Frances Arnold is a quilter, blogger, instructor, speaker, world traveler, and accountant. She recently answered questions about her quilting for ARHtistic License.
Why quilts? What is it about quilt-making that captivates you?
FA: That is a great question and, honestly, I don’t know why I ended up with quilting. I come from a long line of Texas quilters and my Mom made quilts when I was growing up, but they were all large quilts, done entirely by hand, and each took a year to make. This didn’t appeal to me at all!! But what she did teach me was that handmade items were special and were to be cherished. Instead of quilting, I tried knitting, crocheting and needlepoint, then transitioned to crewel embroidery and finally counted cross-stitch. When I was 28, one of my friends from church was teaching quilting and I took her class. Her quilting was different…she did small projects that could be finished in a reasonable amount of time and even used the sewing machine at times. Once I started, I was hooked and haven’t really looked back since then. After 35 years of quilting, I LOVE the feel of the fabrics, the precision of the piecing and the texture of the quilting.
“Casa Amarella” (2009) – 19×23 – This quilt was based on a photo from Porto, Portugal
You’re an accountant. How do you make time for quilting?
FA: When my first child was born 34 years ago, my husband and I decided that we would do our best to keep me at home with our kids. Over the years, I developed my accounting practice, just a few clients in the early years and a more substantial practice now. I work out of my home which allows me a lot of flexibility. In the past year, I have been planning my time using “block scheduling” which means that I set certain time aside for being in the studio. It has definitely helped my creativity.
“Complements Under the Canopy” (2012) – 40×40 – The guild challenge was “Complementary colors” and the inspiration was from photos taken at the Xishuabana Tropical Botanical Garden in Southern China.
Do you ever use commercial patterns, or do you always design your own?
FA: Like most quilters, I started out picking 3 fabrics (a light, a medium and a dark) and working straight from a published pattern. As time went on, I thought “what would happen if I made this one change”, and then another change and before I knew it I was making quilts almost entirely from my original designs. Although I sometimes use commercial patterns now, my preference is to design my own.
“Blue Light Special” (2014) – 42×45 – This was based on a photo taken inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The inspiration came from a “six-pointed star” challenge in my local guild. The thought was triggered when the instructions talked about this type of star being prevalent in the Islamic religion.
Where do you get your inspiration?
FA: EVERYWHERE!!! I am always taking photos of things that remind me of quilts and even have my husband looking as well. He often sends me photos of things that he sees!!
“Flower Pots, Flower Pots” (2012 ) – 86×105 – This was the second quilt that my Mom and I worked on together. She did the appliqué and I put the top together and the machine quilting. It is one of my favorite quilts!!
What’s your favorite kind of quilt to make?
FA: This is a hard question because I like so many different types of quilts. In the last 10 years I have made a number of quilts based on inspirations from overseas trips that my husband and I have taken. He often works overseas for extended periods of time and I accompany him as often as I can. Since 2017 we have spent 64 weeks overseas, making 20 trips to 11 different countries, including Italy, Portugal, Austria, Colombia, Australia, China, India and Nepal.
But, on the other hand, I LOVE finding a fun pattern and making a good old scrap quilt. I find them relaxing to make and a good distraction when I am “stuck” on something that needs more designing and thinking!!
“Mother, Daughter Flower Garden” (2009) – 90×108 – This was the first quilt that my Mom and I made together. She had made tons of appliqué flower blocks but was planning to just throw a sashing between them and call the top finished. I told her that the beautiful blocks deserved more, so ended up finishing the top and doing the quilting.
What are your favorite colors?
FA: I would say that I don’t have a favorite color, but my stash would say differently as it is overflowing with jewel tones. More than a particular color, I am drawn to bright fabrics…dull tones just don’t do it for me!
“Peacock Pavilion” (2008) – 35×40 – While visiting the Mysore Palace in India, I was enamored with a stained glass peacock window. Since no photos were allowed, I sketched a rendition and immediately came home and designed this quilt.
Do you quilt by hand or on a sewing machine?
FA: Most of my work is done by machine but I am trying to add some hand appliqué back in…mainly to give me something to do at night while sitting with my husband.
“Rainbow Pineapples” (2017) – 78×100 – made using Gyleen Fitzgerald’s pineapple ruler and started during a guild retreat. This quilt was juried into the International Quilt Festival (Houston) in 2018.
What sewing machine do you use? What do you like about it?
FA: I have a Juki 2200 QVP Mini, which is a straight stitch machine. It is a true workhorse and I love it!! It moves easily between piecing and machine quilting and has all the features that I ever need. IF I need to do a zig-zag stitch, I move back to my previous machine, a Viking Lily. It too was a great machine, but I wanted something with a little more harp space that would make machine quilting easier.
