- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Summer 2019
Magic & Memories
Color and Composition:
Get to Know Quilt Artist Timna Tarr
By Lexie Teel
1.Timna Tarr is an award-winning professional quilter known for her colorful, contemporary works “which reference the rich tradition of quiltmaking.” Her quilts have been included in numerous exhibits (including many at Quilt Festival), magazines, books, and are part of both private and corporate collections. She is also an in-demand speaker and teacher throughout the northeastern United States. Visit her website at www.timnatarr.com.
Growing up surrounded by quilters, Timna Tarr wished to be anything but.
Throughout her childhood, she recalls her mother, a hand quilter, having a constant “quilt in progress,” and a hooped quilt inevitably lying somewhere around the house. She also remembers her mother and grandmother talking about quilts nearly every time they got together.
Timna grew up as a crafty child, dabbling in embroidery, cross-stitch, hooked rugs, and other handcrafts, but never quilting. “As a kid, I could think of nothing more boring than going to a fabric store or talking about block layouts,” she laughs.
It wasn’t until 1998 that Timna began dabbling in quilting for the first time with her then husband, who wanted to make a quilt to help teach geometry to his students. After they began the process, he quickly lost interest, but Timna was hooked, and she hasn’t stopped quilting since.
When she first began, she kept her newfound obsession a secret from her family.
“I made my very first quilt in secret as I didn’t want my parents to know that I might be interested in quilting!” she recalls. “I even borrowed my friend’s mother’s sewing machine so that I didn’t have to ask my mom for hers.”
Timna earned an art history degree in college…well before she ever considered becoming a full-time quilter. And her studies give her a unique perspective and a knowledge of how to look at and create art.
“Spending many hours in a dark classroom viewing slides taught me about composition, color, light, and how art reflects the time in which it was created,” she offers. “If you give me two quilts to look at, I could write a full-on compare and contrast essay complete with oodles of art jargon!”
While her formal education remains an invaluable asset to her quilting career, many of the best lessons she’s learned are from family.
“My grandma used to say that quilt patterns and recipes are just guidelines,” she says. “Following a pattern is torture for me—even a pattern I have written! I want the flexibility to adapt and change a quilt based on my preferences and ‘ingredients’ I have at that time.
“I have never heard either my mom or grandmother say that they couldn’t make something; they would always figure out a way to make it work. I’m not afraid to try something and have it fail.”
Still, her best learning experience came about when Timna purchased her first longarm machine in 2001 and began quilting professionally for customers.
“Quilting for clients was the very best education I could have received,” she shares. “I saw everything—both well-constructed and poorly constructed tops, homely quilts, beautiful color combinations, and very artsy quilts. I also learned how important details are: a dark, stray piecing thread will shadow through white fabrics, or if your seams are all pressed in different directions, the quilting will be harder to do.”
The biggest turning point in her quilting career happened during the creation of her quilt, O Happy Day. “It was the first time I laid out blocks based on the background colors only. I didn't look at the foreground when deciding how to place the blocks," she explains. "I use that technique on almost all of my quilts to this day.”
Not only was this a defining moment in establishing her technique, but it was also her first quilt to win an award at Quilt Festival, where it took Second Place in the “Art—Abstract, Large” category of the 2011 International Quilt Association Judged Show, which provided a great deal of outside validation of her work.
Timna describes her work as a bridge between traditional, art, and Modern quilts, and says it doesn’t fit squarely into any particular category—something that becomes apparent when comparing her designs and techniques through the years.
When asked to what she attributes the wildly varying style of her work, Timna responds honestly: “Boredom and restlessness. I can be relentless when trying to solve a problem of experimenting with a new style, but once I feel confident with it, I’m ready to move on.”
Though her quilts are constantly changing, there is one part of her process that remains the same: she always begins creating with a “color rule.” For example, using pinks and greens, or starting with a purple background.
“The rule can change and stretch as I work on the quilt, but it gives me some guidance and boundaries to push up against as I start,” she adds.
Though she recalls being put off by the mere thought of fabric shopping as a child, these days, it has grown to be one of her favorite parts of the quilting process.
“It’s always about the fabrics—combining different patterns and color is what keeps me going. I love mixing brand new fabrics with vintage ones from my stash,” she says. “Each fabric looks better and a little fresher when it’s mixed with a whole lot of friends.”
The combination of old and new appears throughout Timna’s work. Whenever she’s in a funk, she returns to tradition for inspiration, pulling out vintage quilt tops or thumbing through books about antique quilts.
“I’ll find some tiny nugget in one of the old quilts that will be the gem in my next project,” she adds.
She also tends to embrace the mantra “more is more” when it comes to the amount of fabric she uses in a quilt. “I can make minimalist quilts, but that’s not interesting to me,” she says. “The more fabrics I have in a quilt, the more interesting it is for me to work on. I can get more out of 500 different 2" squares than I can out of four half-yard cuts.”
Several years ago, Timna made a promise to herself to say “yes” to any opportunities that arose, even when she felt she might not be prepared for the task. Because of this, she says her journey has been full of fun things she wouldn’t have otherwise imagined. And she credits time and experimentation to her success and personal growth as a quilter.
"As more quilts are made, so are mistakes, and that's where the growth happens,” she adds.
So…which of her numerous quilts is her favorite? Timna firmly asserts that she doesn’t have one. “My favorite quilt is always the one I’m working on. Constructing the quilt is the fun part for me. Once I’m done making it, it is out of my mind.”
Her latest finished quilt might be out of mind, but the need to quilt is always right beneath the surface. “I don’t know how to do anything else,” she says. “If I don’t quilt for a couple of days, I get very antsy and my husband gently says, ‘don’t you have to go to the studio today?’ He knows that if I spend a few hours quilting, I will be a better person afterwards.”
Given her background in art history, it comes as little surprise to learn that the artists by which Timna is most inspired tend to be non-quilters. “Right now, I'm looking at the work of Chuck Close, Kehinde Wiley, Margaret Bourke-White, and Georgia O'Keeffe," she says.
Still, she says she also finds inspiration on the Quilt Festival show floor, where she is humbled by "the very best in quilt art. There are so many quilters that I admire and getting to see their work up close is an education in itself."
Her own advice to other quilt artists is to put yourself and your work out there, stay organized, authentic, and always follow through.
"No one will know how good your quilts are if you don't show them. Do work that inspires you, not what you think other people will like. Be yourself—people know when you're faking it."
And what is next for Timna and her work? She says she doesn’t yet know, but is looking forward to finding out.
"Every part of my journey has been a surprise,” she says. “I cannot imagine what will happen next."
2. O Happy Day, 70"x 66"
3. Mississippi Meander, illustrating the historical paths of the Mississippi River, 44" x 66"
4. Roses in the Rotary, 36" x 28"
5. The Lord of the Llamas, 38" x 38"
6. Sea Glass, 60" x 60"
7. Orphan Blossoms, 63" x 63"
8. Strung Along, 62" x 62"
9. Request and Dedication, 75" x 75"