John Willard is as colourful and vibrant as his quilts! 69 years young, he began quilting in 1975, armed with sewing knowledge from his days designing costumes and sets for theatre and window displays. In his 40 minute slide presentation, he showed us how he could make a fabulous dress out of piece of cloth and some pins! Not afraid to show us his many clothing and hair styles of past decades, he gave us a clear evolution of his style and his themes for his works of art
He seems to take a theme and runs with it, making multiple quilts with the same theme. His first series of quilts were based on the sinking of the Titanic, making 4 in total. Ships in general, as well as just the Titanic fascinate him and he owns many books on the subject. He did presentations on the subject at a local children's library, interweaving a story about about a young girl who is survived the sinking, similar to the story of Eva Hart, one of the more famous survivors of the Titanic disaster. John had the wonderful privilege of meeting her and having her sign one of his Titanic quilts! For his final Titanic quilt he wrote the names of the 2000 passengers of the Titanic into the waves of the ocean on the quilt!
Another major theme, which he explored for 7 years, is what he called ribbon quilts, exploring curved piecing. The photo above shows his detailed notebook from one of his ribbon quilts.
He took photography at Sheridan College, and published some of his photographs in a book entitled The Gaiety of Gables:Ontario's Architectural Folk Art. He often collects photos from magazines of interesting effects for inspiration. Some go nowhere and others spawn other great ideas.
One slide of his workspace showed his enormous collection of fabrics, eliciting groans of jealousy from this audience. He said he acquired fixtures and bolts of fabric from a Fabricland store that was going out of business. One woman asked whether he dyed his own fabric, he said half-joking, "Honey, I don't have time for that! There are thousands of wonderful bolts of fabric out there, waiting to be bought and I am quite willing to buy them!"
During the course of his career, he curated shows, did exhibits, collaborated with other artists, and did commissions for individuals and groups. One city council commissioned a piece for a lobby only to be removed and replaced by something else, never to be viewed again! So sad! Others, however, hang proudly at hospitals, museums, and libraries! He has even traded his work for other people's art and skills. He has made a series of AIDS quilts, dedicated to friends who have been afflicted with this disease.
His current work features his signature "geometrics", which he describes as sewing pieces together, then slashing them and sewing them together again. He used to hand-quilt his own quilts but now he exclusively uses Linda Roberston from Milton, to machine quilt his pieces.
After the slide show, he rolled out some of the most amazing eye candy! Below is Orange Julep:
On the back of all his quilts he puts large and colourful labels:
The next 2 photos show how he has broken away from traditional borders and lets the piece expand beyond its borders. He never binds his quilts, he uses a technique called facing
Above Spin Cycle and below, Leopards & Tigers & Pinwheels, Oh My!
Above, you can see how he used pieces he cut off from the centre circle and then used them to form the square that extends out from the borders. The leaves and the tiger heads are pieces he cut from large scale prints and machine appliqued them, see detail below. He says he loves using "wavy, zigzaggy" fabrics and appliqueing them.
He currently is working on a Circle in a Square series of quilts.
John was very approachable, we were able to take a look at his quilts up close and ask him anything, and I mean anything! LOL
One question asked was: what are your rules for quilting? If there was one rule of quilting, he said it would be, "To please yourself". Otherwise, he doesn't believe in rules, and if there are rules, he says "Break them."
John stayed for our usual guild Show and Share, jumping in to help hold up the quilts, here he was asked for his advice on how to quilt this top!
The LFQG would like to thank John Willard for an amazing presentation! We were awed and inspired. He wrote on one website, as his artist's statement, that he wanted his art to live on after he was gone. He has certainly succeeded in that!