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.
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.
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.
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!!
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!!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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!
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.
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.
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!!