Monday, 21 January 2013

Elaine Quehl

I have the utmost pleasure of introducing Elaine Quehl to our blog.   Elaine is a warm, funny and an amazingly talented quilter.  She inspires her students and has a never ending amount of patience when teaching her workshops.

 Elaine in her studio

 Tell us a little about yourself.
Growing up on a farm in Southern Ontario (Waterloo County), I was surrounded by quilts made by my grandmother and great grandmother.  My mother used to go to quilting bees at the local church to help hand quilt charity quilts.  She was an expert hand quilter.  While I live in the suburbs of Ottawa now (my husband’s work brought us here) and love the amenities that the big city can provide, my heart is in the country and I love remote places.  I worked in administrative positions in universities and colleges, and in a literacy organization, before I escaped to pursue a full-time career as a quilt artist, teacher and dyer.  I consider myself lucky to be able to do what I love for a living.  Since I love to travel, my career fits me well as I am on the road at least 3 months of the year, and as I get better known, I am starting to be invited to places further afield.
Elaine's hand dyed fabric
What got you into quilting and what took you in the direction you are in now?
The prompt was my mother’s early-onset dementia at the age of 65.  I had a difficult time dealing with her decline and so I signed up for a quilting class in an evening program at the local high school.  This was supposed to be a diversion, but I think it was also an attempt to maintain a connection with my mother.  Since I am more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” person, the precision was difficult for me, but I persevered and got very, very hooked on fabric, but even more important I got hooked on the way I felt while I was creating … the calm and peace … the way the cares of the world just floated away.  Quilting became my meditation.  I seldom followed a pattern exactly, so when I saw my first art quilts (I think at the Ontario Juried Show in Waterloo) I was gobsmacked!  I knew this is what I wanted to do, but I had a huge hurdle!  I did not consider myself creative.   My sister was the creative one in my family.  She could draw and paint with skill.  It has taken many years of work to try to develop my artistic skills, and I am still working on them every day.
Elaine with 'In The Act'
You teach a ton ( I looked at your schedule) can you give us any tips about taking workshops, ie. How to get the most out of them?
Yes, I am in the classroom anywhere from 50 to 60 calendar days in a year.  I have a broad selection of classes, teaching both locally and across Canada, and I teach a few weeks each year at the Haliburton School of the Arts north of Toronto.  I am very fortunate because this is what enables me to make a living so I don’t have to go back to the regular day job.
I can share tips for students from both my perspective as a student and as a teacher.  At one time I took a lot of classes, but at a certain point I realized that it wasn’t more technique I needed, but rather what I needed was to develop my artistic skills, by learning more about composition and design (which has been the hardest part of developing as an artist for me), and training my eye.  These things did not come naturally to me.  When I take a class these days it is often an art class.  I look for a class that can help me develop the areas I feel I am weakest at.  So this past summer I took a composition and design class with a classical realist painter.  I am currently taking a drawing class at the Ottawa School of Art.  If I take a class with a quilt artist or fibre artist these days, it would be someone whose work I greatly admire and whose head  I wish to get inside of (so to speak).
I recommend that students read the supply list thoroughly and contact the instructor if they have any questions.  I am happy to answer questions by email if students are unsure about what to bring.   I also recommend that students check out the type of work the instructor makes, because it will give you a good idea of the types of things they may be teaching. 
'Curtain Call'
Your quilts focus a lot on hostas, and nature, tell us about that?
One thing I adore, in any art, is value contrast, depth, and drama, and curves.  Hosta leaves provide all of these.  When I take a photo of a hosta leaf or leaves there are always beautiful highlights, dramatic shadows, and lots of curve and furl.  I love translating this into fabric.  I am not inspired by urban settings, love the natural world, and so it is only natural that I focus on nature.  I never get sick of using yellow-greens in my work because to me they are the colour of life.  The hosta plant has also become a symbol and metaphor for the human life cycle.  Now that I am over 50, you will notice I am starting to depict declining hosta leaves in golds, coppers, gold-greens, browns, etc.  I am really enjoying this new palette.  I also depict trees and flowers, but they have not been as popular and have not been as successful at shows.  I should also add that since I am, after all, a quilter, I have days when I just want to cut up fabric and sew it back together, but now I love doing it freeform (without a ruler and without measuring). 
