Q&A: Quilting Artist Juanita Yeager

National Quilting Day, observed on the third Saturday in March, celebrates quilts and the talented artists who create them, such as Juanita Yeager.

Juanita makes award-winning non-traditional quilts, using her own designs. She is best known for her graphic, abstract and large-scale flowers. One of her largest commissioned quilts measures 5 feet wide by 12 feet long!

She has won multiple awards and ribbons, including the Grand Prize Award in the National Quilting Competition, sponsored by Better Homes and Gardens Books. This quilt was subsequently purchased by the Museum of the American Quilter in Paducah, Ky., becoming part of their permanent collection.

When Juanita isn’t teaching workshops or quilting herself, she judges the works of other quilters in shows and exhibits. She has also often served as a guest curator, advisor, consultant and project coordinator.

I was fortunate enough to meet Juanita last month when she was teaching Quilting at a workshop in Venice, Fla. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

Juanita, please tell me a little bit about your childhood.

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and found out at an early age that I loved all forms of art! Getting inspiration from my paternal grandmother, who was always doing handiwork, and receiving encouragement and support from my mother, I derived immense pleasure from sewing, knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, making miniature doll houses, model airplanes and woodworking — despite comments from my 7th grade art teacher that I was not good at art!

So when did you start quilting?

As a mother of four, and a nurse for several decades, I kept my hand in many crafts like basket making, ceramics and pottery, and over the years I returned to some of my needle arts from the past like knitting, crewel, needlepoint and crocheting. In 1983, I started seriously searching for a craft that felt right, and as I returned to cloth and needle crafts, I discovered quilting and was hooked! When my last child reached adulthood and left home, I decided to use his bedroom as my quilting studio. It was then that I retired from nursing to concentrate on quilting full time.

Has your quilting evolved through the years?

Yes, in 1991 the functional aspect of the quilt was left behind when the desire for originality struck. I branched into more decorative rather than utilitarian quilts — quilts that you would view head on, rather than flat on a bed. Wanting more originality in my work, I began creating quilts of my own design with the sole purpose of displaying them on walls. Because my quilts don’t need to be physically comforting, I can forgo softness to achieve the flat, highly textured look I want. In constructing my art, I use a variety of techniques, which include traditional and contemporary piecing and applique, screen printing, as well as direct applications of thickened dyes with brushes in a painterly fashion.

Do you have some special techniques that you would like to share?

I use an ancient Chinese technique: soaking my silk broadcloth fabric in raw soy milk — not commercial-grade soy milk; I make my own from soy beans. I dye my own cotton and silk fabrics and I use highly pigmented, artist-grade watercolor paints. I use the raw soy milk, once again, to dilute my paints. My favorite paint brushes are made by Simply Simmons.

What inspires you?

Nature! Flowers are my favorite subject!

My art is about color; it warms my heart and sings to my soul.

But composition and texture are important aspects of my art work, too. I begin each piece with a sketch or a photograph. I find great joy knowing that I can construct in fabric the images I see in my head.

How many quilts do you produce a year?

I like to set goals. This year my goal is to make 15 or 16 quilts, including commissioned pieces.

What tips can you give those just starting out?

Make what you love. Never make a quilt using colors that will just match or coordinate with your furniture and accessories; use the colors that speak to you! Try all the techniques — piecing as well as fusing, painting on fabric and dying.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

I’m in my studio by 9 a.m. every day, when I’m not teaching workshops. I break for lunch and usually call it a day by 5 p.m., unless I am really into it and just can’t stop. In those instances I might keep working until 8 p.m. I treat my quilting just like a job.

Where do you teach your quilting classes?

I teach in my home studio in Winter Springs, Fla., from May to August 2014. Class size is limited to six people. Fees vary and include all supplies except sewing machines. Lunch is also included each day. For the remainder of the year, I teach workshops east of the Mississippi and along the eastern seaboard up to New England. Please send me an email at juanitayeager@gmail.com or you can call me at (321) 972-2459 to make arrangements.

Visit Juanita’s blog at http://artquiltworks.blogspot.com/ and see her designs on her website at http://www.juanitayeager.com/

– Judi Bauer