There are those among us for whom quilting is an inspiring hobby, and there are those for whom quilting is something else… a calling? an obsession? LIFE? Whatever it is, Stephanie Ruyle has it. Stephanie is a one-person quilt factory, people. She created SEVENTEEN quilts in 2014, two of which were accepted to the International Quilt Festival in Houston and three to QuiltCon 2015. Her work is incredibly modern and improvisational; her blog name, Spontaneous Threads, is perfect for her. Stephanie is also a fellow member of the Denver Metro Modern Quilt Guild, and is so generous with her knowledge and experience. True to form, she’s graciously accepted to let us pick her brain about her process and inspiration!
What’s your sewing story?
I’ve been sewing since I was very little. My grandmother gave me a converted (to electric) old black Singer sewing machine (I wish I still had it). My mom sewed, and I’d use her scraps to make “clothes”. I don’t think I was very good and I never remember wearing anything I made. My mom, I guess, could be considered a first teacher, although she pretty much stopped sewing when I started in earnest. She said if you can read directions you can make anything. I believed her, although I’m not big on reading directions anymore, mostly designing as I sew when making my quilts. Even back then, our sewing space was located in the basement. I still sew in the basement. I also took a class once at a nearby community center, but I’m mostly self taught, coming to quilting through garment sewing and often approaching quilt construction by thinking of ways I can incorporate skills I already have.
How do you describe your quilting style?
My quilting style is best described by a silly term I came up with, Modern Derived Inspiration. There is so much out there that we see and process daily that strongly influences our likes and dislikes. I’ve always been drawn to color and pattern and I tend to focus on small details. I’m truly one of those people that knows they like something when they see it. That being said, I do like to do most of my design work in my head, and I’m more often than not changing and tweaking my design as I’m sewing. I’m surprised many times when everything comes together in the end.
I don’t sew quilts from patterns as I love the challenge of making something unique and personal. My fabrics are often chosen after I have an idea percolating in my head, and I typically collect fabrics for several months before I get started. Since I don’t have a fabric manufacturer clamoring to gift me fabric, I use what I feel is best from the project quilt I’m working on. I do love solids and often mix solids and prints. Mostly I work with 100% cotton, although I have tackled smaller projects in other fabrics like linen and silk. So far, I have handled quilts from start to finish, but this year I have design ideas that will make me reach outside my quilting comfort zones for help. I’m really excited about this.
As far as techniques go, as I mentioned, I have a garment-sewing background and often add little details to quilts that come from my garment sewing background. Right now, my big thing is inset seams. Oh and metallic threads, which I HATED for many years. They have found their way into most of the end of 2014 quilts and one of the last quilts of the year was entirely done in metallics.
Where do you find inspiration for your quilts?
Inspiration is everywhere. I made my last large quilt with a design inspiration from a reusable shopping bag. Mainly my inspiration is personal: when I make a quilt for someone, I am pulling ideas from their life, likes, and interests. I then put my personal touch on it. It’s intentional quilting and I love that as it makes the quilts personal. If I’m just creating, I can get inspiration from anywhere, including gardens, landscapes, signs, stacked shipping crates, manhole covers, tile patterns, outdoor markets, the list is endless. I made a quilt for a friend this year from a leaf I saw at the botanic gardens. You wouldn’t know that if you saw the finished quilt, but it all started with a leaf.
What advice do you have for new quilters?
Don’t be afraid to push your personal comfort level, and if you can, step outside it, even if it’s only once. It’s okay to be unsure of where your quilting will take you, but regardless of whether it’s your first quilt or your 50th, go on the journey. I know for a fact you’ll learn much about yourself in the process, because as you create, something that was unknown becomes clear and with clarity comes completion. (I’m paraphrasing myself from a few blog posts, but I know this applies to me and I did really push lots of boundaries this year and I did learn much about myself in the process). Self discovery is not always predictable but it’s often very surprising.
Which quilt of yours are you the most proud of?
My “Tail Wind Quilt” [pictured with Stephanie at the top]. It won the Tangerine Tango Pantone 2012 Quilt Challenge (large quilt category); it was the first quilt I made for me and I treasure it and use it daily. It was selected to go to the International Quilt Festival 2012, in the Modern Quilt Guild’s special exhibit the first year they participated in the show. It’s a derived inspiration quilt (before I came up with that name). I guess it’s the quilt that started it all (although it was by no means my first quilt)! It’s an original design, based on a old very simple block that I played with scale and placement. I loved that the quilt was color restricted (only three) by contest rules but that it truly only needs three colors. It’s somewhere between king/queen sized and is made with 100% wool batting. I did all the detailed FMQ on my domestic machine. The quilt took somewhere around 2.5 months to make start-to-finish, working on it every day.
What’s the secret to your productivity?!
- Deadlines (birthdays/wedding/special events/quilt shows for which I have to be finished by a certain date)
- Challenges, especially if fabric is involved
- A desire to create. I think it makes me a more interesting person. I love taking fabric and making a quilt. Picking the cloth and the batting and the threads are just part of the journey.
- Having a dedicated space to create. I’m lucky I don’t have to share that space with anyone or anything else.
- Company: my dog is always nearby and I welcome the company.
- Background music or a good TV series (it gets kinda quiet in the basement)
- A willingness to go for it. Start, and keep going. Since I’m not working from a pattern, I never know how long something will take, but that’s not what it’s all about for me anyway.
I am lucky to have a generous stash of fabrics on hand so when I’m ready to go I can get started. Sometimes (like my daughter’s WOW “White Out” quilt), I do have to make time to gather fabrics before I begin.
A huge thanks to Stephanie for her time! Be sure to check her out at Spontaneous Threads (and Instagram and Flickr) and visit her quilts if you’re heading to QuiltCon!