Quilter Sandra Bruce creates portraits in fabric. She shares her technique and her business goals.
ABI: How do you incorporate your background in illustration and lettering into your quilting work?
SB: My long-arm quilting machine allows me to “free-motion”, which means I am guiding the machine as it stitches on the fabric (as opposed to a computerized design). To me, the machine is just another tool, like a brush or pen, with which I can draw, write or design a motif. I have been an illustrator/letterer for a long time, so using the long-arm came very naturally to me. For example, in my self-portrait quilt, I stitched into the background names of my family and other details that I felt defined me, making it truly a self-portrait.
ABI: What are your goals with your quilting business?
SB: I enjoy quilting for customers who need the services of a long-arm quilter, but most of all I love having the ability to make my own pieces and increase my body of work. My present goals are: to begin teaching and lecturing to groups, to teach the “Material Matrix” method I use to create a quilt using the gridded photograph, to have a gallery show, and to receive commissions to do portrait quilts of people.
ABI: Tell us about your process.
SB: I am influenced by the painter Chuck Close, whose gridded portraits inspired my Self-Portrait quilt. When I have a photograph I am happy with, I place a grid onto it, and this is the only time I use my computer. I print it out onto paper and select many fabrics, using the photo as a guide, taking care to vary solids, hand-dyed fabric, and commercial prints.
I cut 2.5 inch squares, and work in groups of blocks that are 4 squares by 4 squares, for a finished size of 8 inches. I use Post-Its on the photo to isolate the block I am working on, and use a design wall to keep my blocks on while I’m working so I can see my progress as I go along. I make my squares “wonky” so that the lines don’t exactly match up, which makes the eyes do the work of “getting” the image when viewed at a distance. I do a lot of squinting, and use a reducing glass.
In the “Matteo and the Amaryllis” piece, the challenges were a little different than my Self-Portrait, in that I was using vibrant color and a profile, which, as it turned out, needed to be pretty accurate in terms of line. I used the stitching to accentuate facial features, and detail in the flower and leaves.
ABI: What benefits have you gotten from the organizations you belong to?
SB: Belonging to the guilds that I am a member of gives me inspiration, camaraderie, and exposure. The community is a giving one, and we all learn from each other and inspire! They include: Northern California Quilt Council, Mountain Art Quilters, Sierra Wearable Art Group and the Pine Tree Quilt Guild.