Internationally known quiltmaker and teacher Joen Wolfrom has authored several books, including Color Play: Easy Steps to Imaginative Color in Quilts and developed the 3-in-1 Color Tool for C&T Publishing. When Joen began quilting in the late 70's, she found that even a technically perfect quilt didn't guarantee visual beauty. Read more about Joen's colorful quiltmaking journey in this interview from Quiltmaker magazine.
How did you decide to make the quilting business a career? What led you in that direction?
Actually I didn't decide to make quiltmaking my career. It's been an accidental career.
Two women opened a quilt shop in Gig Harbor, Washington, in 1980. They asked me to be their quilt instructor. I declined. Eventually, with great trepidation, I agreed. A few years later I was stunned to be asked to teach at a symposium in California. Again, I declined, but the woman was very persuasive. I reluctantly agreed. At the conference I received two new invitations. I went home not knowing whether I would accept those invitations or not. My goal had always been to raise my children, be a good homemaker and wife.
After discussing this novel teaching idea with my husband, we decided I would accept the new invitations and then go back to my quiet life. To my amazement, however, the invitations kept arriving. I ended up accepting a few each year. I declined to teach in May, the summer, September, December, and January until my children became more independent. Unbelievably, I have been teaching nationally and internationally for twenty years. It has been an unexpected career that has given me many opportunities, much joy, wonderful memories, and great friendships.
What inspires your work? How do new ideas come to you in quiltmaking?
I am inspired most of all by nature--her colors, values, and shapes. Also, I am inspired by nature's seasons. They contribute greatly to my imaginative design ideas. The painterly use of color during sunsets and sunrises influences me greatly with my color choices. Also, I find ideas float into my head without much effort when I am daydreaming in the car or taking long, relaxing showers. Lastly, there are times when a particular fabric causes my creative juices to flow. The fabric takes on a life of its own, and provides me with a vehicle to create a design.
I was displeased with everything I did when I first began quilting. My color use was dismal. I was always surprised at the visual outcome of my quilt. I decided I needed to learn more about color. So, I took a basic color class at a community college. In this class we painted the color wheel, blended colors, and did very sequential exercises with paint on paper. When the class ended, I felt I only had a smattering of information and too little experience. I knew I needed some practical application to put in place what I had learned.
So I gave myself monthly challenges for four years. At the beginning of each month I determined my color or design assignment. I played with color plans, value changes, various color illusions, and design elements and principles. Each month seemed to lead me to another area of interest. These monthly projects were limited in size, so they could be finished within a month. Since these were learning exercises, I could choose to keep the quilt, give it away, or discard it...with no guilt.
I believe the best gift I ever gave myself was this time to explore, to make mistakes without guilt, and to play with color and design. This was a priceless gift of time and exploration. I hope other quilters will give themselves similar gifts.