In today’s Saturday A.M. Quilt Break I’d like to share with you a profile of Victoria Findlay Wolfe I wrote for Quilty March/April 2018 issue. I’ve worked with Victoria on other features before and met her at Quilt Market in Houston a few years ago, so it was nice to catch up with her over the phone a few months back while writing this Your Modern Heritage article.
Your Modern Heritage is a regular feature in Quilty in which we talk about quilts that we believe deserve a longer look. It’s a fairly broad direction, and that’s deliberate. Perhaps we’ll cover a quilt that was a game changer, affecting how we think about color or design, or maybe we’ll highlight a technique or approach that, for whatever reason, sparks a conversation amongst modern quilters. In this case, we chose to focus on the continuing reverberations of Victoria Findlay Wolfe’s modern double wedding ring quilts, both in the quilt world at large and in Victoria’s subsequent work.
A Lasting Love for Double Wedding Ring Quilts
Victoria Findlay Wolfe is well known around the quiltosphere. Five years after winning the first best in show ever awarded by QuiltCon in 2013 for Double-Edged Love, quilted by Lisa Sipes, Victoria is an in-demand teacher, designer and author whose quilts have been featured in numerous publications and exhibits. And while Double-Edged Love, a modern take on the Double Wedding Ring pattern, may not have been the first quilt she ever made, its creation represents a distinct turning point in her career.
Up until then, Victoria had been an improvisational quilter. “My process isn’t like any others in that I didn’t learn to sew from books or patterns,” she says. “I grew up on a farm. My dad did upholstery, my mom’s a seamstress, my grandmother quilted. So the way I learned was that whatever you make, you just jump in and start making things. I didn’t have any previous baggage of ‘I can’t do that.’ If I make something and I’m not crazy about it, I think about what else I can do with it. It’s a very traditional way of looking at things, making do with what you have.”
It was that make-do attitude that led to Double-Edged Love. Faced with an improvisational quilt she “didn’t love” but not wanting it to go to waste, she took a look around her home for ideas of what to do with it. “I’m always looking for something I haven’t done before,” she says. She had a die cutter and a new die set for Double Wedding Ring blocks, which she’d never used, so she put the rejected quilt top through the die cutter to see what would happen. “That was my first Double Wedding Ring quilt,” she says. “All the color in Double-Edged Love comes from the previous quilt top.”
That experience changed how she approached quiltmaking by training her eye for improv piecing on traditional patterns. As a strictly improvisational quilter, she was able to make decisions and sew very quickly, often turning out quilt tops in less than a day. “When it comes to trying something new, when I made the first Double Wedding Ring, it changed my process,” she says. “I had to sit with it for more than a day, at least a week. That process of working very quickly changed. I thought more about the connections and the story and personal decisions going into it.”
More iterations of Double Wedding Rings soon followed as Victoria started exploring the potential of the traditional design by changing the look of it without changing the fundamental pattern. She does this by focusing in on the individual parts of the block without feeling constrained by traditional color placement. She’s not interested in reinventing how a block is constructed; as she sees it, she’s changing the story a pattern tells through color. “Any space of any block is an opportunity to play with the movement of the quilt by filling the space with color, or maybe five or 10 colors—it doesn’t have to be just one.”
As important as it is to challenge traditional conventions, Victoria believes it’s just as important for us to challenge our perceptions of our own work since there’s no way our brains can immediately process everything our eyes take in.
“All of this is about looking beyond what’s in front of us,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what you think a quilt will look like, you need to cut the fabric for it and put it on the wall and take a picture of it. You’ve got to look for the rest of the information you’re not seeing. I want to go look for the information, that’s the part I enjoy the most about quilting. How else can I push it, what else can I do to it?”
Victoria’s Double Wedding Ring workshops are popular with beginning and experienced quilters alike. “I’ve had people in my class who’ve never sewn before and who’ve made a Double Wedding Ring in a five-day class. It’s totally manageable. They’re not hard to put together, but they take time: they’re ‘patience builders.’”
Don’t let her background as an improvisational quilter fool you—Victoria is a stickler for technique. “I like my points to match,” she says. “I show my students how to do it perfectly. None of these quilting tricks are hard to learn. In my class I show people two ways to sew things wrong: one of them you pick out, one of them you don’t. You have to make a mistake so you can learn something.” She says teaching in this way allows her students to be their own Quilt Police when they’re sewing on their own at home. “I give them the confidence and take away the fear. Everything they piece going forward, all their skill sets are going to get better if someone shows them they can do this.”
Her latest book, Modern Quilt Magic, is subtitled “5 Parlor Tricks to Expand Your Piecing Skills” and contains the very real lessons she’s learned—and taught—since those initial Double Wedding Ring explorations that have carried over into all of her subsequent work. Her Herringbone quilt pattern, for example, is constructed in a traditional way; one of Victoria’s innovations is that she added slightly curved seams, which changes the look entirely.
To Victoria, traditional quilt patterns are basically giant coloring books that hold endless possibilities. Each one encourages her to look for where she can push the color around to come up with something that looks different but ultimately fits in seamlessly with the quilts that inspire her.