“Pueblo Nation” (2014) – 42×44 – This quilt was part of our guild’s “Nation” challenge. The design was based on photos that we took while visiting the pueblos in Taos, New Mexico.
What is your fabric-shopping strategy? Do you usually have a particular quilt in mind when you go to the fabric store, or do you buy whatever strikes your fancy?
FA: I wish that I could call it a strategy, but mostly it is a matter of attraction and opportunity. Many of my quilts are made without purchasing any fabric but sometimes I go out looking for that one special fabric.
“Escala Azule” (2009) – 18×23 – Also from Porto, Portugal, this quilt is a reminder of the LONG set of stairs that I climbed after learning that the “sky lift” wasn’t working.
How many unfinished projects do you have right now? (Is that an unfair question?)
FA: Personally, I don’t have tons of unfinished projects…the oldest one is based on train passengers in the London Underground. It has been a UFO for almost 10 years!!! Having said that, my Mom passed away in 2017 and left me EIGHT of her UFO’s!! Right now, I am trying to figure out exactly which ones I want to finish and which I want to donate to my guild charity group. [Note: click on the smaller photos below to enlarge and read the captions.]
“Sweet Marley” – 22×22 – This quilt was based on my daughter’s beagle. One show judge commented that she had “soulful” eyes!
“Take Me Back to Guana Quay” (1996) – This quilt expressed my remembrances from a family trip to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas (they are much on my mind in the aftermath of hurricane Dorian. It was the first of my “Trip related” quilts.
You’re a guild member. How has that affected your journey as a quilter?
FA: Being a member of a local guild has been instrumental in the growth of my art. Many of my closest friends are from my guild and all have inspired me and encouraged me to keep pushing onward. The programs and workshops have helped me to look at new techniques and to think about quilting in different ways. I think that every quilter should be in a guild!
“Bells, Baths & Bidets” (1997) – design inspired by a tile on a bathroom wall in our hotel in Rome.
“Blew Two” (2010) – 16×16 – This was the second quilt made for our guild “Blue Challenge”. The photo was taken of a sculpture in Kunming, China and the idea was from a friend who said that she would use the verb “Blew” instead of the noun, blue.
“Himalayan Hallows” (2017) – 38×55 – While trekking in the Himalayas, heading to Annapurna Basecamp, we passed many small shrines like this one. The tallest mountain in the background is “Fish Tail” and was always in our view as we climbed higher and higher. This quilt was juried into the “Tactile Architecture” traveling exhibit in 2017/18.
Whose quilt designs do you admire?
FA: There are too many to name. I am truly enamored with the free motion machine quilting that is being done now, particularly in the modern quilt genre. I am inspired every time I thumb thru the newest magazine, check out the latest websites, or observe the “show and tell” at our guild meetings.
“It’s Who You Travel With” (2016 ) 19×21 – This was made for our guild “Personality Challenge”, and, since my husband and I have spent a lot of the last 10 years in overseas travels, I thought that the picture and the “Trip Around the World” block was the perfect depiction of my personality.
“Let The Sun Shine In” (2016) – 16×22 – This was my first applique quilt after MANY years of thinking that I didn’t have the ability to do applique!!! I was pleased with the workmanship and love the bit of sunshine that it brings.
“Snowed Under” (2018) – 24×36 – This quilt was made as part of our “Idiom” challenge. The inspiration came from a photo that I THOUGHT was of a tree in the snow with other trees on the horizon. It ACTUALLY was a ruler stuck in the snow on a deck table with deck chairs in the background!!! I also “cheated” a bit with this challenge as I designed the quilt first and then googled “Snow and Idiom”.
You travel around the southeast giving presentations to quilters. What especially do you like to teach/talk about?
FA: My favorite guild talk is “Viewing the World Thru Quilt Colored Glasses” where I mix travel photos with the quilts that they inspired. When I first started giving this talk, I spent more time talking about the travel side, but now I have so many quilts made from these inspirations that I keep having to cut more and more of the travel photos out.
I also have talks about using photographs in quilts (Out of the Scrapbook and onto the quilt), and about making quilts the size that you want (Size Matters). I am currently in the process of developing another talk about use of color in quilts.
I also enjoy teaching “Beginning Machine Quilting” workshops, trying to convince participants that they are capable of quilting their own quilts…even BIG ones.
“The Tiles of San Giovani” (2018) – 46×46 – After visiting the Church of San Giovani in Rome and taking 97 photos of the tile floors, this was the quilt that was born.
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about your quilts?
FA: My quilts are definitely an extension of my life and the creativity involved is what keeps me sane!! My goal for 2019 and 2020 is to “up my quilting game” by improving both the technical side of my quilts as well as their creative aspects. So far, I am truly enjoying this journey!!