Debbie Dunn Grifka

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 Dunn Grifka
Debbie Dunn Grifka, February 2020

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.

Modern Quilt Design by Debbie Dunn Grifka: Canterbury
1. Place at QuiltCon 2018
Canterbury #2, 2017
„Inspired by my visit to Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England in June of 2017.  Based on my own photo. Winner of First Place in Appliqué at QuiltCon 2018“
Black and white, 38″ x 38″

You can find her here 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 

Modern Quilt Design by Debbie Dunn Grifka: Grifology
Grifology #1, 2018
Languages have always fascinated me. Inspired by my 2018 100 Day Project (improv appliqué postcards in black and white) and comments that those pieces looked like hieroglyphics or a secret language, I continued my exploration and made 20 improv bias appliqué blocks. Extending the language idea, I positioned the blocks in a letter format in the order in which they were made. The name, Grifology, is a play on graphology, the study of handwriting and symbols, and my own last name.“
black and white, 60″ x 60″

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.


Modern Quilt Design by Debbie Dunn Grifka:  Ephemeral Elegance
1. place AQS Show
Ephemeral Elegance, 2010 1. place for „First Entry to an AQS Show, Small Wall Quilts“ category at Paducah, KY 2011. She was so shocked she wanted to call her husband and tell him, but forgot his phone number…

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 ?


Modern Quilt Design by Debbie Dunn Grifka: Holiday Sweater
Holiday Sweater, 2014
„One of my favorite childhood sweaters was a red and white Nordic-inspired snowflake sweater.  I’ve recreated the feeling I loved with this quilt pattern. This is exactly the kind of “holiday” quilt I want in my home – one that has a holiday feeling, but you can leave out after the New Year without feeling like it should be put away already. I think anything with red in it can stay out at least until Valentine’s Day! Kathy Koch of ThreadBear Quilting did the quilting for me on Holiday Sweater.  We designed it to look a bit like the knit stitches on an actual sweater.“

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.

Modern Quilt Design by Debbie Dunn Grifka: Sedimentary
Sedimentary, 2011
„Sedimentary is one of my submissions to the Modern Quilt Guild Exhibit that will be in Houston this fall.  This quilt started with the idea of making a quilt from strips with the second strip in each row being a contrasting color.  After I sketched out the idea, it reminded me of learning about sedimentary rocks at school.  I always loved the rock units.
When it came to choosing fabrics, I couldn’t resist the contrast of the vivid oranges and the soothing greys.  I quilted Sedimentary with simple horizontal lines to reinforce the piecing idea.  I used grey thread in the grey sections and orange thread in the orange section.  Since I didn’t need to do any marking, it went very quickly“. 54″ x 72

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.


Modern Quilt Design by Debbie Dunn Grifka: Notre Dame
1. place Modern Quilts at Festival of Quilts Birmingham, UK
Notre Dame, 2019 First Place in Modern Quilts at Beyond The Festival of Quilts, 2020,
„Much of my work over the past few years has explored the intersection of drama and serenity through the use of line.  I’m fascinated by how much I can distill and take away while continuing to convey the essence of my subject.  Visiting Notre Dame in 2017, I was struck by exactly that intersection.  For centuries, it has been a place of refuge and peace amid our chaos, whether small personal crises or large international ones.  Despite the crowds of tourists, the grandeur and serenity of the cathedral moved me deeply.
As the project moved itself to the top of my list, I spent quite some time choosing a photograph on which to base my quilt design and then making final decisions about the design itself.  I began quilt construction in July of 2019 and finished it in November of the same year.  It is done using machine sewn bias tape appliqué and machine quilting.  The final quilt measures 57″ x 78
Photo by Patrick Young


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.

Modern Quilt Design by Debbie Dunn Grifka: Curried Plums
Curried Plums, 2011
„“Curried Plums” was my entry into the Project Modern “Find Your Own Voice” challenge.  I wrote that my voice is “…about minimalism, clean lines, bold shapes and limited color palettes.  It is about fabric and thread and batting.“

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.

Modern Quilt Design by Debbie Dunn Grifka: Gateway
Gateway, 2018
I was captivated by the outdoor garden “rooms” at Versailles when we visited France in 2017. They seemed like secret gardens – exactly the kind of place I would have loved as a child.„. black and white, 39″ x 32″

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