Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Inspiring Quilters : Sandra Bruce

Hey guys,

Today I have a feast for your eyes!Sometimes, you come across a quilt that is pure art! You just cannot help but be inspired by it!

I came across this quilt-in-progress by Sandra Bruce.

An ambitious self portrait quilt. And I was rattled to my nerves! It inspired me to make one that I'm working on - not a self-portrait though.

I was really scared of contacting her. She is a lady with A LOT on her place and I wasn't sure how she would react to an enthusiastic - read pester-you-till-you-satisfy-their-questions kind of - quilter from across the globe. But not only did she answer my questions, she also helped me work out how to make mine! And she has also offered to Long Arm Quilt it for me!!! :)

Please welcome with a HUGE round of applause (this is when I feel like Oprah on her own Talk Show!)

Sandra Bruce!

And she's going to share a lot about her super Self Portrait!

Shruti : First, tell us about Sandra - the quilter. How and when did you first start quilting?

Sandra :  I was introduced to quilting in 1982 when I luckily became next-door neighbors with Therese May, the renowned
quilter. She was on the cutting edge of the quilt world and I found her work to be fascinating. Eventually she and I started a quilt group of friends that met for about a year and a half. When I moved here to the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in 1990 I became more serious by taking classes and learning as much as possible. I love traditional quilts and contemporary as well!

Shruti : About your Portrait Quilt, why did you think of making a self-portrait quilt? What inspired you to start it?

Sandra : My self-portrait quilt has been percolating in my mind for some time. I belong to a wonderful group of quilters, Mountain Art Quilters, and the one requirement for membership is to do one of their challenges per year. "Self-portrait" is one of the challenges for October and I thought it would be a great opportunity to try it. One of my favorite painters is Chuck Close and I have always thought his paintings reminded me of a quilt, and how fun it would be to try and interpret a photo of myself in the spirit of how he paints with oils.
I began with a photo of me, that was taken very spontaneously and without the usual primping associated with having one's picture taken, as I wanted it to be real and factual. In a nutshell, I proceeded to interpret each of the 1,600 squares with fabric.

Shruti :  What machine did you use for it?

  Sandra : I used my Bernina 1031, nothing fancy........all I was doing was sewing together 2.3 inch squares.

Shruti : Could you tell us more about the process? I can see, you have used prints in the quilt. And the colors are also not exactly like you'd expect. How did you decide which fabric goes where? And did you pull some of those curly strands out when you just didn't find the right fabric?

Sandra : This quilt is 40 squares by 40 squares for a total of 80 inches. I knew that value was going to be a very important part of choosing fabrics, so I went through my stash and selected fabrics for the background, hair and skin that had a wide range of values. I have a pretty good stash but did need to buy more fabric. Since, in my other life, I am an illustrator and letterer, I wanted to have words and unusual swashes and illustrative elements in the quilt. I love prints and commercial fabrics, and wanted them in the quilt along with hand-dyed fabric. The prints make it interesting, in my opinion. In areas where the squares were on the edge of my hair and there was a mix of background and hair, that's where I really went for the prints. I should say here that I made a copy of the photo and blocked off rows of 4, then 4 by 4 square areas to work in. I isolated each square (total-16) and focused only on that. When I was happy with the 16 fabrics in relation to the photo I then auditioned the 16 next to what I had already done to make sure it looked right. 

I had to stand back quite a ways sometimes to see if this was accomplished or not. On 3 occasions I didn't like what I had done after it was sewn and spent time ripping out and fixing........not fun! The eyes were the hardest element and took a long time to get right. Some squares are pieced, the ones that had the most "information" to portray.....especially around the glasses and features. A tricky part of this process is knowing when to be wonky and when it needs to be right on, in terms of placement of lines and color. So, I went row by row, doing squares of 16 into "big" squares and then joined those to make a row of 4 by 40. Regarding color, I used the complement of the skin tones, purples, on the shadows of the shoulder and around the eyes. It works because the purples are the correct value. I love using complementary colors from the color wheel.  I did a lot of squinting and used my reducing glass.

Shruti : What about the process of quilting it once the top was together? Could you tell us more about it too? Which machine did you use for quilting?

Sandra : I quilted this on my Gammill long arm machine. In addition to being an Illustrator and Letterer (Calligrapher) I have a business doing long arm quilting. I pretty much only do free-motion quilting and that's what I did here. In the light background I stitched info about myself, since this is a  self-portrait.  So often I see quilts and wonder about the person who made it. I like the idea that 200 years from now someone might look at my quilt and will be able to read about me in the stitching. name, my family, things about me are in there. In the thread in the hair I used 4 different shades of brown. I did a pencil sketch that I referred to, but for the most part I just jumped in and went at it. In the skin I used clear mono-poly thread as I didn't want it to be distracting.  I did a little bit of definition in the features, but not much as I wanted the initial design to be the focus, not my stitching. I put white fabric on the back, and used Quilter's Dream for batting. I had pressed open all the seams of the top to reduce layers as the Gammill doesn't like going over layers in bulk. I will use facings to finish the edges, as opposed to binding. Lately I am not crazy about borders.

