What Is An Art Quilt?

Quilty Pleasures - International Quilt Art

Welcome to Quilty Pleasures, where we celebrate quilts in all their forms! I thought I’d take some time to explain about art quilts as they’re an art form that we feature a lot on the site – I hope you find this helpful!

An art quilt is a quilt style which moves away from the traditional types that are most commonly associated with quilting. It is method of quilting which is art-led, not pattern-led like patchwork quilting. The focus of interest in art quilts is in the aesthetic design rather than the use of the quilt. Art Quilts vary in style from realistic to abstract and use many techniques or fibre varieties.

What Are The Different Types Of Art Quilt?

Art Quilts can be broadly classified into the following categories:

  • Abstract
  • Improvisational
  • Collage
  • Landscape
  • Nature
  • Portraits

Abstract Art Quilts

Like abstract art, these quilts are built on unplanned ideas and a use of mixed techniques. Contemporary methods may be used to convey the artist’s narrative and because they are abstract, there are no right or wrongs in terms of the outcome.

When making abstract art quilts, the challenge of expression in an abstract way is often the hardest part. There is great freedom in abstract work and the lack of required structure, but this can be unnerving for some people and it takes practice and perseverance to find your voice in this particular medium.

Many artists use a sewing machine with a free-motion foot to create this type of quilt; as the free machine technique allows for creative movement and expression. Other artists take photographs or similar media and cut them up so that they focus on one area instead of the whole image.

Therese May - Invisible (2019) - Art Quilt
Therese May – Invisible (2019)

Improvisational Art Quilts

An Improvisational quilt is made with no real purpose in mind; it can grow and change as the maker builds it, much like improvisational jazz which is a freeform piece contained within the musical genre of jazz. As with abstract art quilts there are no boundaries or rules other than it should use quilting as a technique somehow, however abstract art quilts generally have an intentional story, for example if a partial detail of a photograph is used for inspiration, while with improvisational quilts anything goes.

Anne Buckner - Untitled (2019) - Art Quilt
Anna Buckner – Untitled (2019)

Collage Art Quilts

Collage quilts are made of pieces, but with a specific illustrative aim, unlike traditional patterned quilts. This is a fun type of quilt to make as it can include a variety of media and mediums; many quilting artists use paper as well as fabric to make their quilts. The collage may be developed to form a particular shape or design and can be planned or be impromptu depending on the confidence of the creator.

Emily "Collage Quilter" Taylor - Snail (2021)
Emily “Collage Quilter” Taylor – Snail (2021)

Landscape Art Quilts

Landscapes in quilt form are a popular choice for art quilters; imagine a beautiful mountain, seascape, or sunset recreated using quilt techniques. Landscape quilts often begin with a definite point of inspiration, a photograph or sketch by the artist themselves. They can be simple in style, often with many lines stitched across the surface, or they may be designed with a more detailed approach, taking in the finer aspects which can be picked up in the individual photo or plan the artist has. Regardless of the design aesthetic, the landscape image will be recognisable.

Emily Chesick - Great Sand Dunes National Park (2021)
Emily Chesick – Great Sand Dunes National Park (2021)

Many books have been written about this theme of art quilt. Although the inspiration is the artists’ own, the quilts can be built on step-by-step instructions found in many quilt art books. You can find a selection of landscape quilt art books here, and we’ve got a lot of other textile art book reviews on the site for you to enjoy.

Nature Art Quilts

Nature quilts can be inspired by animals or even a walk in the countryside and many artists focus on bird life or the aspect of nature which they see around them. This category of quilt is defined by the subject matter and no specific techniques need to be followed. The fabric used may inspire what the artist does with it, or in other cases a nature-inspired art quilt can be built on the artist’s own drawings and paintings. Nature quilts are often built on the individuals own love of nature, so a certain amount of emotion can be combined with artistic technique.

Pascale Michalski – Meet Me Today (2021)

Portrait Art Quilts

Portraits quilts present the faces of humans or animals. As with some of the other categories, there are no formal rules on the style of a portrait quilt as it is the subject that defines it. The methods and techniques used to make the quilt will vary on the creator’s personal approach and there are many resources available for people wishing to try this type of quilt.

Veruschka Zarate - Pride And Joy (2021)
Veruschka Zarate – Pride And Joy (2021)

How do you make an Art Quilt?

Some types of art quilt, such as collage quilts, have specific techniques that are applied to them to define them, but in general the techniques used for art quilts are the same as those used for “traditional” quilting. Layers of fabric are assembled and quilting stitches are used to bind them together. Various embellishment styles can be applied depending on the desired outcome. For inspiration about art quilts, check out some of our other Quilty Pleasure posts!

Are Art Quilts fine art?

Art Quilts are an artistic medium that involves textiles and the end product is something that is both aesthetically pleasing and also functional. Fine art is considered as art that serves a purely aesthetic function, such as oil paintings, so the useable nature of quilts means that they are not strictly a fine art medium.

However this does not diminish their value as a means of artistic expression and art quilts remain one of the most exciting forms of textile art.

What tools and supplies do I need to make an art quilt?

To make any quilt, whether an art quilt or a traditional quilt, the following tools are recommended:

  • Fabric and Batting
  • Rotary Cutter and Cutting Mat
  • Quilting Ruler or Tape Measure
  • Needles, Pins and Safety Pins
  • Machine Embroidery Threads
  • Sewing Machine
  • Steam Iron
  • Other embellishment materials that fit with your design decisions.

Want More Inspiration?

Now you have read all about what art quilts are, why not be inspired by other content which relates to quilting on our website? Here are a few links to get you started!