Behind the Scenes with Modern Quilt Studio
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Many people may stare at the cereal box during breakfast, but few turn the encounter into a contemporary quilt. “We are always in search of inspiration from the time and place in which we live,” Bill explains. “I don’t think we’ll ever be trapped in a particular style,” Bill says from their Oak Park, Illinois, home and FunQuilts studio just outside Chicago. There, they thrive as quilt artists, fabric designers, inspirational coaches, authors, lecturers, and charitable givers.
Photo: Weeks and Bill are each other’s partner and critic; Weeks holds “Marquee” and Bill holds “XOXO,” both from their book The Modern Quilt Workshop..
Love, Learn, Serve
For Bill and Weeks, quilt designing is the lifestyle they chose after leaving the corporate world. “Total commitment makes it work,” Weeks says. They also are committed to their daughter, Sophie, who is increasingly eager to “play” with fabrics. Though frustrated by their many ideas and lack of time to pursue them—Weeks and Bill are content with their course to “love, learn, and serve”—especially as it applies to quilting. “Do a little of these daily,” Weeks advises, “and you’ll be happy.”
Photo: The studio is in the basement of the Ringle-Kerr home. On wall-size corkboards here and in the kitchen, they hang “pieces of their lives” for inspiration.
Quilting in the Present
“We’re always asking ourselves this question: What does it mean to be a quiltmaker here and now?” Weeks says. FunQuilts is a visible part of the mainstream, with its quilts appearing in national magazines, as American Folk Art Museum pieces, on the beds of inns and private estates, and even on the cover of a math textbook. They see their role teaching and coaching people to find their voice. “It’s so much more invigorating to give people the design skills to execute what’s in their minds, to give form to their ideas,” Bill says.
Photo: Bill and Weeks document ideas for their latest fabric.
“The most important thing is having original ideas. We can always work backwards and figure out technique,” Weeks says about their business approach. They apply their philosophy to every teaching opportunity, including a weeklong annual Design Camp at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. “Students come here not to attach fabric A to fabric B,” Bill says, “but to learn how to execute what’s in their minds. They leave both exhilarated and exhausted.” Weeks and Bill encourage experimentation with brilliant splashes of original fabrics. In five years, they have designed more than 100 versatile prints that motivate quilters to venture beyond the norm.
Photo: Weeks and Bill’s home and studio are a perfect fit, where Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and modern design surround them. Hanging on the wall, the quilt Some Settlement May Occur reveals expert artisanry and design with its colorful tangent circles that are inset, not appliquéd.
Sometimes forgotten or viewed as plain Jane, for this pair solids are adventurous friends. Although she and her husband have designed more than 100 printed fabrics, Weeks says some of their most popular quilts are made with just solids. It’s not that solids (or prints) are better; it’s recognizing that certain quilts are about showing off a fabric you love, while others are about exploring a complicated block or an interesting form.
Photo: Solids allow the graphic “Dash” pattern to shine.
Bending the Rules
Solid fabrics invite improvisation. Unlike most prints, solids don’t dictate a certain quilt style or color choice. Use solids to create a stripe or checkerboard pattern in a custom palette. Weeks once used a rug as the basis for choosing colors. She made striped fabric with strips of solids in various widths. After slicing up the yardage and sewing it back together, she ended up with a string quilt.
Photo: Sew your own striped fabric by string-piecing solids.
Once you’ve experimented with using only solids, it’s even easier to see how they play up your favorite print fabrics. Solids can be the perfect accompaniment to border, novelty, hand-dyed, ethnic, and large-scale prints. Like a skilled pianist or backup singer, solids do their job making prints shine.
Photo: Large-scale prints are easier to use when paired with solids.
A blend of spices was the impetus behind this simple yet stunning throw that uses shades of four colors. “In this case, it’s a mixture of the many fabrics in the Mendhi fabric line we designed for FreeSpirit. The fabrics capture the spirit of hand-drawn henna body art common in India,” Weeks says.
Photo: “Spend time laying out the pieces to ensure rectangles of the same print do not touch each other and the light, medium, and dark values are well-distributed,” Weeks says.
Spice Market Color Option
Spice Market inspired Laura Boehnke, quilt tester for American Patchwork & Quilting, to use coordinating florals and tonal stripes in addition to the border prints of large-scale florals on an ombre background.
Photo: Calm, muted colors make for a relaxed central focus on the quilt top, while a dark brown 2”-wide finished border gives it depth.
Call Me Crazy
If you are machine-piecing and machine-quilting, Weeks and Bill recommend that you iron all of your seams open, not to the side. “Pressing seam allowances to one side was important years ago when quilts were only pieced and quilted by hand,” Weeks says. “There was more stress on the pieced seams, and quilting through the ironed-over layers stabilized the quilt. Today, a machine-pieced and machine-quilted quilt is so sturdy there is little stress on the seams and no need to press the seam allowances to one side.”
Photo: This crisp white-and-blue quilt features improvisationally pieced blocks set in structured rows.
Call Me Crazy Color Option
The lush tones of olive, rust, and fuchsia highlight quilt tester Laura Boehke’s two-row version of Call Me Crazy. “The prints I used to make the crazy-pieced blocks have a lot of movement,” Laura says. “I used a black-and-orange batik to frame the rows.”
Photo: Fabrics are from the Matrix and Bali Deep Dark Secrets collections, both for Benartex.
Kid in a Candy Store
Bill and Weeks felt like kids in a candy store when choosing the fabrics for this simple throw. “This quilt is a great way to use up fabrics you’ve accumulated, as well as a great reason to head to your local quilt shop to get new ones,” Weeks says.
Photo: When selecting fabrics, look for tone-on-tone prints. Avoid fabrics with directional prints or large-scale patterns. The goal is to create blocks that look unified.
Big, colorful prints sometimes pose design challenges. It’s not just color, print, or texture … the secret is contrast. Weeks says to make sure there’s sufficient contrast between each of the pieces or the quilt will be visually confusing. Aim for a clean edge.
Photo: Weeks says to look for contrast in at least one of the following: hue, value, scale, and/or color complexity when choosing fabrics
Balancing Act Color Option
For this table topper or wall hanging version of Balancing Act, Laura Boehnke, quilt tester for American Patchwork & Quilting, chose tone-on-tone fabrics in a variety of colors. The outer triangles in the pieced triangles clearly stand out from one another. “I saved any prints containing black to use in the triangle centers,” Laura says.
Photo: A narrow, dark print inner border clearly separates the quilt center from the multicolor print wider outer border, which ties the piece together.
Windy by the Lake
A blustery wind seems to keep the windmill blocks on this throw constantly in motion. Bill and Weeks say the complex geometry of this block lends itself to color variations that dramatically alter the look of the quilt. They always recommend making a test block to make sure you’re comfortable with the colors you’ve chosen and the techniques involved.
Photo: The quilt’s well-fitting name reflects the frequent weather forecasts around the designers’ home near Chicago.
Windy by the Lake Color Option
Striped fabrics add another layer of complexity in quilt tester Laura Boehnke’s version of Windy by the Lake. By placing a stripe deliberately in the kite-shape B pieces when cutting, Laura formed mesmerizing block centers.
Photo: The design pops with a mix of Kaffe Fassett’s stripes and shot cottons (in these fabrics, one color of thread is the warp and another color is the weft, producing a solid fabric that looks different depending on the viewing angle) for Rowan by Westminster Fibers.