Thursday 19 June 2014

Thursday Inspiration: Jolene from Blue Elephant Stitches

Today's Thursday Inspiration is Jolene from Blue Elephant Stitches.  Jolene makes the most amazing quilts with a real handmade look and softness to them.  She's a master of unexpected colour and fabric combinations.  For me, Jolene's quilts have a calmness and almost a sense of nostalgia to them, as well as a touchable quality which makes me want to stroke them through the screen. 

As well as enjoying Jolene's quilts, I really like her blog voice - she often writes about her design and making processes, and the things she does and doesn't like about her quilts.  I think she's a really thoughtful and honest person and that comes through in her writing.

The original pixelated heart quilt.  This is still my favourite iteration of this quilt.

Here's Jolene! As always, my questions are in bold and her answers are in normal text:

Does your family have a quilting or sewing history, or are you a first generation quilter?
I come from a conservative Mennonite group, and therefore have a long line of seamstresses behind me! Both my grandmas sew or have sewn quilts as well as all of their own dresses. My mom as well is an accomplished seamstress, and quilts are just one of the long list of amazing items she can create with her sewing machine.

That being said, I’m still looked on as a bit of an oddity because the necessity for quilting as a practical form has died out over the last 50 years, so at this point I only know of a sprinkling of women who enjoy quilting as a hobby.

How did you start quilting, and how long have you been quilting for?
Other than being surrounded by a humming sewing machine while growing up, (my first projects were clothes for my Barbies!) my serious interest in quilting began when I started working at the local quilt shop.

This shop was owned by another amazing seamstress and quilter, who patiently let me learn to quilt by sewing up basic panel quilts as samples to hang in the store. I began working there part time at age 17, so that means I’ve been quilting for about 12 years! I’ll save you the math, I’m turning 30 this fall :-)

How would you describe your quilting style?
This might be the toughest question! I’ve always felt like I was all over the board, without a recognizable style. The quilts I’m drawn to are usually either simple and graphic, or based on traditional patterns. I think the factor that makes me like any one of these varying types of quilts, is a touch of unexpected warmth or whimsy. I don’t want my quilts to take themselves too seriously!

Field of Triangles 2

Where do you find inspiration for your quilts?
This has changed and evolved over the years. Most consistently though, since about 4 years ago when I ‘discovered’ quilt blogs, I’d have to say it’s been all the amazing quilters who I’ve found online.

I’d like to say that I find inspiration through nature and the world around me, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case for me! I think that patterns and colors may inspire me in an intangible way, but for the most part I’m just inspired by modern quilters and also antique quilts.

Do you like to follow patterns or create your own designs (or a bit of both)?
Definitely a bit of both! It’s exciting and challenging to take an idea in my head and translate it into a quilt. When I’m making an improv or more modern style quilt, I don’t generally follow a pattern.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s just so enjoyable to pick up a pattern and relax in the process of making the quilt without having to figure and think!

Are you a member of a local guild?
I’m not part of a guild. I was going to say that it’s because I live in a rural area and the nearest Modern Quilt Guild is over an hour away. In all honesty though, it’s more likely because I’m the shy loner type by nature, and the interaction I get through my quilting blog feels like enough for me right now. There have been times where I’ve thought it would be fun to go to a meeting, but I just haven’t ventured out of my comfort zone yet!

Have you ever met any of your online sewing friends in real life?
See answer above! No I haven’t. Although I’d love to!

How did you decide to start your blog?
I was reading other quilting blogs for about a year before I started mine. I was so inspired and excited by all these quilts that were so much more my style than anything I’d seen in a quilt shop or quilting book before. I eventually started to feel like I wanted to share in this online community, and since I was selling my quilts on Etsy already, it seemed like a natural fit.

Jolene's original Granny Square quilt

Your granny square block tutorial kind of went viral (I even have my own granny square quilt)! What was that like? Did you ever think when you wrote that tutorial that it would take off like it did?
Interesting question! I had no idea it would take off like it did! Rachel of Stitched in Color asked me to be a part of her Color Series and to come up with a quilt block tutorial. I’d been oogling those Granny Square Crocheted throws, the ones with the white backgrounds and multicolored centers. I adored them but didn’t know how to crochet so decided to make a quilt block with a similar look. At the time I wasn’t aware that this was a similar block to the traditional Album quilt block, I was just trying to recreate a crocheted granny square!

It was exciting to see so many people enthused with this design, quite an amazing feeling! It’s been a great learning experience for me, about how I view my own ideas, the ownership that people feel over their designs, and the influence that inspiration from others has over our own work.

Overall, it’s taught me how important it is to credit others for inspiration that we’ve directly found from them. (Thanks to so many of you! It just makes my day and I want to always do the same for you).

On the other hand, I’m much happier if I can let it go and relinquish ownership in my own mind. I didn’t invent the light bulb after all! Although I didn’t realize it at the time, all I was doing was taking an underused traditional quilt block, adding breathing room and some white background with bright colors and BOOM! we’ve got something that appeals to the quilter of today.

What is your favourite thing about the online quilting community? And what is one thing that you would change, if you could?
I just love the generosity and warmth I feel from other quilters. If you’ve mentioned being inspired by a quilt of mine, or sent me an email saying my blog has helped you in some way, you have no idea what that means to me! It can boost my whole week. Although I’m not overly chatty and involved in online groups, I still like the feeling that if I’d meet any of these quilters, we could stop and have a great talk and there would be a special connection.

If there was one thing I would change, it would be the commercialization of blogs in general. I’m just making the step to accept a few sponsors on my blog, and I’m not judging the choice to make money with your blog! I’m interested in that myself, of course. It just feels that more bloggers are thinking of their blogs as a business and if they’re not, then they’ve moved to Instagram. I just miss the whole ‘journaling of the quilting journey’ thing :-)

Jolene's Feather Quilt

Confession time - how many quilts do you have in your house right now?
If I don’t include the quilts for sale in my Etsy shop, it’s about 10 – 12. I give away or sell a majority of my quilts. Seems I’m a bit unusual that way, and I’m actually trying to get myself to keep a few more, since I now regret a few that I’ve sold. Mostly though, I love sending them off to new homes where they’ll be loved, rather than languishing in a pile at my house and making me feel guilty!

Do you do any other crafts than quilting?
I have the love of all crafts within me, but for now I feel like quilting is a jealous taskmaster! And isn’t quilting the best craft? You get to work with all this amazing fabric, and then create a piece of art that you can snuggle up with! Seriously though, home decorating (is that a craft?) would be the other creative interest that I’d dabble with occasionally.

Where do you see your quilting going - is it a career or a hobby for you and would you like to change that?
My goal is for my quilting to always be a hobby in the sense that it’s enjoyable with minimal pressure to perform to a set of standards. Right now I’m dabbling with the business end of it a bit, just to see if it’s something that could be sustainable for me long term.

I love a quilt that makes its maker happy, like this log cabin quilt!

Do you have any tips or tricks or things that have changed your quilting life that you'd like to share?
Here’s a few random thoughts…

To the beginning quilter: Start small and simple! You may have become inspired to quilt because of some amazing complex quilt you saw, but please start with a small patchwork quilt for a baby. Finish it completely before you try anything more! You need to make a couple of quilts from start to finish, somehow this just settles the whole process into an intuitive place in your head and you’ll be ready to tackle new skills.

Another thing is scant ¼” seams. This makes all the difference on accuracy in piecing!

Finally, there are no hard and fast rules. There may be ‘good’ ways or ‘best’ ways to do something, but you need to discover what works for you!

What is your favourite part of the quilting process (and what's your least favourite part)?
My favorite part is planning the quilt! Design and fabrics meshing together… Least favorite part? Definitely piecing the backing and basting. Ughh!

Do you ever get stuck when you're working on a project? If so, how do you get through that?
I think I get stuck on one in every five projects I start. I used to power through them, but I’m learning to set them aside. Sometimes I become reinspired on how to fix them up and fall in love with them, but more often they just sit and marinate for a year, and then I’ll send them away. I’ve got a whole tubful of half finished projects that are bothering me right now!

McElligot's Pool Quilt - I love how it was inspired by the colours on a page of a Dr Seuss book.

Are there any quilting techniques you haven't tried yet but that you'd like to?
I’ve never really used fancy shaped rulers to make unusual shapes, for example the Hex n more ruler from Jaybird quilts. I’d like to try that in the future.

What's something about you that people might be surprised to know?
Hmmm... There’s only one activity that I enjoy more than starting a new quilt. Want to know what it is? It’s singing! I grew up singing a cappella (vocal singing without the use of instruments) and most of my family as well as friends enjoy singing together with four part harmony. We get together in the evening and go through our song books and sing until our voices are croaking. This is such a part of my life, that I only realized about a year ago that this was the one activity that I’d choose over quilting if I had the choice on how to spend my evening!

Thanks so much to Jolene for answering all my questions - it was really interesting to learn a bit more about her (especially the singing thing - how wonderful to have something you enjoy even more than quilting!).  Make sure you pop over to Blue Elephant Stitches and check out all her amazing quilts.

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Rachel said...

Thank you for featuring Jolene!! She's one of my most favourite quilters, her work is so inspiring! I love to hear that you sing Jolene!

Anne said...

Wow, what a fabulous read! Thanks for sharing Jolene with us! :D Her work is so inspiring!

Rachel said...

Jolene was the first blogger I started following. I absolutely love everything she makes.

needle and nest said...

What a wonderful interview! I have been following Jolene's blog for several years now, so I really enjoyed getting to know her a bit better here. And of course, I love her quilts! I was just looking at her pixelated heart quilt for inspiration today. :)

Karyn said...

Jolene's feather quilt is one of my bookmarked faves!

Svetlana said...

What a fantastic interview. I adore Jolene's quilt and it was wonderful to learn many interesting things about her (love the singing part)

Little Island Quilting said...

Yay, you picked another one I like! I love Jolene's blog for the the integrity with which she writes and I love her even more now she's also mentioned the over-commercialisation of blogs!

Megan said...

It seems I'm joining a list of Jolene fans :-) lovely post

Charlotte said...

I love Jolene's amazing eye for scrappy colour!

Erica said...

I think that Jolene is one of everyone's favorites, I love Jolene's work and her writing. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

These interviews are fabulous; I was hoping you'd interview Jolene! Her quilts are what I dream of making - it's that 'softness' you describe in your intro, the unexpected colour and fabric choices, the subtle designs. Her quilts have feeling, they appear effortlessly creative rather than over-thought and rigid. And her blog is such an entertaining read.

Lately I've been thinking about quilting, introversion and blogging; wondering how introverted people are able to share their creative work and their stories with strangers. I'm so glad they do!

Carla said...

Have always loved her blog. She stopped blogging for a while and I really missed her. I hope she continues and I hope you do too : )

Cille said...

It's true - the quilts really have a soft feeling to them :) great backgrounds . It's very inspirational :)

Unknown said...

Wonderful interview. I have been following her blog for a few years and love it. You're right that she writes in such a personal and honest way. I really love not just the quilts she creates but her writing style too.