Collegiate Quilting: The Intersection of Mentor and Teacher

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By Stephanie Ruyle

When you must design and execute original design as part of a college-level course, many would immediately think of fashion. This past winter, at the Makers Space Idea Forge, on the campus of the University of Colorado, Boulder, a group of mostly engineers, both young men and women, designed and executed their original creations cumulating in a show celebrating their work. Instead of a runway, 14 original creations were on display as “The Quilting Buffaloes” celebrated the time-honored tradition of quilt-making (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Makers Space Idea Forge just before the opening of “The Quilting Buffaloes” show, March 18, 2017

This is the 2nd year of making quilts on the University of Colorado campus and enrollment has grown from five to 15 students with three of those students returning for their second year. Six women and eight men worked January through March, 2017, within syllabus specific “self-imposed boundaries”(1), constructing an original quilt that used no more than 12 seams for the quilt top design. In addition, finished quilts had to measure about 50” x 50” and all of this needed to be done in seven weeks, meeting two times a week, at night, after a full day of mind boggling math and engineering classes. We traded calculators for rotary cutters and tried to use rulers a little as possible. It was frightening and empowering to coax exacting individuals out of their usual habits.

Restricting the number of construction seams in their quilt tops was both experimental and practical. I have, as others have, always started projects with some idea of boundary guidelines. Working with structure, even with improvisational quilting, is liberating. Having an over-riding goal challenges me to be creative with limits. Knowing that, I asked the students this year to undertake a “Making Modern with Minimal Decisions” directive, as they designed and constructed their quilts. It was fascinating to watch individual designs evolve around the same central premise and to see, through fabric, how engineers are both problem solvers and artists.

We explored what constitutes a “seam” when several students figured out that with planning, a pre-sewn cutout could be strategically placed elsewhere in the quilt without deducting further from their total 12-seam allowance. In the end, they sketched, cut, pieced, pin basted, quilted and attached bindings to 14 unique quilts all while being busy full time students. (Figure 2), It was truly rewarding to see how excited and proud they were when they finished, knowing that I played a small role in their remarkable accomplishments.

Figure 2. Busy at work piecing their quilt tops in the Idea Forge Makers Space.

Figure 3. Jonathan, Grace, Michael and Destiny all busy pin-basting

Figure 4. Ready for quilting. (Front to back) Quilts by Josh Colyer, Bridger Ruyle, Grace Kendziorski and Matthew Dillon.

Several examples of student work and their unique interpretations of “Making Modern with Minimal Decisions” can be seen below. Each quilt makes the most of the 12 seam limit (Figures 5-9) without exceeding it.

Figure 5. Lewis Redner chose a striking gradation of color in his five-seam quilt top. The orange border provides the perfect contrast as he pays homage to his home in Australia from his college in Colorado.

Figure 6. Thomas Edward Fugikawa’s 12-seam top cleverly reuses pre-pieced fabrics in its construction. Completed entirely without Y-seams, these striking angles make for a modern composition.

Figure 7. Josh Colyer reinterprets the Idea Forge Makers Space logo with help from Grace Kendziorski and Destiny Scaife. Eleven seams and some complementary quilting make this two-color quilt very modern. Quilting guidance from Christine Perrigo.

Figure 8. Michael Anthony embraced curves and used only nine seams to make this bright, playful multi-colored quilt. He continues the multi-colored theme into his organic “straight” line quilting.

Figure 9. Sara Reitz is certain she used only 12 seams. Her exceedingly clever use of cut outs and frugal reuse of pre-pieced sections was accomplished with some initial help from fellow guild member, Christine Perrigo, who fortunately also happens to be well versed in engineer-think. The limited color palette highlights all the curves and angles.

To be part of this process, as mentor and teacher, is a highlight of my sewing and quilting career. We spend time together in a beautiful space on a university campus creating hand-made, modern quilts and learning about and supporting each other as we work. We share, decades apart, a common love of color and shape and making.

This privilege to teach quilting to the next generation was a gift from my son, a senior environmental engineering student. Knowing they were looking for someone with sewing skills, he immediately volunteered his mom. In his last semester of college, he surprised me again, and took my class. (Figure 9). I cannot adequately explain, as a quilter and a mother, how life-changing this has been to share what I have learned with young, eager, quilt makers of the future. To watch them take a concept and make it their own, to work towards perfecting skills that will last a lifetime, changes you as a person and as a maker.

Figure 10. Mother and son. Constructing this 10-seam quilt with close parental supervision made for some interesting conversations about creative space, literally.

I consider myself exceedingly fortunate to connect to a larger quilting community via social media, but the roots of quilt-making are found in creative community (local guilds) and personal connections. When we teach what we know to others, in person, the outcome is nothing short of wonderful. Opportunities to share your talents are everywhere.

Check your local government, community and neighborhood organizations, high schools, community colleges and universities, quilt and fabric stores for ways to interact locally. For the truly adventurous, consider leading a workshop, teaching a class at a quilt show, explore on-line opportunities, submissions to magazines, and podcasts. I guarantee teaching will change your life.


Photos by Stephanie Z. Ruyle 

Stephanie Ruyle is a member of the Denver Metro Modern Quilt Guild and teaches quilting at the University of Colorado, Boulder in the Makers Space-Idea Forge. She is currently developing and teaching “Making Modern with Minimal Decision” workshops and classes. A recipient of several awards at Quiltcon and AQS shows nationally, Stephanie challenges herself to interpret and refine seaming techniques, while sometimes using unexpected material that ultimately translate into unique, modern quilts. She lives in Denver, CO with her husband and helper dachshund, Sandi. Both her children enthusiastically support her quilting and sewing endeavors.

Photo by Ruchi Brunvand