“Make the quilts you want to make and make them the way you want to make them.”
In April of 2019, the modern quilting community lost a bright star when Gwen Marston passed away. It is fitting that she was remembered in our Stars Issue in an article entitled, “Gwen Marston: Liberated Quiltmaking: Her Lasting Legacy,” written by Mary Elizabeth Kinch.
Variable Star photograph by Brent Kane from A Common Thread published by Martingale & Co.
Antique quilts were at the heart of what inspired Gwen. In the early seventies, Gwen saw an exhibit of antique quilts and was inspired to make her first quilt. Gwen was also inspired by where she lived, saying that “when you are surrounded by something that you see every day, eventually it becomes internalized.” She immersed herself in the work of other artists and loved to visit museums. She was an avid collector of folk art and quilt books.
One of Gwen’s quilting passions was making small quilts; she made over 500 during the course of her life. One of the reasons she made small quilts was that it allowed her to experiment with more ideas and materials in a shorter amount of time. Small quilts helped her develop technical skills and aesthetic understanding more than any other factor. Gwen felt like she could be more adventurous when making small quilts because there was less risk involved with time and expense, and it allowed her to explore different design possibilities. Her small quilts often inspired her larger works.
Broken Dishes photograph by Brent Kane from A Common Thread published by Martingale & Co.
Simplicity was king for Gwen. She traded a television and a cell phone for a fair amount of isolation where she could focus her attention on quilt-making without distractions.
She devoted much of her time to teaching and helping students find their quilting voice. Mary Elizabeth Kinch says about Gwen, ‘She created a safe environment for her students to explore ideas and empowered countless quilters in the process.’ Gwen said, “What I have been trying to do in my classes and my writings over the years is to share ideas that help quilters find their own path to making the quilts unique to themselves.”
Gwen with students
In 2016, Gwen was the featured speaker and teacher at Quiltcon. During her lecture she said that one of the things that had helped her the most in her quilting journey was that when she started doing things her own way, her mentors never told her that she was doing it wrong. They simply supported her and encouraged her.
In many respects, the tremendous growth of the modern quilting community within the last decade has grown out of a response to this movement to buck more traditional and popular voices within the quilting community at large for a more free-wheeling and individual spirit, pushing back against those that argued for a “correct” way to make quilts; that some techniques were more acceptable than others. In contrast, Gwen was a self-assured quilting pioneer, confident in who she was and what she was doingThe constraints followed by many of the quilt makers of the day didn’t affect her. She created her own path, a path she described as ‘liberated.’
As Kinch aptly points out, “Gwen’s liberated quiltmaking ideas have resonated with generations of quiltmakers. Her creative approach is as relevant today as it was when she first began her own journey of discovery.” As modern quilt makers carry forward in the spirit of quilt liberation, Gwen’s legacy will continue to live on.
Discover Gwen through some of her books:
Liberated Quiltmaking (AQS Publishing, 1996)
Abstract Quilts In Solids (MoCa Press, 2008)
37 Sketches (Six Mile Creek Press, 2010)
Liberated Quiltmaking II (AQS Publishing, 2010)
Minimal Quiltmaking (AQS Publishing, 2014)
A Common Thread(Martingale, 2016)
Take her class on iquilt:
You can learn more about Gwen Marston’s lasting legacy in Curated Quilts: Stars, Issue No. 09