangles.

My point is, the more techniques you learn and the more you learn how to put different things together, then whenever you have a vision in your head, at least you have the skill ability to make that happen.

This is a blessing for me. You’ve been to my seminar. I’m teaching techniques. I’m not teaching them how to draw something. I’m giving them some principles on how to make it into patchwork.

By doing these principles and giving them the techniques, I’ve had many students from a seminar come up to say, “Thank you. I’ve had an idea rolling around in my head for five years or more. Now I know I can go home, draw it and do it. Now I know how to make it happen.” In the end, it’s about learning the techniques you’ll need to make this happen.

To learn the design skills, you just have to draw. People say, “I don’t know how to draw.” I don’t either. People laugh and scoff when I say that.

If you sat me down and said, “Ricky, let’s draw a picture of a little boy walking a dog,” it would look worse than a first grader’s drawing. I might fuss with it for a day or two and make it look okay. But I do understand flowing lines, curves and simple abstracts.

When I teach my Rhapsody design class, everybody in that class designs their appliqué with two exercises. The first one is looking at something like a fleur-de-lis and drawing it. Not tracing it, but drawing it and adapting it to the shape they’re trying to fit it in. They fuss with that for 20 or 30 minutes and have it perfect.

The next exercise is to give them an odd shape. Within that shape, they create an appliqué from nothing. They do an exercise drawing it from something. Then they completely erase the palette and start again by drawing from nothing.

I have never, ever had a student who could not create a design that would be worthy of putting on a quilt. It’s as unique as their handwriting. That’s what I love, seeing this individuality coming out of them.

Penny: Have you seen some of them turn into quilts?

Ricky: Absolutely. In the new Rhapsody book, the entire back chapter is a gallery of quilts made by students who have done all of their own original designs. It’s very exciting.

While I was making those traditional blocks for that first quilt, I had started sneaking into the grocery store to the magazine rack. I started buying a few quilt magazines. I was very much enlightened by what quilting was doing in 1991 in becoming very contemporary and artistic.

I had always been in music so art and music has been a part of my life. I wasn’t a painter or a drawer but I did study and like art. What happened is by looking at those images I was inspired. Then, by reading those magazines I learned there was something called a rotary cutter because I didn’t even know about that.

I bought my mat, rotary cutter and ruler and was amazed the first time I used it. I wanted to do a landscape with rolling hills and cut flowing curves. I couldn’t cut flowing curves with scissors, but with the rotary cutter it just seemed logical.

I put these landscaped-typed quilts together that were not fancy by any standards. I didn’t use a quarter-inch seam and was breaking every rule but didn’t know I was breaking them. If something wasn’t quite flat, I’d really press it until it was flat.

I tell people one of the most beautiful things ever is ignorance. If you’re ignorant you’re not going to beat yourself up if you didn’t do something right. I could do anything and wasn’t afraid to try anything because I was basically ignorant of the rules.

If you look at my work on my website, I have an older and newer gallery of quilts. If you look at those old quilts within the first year, you’ll see some very contemporary artistic quilts that just happened because it was in me to happen.

By Ricky Tims & Penny Halgren of

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