allie aller: the happy quilter

allie aller: the happy quilter

Editor Note: I asked Allison Aller what makes her happy. Allie had lots to say about this topic! PB

By Allison Aller, guest blogger

WASHOUGAL WA  What makes me happy has always been right here at home: I’m a quilter, writer, and gardener—all home-based pursuits.

I began quilting in 1972, studied design in college, and then steadily worked at my sewing machine as an at-home mom for years. I created for my family, my friends, for the sheer bliss of it, but alone and in a vacuum.

Then, hooray! Blogging began! I began posting about my crazy quilting in 2005 to enjoy the community of other isolated stitchers. Joining that community was a huge source of happiness. My social media community still is, very much so.

In 2008 destiny knocked on my email door. A literary agent asked if I wanted to write a book about my crazy quilting. Her interest was due to my quilt, Crazy in the Garden, which I had blogged about in great detail that year.

Below: Crazy in the Garden, 42” X 42”, 2009

My professional quilt life began with the publication of Allie Aller’s Crazy Quilting in 2011. Lo and behold, Crazy in the Garden was on the cover.

My flower garden has a profound impact on all of my quilt work. I call my natural palette: English Perennials on Steroids. Most of the time, all I can quilt about is flowers!

Another aspect of quilt making that makes me deeply happy is exploring and experimenting, constantly pushing the envelope of whatever quilt genre I am working in. After 15 years of crazy quilting, I turned my attention to stained glass quilting. 

The same subject, my garden flowers, are here in a different “medium.”

Below: Garden Through My Window, 30” X 42”, 2016

I dove very deeply into stained glass quilting and it resulted in some wonderful commissions.

One commission was for a girls’ camp in Western Michigan, where I grew up. They had built a new lodge and wanted something special to mark that occasion. After touring the camp and taking tons of photos, I decided that a grouping of cabins built in the 1920’s was an iconic image that would resonate with everyone, old and young, connected with Camp Newaygo.

I asked my clients to give me a phrase from one of their camp songs to include on the quilt—words that spoke to everybody as they were sung down the decades. Another meaningful element was bits of scarves all the campers wear, that are ceremoniously important. They became the flowers.

I designed Memories That Linger specifically for a stairwell space in the new building. I am very, very happy with how it all came out.

Below, Top: The cabins in progress—technically difficult but a happy challenge
Botton: Memories That Linger, 68" X 76", 2018, on the day it was installed

My stained glass quilt work resulted in another book Allie Aller’s Stained Glass Quilts Reimagined, published in 2017.

I love writing books. The total immersion involved brings me a joy like no other. As usual, most of the subjects in my book involved plants in some fashion.

I was working on one of the book’s project quilts one day and looked out the windows and just burst out laughing. It was pretty obvious where my inspiration came from—and I hadn’t even been aware of it.

Publishing is great, and winning the occasional award is very affirming. What makes me happiest in my work is being able to give a quilt to someone I love.

Or sometimes I make a quilt to help heal myself. My beloved Uncle Hal meant so much to me. I grieved Uncle Hall (known as H) after he passed and made a quilt to honor him. To Uncle Hal, With Love was given to H’s son, Skip.

Below: To Uncle Hal, With Love, 45” X 45”, 2008

These days, my attention in my work has again shifted.

I am on fire with a passion for vintage textiles and can’t get enough of trying new ways to include them in my quilts. It is a mania, an obsession—which is to say, normal for me. It seems like everything that has come before feeds into this new direction, even while I challenge myself to learn new techniques and include new design elements in my work.

I’ve probably made 25 quilts, large and small, over the past 2 years exploring this latest romance in my quilting life.

I will leave you with this one. Some of the blocks are from a friend’s great aunt, others from an auction at a quilt retreat. I combined them, then used a stained glass technique to applique´ them onto their backgrounds (which are the beautiful Peppered Cottons, by Pepper Cory for Studio E Fabrics.)

The challenge for me was the machine quilting. Until now, I have never taken on that skill as an integral design element in my quilts. Quilting to me was always a necessary afterthought, and not used in crazy quilting at all.

My challenge was not to overwhelm these delicious blocks with over-quilting—which would not have fit the era of the blocks.

Below: Detail of Great Aunt Anna, Mrs. Anonymous, and Me

I tried something new: embroidering all around the blocks with a running stitch—and then going back and free motion quilting on either side of the embroidery stitching. I used a wool batting to make the quilted embroidery lines pop up.

It was hard. I had to unpick a whole center block because I used the wrong color thread. I had to develop a new kind of patience and calm to do this work.

And in the end…I was happy.

Below: Detail of Great Aunt Anna, Mrs. Anonymous, and Me, 60" X 60", 2020

The corner of our home, with the cedar siding and the “door to nowhere” for a deck that we never built, is my sewing room. As you read this I am probably there, sewing happily away.

To visit Allie’s blog, Allie’s in Stitches +click here