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Creative Ideas for Creative Quiltmaking

by Kathryn Kistner

I was asked where I come up with ideas for quilts.  Here are a few thoughts, which I am still working on...

 I "sit" with my fabric, and let it talk to me.  IT knows how it wants to spend the rest of its life.  I just have to quietly listen. Sometimes a piece of fabric will "speak" to me in the store, with a "picture-in-my-mind" of itself as a finished quilt or quilt block.

Pick a "NON-QUILTING" MAGAZINE, like a tractor catalog, a recipe magazine, or a gardening magazine (it doesn't matter!). Tell yourself that the original idea MUST come from something you see in the magazine.  NOT the WHOLE concept, necessarily, just that initial "push".  Maybe it will be an advertisement in the magazine.  (Scan the picture, and include it in your quilt or signature label.)

Pick a NON-QUILTING BOOK - a biography, a fiction, a history, a "how-to", or a horse-training manual (it doesn't matter!).  Read the TITLES of the chapters, and let that spark your imagination. (In other words, you might "name" your quilt before you make it.  You can change the name, later, if you wish.)

Pick a SEASON.  (Draw from a hat, if you can't choose.)  Express that season as a quilt.

Pick a SEASON, and REFUSE to use colors that are "traditional" for that season.  (DO NOT use gold or brown for FALL.)

Interpret a SEASON and DO NOT use leaves, trees, flowers or block names that are "seasonal" in nature.

Pull 3 (or 4, or 5) color names from a hat, and use ONLY those colors in a quilt.

Pull 3 (or 4, or 5) color names from a hat and DO NOT use those colors in a quilt.

Pick a COLOR with a fancy name (blueberry swirl, katydid, deep lagoon, thistledown, etc. - look at paint chip names - look at lipstick names.)  Interpret that fancy NAME as a quilt.

Use ONLY fabrics already in your stash.

Use one REALLY, REALLY GAG-UGLY fabric in your quilt, and do whatever it takes to make the quilt look BEAUTIFUL, EXOTIC, or ROMANTIC (you choose the POSITIVE trait).

Ask another person to pick out one fabric that MUST appear in your quilt.

Ask a child or other person what their favorite THING is. Whatever they say... use that in a quilt.  You may "interpret" the item "generally" or "specifically", at your discretion.  (If they say "Barbie", it can be "doll", or "fashion doll", or "BARBIE"..., or "dolls of the world", or "dolls from history"..., or "Oh, you beautiful doll", or "Hello, Dolly", or "I dropped my dolly in the dirt", or "all dolled up", etc.)

Pick a PERSON you admire (past or present, fictional, cartoon, historical or personal friend).  List what you like about them, and express that as a quilt.

OR, ask yourself, "if they WERE a quilt", what would they look like?  Expansive?  Wild?  Small and precise?  Colorful?  Subdued?

Find a favorite QUOTE (famous or otherwise). Express that WHOLE quote as a quilt.

Pick a period in history.  1500's.  1920's.  Pre-history.  Express the "feel" of the era.

Make a quilt that was popular during a certain period in history, or something that is cutting-edge that you have never tried before.

Make a quilt in a certain style (Baltimore Album, crazy, folk art, primitive, fussy-cut, etc.).

Take the letters of your first, middle and last name(s).  Using those letters, scramble the letters to make new words.  (You may or may not use all the letters - you decide.)  Make a quilt based on those words that came from YOUR name.

Go to a Dictionary, Bible or classic literature book.  Close your eyes.  Open the book at random, and point to a word or phrase.  Interpret that word meaning or phrase as a quilt.

Pick a word, and write down words that rhyme with it.  Put all those rhyming words/images in the quilt.  (Bat, brat, cat, drat, fat, flat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat, scat, slat, spat, tat, vat, etc.)

Make a quilt based on the TITLE of a song.

Pick your favorite song, and interpret the feelings, thoughts, words, tempo, etc. as a quilt.

LISTEN to your favorite song, and see what ideas come up.

Pick your favorite animal, and incorporate it into a quilt.

Pick an endangered (or extinct) animal, and leave a lasting memory of its having been here on Earth.                  

Think of an ACTIVITY.  Interpret, and quilt that. (Picking blueberries. Singing a song. Riding a bicycle. Missing the bus. Putting on pantyhose. Ice-skating.)

Pick a body part (feet, hands, nose) and express something profound, humorous, or educational.

Express your gratitude (in a quilt) for something that you usually take for granted.

Pick a profession.  (Baker, taxi driver, dancer...)

Quilt a nursery rhyme.  Don't use the words.

If you remember your dreams, use them as a creative spark. (I write mine down as soon as I wake up, or I forget - I keep a pad and pen by my bed.)

I attended a creativity seminar in 1971 by Mike Vance, who used to work for (or with) the Walt Disney Studios.  The REASON Disney cartoons and movies are so wonderful, is because they use a concept called "Five-Sensing".  They try to portray ALL FIVE SENSES as they tell their story.  What do you SEE?  What do you HEAR?  What do you SMELL?  What do you TASTE?  What do you FEEL (emotional or tactile)?  The more senses you involve, the more involved will be your audience.  It works in movies, books, and songs.  It works in a quilt, too.

OR, pick ONE SENSE.  Pick a SMELL (a flower, bread baking, fish).  Pick a TASTE (a lemon, peppermint stick).  Pick a SIGHT/VISION(the Grand Canyon, "I SAW mommy kissing Santa Claus", "peace on Earth" (vision), eyeglasses - and things seen through them).  Pick a SOUND (car horn, kitten mewing, silence).  Pick things that you FEEL/FEELINGS - textures, weights, pressures, etc. (rough, silky, smothering).

When life gives you a challenge, go WAAAAAY beyond your wildest dreams, to spark your creative GENIUS!


About the author:  Kathryn Kistner began quilting in a big way in 2000 by choosing a king-sized quilt for her first project.  She is active in the Austin Area Quilt Guild and Match-A-Patch Bee.  She approaches quilting challenges with a creative eye and loves sharing her ideas with others.

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