“I didn’t understand why I felt so moved by sewing old shirts together, but I did.” -Peter Byrne
In 2009, after 30 successful years of working in the hairdressing industry, Peter Byrne mentioned to his aunt Marg that he was interested in making a quilt. She sent him home with a bundle of fabric, a rotary cutter, and a few well loved quilting magazines. Peter purchased a small sewing machine and emailed friends, asking them to donate an old cotton shirt or two. He used the hardcovers from a couple of novels to make some templates and set out to make his first quilt. Though at the time he knew nothing about quilt-making, the process spoke to him in a comforting way. After completing his first quilt top, he quickly started making a second, then a third, and sew on and sew forth...
Peter lives in Toronto, Canada, is a member of the Toronto Modern Quilt Guild and has been passionately making quilts since 2009. He is an international award-winning, published modern quilter and teacher with a deep passion for innovation and design.
We hope you enjoy our conversation with Peter...
Why do you quilt?
Over the years, what has always kept me engaged in whatever I was doing was to become a master of the trade. Whether it was as an eight year old learning how to do leatherwork, an eleven year old doing macrame, or gardening in my 30s, I’ve always passionately set out to become the best of whatever it was I was doing. I applied the same mind set to quilting.
When I first started quilting, I knew nothing about it. There was no batting, binding, or quilting with that first quilt top, but that didn’t matter to me. For many years I did not want any outside influences on my quilt making. I only wanted to create what was in my thoughts. I never went online and watched how-to videos, I never looked in any quilting books or magazines or took any courses. I just wanted to stay in my own lane and make my own creations.
All of that changed in 2017 when I joined the Toronto Modern Quilt Guild. When I walked into that first guild meeting, I had never quilted a quilt. It was at this time that I became a full-time student of the craft and have taken well over a hundred classes and workshops on most aspects of quilt making.
In 2017 I revamped my apartment and turned my dining room into my sewing studio. I sold all of my construction tools and purchased the newest and best sewing machines. I fully committed to taking on this new artistic challenge with both arms open wide to this new experience.
What do you like about the modern aesthetic?
As a young man working in the world of fashion, it was always fun to be the next trend instead of following it. When I first got into the hairdressing trade I was young and lived for the nightlife experience. Wearing the newest trends and listening to the newest music was a big part of my life. I considered myself a modern man living in a modern world. As I grew older I became more conservative and no longer tried to influence fashion, but I proudly wore it. My modern outlook took me in the direction of appreciating a modern aesthetic with forever being curious and young at heart.
Do you have any mentors that have helped you along the way? If so, who and what did they do that has made a difference in your life and the way you create?
Shortly after joining the Toronto Modern Quilt Guild I met and befriended a guild member by the name of Stephanie Rose. This was shortly after Trump was elected and in protest, the guild was doing a pink pussy block lotto. I wanted to join in on the lotto block, but didn’t have the linen fabric for the background. Stephanie said she had lots; we arranged to meet so I could pick up the fabric. When we met, we had a wonderful chat and Steff told me she taught quilting part-time at a local sewing school and invited me to join her. Little did I know what a profound impact this would have on my life.
Every Monday evening for four months I joined Steff and took all of her classes. I had confided in Steff that I would love to teach quilting, so as she taught me, I taught the other students. I was taught how to quilt and how to teach quilting at the same time. The sewing school was expanding and opening a new location and I was hired to be the quilting instructor. I taught three days a week during 2018, but at the beginning of 2019, I redirected my time back to my own quilt-making. I would not be the quilter I am today without the mentoring I’ve received by joining the Toronto Modern Quilt Guild.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired everyday and do not have to go any further than my own imagination to find inspiration. I don’t think creativity is something you study and master. I believe creativity is a gift that you are born with and if nurtured, it can grow in any chosen direction.
To me, it seems like everything to do with quilting has already been done, so when I’m choosing what to do next, I’m just putting my own spin on whatever it is. For example, I wanted to make a half square triangle quilt and make it uniquely mine. To do this, I developed a new technique called Hover-Quilting. Hover-Quilting is a new approach to raw edge appliqué, absent of fusible web. This technique not only produces a beautifully controlled frayed-edge, but also makes your piecing appear to float above the quilt top. I have continued to challenge myself with different ways to apply this new technique and I now teach it in live workshops and virtually online.
What kind of machines do you sew on?
When it comes to choosing what sewing machines to purchase, size does matter if you are planning to quilt your own quilts. My Bernina 770 QE has a 10 inch throat so it's great for piecing and awesome for walking foot quilting. I also have the brand new Bernina Q 16. This quilting machine is a sit down, mid-arm with a 16 inch throat, and fully loaded with all the bells and whistles that Bernina is known for!
