An Afternoon With Jane Sassaman

September 24, 2013

“My quilts take off, and I don’t know where they’ll go….”
Our guild was lucky enough to have quilt artist Jane Sassaman speak at the September meeting.   Jane is not only an award winning quilter, but she designs a line of fabric for FreeSpirit and has published two books on 
quilting technique.  She continues to lecture and teach.
Illustrating her talk using several of her finished quilts, Jane spoke about her influences and inspirations, and how she approaches design.  Applique remains at the heart of her quilting.   Although she often utilizes hand worked needle-turn,  using fusing techniques and machine stitching has freed her to create larger and more intricate projects.
   Her love of botanics and nature is clearly evident in her fabric designs.   Another strong influence on her work is the art of the Industrcal Revolution and Arts & Craft period, especially Renee MacIntosh and William Morris.   The influences of Viennese Secession, especially Klimt can be seen in her work.   
At the core of her design process, says Sassaman, is contrast.   
“Contrast creates drama….and that’s what I want.” 
Whether it’s a contrast of color, texture, shape or even attitude, this is what  “add[s] a little electricity.” Balance, scale and motifs are also design elements that can be made to stand in contrast.
In her quilts, many examples of this concept can be found.   Here, we can see contrasts of shape in spiky, sharp elements amount the curves,  as well as the juxtaposition of a menacing spider within the lush flowers and greenery.
She describes the complex process of designing a line of fabrics, which entails many steps.  For her, it involves a great deal of trial and error. Sometimes,   her ideas do not come out the way they were intended,  which means taking a few steps back,  Asked why she decided to accept FreeSpirits offer to design, she realized that creating quilts limited her the rooms in her house, and the people in her family: a finite number.    By creating a line of fabric, she had a much larger audience for even more designs.
Her design goal is to create “art by the yard”, so there is no need to cut it up. However, she realized that for some quilters, her strong, colorful large prints can be a challenge to work with.  Her strategy is to “let the fabric do the work”.  Thus her second book, “Patchwork Sassaman Style” was begun.  She demonstrated the power of using simple patchwork and fussy cuts to create unique, bold and eye catching quilts.   Rather than providing a pattern to follow, the book focuses on recipes that can be transferred to any large scale print. 

Sassaman,who sews on a Bernina 770, has recently added decorative stitching to her quilts.   She keeps her quilting simple and quiet to enhance the detailed floral elements.    If she’s in a rush – which happens often between a Spring and Fall deadline, she will send out a quilt to the longarm quilter.
This quilt is an example of how fussy cut block blend invisibly into the whole.

Of course, like most quilters, I’ve been a fan of Jane Sassaman’s fabric designs for years.    Listening to her discuss her creative influences, design techniques and strategies for using her fabrics brought them to life for me.
For more information 
look for Jane Sassaman’s 

Become a new Chicago Modern Quilt Guild member

Photo: Triangles quilt by Erika Mulvenna