I’ve returned to quilting after more than a decade and I’m having a ball. The available fabrics and patterns are mind-boggling. But then I see the fantastic creations of a quilting artist like Betsy Habich and I have no words. Betsy makes exquisite pictorial quilts and thread paints them so that the back of the quilt is as extraordinary as the front! Betsy has had quilts juried into the American Quilters Society Show (Paducah) and the International Quilt Festival (Houston). Her work has been awarded at MQX, VQF, the Gathering, and other regional shows.Whether you’re a quilter or not, you do not want to miss seeing Betsy’s work at this year’s Fiber College.
And lucky for US, she’s teaching Thread Painting 101 on Friday, September 8 from 9 AM to 4 PM. On Saturday, September 9, Betsy will teach a rolling class on Fabric Dyeing (more info about rolling classes here). Let’s meet Betsy and see some of her incredible work.
Fiber College chooses a new theme each year. For 2017, it’s Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create. How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life?
Making quilts is the embodiment of this year’s theme! – ‘cutting up perfectly good fabric and putting it back together again.’ Making pictorial quilts, it’s all about seeing fabric in a different way – finding design elements that can be used to communicate something altogether different than intended, for instance using tree branches for cat fur.
Aside from your class, what is your favorite thing about FC? What do you think new attendees just shouldn’t miss?
DO NOT MISS #1. The chowder and pie dinner by the beach. Those Searsport Historical Society folks sure make good food! #2. Talking to other FC folks. It is a GREAT opportunity to learn stuff and meet like-minded people.
What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?
Mentor and teacher extraordinaire Ruth McDowell once told a class if we didn’t like a source photo (for a quilt design), it was OK TO CHANGE IT! Wow! Talk about empowerment!
Another piece of advice from quilter extraordinaire Nancy Halpern, “Color gets all the credit, value does all the work.” Such good advice, I made a quilt about it! (Nancy claims someone else said this first, but I heard it from HER!)
And one more, from a bookmark at Back Porch Fabrics in Pacific Grove, CA: “It’s never too late to be the person you might have been.” George Eliot, English novelist (1819 – 1880)
Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from? What inspired you?
My most exciting idea, painting a wholecloth quilt-top and adding detail with quilting, came from realizing the images made by bobbin thread on the back of my quilts were at least as good as the pieced top. From thread sketching (painted wholecloth top with details sketched in with free-motion machine quilting), the next step was thread painting (the whole surface is thread).
If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?
I would love to share the joy I find in creating fiber images with more people. I love seeing that aha moment when a student gets it! Oh, and I’d like my body to exercise itself without my having to be there 😉
What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?
The desire to see subtlety and communicate clearly through my work drives me. This pushes me to try new techniques, particularly in my series of cat and flower portraits.
For example, rendering my gray agouti tiger cat’s stripes and the subtle color variations in agouti fur (each hair has bands of dark-light-dark color on it), forced me to think a lot about what I was seeing and what I could do to let other people see it, leading to a series of four Tigger Cat quilts.
How does your art recreate YOU? What does that feel like?
Every piece I complete is a journey from confidence to self-doubt and back. It starts with a vision, and feelings of hopefulness, confidence, and self-challenge. (That picture would make a good quilt!) Next comes a ‘burrowing-in’ phase, working at white-hot intensity to design the pattern and start the work. Then the ‘long slog’ phase of actually doing the work. The long slog usually includes anxiety and self-doubt, discouragement, some boredom, and physical fatigue. At some point there’s the magic moment when the parts come together, and I start to fall in love with it. Every good quilt I’ve made has been a struggle. Successfully completing is a huge upper and what drives me to do another (and another)!
If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?
I would trust my instincts. My very first quilt, made c. 1972, incorporated embroidery, tie-dye, and batik, as well as piecing. Then I did some reading and realized it was “all wrong.” I wish I’d trusted my instincts then—I do now!
What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?
I respect my students as intelligent, talented, creative people. I want them to come out of my class having had all their questions answered and having learned at least one new thing. Also, I love cats (and dogs)!
Now that you’ve had the opportunity to learn more about Betsy and her fabulous quilting and thread-painting, go learn more about Thread Painting 101 and sign up here! You can also participate in her Saturday rolling class when you get to Fiber College; be on the lookout for those of us selling the wooden bobbins (1 bobbin for $20 which includes the gate fee and admits you to an hour of instruction).