I do all of my free-motion quilting and ruler work on my Bernina Q 16 quilting machine. When I purchased my first sit down, mid-arm, I practiced for 2 months before making my first quilt. When I first started quilting on a mid-arm, it was suggested to me to never take off the ruler foot and to not use the stitch regulator. This was great advice! After a while the ruler foot seemed to disappear, but the advantage is you can switch back and forth from free motion quilting and ruler work without having to stop and change the foot, and learning how to control the length of my stitches has been a gift. I also have the Bernina 480, which I use for teaching. It is a lot like the 770 QE, but smaller and travels well for workshops.
What are a couple of your favourite, can’t live without, sewing/quilting tools?
I have three favourite tools that I am thrilled every time I pick them up to use. This is brand specific. “Quilters Select” has come out with a trio of must-have items for every sewing studio: their cutting mats, rulers, and rotary cutters. I am so passionate about these products that I don’t even know where to begin. The rotary cutters are weighted. I have to admit the first time I picked one up, I was surprised. It did take a day to get used to, but it’s the best design ever. The weight of the rotary cutter along with their super sharp blades make cutting twice as easy. Quilters Select rulers have a very special coating on the backside that keeps your fabric from slipping and the markings on the cutting mats and rulers make them super accurate and fun to use. An absolute must-have for all levels of quilters!
Do you have a favorite part of the quilting process, if so what is it?
This is a tough question as I love all aspects of quilt making, but if I had to choose one it would be the quilting stitches. This part of the process can really up the visual value of the overall quilt and allows an artist to expand on their intention over and over until complete.
I have heard from many quilters that this part of quilt making can be paralyzingly painful. To this I say, it's only fabric and practice does make almost perfect. When I set out with my ambitious quilting plan for my quilt Staring You that won Best in Show at QuiltCon 2020, I had practiced a variety of quilting motifs for two months before I started quilting it. Practice is the only thing that will eventually make you feel comfortable and confident when you are staring at a quilt top wondering what to do.
I would suggest taking some real-time and online classes and workshops to get started. You can also learn from guild members by asking questions and watching demonstrations. We all start at the same place, but it’s the journey that keeps us moving forward. Sign up for a class and feed off of the energy in the room. Quilters are very giving people, when you need a little help getting started, the quilting community is there for you!
What is your remedy for burnout?
I’m so fortunate to not suffer from burn out. I’m single, retired, not raising a house full of children, and not running three businesses at the same time, like I did in the past. I meditate everyday and do my best to live a stress free life. Quilting is part of the solution, not the problem.
What is your favorite quilt that you have made and why?
In 2019 I made a quilt titled Roe v Wade. It is a colourful and interactive word quilt. This quilt contains 750 three-inch curved units. In place of using actual letters, l assigned each letter of the alphabet a different colour to spell out a message l felt spoke to our time and my concerns about reproductive rights for women.
Using colour in place of text, this quilt spells out “Roe v Wade” as defined in Wikipedia. To follow along and understand it’s relevant message, Google “Roe v Wade” and open in Wikipedia.
The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well being, and dignity. This should be her decision alone. The Roe v Wade quilt was made to unite women and help promote positive conversation and positive change. I’m very proud of this quilt!
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working with Cherrywood Fabrics and have designed a diptych coming from my reaction to seeing how Covid-19 has taken away so much beauty that we took for granted before the arrival of the pandemic. This exhibit is titled Shuttered and is a representational “before and after” view of how our everyday landscape has drastically changed in response to Covid-19.
How can people find you?
They can email me at petersquilts (at) gmail.com. I’m on Instagram at @petersquilts and @hoverquilting. I’m on Facebook under Peter Byrne and my website is www.peterbquilts.com
I am currently teaching two of my workshops virtually. I meet my students first thing in the morning on IG and post short videos throughout the day, taking them through every step of the workshop and finishing just before 5:00 pm. It makes for a very fun day of sewing and learning!
My quilt titled Cityscape won “Best Machine Quilting Frameless” at QuiltCon 2020. My Cityscape Improv Inspiration Workshop is designed around this quilt. My Hover-Quilt titled Pathways was showcased in Curated Quilts: Applique, Issue no. 11. My Hover-Quilting Inspiration Workshop is designed around this quilt. If anyone is interested in participating in my Cityscape Improv Inspiration Workshop, and/or my Hover-Quilting Inspiration Workshop they can find the dates posted on my Instagram feed @petersquilts.
In conclusion, I would like to say thank you to the always welcoming quilting community online and in real life for being so very supportive of me and my work. I feel very fortunate to have met so many wonderful people through my travels and workshops. I’m blessed everyday!
Sincerely, Peter Byrne.
Curated Quilts would like to thank Peter for taking the time to answer our questions and we wish him the best of luck in all his future quilting endeavors.
Peter’s quilt, “Starring You” is featured in Curated Quilts: Black and White, Issue no. 10. His quilt, “Pathways” is featured in Curated Quilts: Applique, Issue no. 11. To see more of the innovative work of today’s modern quilters, you can purchase your copy of Curated Quilts now.