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The mosaic of art
" To me, creativity is fundamentally a series of small decisions ... what quilting design works best at the moment."
- Jeannie Spears

by Jeannie Spears

I began quilting to use up fabric scraps and I have been a quilter for more than 40 years. I was born during the Depression to frugal parents, and learned early on not to throw out anything that might ever be of use.

I had four daughters and sewed most of their clothes, as well as my own, at least through their grade school. So I had a lot of fabric scraps.

I tried a lot of different ways to express myself as a young mother; macramé, mosaics, watercolors, acrylic painting, I even took a few art classes. One big problem in those days was the cost of such activities, and there I was with a lot of scraps.

I did inherit a love of fabric from my mom, and I suspect one of the first creative activities I did was look at fun fabric and try to figure out what to do with it. To me, creativity is fundamentally a series of small decisions, deciding for myself what fabric, what pattern, what technique, what quilting design works best at the moment. I don't usually visualize what something is going to look like before I start. For me, it is the process that is creative. I consider myself creative, but not necessarily an artistic quilter.

My quilt judging career stemmed more from teaching others to quilt than anything else. In the early days of the quilt revival - the 1980s and 1990s - quilters across the country, at the behest of the now-defunct National Quilting Association, came together to agree on standards of workmanship for quilts. Standards of design and originality have inspired discussion even to today.

Judging quilts has opened doors for me and taken me many places, including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. When I critique someone else's work as a judge, I keep in mind that she is proud of her work, and try to offer constructive criticism as well as appreciative comments.

Four years ago, my working space went from an 8x10-foot office and 15x35-foot studio to about two-thirds of a 14x16-foot bedroom that I share with my husband's photography interests. Of necessity, I work on a smaller scale now, but it also offers an opportunity to put more thought and care into the finished piece.


As I look back on my years of making quilts, I suspect that much of the attraction was the ability to think for myself and to express myself apart from my role as wife and mother. But I can't downplay the importance of the wider quilting community, which was and still is a place to find support, appreciation, and solace. Groups large and small have provided sanctuary during my journey.

Jeannie Spears is a Minnesota Quilters founding mother and 2016 Minnesota Quilter of the Year.

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