Freedom from rules generates creativity for Quilting by the Lake instructor


Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer didn’t know there were rules when she decided to make her first quilt. A poor college student in the early 1970s, Meyer needed a gift for a newborn family member. She knew how to sew and draw, so she decided to make a quilt.

“I drew a happy scene, cut it out of fabric, sewed it to a background, then machine quilted the package together,” she recalled. “A few quilts later, I found a book about how to make quilts – let’s just say machine appliqué and quilting weren’t mentioned. I’m glad I didn’t know the rules before I started.”

That attitude has enabled Meyer to find inspiration everywhere. “For some, it’s the surface design process, as I’ve had some quilts appear in the dye bath,” she said. “Others come to me as a result of my attempt to make connections between things, so that step of the design process is more cerebral. And some swirl to life on the design wall and are the result of pinning up two pieces of fabric side by side and listening to the conversation between them. Sometimes a piece starts with some lines I notice I keep drawing over and over.

“So maybe the answer to what the most important step in my design process is has to be: Paying attention,” she added. “Whether the dye bath, the sketchbook, the design wall, or my curious brain, I pay attention to where the next idea is coming from.”

Paying attention is one thing Meyer hopes to instill in the participants during her five-day workshop, “Finding the Flow: Working Toward a Series.” The workshop is one of several offered at Quilting by the Lake, an art quilt conference to be held July 19-31, 2020, at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, NY.

“Students can expect a safe, welcoming environment for learning and experimenting,” she said. “This environment provides thinking room to grow their ideas and notice other people’s solutions to the same design prompts, and emotional space to take their work seriously and themselves with a sense of humor. In this particular class, they can also expect to gain a new technique or two, different approaches to design problems, and either a start on a new series or a fresh take on one they’ve started.”

Ever since making her first quilt, Meyer’s attitude toward her art is to have fun. “The way I approached that first playful quilt has pretty much been my modus operandi ever since: What image do I want on my quilt?” she said. “What techniques can I use from my toolbox of sewing and art-making knowledge to transfer the image to the quilt? If I can’t figure out how to construct it on my own, I’ll ask around to find out if someone else has a way to do it or if I’m going to have to invent one.”

She dyes all the fabric she uses in her quilts, crediting the influence of Jan Myers-Newbury for sharing her dyeing knowledge and helping a generation of quilt artists to avoid relying on only material available in stores. “Being able to dye my own fabric gave me such freedom to use color and value in the ways I needed to,” Meyer said.

It also enables her to keep down the size of her fabric stash: It fits in a closet and two bookshelves in her studio. “I purge fabric frequently, donating it to local artists who work with grade school students, a job I used to do through the NEA’s Arts in Education program,” she said. “There’s never enough in the budget for all the art supplies needed for the projects, and I love knowing that there is a child in a classroom cutting my fabric and learning for the first time that fabric and thread are indeed art supplies.”

Meyer finds teaching as invigorating as making her art. “Designing a class that engages and sparks a student is as absorbing and exciting as matching an idea to a composition on my design wall,” she said. “I love the idea part of both processes: If this is what I want to say, how will I arrange colors and lines on my picture plane to articulate that? If these ideas and skills are what I hope students in my workshops take home with them, what exercises, techniques, and affirmations do I need to assemble?

“Whether the final product is a quilt or a class, the creative process is so engrossing, and so similar,” she concluded.


Other inspirations

In addition to Jan Myers-Newbury, Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer cites other artists as inspirations:
•    Elizabeth Busch, for the uniqueness and depth of her work and her insights into her process
•    Dorothy Caldwell, for the spaciousness of her imagery, for how pared down and powerful her compositions are, and her subtle and masterful use of line through surface design and stitch
•    Emily Richardson, for her ethereal mastery of translucency and use of fabric not usually thought of quilt materials
“I think these artists’ work belongs in art museums next to contemporary artists, not just in fiber shows,” Meyer said. “You listenin', MOMA?”


About the workshop

WHAT: Finding the Flow: Working Toward a Series workshop at Quilting by the Lake art quilting conference
WHO: Workshop taught by Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer; conference run by Schweinfurth Art Center
WHEN: July 20-24, 2020; conference runs July 19-31, 2020
WHERE: Onondaga Community College campus, Syracuse, NY
COST: Tuition for the workshop costs $630; housing and meals are extra
MORE INFORMATION: or 315.255.1553


Photo Captions

AT TOP: Detail from "Faster," created by Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer.

MIDDLE: Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer began quilting as a college student who had no money and needed to make a gift for a newborn family member. A couple quilts later, she discovered a book on quiltmaking that laid out rules. But Meyer's free-flowing design process was already set.

BOTTOM: "Time Is a River," by Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer.