Many people, when they undertake a project unlike anything they’ve ever done before, prefer to go gently, starting small, picking up skills, and learning from little mistakes that are quickly fixed.
And then there are those who take a flying leap over the crevasse, convinced that one way or another they’ll make it to the other side. Quite often they do, even if they had to spend a few tense moments dangling over the abyss, feet flailing and hands clawing the edge. It makes for a memorable event.
So it was for quilt artist Cathy Little who, long before she was a quilt artist or even dreamed of becoming one, dabbled in drawing and painting. With marriage, work, and kids she set these aside and focused on sewing: clothes for her daughters, curtains for windows, and pillows for the couch.
The First Quilt Was the Biggest Quilt
“After the kids were grown and gone, I thought about painting again, but then my oldest daughter convinced me to make a quilt for her as a wedding gift,” says the White Bird, ID, textile virtuoso.
It wasn’t just any quilt: California king-sized, and log cabin style requiring hundreds upon hundreds of inch-wide strips, all of which had to be cut, arranged, and accurately sewn to fulfill the design. Oh, and it was quilted by hand, spread out on the living room floor inside of a giant embroidery hoop.
“For a first time quilter, it was quite a challenge.”
Understatement is the first word that comes to mind.
But apparently, Little enjoyed the leap, and arriving on the other side she saw the possibilities:
“More marriages and many grandchildren later found me making lots of pieced quilts, using various blocks and patterns,” Little explains. “After 9/11, I began making small memory quilts for children who lost a parent at the World Trade Center or Pentagon.”
Applique and the Art Quilt
It was while making these memory quilts that Little discovered applique, which opened, in her words, the sewing room door to a technique that developed into art quilts, many of them focused upon wildlife and the landscapes it inhabits. Living out in the country, Little takes photos of her animal and bird neighbors, transfers the photos into drawing form, then creates a unique, original design resulting in a one-of-a-kind wall hanging or home decor, embellished by permanent fabric paints and machine embroidery.
One noted project, commissioned by a couple who are avid hunters, is a triptych featuring every game animal and bird found in Idaho.
Another project, Picturing Idaho’s Past, took first place in a quilting competition and incorporated objects, pictures, and books, all related to Idaho’s history. Little created a fabric hutch, patterned after furniture that belonged to her husband’s grandmother, and then appliqued the historical images within.
“I did get a bit carried away with that project, and hand wrote on the back of the quilt a history of Idaho using the state shape to outline the text in permanent fabric ink.”
Fabric, Fabric Everywhere & Just Enough Space to Quilt
Adding to her repertoire of textile skills, Little learned to freeform quilt on her sewing machine, and complements the quilting to the applique. Using primarily batik fabrics for their vivid colors, she turns out wall hangings, coasters, placemats, hot pads, memory quilts, and tea cozies, as well as pieced-block baby quilts in 1930s, vintage-style fabrics. She especially enjoys special order commissions, as the final project is markedly unique to the client requesting it.
Loving what she does, her only complaint is the size of her sewing room.
“With boxes of fabrics, shelves of patterns and books, drawers of threads, three sewing/quilting machines, and an old dining room table to sew on, there is barely enough room to get around.”
It is a definite improvement, however, to folds of fabric spilling out all over her living room, and a long ways forward from that first ambitious, grandiose, California king-sized quilt. Well worth the leap, Little’s willingness to cross the crevasse, was a big — not a little — jump forward and beyond.
Catherine Little is the featured Art Event artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, April 23, 2018, through Saturday, Saturday, May 19, 2018.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.