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QUILTER PROFILE: Gloria Hansen

Gloria Hansen in her studio.

Gloria Hansen has a family tradition of sewing, but at least in the beginning it was a detriment. "Both my mother and older sister did lots of machine sewing when I was growing up," Gloria says. "At that time, any attempt I made at learning how to sew was lovingly taken by one of them and finished for me. When I started to take sewing classes in school, it wasn't much different. I'd cut out a pattern, and, despite my best efforts, the teacher or one of her assistants would end up doing the difficult stuff. So I didn't learn. Then I asked about embroidery. Could an embroidered project be counted as a finished project? Yes. So it was back in junior high that I learned crewel embroidery.

"I found I enjoyed it, maybe because no one finished it for me! In high school I'd dabble around with other crafts--macrame, rug making, stained glass, silversmithing--but also continued to embroider. I also studied photography and graphic arts while in school. Right after high school I joined a New Jersey chapter of the Embroiderer's Guild. I took lots of classes from a talented group of instructors, striving for the best workmanship I was capable of. I created blackwork, pulled thread work, counted thread work, silk and metal thread work (even learning how to twist my own silk), and crewel embroidery."

Gloria eventually discovered quilting, literally by accident. "After marrying and moving to area in which I now live, I was driving and made a wrong turn. I found a store called The Quilter's Barn in Allentown, New Jersey. Intrigued, I went inside. The quilts were beautiful, and I had a strong urge to learn how to make one. The then owner of the shop, Jeanne Fraser, suggested I sign up for her 6-week beginner's class. So I did. Jeanne taught hand piecing, which was fine by me. Afterwards I took a log cabin class, in which I hand pieced the strips!"

This was the beginning of an artistic journey for Gloria that has brought her to where she is today -- an accomplished art quilter and competitor in major shows, as well as an author and designer. Like so many quilters who began their apprenticeship in a traditional mode, she eventually began to question the practice of reproducing others' designs through the use of patterns. "It was during an applique class a year or two later that I found myself looking around. Suddenly I felt like I was right back to making lovely copies of work -- much like I did in the Embroiderer's Guild. I realized I didn't want to do this. As much as I respected and admired the work, I wanted to create designs that would be my own. At break, I explained this to Jeanne. She smiled and said, 'Good. I want you to do just that.' I will always remember her support at that critical moment. It was then I started exploring all types of books on design, color, geometry -- anything I could find. I also took class es on design and/or color whenever I could (including taking art history and design classes as electives while in college). One in particular, an extensive class with Michael James several years ago, was a wonderful experience for me. I still have my notes and samples from that class, and there are several that I'd still like to make into a quilt one day."

Heat Wave, 1996.

Gloria also branched out in other ways. For one thing, she learned how to use a sewing machine. "I was given an old treadle machine which I felt very comfortable with. I treated machine sewing like hand sewing -- I drew the stitching line. That allowed me to make all types of strange set-in seams with ease. Now I have a method of cutting strips to accommodate templates and marking match points and corner points. It greatly helps me to keep things accurate. I also like to stitch directly on paper. The treadle has since been replaced with a couple of Berninas.

"In 1990 I created a design that I thought would make a good commercial pattern. I put together my various skills, and Gloria Hansen Designs was born. I created two patterns which I am still very proud of. I met wonderful people at Quilt Markets and learned a great deal. But I also learned that it wasn't something I wanted to continue with. Instead, I started doing more freelance writing, designing, and photography for various magazines. (Currently I write for Art/Quilt Magazine, my favorite piece being an interview conducted with John Walsh, III, a collector of contemporary quilts, am a columnist for The Professional Quilter, and I continue to submit articles to other publications when time permits.)"

If Gloria has moved into original design, it doesn't mean she has abandoned traditional patchwork. Asked to characterize her style, she says: "The style is geometric. I get such a kick out of developing geometric patterns. I do all types of things to them -- overlapping elements, stretching, distorting, taking away lines, adding lines. I have hundreds of designs in file drawers. Even before using a computer, I was big with a photocopier. I'd take blocks I drew on graph paper, photocopy them bunches of times, enlarge them, shrink them, and start cutting things apart and arranging them into new designs. Many of designs that I created on graph paper ended up in my computer as the basis of yet a new series of designs."

Gloria's fondness for the geometric grid has served as a foil for her experiments with free-flowing surface design. "In 1991 a good friend introduced me to dyeing fabric with Procion MX dyes. We also took fabric painting at a local YWCA. The moment we learned acrylic paint could be watered down, applied to fabric, and heat set, we left the class early so we could head to an art store for more supplies. I did so much experimenting with different types of fabrics, paints, and brushes. I then took more on dye painting and airbrushing at the Quilt Surface Design Symposium.

"It's so satisfying to simply paint, to cover fabric in random textures and swirls in whatever color I'm in the mood to work with. I just love it. There are some pieces that I've painted with thin glazes of color. I allow it to dry, and I repaint. I can repeat this process sometimes five times. It's very labor intensive, but the results are often wonderful.

"It is the combination of taking fabric that I've created, fabric that is so spontaneous and flowing, and capturing it into a geometric grid that I find very satisfying. Currently my work is machine-pieced and hand-quilted. I do some machine quilting, but it's generally for quilts that I sleep under. I very much enjoy hand quilting. There's something so calming and satisfying about it."

Asked about inspiration for her work, Gloria says she finds it both inside and outside herself. "Everything going on in and around my life inspires me. External things, such as the line of a building or colors of a flower, and internal things, such as my feelings or moods, tend to creep into my work.

