Jacquelyn Gering has taken the traditional craft of quilting to a new level.
She wasn’t even interested in the medium until seven years ago, when she attended an exhibit of Gee’s Bend quilts created by women who live or have lived in the isolated African-American hamlet in Alabama. Gering then immersed herself in the hobby.
She has since turned modern quilting into a full-fledged career, including teaching and speaking engagements, a published book and service on the board of directors of the Modern Quilt Guild.
Her Westside studio and home is a minimalist’s dream: all white with accents of her favorite color, orange. She has made about 75 quilts, which if not displayed proudly at home or on museum tours are carefully rolled and stored in horizontally stacked PVC tubes in a closet, ready to tote to speaking engagements or hand out as gifts.
Find her quilts, schedule, tutorials and more at tallgrassprairiestudio.blogspot.com.
Q. How is modern quilting different from traditional quilting?
A. It’s not more difficult, just different. There’s actually a lot of tradition in my work. I can take a Drunkard’s Path, for instance, and modernize it by the way I place blocks, what I add or the colors I use.
Q. Your studio looks impossibly tidy and staged. Is this picked up just for the photo shoot?
A. This is my real studio. I can’t work in chaos. I work in an organized, easy way, so I pick up at the end of each day. I want my studio to be a colorful, organized, inspiring place.
Q. Your home has the same colors and clean lines as your quilts — coincidence?
A. I’ve become more modern over time. When we built our house where we raised our boys, I didn’t have the confidence to take risks. I listened to “rational” things, like not painting my railing orange, like I did here.
This place is exactly who I am. I’m not going to be safe this time. It’s going to be all the things I love: white walls and art and quilts. But I don’t want to live in a stark, cold place, either. I own tchotchkes. I just put them out one at a time.
Q. You are an expert in the field of quilting, yet you’re fairly new to the craft?
A. My mom, grandma and great-grandma all quilted and tried to teach me, but I really didn’t like it. They were just blankets to me and not my style.
Then I discovered modern quilting through a Gee’s Bend exhibit seven years ago. They were so quirky and had so much spirit, they’re kind of whackadoodle in a great way. I don’t have any design training at all, but I study, read books, and I’ve never met a museum I didn’t like. My background is in education, but I was a pretty creative teacher.
Q. What’s your mom say now that you’re leading the field?
A. I was a snarky teen about sewing, so my mom is totally proud that I make my living sewing. She told a crowd that it only took me 50 years to understand that quilting is a great thing.
Q. Your sons are musicians. Can they appreciate your type of art?
A. Both boys are a big part of my work. They’re young and hip and modern. My older son really saw something in me. He gives me the great critiques every artist needs to grow. They’ll both say, “Mom, no.” That keeps me on track.
Q. How did you turn your new hobby into a business?
A. I had quit my job consulting, and while I was between jobs I thought, “I can do that.” My older son encouraged me to start a blog. I had nothing to say, but he kept pestering me. He said, “Mom, you do really good work.”
And people came. I worked hard to find my own voice. Modern quilting has been around for a long time, but the movement has really taken hold with the Internet.
Q. And now your teaching and traveling schedule is busting at the seams?
A. I teach three online classes at Craftsy, where I post hours of video lessons, so it’s like having me in class, but you can rewind me, and it’s also interactive because I answer questions every morning. It’s really a way to reach people I wouldn’t otherwise.
I do most of my designs while away from home, because I spend so much time at airports going to workshops and trunk shows. I’m writing two books, and I’d love to develop a place where people can come together to sew, whether it’s a studio or retreat center, in an urban environment, so we can go to the Nelson and Kemper (art museums), then eat at Grinder’s.
Q. Do you sell your quilts?
A. I don’t work to sell, but people can commission a piece. Most people don’t value the handmade. People want to pay what they would at Target. Even if I put it on Etsy, I wouldn’t be selling it for what it’s worth. I sell to collectors.
Q. Your quilts aren’t just for sleeping under, are they?
A. Quilting as a medium is an amazing vehicle for making statements and making change. They’re supposed to be about comfort, not controversy, so there’s a real contrast. That softness with something meaningful or harsh makes it a powerful form of art.
Q. What are some examples in your work?
A. After the Boston (Marathon) bombing, the last thing I saw on TV one night was puddles of blood on the sidewalk. I couldn’t get the image out of my head, and I made “Aftermath” that week. It was therapeutic.
But I’m most well-known for “Bang, You’re Dead,” which is a giant gun with blood pooling at the bottom. I made it in response to my husband’s work environment as an educator in Chicago. The first thing he’d get each morning was a report of the kids who had been shot that day.
That quilt was in The Wall Street Journal, multiple museums and books. That quilt has changed the direction of my quilting.
Q. Seven years ago you weren’t even quilting. What will the next seven years bring?
A. If somebody had asked me if I thought I’d be doing this a few years ago, I would have laughed, but I’ve found something I’m passionate about. I’m a lot better than I was then. My work now is very different. And if you come back in a few years, I hope it won’t be the same.