This week, it is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Robbi Joy Eklow. Chances are strong that you’ve already heard her name. She is a quilter, an artist, an educator and an author. Her art quilts are nothing short of stunning, created with hand-dyed cotton, bonded appliqué, and lots of free motion quilting. Her Steampunk Sublime tutorial has been one of our favorites on Pellon Projects™ and, months after publishing, remains one of our most popular. The quilt is entirely fused together with Wonder-Under® paper-backed fusible web. No needle or thread is used until the actual quilting begins. It’s a technique Robbi uses often, is the subject of many of her workshops and may be why she has been dubbed the ‘Goddess of the Last Minute’ though her quilts are anything but!
We such fun chatting with Robbi and hope you find some inspiration in her work!
Pellon Projects: How did you first get started with sewing?
Robbi Joy Eklow: My grandmother taught me to hand sew with fabric from her ragbox and then showed me how to use her old sewing machine. I was in kindergarten and we lived with my grandparents.
PP: Was there an inspiring influence in your life that pushed you in a particular creative direction?
RJE: I was the only child, my parents had been divorced, and my grandmother was a constant knitter and she did crewel. She had some hanging in the dining room. She would help me make beaded necklaces, and make paper flowers. She and my mother were very tolerant of my fiber adventures and I remember using my grandmother’s footstool as a base for macrame projects. I’d be tying knots on her footstool while she’d be resting her feet on it and knitting. My grandmother was my favorite person in the world — and she offered the only stability in my life until I married my husband — so I think one reason I gravitate towards fiber is because it connects me to my memories of her.
PP: Describe your process a bit… How do you come up with new designs and how to you move through the steps from idea conception to project completion?
RJE: Right now I’m fixated on patterns using radial symmetry. I have a vocabulary of “objects” that I’ve been arranging, maybe I’m looking for the perfect arrangement. I’m not sure. At any rate, I start a design on my computer, using Adobe Illustrator, to create a line drawing. I don’t worry about color at this point. All of my quilts are fused, so the next step is to create the “templates” on Wonder-Under. I either trace them manually, or print them directly onto sheets of Wonder-Under that I’ve cut to fit in my inkjet printer. The next step is to fuse the Wonder-Under to the fabric — I use my own hand dyed fabric. Then I fuse all the parts together, and then the last step is to quilt the quilt.
PP: Do you find yourself seeking out other sewers both in your area and in the online arena for inspiration and support
RJE: I do enjoy being around other quilters, I joined the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild last year and I’m very excited about it. I haven’t made any “Modern” quilts but I enjoy being around people who are excited about quilting. I also have local friends who quilt and I belong to a small group of art quilters. AND I am on Facebook about an hour every day. At least.
PP: What are your tools of choice? (sewing machine, needles, threads, etc…)
RJE: I do my quilting on an APQS Millennium Longarm most of the time. I also have a Bernina for regular stitching. I use a lot of different threads, at this point, I can’t really point to just one company.
PP: Do you have a favorite Pellon® product?
RJE: Of course I do! My quilts would not exist without Wonder-Under®. The slight stiffness it adds makes it easier to control the quilt when I’m free motion quilting. Some of the other fusibles are just too stiff for my taste, especially when I’m using multiple layers.
PP: You are not just an artist, but also a teacher and an author. Do you find yourself gravitating toward one area over another, or do all three pieces really work together?
RJE: Since I don’t really make my quilts to sell, the teaching part allows me to continue making the quilts instead of devoting myself to another full time job. I enjoy being able to write too. The writing and the teaching take time from the quilting, but I need all three.
PP: What do you love about teaching and do you have any favorite topics?
RJE: I really enjoy teaching. It’s fun to go to different parts of the country, or the world, and meet quilters from all over. Quilters are wonderful people and being able to spend time with them is a wonderful privilege. I’m very lucky that I get to do that. I like to teach classes featuring my fused quilts. It’s like going to a coloring book class for adults.
PP: A number of your classes focus on the techniques and designs presented in your book, Free Expression: The Art and Confessions of a Contemporary Quilter. Can you give a sneak peek of what the book is about? What inspired you to write it?
RJE: The book is about how I design and quilt my fused quilts. I wrote it after making a lot of them!
PP: Your latest book is called Goddess of the Last Minute, a title you’ve also assumed on your website. Can you tell us a bit more about that and how the moniker came to be?
RJE: That’s a long story. I started using that as my moniker when I started my column in Quilting Arts a decade ago. It relates to how I am able to get things done on short notice. Not that I procrastinate.
PP: You’re headed to the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza in September to teach a few classes. What is your favorite thing about attending and teaching at a Quilt Festival? Do you have a favorite festival?
RJE: I enjoy it the most when someone comes to me and tells me they enjoyed the day in my class very much. All of the quilt shows are so different, I can’t really say which is my favorite.
PP: Your designs have been included in a number of special exhibitions country-wide. What do you like most about displaying your art in this manner? How do you prepare for such a display?
RJE: I think it’s interesting to see a bunch of my quilts hung up at the same time. For preparation, I start with my newest quilts, hold out the ones that I need either to teach or to enter in a competition and then go from there, picking however many quilts are wanted for the display. It’s pretty straightforward.
PP: Your tutorial for the Steampunk Sublime Quilt is one of the most popular on our site. I’m sure our readers would love to know what inspired that design. Could you tell us a little about it?
RJE: I’ve been working in this circular symmetrical style for a while. I’m fascinated with it. I don’t really know why, but I have been drawing designs like this even when I was in high school and scribbling to stay awake during boring classes. I like mechanical designs like the gears, they rotate and I imagine them working together. I love riding my bicycle, leisurely, I’m not a racer or anything, and I like the way bicycles look, so maybe there is something in that. When I was in first grade, my grandmother got this watch that had a clear back and I could see all the gears inside, that might have started it.
PP: Is there any advice that you could offer for young sewers and quilters, just getting started in their craft?
RJE: Just make things. Don’t let anyone tell you the way things HAVE TO BE. Quilts don’t have to be a certain way, you should just enjoy making them. And check to see if there is a Modern Quilt Guild in your area. Even if you AREN’T young, there is room for everyone, so you’ll find people to make friends with and people to get good advice from. And it’s really fun. If you are an art quilter, look to art quilt groups too.
PP: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today! We’re honored to have you as a guest!
RJE: Thanks for having me!
We’d like to thank Robbi for taking the time to chat with us! Oh, the power of Wonder-Under®!! For information about Robbi, head to her artist page on pellonprojects.com or check out her website or her blog.
Download a FREE pattern for Robbi’s Steampunk Sublime quilt right here.
All photos courtesy of Robbi Joy Eklow ©2012 — visit www.robbieklow.com