Shruti : What advice would you like to give others who want to attempt a portrait quilt?

 Sandra : Advice? Hmm. My advice would be to be bold and always always think "value", it' as important or maybe even more important than color. Pre-cut 2.5 inch squares in your selected fabrics ahead of time so you can play with the arrangement without having to stop so often to cut. Resist the temptation to make things line up, unless it is imperative to seeing the image correctly. This is a difficult thing to explain, and came to me through trial and error.

  Shruti : Is there a way that my readers can contact you directly for advice?

 Sandra : My email is Sandra Bruce
   Facebook page is   Sandra Bruce Creative

Shruti : What other arts do you meddle in apart from quilting?

  Sandra : I work on Thursdays at Sugar Pine Quilt Shop here in Grass Valley. It's very fun and I love meeting other quilters and helping customers pick out fabric. Aside from quilting and doing my illustration and lettering I love to dye and print fabric, and make art clothing. I belong to the Sierra Wearable Art Group. I am also a polymer artist and teach classes. I sell polymer jewelry in my studio downtown where my long arm, "Dixie", lives. I also love doing mosaics and paper art. I squeeze in a few visits a week to the gym with my son.

 Shruti : Can you let us peep into your studio?

Shruti : And now, the most important : How do you do so much all at once? Do tell us how you manage your time...

Sandra : How do I manage my time? It's difficult and I'm not really sure how I do it. My family is very understanding about dinner being late, :-) !  I make lists every day. No TV! I have been self-employed for over 30 years so I am used to being in charge of my time, I try to get through my list every day.


Thank you Sandra, for the fabulous interview! I'm sure a lot of my readers will be totally inspired by your work!

What do you guys think of her wonderful quilt? Email her and tell her right away!



  1. Wow that's fantastic! I love love love the idea of adding personal info quilted into the background! So cool! :)

  2. I am speechless! This is amazing... beautiful... incredible. Thank you Shrutti for featuring Sandra Bruce. Yes, I have been inspired and will be thinking about her work for a long time!

  3. I've had to pick my mouth up off the floor...amazing.

  4. Now that is way cool!!!! It looks fabulous. I can't wait to see yours Shruti.

  5. Awesome! Thanks for interviewing Sandra so we could all learn more about her fabulous quilt. I would love to learn more about color value as a result of this,

  6. What a fabulous quilt. Totally amazing and yes, Art! The personal information in the stitching gives the work added depth. Thanks for the story and good luck with your portrait quilt.

  7. Thx shruti for sharing this wonderful interview with Sandra, her work is truely so inspiring !!

  8. Amazing. Thanks so much for the interview. The quilt is beautiful!

  9. Thanks so much for this post, both Shruti and Sandra. Such an insight into an inspirational piece!

  10. Thanks for this fantastic interview, Shruti! I've also seen this quilt developing on FB and am so pleased to know more about how it evolved. The end result is stunning - I can't wait to see what you are working on in this style!

  11. Wow. This is fantastic! And it was so neat to read about the process, too. How cool!

  12. Thank you for sharing this interview, I'm inspired...

  13. I totally get this. It's wonderful. I am also a fan of Chuck Close. Thank you so much for this informative interview.

  14. Thank you so much Sandra this was so awesome to see come together!

  15. Wow this is amazing. I'm working on a pixel quilt right now (but with 1" finished squares) but it will no way even touch this. I like the quilting ideal too.

  16. I love this and I may try a small version of my Grandaughter Fifi, a much better subject than me lol

  17. Inspiring! Thank you for the time management tips. That is one of my biggest issues.

  18. Amazing! I love this. Thank you for sharing the process!

  19. This is going to be a goal for me this year. Probably half the size to hang on my bedroom wall. Awesome job!!

  20. This is going to be a goal for me this year. Probably half the size to hang on my bedroom wall. Awesome job!!

  21. Thank you for this post. It inspired me too to make a portrait quilt of my favorite subject. I am blogging about it at in a couple of days. Have you started yours? How can I get in touch with Sandra to ask permission to use a photo of hers?
    Thanks you again. I do love your writing style.

  22. WOW....
    wondering when i can make one like that one day :)

  23. Thanks everyone for your comments!! :-)

  24. Hi, great work, I've tried your method in 1980 had no idea about quilting just glue pieces together, over the years have collected over 3000 pieces of different pattern fabric , and have some interesting works done,
    welcome to contact me or visit my Facebook (danny amazonas) or my email thanks

  25. I'm late to the party, but greatly impressed. I wonder if I could do that--not the quilting part, but the looking at myself in the mirror/photo and going for it! Very inspiring to see.

  26. Gorgeous quilt. Its so inspiring to see all the pics that show details. Thanks so much for sharing what you learned from Sandra and thanks to Sandra for sharing!

  27. Merveilleux !!


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