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Today is October 4, 2022

The Liberation of a Quilter

By Debbie Stringer

The Liberation of a Quilter

Veering from the path of traditional quilting, Martha Ginn goes her own way to create original works of art.

     You expect to see colorful fabric and fancy stitching in a pieced quilt. But a foil candy wrapper? Crinkled cellophane, metallic fibers and fuzzy yarns?
    Count Hattiesburg resident Martha Ginn among the growing number of quilters who use unexpected materials in works made for the wall, not the bed.
    In Ginn’s work, the foil candy wrapper resembles a silo in a rural landscape, and crinkled cellophane mimics the spray of an ocean wave.
    If an object can be stitched by hand or machine, it could show up in an art quilt—as long as it helps the quilter communicate her vision.
    Ginn’s journey into art quilting reflects that of most artists: She mastered the traditional techniques of her craft, then went her own way to create completely original and expressive work unfettered by tradition.
    “My biggest joy is doing more artistic quilts, my own designs, and expressing myself through the fabric and hand work,” Ginn said.
    Ginn’s works reveal her connection with nature. Images of leaves, flowers and trees appear often in her work, though she also experiments with geometric and abstract designs.
    Inspiration for a quilt design can materialize anywhere at any time. A photograph she made of lush plants growing in a hospital atrium triggered the idea for one applique quilt.
    Sometimes the fabric itself suggests a quilt, Ginn said. Pointing to one of the small wall hangings lining the hallway of her home, she explained. “This one I did after 9/11. A lot of times, the fabric is the main event, the reason for doing something. I found this fabric [printed with small colorful squares] that looked like buildings.”
    She used the fabric as the basis for “City Celebration,” in which sparkly threads and yarns erupt like fireworks from a city skyline. It’s one of her favorite quilts.
   Ginn started quilting in the late 1970s, when traditional patchwork patterns were the norm for her area.
    “You wouldn’t see any of what we now call art quilts. It was all traditional patterns,” she said. “But soon I wanted to make my own designs, and that’s how I branched out.”
    It was a bold move for a former legal secretary with no art training. “As I grew up, I didn’t know I had any artistic talent. I didn’t draw a thing, but I wish I had explored it back then.”
    But when she enrolled in an adult drawing class taught by a fellow church member, “that just set me on fire,” Ginn said.
    “Then I thought, well, yeah, I can draw. I can be an artist. And I think everyone does have some of that talent; they just don’t always recognize it.”
    Ginn attended workshops with nationally known instructors to learn new skills. Her repertoire grew to include various layering and piecing techniques, dyeing, fabric painting, collage, applique, free-motion machine stitching, thread painting and beading.
    “Every class I’ve taken is to learn something new, not that I want to copy what the teacher did in class, but to learn a skill that I can use in my own things.”
    Ginn hasn’t completely forsaken traditional patchwork designs. She based one of her quilts on the Mariner’s Compass, a modern name for a quilt pattern hundreds of years old. Ginn set a constellation of the compass patterns on a dark, flecked background that brings to mind the night sky. She calls the quilt “Finding My Way.”
    “It means listen to your own voice. Find what you like,” she said.
   Working in her spacious home studio, Ginn begins a new project by working out the design on paper. For her pictorial quilts, she uses an original drawing as the pattern for cutting the fabrics. An eclectic stash of fabrics in every color imaginable makes up her palette. Favorites are cotton prints, batiks, hand-dyed sateens, silky blends, upholstery and drapery fabrics.
   Once the quilt top is pieced and layered with batting and a backing fabric, the quilting process begins. Guiding her longarm quilting machine, she “paints” images with thread, blending or contrasting colors for special effects.
    One of her favorite techniques is “ghost” quilting, used in her “Jungle Leaves” wall hanging. In this free-motion quilting technique, Ginn starts with a square piece of a bold print centered on a larger piece of a single color.
    “I have to imagine what the print would look like beyond the square, what would come next. Then I just complete it [by stitching] these ghost images. It’s so much fun.”
    Quilting means far more to Ginn than creative fun. Throughout her husband’s 10-year illness and her own recovery from a foot injury, quilting provided a much needed distraction from life’s difficulties.
    “It was such a refuge to go in my studio and play with my fabric and stitch. There were a lot of interruptions so at times I didn’t get a lot done, but there was the joy of being in there.
    “I recall walking into the door of the studio on a bad day and it was almost like somebody pouring something over me, just a peaceful feeling.”
    Husband Roy was her biggest fan, Ginn said. “He would come to the doorway and say, ‘I’m so glad you have this space.’ He was proud of everything I did and really wanted me to enjoy it.”
    Developing friendships with quilters across town and around the world is another benefit of quilting, Ginn pointed out. She blogs about quilting and serves as the moderator of an online critique group for members of Studio Art Quilt Associates, an international organization.
   As a member of Mississippi Quilt Association, “I have found friendships not just in Hattiesburg but all over the state. It’s really enriched my life,” she said.
    Twenty-nine years ago, Ginn and four other quilters started Pine Belt Quilters. “We had just taken quilting classes [at a Gulf States Quilting Association event] and just got so crazy for it. On the way home in the car, we said we have got to form a guild.”
    The quilters first exhibited their work in a local mall, with quilts draped over tables, chairs and planters.
    “After that, one of the first things we wanted to do was to have a real quilt show, with judges,” Ginn said.
    Pine Belt Quilters now hosts the largest quilt show in Mississippi, a biennial event that opens next month in Hattiesburg. Guild members meet up to three times monthly to share ideas, learn new techniques and sew charitable projects that benefit hundreds of children each year.
    Ginn’s art quilts have earned awards at area quilt shows and have been juried into the nation’s largest and most prestigious shows, including the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas.
    A Ginn applique quilt with a dazzling array of fabric, texture and color took first place in its category at a local art association show. “It wasn’t a quilt show but an art show. That was a thrill to have it recognized as art,” Ginn said.
    Ginn’s “Rise and Shine, Inner City,” a quilt made of small half-hexagons arranged in a way to suggest buildings warmed by the rising sun, is included in the book “Color Play” by Joen Wolfrom and two other quilting books.
    Starting this month, “Rise and Shine” will tour China as part of “The Sum of Many Parts: 25 Quiltmakers in 21st Century America,” which will travel to five museums.
    But when Ginn makes a quilt, she is not thinking of shows or public recognition. She works to suit herself, not judges. As long as a quilt satisfies her tough inner critic, its appeal cannot be diminished by the lack of a blue ribbon.

    “If I know it’s a good artistic design, then I’m proud of it,” she said. “It’s the creation of these things that brings the most joy.”

  
See a gallery of Martha Ginn’s quilts at www.marthaginn.com, and find her blog at marthaginn.blogspot.com. For information on the Pine Belt Quilters 14th Biennial Fiber Art & Quilt Show, Oct. 5-7 in Hattiesburg, go to www.pinebeltquilters.com. Ginn will demonstrate ghost quilting, speak on the care and repair of quilts and exhibit eight of her quilts at the show.

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