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Suzanne Paquette — peer-learning and modern quilti...

Suzanne Paquette — peer-learning and modern quilting

A series of short interviews with people who are active in fields where collaborative and peer learning play an important role both in the distribution of knowledge and in the development of their skills.

For this series, we ask everyone the same questions so that we can find and highlight their common practices as well as their unique methods in each field.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Suzanne Paquette. I am a creative director, designer and modern quilter at Atelier Six. As a quilter, I specialize in making modern heirloom quilts from sentimental clothing.

Tell us about your field, what it’s about and what got you interested in spending the time to master the skills needed.

Modern quilting is the most recent evolution of traditional quilting that has been practiced for centuries across a broad section of cultures. Modern quilters generally define themselves as being inspired by modern design, making primarily functional quilts and using and adapting techniques, or not, from traditional quilt making. An often heard refrain is “These are not your grandmother’s quilts.”

Like any label in the art and design world, the definition of modern quilting is part objective description and part subjective interpretation, at times hotly debated within the community. What cannot be disputed is that modern quilters are a passionate bunch dedicated to the evolution of their craft. In 2009, The Modern Quilt Guild was founded in Los Angeles, the result of a thriving online community of modern quilters. There are now 170 modern quilt guilds around the world, including the Montreal Modern Quilt Guild, of which I am a member.

With a degree in fashion design and as a milliner, fabric and sewing have been my medium of choice for most of my life. But, it was a turn of events that brought me to modern quilting. A friend had given me the book Denyse Schmidt Quilts, and, shortly after my son Luca was born, I decided that I wanted to make a quilt with his baby clothes. The idea of parting with those sweet tiny shirts and onesies was unbearable, and knew I had to suspend the memories laid within them. I also wanted to make this quilt for my husband, using some of his clothing along with the baby clothes—to underscore the significance of becoming a father, and as a comforting reminder about the ways their lives are woven together as father and son.

It was the start of wanting to experiment, learn more, and realise the full potential of this (new to me) medium.

Around the same time, I was at a crossroads in my career and figuring out what to do next after leaving my job at Cirque du Soleil. The idea of combining modern quilting and suspending meaningful memories within tangible products (which was the focus of my work at Cirque), was a very powerful pull. I designed and made my first quilt, and became completely absorbed in and excited by the process. It was as if all of the creative work I have ever done—graphic design, working with fabric, pattern design and creating objects with memories and meaning—was coming together in one project, and ultimately, my new business. To this day, I’m not really sure why I never ventured into quilting before that point. But it was the start of wanting to experiment, learn more, and realise the full potential of this (new to me) medium.

What do you think about the idea of peer and collaborative learning and how do you see it manifested in your field?

Part of my manifesto is that we are all better through collaboration. But it was not always that way, especially for creative pursuits. As a designer, I suffer the same plight that pretty much anyone who exposes their most personal self through creative work does: the imposter syndrome…the fear of being exposed as a fraud.

I push forward by sharing my work, learning from others, asking for help or information and providing the same when I can.

When this fear takes up too much room, I become insular, fearful of exposing the gaps in my knowledge, afraid of sharing my work or seeking help, and thus, greatly diminished in discovering new possibilities and evolving. With tough love and hard work, I’m able to keep that fear to minimal levels. I push forward by sharing my work, learning from others, asking for help or information and providing the same when I can. And everytime I do it, it’s proven that collaboration makes me better. It’s also more fun and less lonely too.

Peer and collaborative learning is one of the great strengths of the quilting community. Guilds exist to bring quilters together to share their work, talk about quilting, help each other with a technique or idea, and collaborate on projects together. Modern quilters gather every year for QuiltCon, a four day event with a juried exhibition, lecture series, workshops and quilting supply fair. It always inspires and is a great opportunity to learn and connect.

Despite the fact that I have many years of experience and formal education in sewing, there are always things I can learn from other quilters—whether they have been quilting for 3 or 30 years. Quilters are generous with their time and expertise, always willing to show you their techniques, tricks and tips. Perhaps this is the reason quilting has lasted for centuries.

Can you share a personal example of how that form of learning and collaboration has helped you along?

At QuiltCon in Pasadena last year, I had signed up for a full day ‘Studio Scheming’ workshop with Luke Haynes, well known for his figural work in modern quilting. I was hoping to learn some new ways of working that would add to my own design process that I have developed over the years.

Luke did not disappoint as we worked through the steps of his design approach. Listening to him describe his process reinvigorated my thoughts and ideas about my own design process and how I might evolve and refresh the way I work.

What I did not expect was how working and collaborating with others in the workshop helped evolve my work in unexpected ways. For one of the exercises, we had do 30 sketches of a quilt block (a pattern of sewing fabric pieces together, that typically fits into a square) using only straight, non-intersecting lines. Once our sketches were complete, we broke out into small groups and collaboratively chose the designs with the most potential from each person’s stack. When it was my turn, the group picked out one sketch that I would not have chosen. With nothing to lose, I decided to choose this as the design I would work on for the rest of the workshop. What developed was an amazing result I never would have expected from that original sketch. The group had seen something that afternoon that I hadn’t. And because this was only part of the process, by continuing to expand and evolve that original selection, I ended up with a design that felt completely like it came from me. But I am indebted to the people in my small group that day for their collective wisdom and insight in picking that one sketch.

Largely, the workshop ended up being a way for me to step back, play and explore—something I don’t do nearly often enough amidst deadlines and the workload of things that have to be done. It was also a great reminder to get out of my tried and true routines, work with others and try something new.


This series is greatly inspired by the excellent The Setup.

Patrick Tanguay

Editor-in-Chief for E-180 Publications. Obsessively curious transdisciplinary thinker and learner. I help connect people and ideas.