"1996 was a very difficult year for me. I had two unexpected back surgeries. Prior to that, I was very physically active. I did things like rollerblade regularly, even participating in 10-mile skates in Philadelphia every chance I could. It was extremely humbling to find I no longer could do such things. I was unable to work for several months, returned a short time, only to learn I needed more surgery and another five months at home to heal. I had to stand or lie on my back most of the time. Sitting was out of the question. My husband elevated our dining room table by putting a pvc pipe on each leg. He then put some of my computer equipment on the table allowing me to work standing. I also had a Powerbook that I used while on my back. I had accepted an invitation to create a quilt with a Shakespearian theme. I selected 'Measure For Measure' -- 'The miserable have no medicine, but only hope.' I called the quilt, 'Petals of Hope.' So, no question about it, life inspires me. "

Shattered, 1996

In Gloria's studio there is a fistful of ribbons tacked on a bulletin board. Over the years, competitions have become a part of her artistic life. "My then boyfriend, now husband, and I went to a New Jersey State Fair back in the late '70s when I just finished high school. While there we visited the needlework display. He said, 'Why don't your enter some of your embroidery next year.' So the following year I did. It was lots of fun -- eating junk food, going on rides, visiting various displays, and eventually making our way to the needlework display where we'd hold our breath and look for my things. That first year I remember winning a couple ribbons. We were thrilled! Then each year I'd enter the State Fair and a few other local large fairs. It was lots of fun having my work displayed. It was exciting seeing what others were making, to talk with others, share tips and stories. I've since stopped entering the local shows, but I have a box full of ribbons, awards, and lots of fond memories of those years.

"I continue to enter national quilt shows in which there is an amazing amount of jaw-dropping, beautiful work. It just thrills me to have my work included in these shows. Of course it's disappointing to have a piece rejected, but it's part of how things work. I learned years ago that judging and jurying are very subjective -- dependent on the whims of the judges, their moods, their tastes, or what a particular show is trying to convey. I have pieces that won lovely awards at some prestigious shows while not even being accepted into others. I just accept it. I look at my comment sheets objectively, ignoring comments that are pure opinion. Things like, 'You should have used a brighter color in the border' just aren't important. But something like, 'There are waves in your binding' could be significant.

"Entering shows certainly isn't for everyone. But I enjoy it, plus I keep it all in perspective. I am just one person of many who makes quilts."

In addition to the influence and excitement of competition, another large factor has changed Gloria's professional life -- the computer. "Computers have had a very positive effect on my life. I became a computer 'nerd' early on, reading everything I could get my hands on and working on any system available to me. I am proficient in DOS and Windows, but it is the Macintosh platform that I absolutely love.

"Several years ago I convinced the senior partners at the law firm where I work (as a paralegal) to convert to Macintoshes (no easy thing!).

"Thus far, it's been successful because everyone is very productive with them. I provide all of the training, tech support, and servicing of the machines, and I enjoy every moment of it. I enjoy exploring the potential benefits of any piece of software that comes across my desk as much as I enjoy popping a machine open and upgrading, repairing, or swapping parts around.

"For the past year, I've taken over the High Tech Quilting column for The Professional Quilter. I just love researching and writing about how computers can benefit quilters.

'In 1991 I went 'online.' I met so many wonderful people, many of whom are still my friends today. I met Janet Wickell and began to write articles for her publication, Miniworks. I've been honored to win two Best of Show awards at GEnie online shows. And a few years back, I met Judy Heim. Judy is the author of 'The Needleworker's Computer Companion.' When she posted a note looking for someone to assist her with Macintosh information, I jumped at the opportunity. I was thrilled she selected me to help her in this area and to provide some tutorials for her book. We have since become friends.

"To my delight, we embarked on a new project, 'The Quilter's Computer Companion.' It's a great union. She covers the PC-related information; I cover the Macintosh-related information; we collaborate on information that is not platform-specific. My heart and soul are in this publication, as I am so passionate about both topics -- quilting and computers. The book grew and now includes all types of tutorials on an assortment of programs. The most difficult decision about the book has been where to draw the line, when to say it is complete. Even now, while the book's layout is being completed, we'll come across something that we'll have to include. No Starch Press is publishing the book, which should be available in late summer or fall.

"I love designing with computer software. I've tried all kinds -- MacDraw, MacPaint, ClarisDraw, SuperPaint, Artworks, several versions of Canvas; Freehand, Illustrator, CorelDraw, Streamline, SmartSketch, Fractal Design Expression, and others. My favorites depend on what I'm doing, but I frequently use Canvas 3.5. (The illustrations used in one of my patterns were created on a old PC using Harvard Graphics!) I've also tried lots of quilt-specific software, my favorites of those being Quilt-Pro and ColorDesign.

"I use my printers for all types of things -- labels, photo transfers (which make great family gifts!), stencils for using with an airbrush or sunpainting or quilting designs, printing templates and patterns to stitch onto. I've printed designs which I've enlarged with a projector; I've printed designs which I've taped together. I'm game to try just about anything. I've a Umax scanner and Wacom drawing tablet for getting images into my computer and a ZIP Drive and external harddrive for storing things outside of my computer."

"My current home system is a Power Macintosh 8500/180. One of the drawbacks of this particular system is that it's a pain to perform upgrades. For me, that made it a selling point. I like to collect older Macintoshes too. It makes for yet another mess in my home, but it's a happy mess. Recently I gave my parents my old Quadra system. My mom said, 'Now I understand why you are on that computer so much. This is fun.'"

Even though she's had to give up rollerblading, Gloria brings a great deal of energy and a sense of fun to everything she approaches. Her willingness to experiment combined with discipline make her quilts highly original even as they play off traditional themes. And she's a leader and innovator in the growing movement of computer-literate quilters.

(c) Copyright 1995-2012 by The Virtual Quilt Company. All rights reserved.

 


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