The First Modern Quilting Book - an interview with Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle
When I first discovered modern quilting and realized that the aesthetic had a name, I searched for books that could lead the way. In 2005, The Modern Quilt Workshop by Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle was the only book ever published with “modern quilt” in the title. In fact, as far as I can tell, they published the first book with “modern quilt” in the title. Of course, I immediately bought it.
What struck me most about the book was their philosophy on quilt making, specifically on page 12 “…our primary interest is in making quilts that are expressive of the time and culture in which we live.” Their books look at quilting from a broader perspective than most traditional quilt books at the time. Design, color and inspiration are key components in quilts. They talk in depth about their design process. I had never read a quilt book that talked about quilting this way and from a modernist perspective. It gave me the confidence to design and create my own quilts. In fact, they gave me so much confidence in making my own quilts that I only made one quilt from their book. Now, all of my quilts are my own design.
What was the quilt I made? Love Beads from page 46. It was my first foray into curved piecing and I was scared. In the end, the quilt turned out pretty good. That quilt was a key piece for me. It changed how I viewed quilting, construction and my own abilities. It made me realize that I need to stretch my skills in every quilt I do. To try and teach myself something new each time. It changed how I designed my quilts. I was no longer locked into straight lines. When I finished that quilt, I felt I had broken through to a whole other level.
Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle live in Oak Park, Illinois and have written numerous books on modern quilting, Quiltmaker’s Color Workshop, The Modern Quilt Workshop, Quilts Made Modern and their upcoming title Transparency Quilts. They have a great website and Weeks’ also has a blog. They teach classes when invited, but will be opening a new studio in 2012 for even more workshop opportunities. Weeks was first inspired to quilt after seeing a show of indigo quilts in Tokyo. Bill saw her books and thought “Wow, you could really do something modern with that art form” and that they did.
Infinity Quilt by Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle, an original design featured on their website.
What is your chief characteristic?
Weeks: I blaze my own trail.
What is your main fault?
Bill: My enthusiasm makes me spread myself too thin
Weeks: I’m intolerant of mean, lazy, dishonest or incompetent people.
What is your favorite occupation?
Bill: Making things without a deadline
Weeks: Making any situation better.
What is your idea of happiness?
Bill: Being outside with my family
Weeks: Feeling loved by people whom I love.
What is your idea of misery?
Bill: Spending time with narrow-minded people
If not yourself, who would you be?
Bill: I’d like to be an alien with four hands who only needs to sleep two hours a night. Can you imagine what you could get done that way?
Weeks: I have no idea. It’s taken me a long time just to figure out who I am!
What is the quality you most admire in someone?
What do you appreciate most in friends?
What inspires you?
Weeks: The version of myself that I’m striving to become
Who is your favorite artist?
Bill: Andy Goldsworthy
Weeks: Andy Goldsworthy
Who is your favorite non-fabric designer?
Bill: In 1977 I read Victor Papanek’s book, How Things Don’t Work. His writing and thinking about design affected me profoundly.
Weeks: Charley Harper
What is your favorite color?
Bill: It’s no single one, rather it is whatever color makes a palette come to life.
Weeks: I don’t have a single favorite. I have about 10 that are all favorites among which are celery, coral, robin’s egg blue, butter yellow and putty taupe.
What is your favorite neutral?
Bill: I can’t play favorites here either. Neutrals are my friends and I don’t want to offend any of them.
Weeks: The color of natural linen.
When did you complete your first quilt? Where is it now?
Bill: Seventeen years ago–it was a quilt Weeks and I made together and set aside long ago. We rediscovered it two years ago, finished it and it’s now on our guest room bed.
Weeks: 1987. It’s in a cabinet in our bedroom. We still use it.
What are the number of WIPs, UFOs and projects on your to do list?
Bill: We have well over 100 quilts we’ve designed but not yet made. Then there are the sculptures, mosaics, paper projects, furniture designs…My answer to question 2 says it all.
Weeks: There are 4 quilts today in various states of construction in our studio all of which have deadlines and will be finished soon. I have 5 personal UFOs and countless projects on my to do list. The ones with specific deadlines get done. The ones without deadlines don’t get done because I’m always working on the ones that have deadlines. Get it?
How old is your oldest UFO?
Bill: At least a decade.
Weeks: 7 yrs old
What is the current state of your studio?
Bill: Bursting with energy and new projects yet still orderly.
Weeks: Tidy and organized because it has to be so we can work.
What do you listen to when you sew?
Bill: Every project calls for different music. Today was a mellow day with Trombone Shorty, The Budos Band, Macy Gray, Sweet Honey in the Rock and countless others keeping me company. When I’m not playing my iPod, I turn on Pandora to discover new artists.
Weeks: Sometimes NPR, sometimes an eclectic playlist, sometimes Pandora and sometimes I sew in total silence because my head is just too full
What was your first machine?
Bill: I learned to sew because the only place for my mother to keep her ancient Singer was in my room. I was a mechanical kid and loved to take it apart. It had an old knee bar actuator which was annoying, so I removed it and wired in a newer foot pedal. The first machine I actually bought was our current Bernina.
Weeks: a Bernina
What is your current machine?
Bill: We have two simple Berninas, a ten-year old and a twenty-year old model. We’ve also got a well-loved old Gammill Classic longarm. None of the machines have stitch regulators, computer controllers, or other fancy technology.
Weeks: a Bernina
What is your favorite sewing tool?
Bill: A splendid pair of scissors my wife bought in Japan. We probably have 7 pair of scissors in the studio, but nothing cuts, sounds or feels like those perfectly balanced, wonderfully sharp Japanese scissors.
Weeks: a Clover Binding Tool
What was the last piece of fabric you bought?
Bill: I bought more than 30 bolts of fabric this week, lots of simple solids and a couple dozen of Marcia Derse prints.
Weeks: We bought 24 bolts of Marcia Derse fabric for our kits but I bought some Halloween novelty fat quarters at our daughter’s request
What was your last completed project?
Bill: I’m finishing up the last of five quilts for a private commission. I’ve been working with a wonderful client whom I met years ago at an international design show in New York. Two of the quilts were intricate and real show-stoppers, the others were elegant and simple.
Weeks: It was a version of our Party of Four pattern using the forementioned Marcia Derse fabrics.
Do you have one of your quilts on your bed?
Bill: Almost always. We rotate them with the seasons.
Weeks: Of course!
What is your favorite part of the quilting process?
Bill: I love watching the idea become a reality.
Weeks: Laying out the pieces
What is your least favorite part of the quilting process?
Bill: Ripping out seams when something doesn’t work.
What is your favorite time of day to sew?
Bill: Whenever the phone isn’t ringing and I can have a few uninterrupted hours, be they day or night.
Weeks: The morning
Do you fudge?
Bill: Not really – I find that errors in cutting or sewing add up and can cause bigger problems later, so I’d rather just rip out a seam and start over.
Weeks: No. People pay a lot of hard-earned money for our quilts so they expect excellent craftsmanship.
Cats or Dogs?
Bill: If it’s furry and friendly, I love it but right now we have one cat.
Weeks: We have a 14-yr old cat. At some point I would like to train a service dog.
Your favorite motto
Bill: Weeks and I have a family motto: Love, Learn, Serve. Years ago she had the three words penned by hand and framed in our bedroom.
Weeks: “Love, learn, serve” is our family mission statement
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just a thanks to you and others like you who are spreading the possibilities of Modern Quilting. Thanks for continuing a great tradition of building community through quilting.