|QUILTER PROFILE: Alex Anderson
Alex Anderson's quilting career began because she was one unit short.
"When I was attending San Francisco State University and preparing for graduation I was blessed with the knowledge that I was one unit short one month prior to graduation. My degree was in fiber design so I asked my counselor if I could get the unit if I finished a quilt that my Grandma started in the '30s (a grandma's flower garden). She was thrilled to have that project taken away from her and I was thrilled at the prospect of not only graduating, but also having a queen-size hand-quilted quilt to snuggle under. Well, needless to say, the quilt ended up the size of a bath mat and I was hooked for life! I have never made another one, but the style of the pattern and era hold dear to my heart."
This early serendipity has led to a life-long passion for traditional quilt designs and techniques, to which she has added her own unique style. "I call my style innovative traditional," she says. "I am extremely drawn to historical patterns that have stood the test of time coupled with exciting and sometimes unusual fabric combinations that give the quilts a fresh contemporary look."
Bold and innovative pieced quilts were not always her chief interest, however.
"My first love in quilting was to create beautiful quilting designs and apply them to large innovative pieced surfaces (inspired by the Amish). I would enjoy hundreds of hours of hand quilting at the frame. The boldness of the pieced solid fabric surface combined with sensitive soft quilting designs gave the quilts a unique look. These quilts were very different from the quilts I am making today that celebrate the use of tons of fabrics, where the quilting design is secondary to the pieced surface."
Alex eventually discovered the wonders of star patterns and has since become widely known for her wonderful star quilts, which are featured in her book "Simply Stars." "The beauty of stars is that there is so much to be learned from them, everything from piecing techniques to fabric relationships," she says. "I have found stars to be an excellent format to teach from. Thus being tagged the star lady. However, if you looked at my quilts, stars would only encompass 1/2 of my body of work."
As Alex's career progressed and she became a teacher, author and eventually the host on the enormously popular Home and Garden Television show "Simply Quilts," time for "hundreds of hours of hand quilting at the frame" was harder to come by.
Her hosting of "Simply Quilts" came about almost as serendipitously as her Grandmother's Flower Garden. " When I was teaching in Southern California at a conference I was approached by the creator of the show and her quilting sister about possibly hosting the show. I declined the offer and told them I would prefer to be a guest. After a lot of persuasion from them and my family I agreed to talk to the two owners of the production company, Robb Weller and Gary Grossman. It never crossed my mind in a million years that I would end up a host of a TV show, nor did I have any particular desire to pursue it. On the other hand, being the type of gal who loves a challenge, I decided why not. And after a lot of patience and guidance from Robb Weller a host was born!"
Asked what it's like to be a quilting TV star, Alex is typically self-deprecating. "It's really weird because when I look in the mirror what I see is a mom, wife and quilter, that's about it. Outside of quilting events I am rarely recognized. One day at my aerobics class this guy came up to me and said, You look just like a lady on HGTV -- was he ever surprised. Another day I received a phone call from my college roommate and she couldn't stop laughing, she had just seen me on TV! 'Man, they cleaned you up good!' My daughter's friends commented they were up in Tahoe and saw me on TV and said, 'it's just not right, that's not your mom!' I guess it's like this, for those who know me in 'real life,' they crack up because I am a next door neighbor who's a little weird about quilting and that's about it."
While she downplays her fame, Alex acknowledges that doing the show is a lot of hard work, for both her and the show's staff. "'Simply Quilts' is fortunate to have a wonderful staff of producers. For the most part they known nothing about quilting so they rely on me for technical support when creating the different shows. The current head producer, Laura Chambers, has been with the show three seasons, and has become a quilter herself.
"A lot of preplanning takes place, with the load of the responsibility on the staff. Once we are in studio, the schedule is *brutal*. We tape four shows a day several weeks at a time. Fortunately we tape in LA so I can fly home [to Livermore, California] on the weekends to see my family."
Despite the long hours, Alex finds a great deal of pleasure in doing the show. "I feel very blessed to have been exposed to the individual styles and unique diversity each guest brings," she says. "I have met wonderful, wonderful people. The part that probably hits closest to my heart however, is when I meet viewers and hear their personal stories. Quilting touches people in so many ways, from their creative spirit to their emotional well-being. As host of 'Simply Quilts,' people trust me with their private lives and how quilting has affected them, and for this I am grateful."
Although she doesn't use a computer in her design work, Alex has recently begun another initiative by putting up a website about herself and her quilts at www.alexandersonquilts.com . When asked how it came about, she says, "Being a self-confessed Internet dork, I had never really considered launching one seriously. However, I was talking to my friend this spring and she mentioned that her son, Matt, was designing web sites this summer and I should consider having one. He agreed to keep it up for me so I knew the time had come.
"I hope to use it as a way for people to become more familiar with me in a casual environment. I also want to inspire, teach and promote quilting and the quilting community. I was really thrilled when HGTV granted permission to list the Simply Quilts Program guide as I know a lot of store owners were frustrated not having the information."
Although a star of TV and now the internet, Alex says that teaching is what she likes to do best. "I have learned so much from teaching. The students are my best teachers. As I teach from region to region, I am exposed to new ideas and techniques. Each time a student has a problem and I am required to solve it, I learn. Being a teacher allows me to be a vessel to gather information to pass on. At the heart of quiltmaking, I am a teacher."
So when, in the midst of all of this activity, does she ever have time to quilt? "Quilting is vital to my well being," she says. I can't imagine life without it. The process of making a quilt is what keeps me sane living with an insane schedule. I always have something in progress and if 15 minutes become available it's off to my sewing room. It is amazing what can be accomplished when little pieces of time are put together, just like a quilt!"
When not on her busy round, Alex also enjoys the domestic pleasures of her home and family in Livermore. She claims her dog has its own "pet squirrel." "Just as fabric keeps me entertained, we have a neighborhood squirrel that keeps Lizzie entertained. On occasion the squirrel will show up and torment my dog for hours on end. All I have to say is 'squirrel' and my dog is off and running, kind of like 'quilt store' for me!"
Thanks to Alex's energy and creativity, quilters everywhere are never tormented, but always entertained and enlightened on their favorite subject.
Check out Alex's books!
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