May I introduce Debbie Dunn Grifka? I met this incredible likable and kind textile artist here in Ann Arbor. We are both members of our local quilt guilds, Greater Ann Arbor Quilt Guild and Ann Arbor Modern Quilt Guild. And now I’m looking forward to connect you with her. A huge thank you goes out to Debbie, who took the time to answer all my questions.
Debbie designs modern quilts. Her signature style is super distinctive: You know when you meet one of her quilts in an exhibition. She plays with the power, elegance, and serenity of the line in a minimalist style with a limited color palette.
Debbies quilts have been shown at the big quilt shows (International Quilt Festival in Houston and the American Quilter’s Society shows, for example) and win regularly in international competitions, for example Canterbury #2 (1. place in ‘Appliqué’ at QuiltCon 2018) or Notre Dame (Winner in ‘Modern Quilts’ at Beyond the Festival of Quilts, 2020).
She also has been published in many books and magazines including Modern Patchwork. Her book, Lines by Design Quilts (Fons and Porter), was published in 2016.
You can find her here https://debbiegrifka.com and on Instagram (@debbiegrifka). Have a look at her work in series: 6000 Minutes or #100DayProject – it’s fascinating.
Debbie also teaches quilt technique and creativity workshops.
You might want to see her here: The Quiltshow
How, when and why did you start quilting or sewing?
I’ve been sewing as long as I can remember, but really took to it in my early teens. I began with garments mostly and a bit of home dec. I grew up half a world away from my extended family. As far as I know, there are no quilters in my family and I didn’t know anyone who quilted. The idea just always fascinated me. After years of thinking about it, I finally started quilting in 2002 and loved it right away! My younger child had just finished her first-grade year. I think I had a little more room in my schedule and chose to fill it with something I loved to do that was just for me. I was definitely not conscious of this at the time, but looking back on it, it seems clear.
And the sixty four thousand dollar question: Modern, traditional, contemporary, art quilting: what does spark true joy? And why?
I began with traditional/contemporary quilting, then moved into modern quilting and now consider myself a modern art quilter. So, all! I think that is one of the great things about quilting is that you can make whatever you want. You can make an art quilt today, a traditional one next week and a modern one next month. What sparks true joy for me, is being able to have an idea and create it in fabric. I describe my style as modern minimal. I am fascinated by trying to find out how much I can distill and take away while continuing to convey the essence of my subject or idea.
Let’s get personal: Who is you, Debbie Dunn Grifka? Tell us a bit about you. What should we definitively know about you? Will you reveal your best cherished quirk or your most beloved pet peeve?
I was born near London to Australian parents and grew up in Ann Arbor, MI. I always made things as a child – mostly textile crafts like weaving, knitting, needlepoint, and sewing, but I never considered myself creative or artistic. Quilting taught me that I am both!
My husband and I have two young adult children, both married, who are also both in school – one undergrad and one in grad school. My own education includes a business degree from UM. I worked mostly in accounting and administrative positions until I began focusing exclusively on quilting in 2013. I started my pattern business, Esch House Quilts, in 2009. I stopped creating new patterns in 2016 and now focus on making one of a kind pieces (my patterns are still available on my website).
Besides making new work, the thing I am most passionate about now is travel. I have had the opportunity to do a bit of traveling in the past, but long to do much more!
I should have asked my children about the quirk/pet peeve question! I guess one of my quirks is that I drink hot black tea with milk. I don’t like herbal tea and I don’t like ice tea. Just hot tea with milk 😊
What do you do when you’re not quilting? What does a perfect Debbie-day look like?
I always love being near the water! When I’m at home, I love to read or knit (while listening to an audiobook) and enjoy some good food and wine with family or friends.
Back to quilting: What part do you like best about the quilting process?
The design part is the most exciting to me. When I have an idea and get to play with it to see how to make it work. At the other end of the process, the quilting itself is very meditative and I enjoy the somewhat mindless sewing back and forth – usually with a podcast or audiobook.
Would you show us your favorite quilt?
At the moment, my favorite quilt is Notre Dame. Prior to Notre Dame, I had made several successful quilts in my Architecture series, but none had been bigger than 40″ square. When I began thinking about Notre Dame, I knew it had to be big. The quilt finishes at almost 60″ x 80″. I’m very proud of the bias work and the quilting. It recently won the Modern Quilts category at Beyond The Festival of Quilts. The quilt is based on a photograph I took when visiting Notre Dame in 2017. It was my first time there and I feel so lucky to have been able to experience this incredible place before the catastrophic fire last year.
Note: The Festival of Quilts is the biggest quilt show in Europe and takes place in Birmingham, England annually. In normal times it attracts more than 26,000 visitors. It is also home of the world’s largest open quilt competition. 2020 it became ‚Beyond The Festival of Quilts‘ – everything happened online.
How do you beat creative blocks?
The best way for me to get out of a creative slump is to just start making something – often I’ll choose a charity project. The act of sewing is wonderful therapy and then the creative side of my brain starts working again.
Please share your coolest trick, best practice, lesson learned – quilt related or not.
I have struggled with the conflict between always wanting my work to be the best I can do and having so many ideas and deadlines that I am tempted to hurry through the process. I have learned how to let minor imperfections go and only re-do sections that I know will bother me in the final quilt. I am also trying to be more realistic in how long I expect things to take 😊
Are you member of a quilt guild? If so, what would you tell someone who does not even know guilds?
I am a member of two quilt guilds – the Greater Ann Arbor Quilt Guild and the Ann Arbor Modern Quilt Guild. I have learned so much being a member of a quilt guild! People have ideas and make quilts that I never even could have imagined. I also love spending time with others who love quilting as much as I do. There is a special kind of almost “shorthand” conversation among people who have a similar frame of reference.
Why do you quilt? Can you explain the magic of quilts?
The texture of cloth has been a love of mine my whole life. This love was partially learned from my Dad who shared his love of texture with me. In addition, from the moment we are born we are wrapped in cloth and surrounded by it in our bedding and clothes. It provides such warmth and comfort. Even when I am making a piece that is not a functional quilt, the texture is what brings it life.