Hosta fabrics on the line
It looks like most of your work is made from your own hand dyed fabric? Why is that your preference over commercial fabric?
First of all, the serendipity of the dyeing process is so gosh-darn gratifying!  It is always like Christmas morning when you see what comes out of the dye pot.  So first of all, I’m hooked on that process, but I also love the uniqueness of hand-dyes.  Every piece shows the hand of the maker, and no two are ever the same.  Over time I have come to realize that what I really like about them is the mottled character that results when using a low-water immersion process.  This translates well to nature pieces.  Nothing in nature is flat or solid, everything is dappled with light, and hand-dyes mimic this look.  Hand-dyeing also enables me to produce a wide variety of values (lights to darks) that I need to create my work.  My hand-dyed store is in the trunk of my car when I travel to teach since students often ask for my fabric.  I take a limited selection as well when I’m flying (within Canada). 
How do you go about designing a quilt, is it from a photo, a sketch pad etc?
Both.  For a very long time I have been using the “photo to quilt” method, where the line tracing of the photo is projected onto a larger wall to create a pattern.  These days I am starting to draw my own line drawings.  It really isn’t that difficult because all you need are the lines.  The shading is created with fabric anyway.  So it is my goal to eventually draw all my own designs free-hand.  My work relies almost entirely on my own photographs though.  I love to travel, I love to photograph and love that I can marry the two worlds in my work.  I have a huge library of photos to work with.  I probably have thousands of hosta photos, but I am selective about which ones I end up using.  I like to take the photos when the sun is a bit lower (early day or late day) because it creates more dramatic highlights and shadows in the image.  I only use my own photos so I am working with my own vision and I never need to worry about copyright issues.
Tell us a little about some of the highlights of your quilting career?
The first big highlight was being invited to have a solo show at the St. Jacobs Quilt Gallery in 2004.  At that point I was a hobbyist, and I really hadn’t exhibited anywhere other than at the local quilt show.  I just didn’t think I was in that league.  That was a huge boost and after that I did start entering juried shows.  The next highlight came in 2007 when the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery used an image of my work “Moon Over Naikoon” on the cover of their summer flyer.  After that I finally got the confidence to use the word “artist” to describe myself.  The biggest highlight, however, is quitting my job in 2008 to do what I do full-time.  I had been building up my teaching business for five years before I made that leap.   I’ve had two more highlights this past year.  The first being chosen as one of the Featured Artists for the book “Art Quilt Portfolio: the Natural World” (Lark Books), and the second being invited to travel to and exhibit my work in France at the Quilt en Sud show in 2013.
'End of Days'
You have entered several juried shows and won as well, tell us why you enter?
I started entering shows because of the sheer pleasure and honour of being there.  I know how much seeing the work in shows means to me.   It isn’t about prizes or awards, although those are nice if and when they happen.  Some of the pieces I love most in any show are not necessarily the ones that win.  Entering shows for me now is about being a player in the art quilt world, keeping my name out there and building a resume so I can continue to make my living as an artist and teacher.  There are a limited number of shows in Canada, so I also exhibit a lot in the U.S., and sometimes internationally.  The benefit of this can be that sometimes a magazine will notice you and run a photo of your piece, or even an article about you.  US magazines have a wide readership and this can do wonders for your career as well.
'Red Stool'
I ask everyone this, what is your favourite food?
Food is very important to me so it will be hard to choose.  I love to try new restaurants and cuisines.  Vietnamese food is one of my favorites.  However, when I think of the foods I cannot live without every day I would have to say good coffee, good chocolate and fruit.


  1. Wonderful story, I love Elaines work

  2. I've loved Elaine's work from the first piece I saw! The motion and balance of design is beautiful!