Gwen Lanning is a blogger, photographer, nature lover, quilter, weaver, dyer, and investigator of all things textile. You might know her from her wildlife blog, Little Wild Streak, where she posts the photographs of species of birds, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and dragonflies that she’s observed in the wild. But I discovered her through the quilts she’s made and posted on her other blog, Deep in the Heart of Textiles. She recently consented to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: What kind of quilts do you like to make?
Gwen Lanning: I love to make scrappy quilts with unpredictable color combinations. But someday I would love to make whole cloth quilts with beautiful thread work too.
AL: What do you look for when you go fabric shopping?
GL: Because I want all the fabric, I usually buy bags of scraps. I love getting a selection and deciding how to put them together. I also like to look at the clearance section of a quilt shop, make a few choices, and take whatever is left on the bolt. I feel that I am doing a service to the shop owner. 🙂
AL: Do you have favorite colors?
GL: I love turquoise and it works its way into every quilt. I also especially love Kaffe Fassett’s Roman Glass designs and that fabric works its way into every quilt too. I am not alone in that and I love spotting it in other people’s quilts!
AL: What is your stash like?
GL: My stash is not particularly large – it fills one closet that is 30” deep and 48” wide. But I add to it faster than I quilt it up, and I would like to catch up! It is roughly organized in plastic bins – whenever I start to fold it neatly, I just end up starting another quilt.
AL: What kind of sewing machine do you use?
GL: For about 10 years, I used my mom’s Viking, and then last year I got a Juki HZL-F600. I love both of them, but always wish for more room to move the quilt around of course.
AL: Do you quilt by hand or machine?
GL: I quilt by both hand and machine – I love hand quilting the most. But most of the quilts I make are for charity so I need to finish them quickly and make sure the stitching is sturdy.
AL: You also buy vintage quilt tops and finish them off. How do you find them? What do you look for?
GL: I find vintage tops at antique shops and guild sales. (I have not let myself look for them online because I would go crazy and buy them all. Do we see a pattern here?) I get almost all the ones I find, but I especially love the ones that I know I would never piece myself, with tiny triangles and diamonds. Also the ones with wild pattern and color combinations.
AL: Whose quilt designs do you admire?
GL: It was the designs of Kaffe Fasset that got me into quilting – I loved the big bold prints and simple piecing, and his designs struck me as very fresh.
I saw the Gee’s Bend quilts here in Houston and I have always loved that improvisational look. In the old quilts I collect, I really love it when some of the colors have faded, leaving an unpredictable composition of color.
In the quilts I make for myself I try to have asymmetrical compositions and those unpredictable color combinations. (I am more restrained when I make quilts for others.)
I also love Alexandra Ledgerwood’s clean modern designs and have made a few of them. When it comes to art quilts, I love Judy Coates Perez, Kathy York, the free motion extravaganzas of Teri Lucas, and the thread sketches on transparencies of Rob Wynne. And I have just learned about Jill Kerttula and I love the multiple techniques she used in her art quilts.
AL: Do you also spin yarn? On a wheel or a drop spindle?
GL: I know the basics of spinning, but I would not call myself a real spinner. I have spun wool and cotton, on drop spindle, great wheel, and flyer wheel. I would love to spin more, and I love reading Ply magazine and seeing all the possibilities.
AL: What kind of loom do you use?
GL: My favorite loom is an 8-harness, 54” Gilmore, but I also have a 4-harness, 36” Harrisburg.
AL: What kind of materials do you weave?
GL: I have woven with cotton, linen, rayon, wool, and silk blend yarns.
AL: What do you weave?
GL: I love to weave rugs, but lately I mostly weave dish towels. Just like with the fabric scraps I use in quilting, I have lots of little bits of yarn, and I like combining them in striped and checked towels.
AL: What is the hardest part of weaving?
GL: For years I didn’t like warping the loom, but now I love every part of the process. It is so soothing. Now the hardest part is deciding on what pattern I will weave this time – there are so many drafts I want to weave, but I also love weaving a favorite draft again.
AL: What is the best part of weaving?
GL: For me the best part is that once you throw that shuttle, that part of the cloth is done. If you had to cut it off the loom right then (and could stabilize the edge), it would be ready to go just like that. With quilting, there is the cutting, then the piecing, then the prep of the quilt sandwich, then the quilting, then the binding, and you can’t really call it done until all of those steps are finished. You can’t be sure it is even going to look complete. With weaving, you get that feeling of completion with every shot.
AL: You also make your own dye using plants. Tell me more about that.
GL: We moved to our farm 10 years ago, and right about that same time, I found out that you could do natural dyeing with the same process you would use to make sun tea – put in the plants in a glass jar outside, pour boiling water over them, and see what color develops. I tried every plant I could find, and I was excited to find out that some of the best colors came from some of the most nondescript “weeds.” It was a great help in learning to distinguish those plants.
It works best on wool, which we don’t use a lot of here in Texas, and the colors do fade over time, but it is a lot of fun.
AL: Do you still knit? What do you like most to knit?
GL: I knit and crochet a little. Someone gave me a huge sack of leftover crochet thread, (and then I bought an equally large sack of leftovers, in case I somehow ran out of something from the first sack), and I am slowly crocheting those into place mats and baskets. I like to always have a project of that sort going, to take along with me when we go visiting or traveling.
AL: Do you still cross stitch or do any other kinds of embroidery or needlepoint?
GL: I hand stitch a little to embellish art quilts, and I keep telling myself I am going to do a stitch journal, but I have not done as much as I would like in that area.
AL: Do you have any funny quilting stories or weaving stories or other craft-related stories?
I used to work at a historical park, where we had a big loom set up. Kids could sit down next to me and I would help them weave, but usually the parents were not patient enough to wait for the five minutes this would take. One woman and her 8-year-old daughter poked their heads in the door, and the woman said, “Oh, she’s making candles,” and pulled the child back out before I could say anything.