Good Life

Fiber artists take quilting to infinity and beyond

Artist Pat Dolan, a member of Fibers Unlimited, shows how she creates designs on her pieces with a special type of foot on her sewing machine in her home studio.
Artist Pat Dolan, a member of Fibers Unlimited, shows how she creates designs on her pieces with a special type of foot on her sewing machine in her home studio.

Irmgard Lee has an eye for color.

You can see it in the way that they bounce off one another in her quilts, a rainbow’s worth of hues colliding and building off of one another to create a shape that holds focus without threatening to do any serious damage to the eyes.

That this would turn out to be one of the saving graces of her retirement was a surprise.

It had, after all, gone mostly wasted during a youth spent in Germany — where, as she put it, they don’t do patchwork — and a career spent in administration at an American business — where, as any frustrated nine to fiver will tell you, they don’t do creativity.

But retirement is a time of opportunity.

Lee picked up a needle and some thread, took a few classes and joined the ranks of Fibers Unlimited.

She hasn’t looked back since.

“For me it’s really been one of the joys of my retirement. It’s unexpected but nevertheless, it’s wonderful,” Lee said.

The ladies of Fibers Unlimited — seven Centre County residents — are a different breed of quilter, if they are quilters at all. They ignore the prescribed patterns and could care less about matching seams.

Fiber art treats fabric as a blank canvas where paint qualifies as anything from bird feathers to family photos from that trip to Jackson Hole last summer.

“For an artist, we stretch beyond the rules and confines of patterns. We want to create our own thing,” said Pat Dolan, a Fibers Unlimited member.

Dolan, who has a degree in art, used to work mostly with watercolors.

Then she moved to State College — by way of the Garden State.

“I came from New Jersey, and in New Jersey traditional quilting and traditional art is not exactly what they want,” Dolan said.

That suited Dolan just fine. She became an artist to express herself — a feat that encourages, nay requires, a certain degree of experimentation.

Dolan showed off a quilt that she had stitched a few years ago, a work of art no larger than a treasure map that she had intentionally stained with golden brown rust.

There was no discernible pattern at play, but strips of metallic fabric and images of leaves had been etched in with a sewing machine, while the adjoining trees were the byproduct of a handy rubber stamp.

“We use what we think the piece needs to say what we want it to say,” Dolan said.

Lest you think that this is all just the wild west of the quilting world, Dolan was quick to point out they do try to follow the basic artistic rules surrounding balance and color.

The freedoms they are afforded from form simply allow the artists to add more texture and depth to their work, which they share with one another during the course of their monthly meeting.

To keep their technique sharp, each January the club members set a new challenge for themselves, whether it’s quilting a self-portrait or quilting something using hues found on opposite ends of the color wheel.

“Fiber art is very time consuming and unlimited,” Dolan said.

You can see for yourself Aug. 21 through Oct.10, when the Foxdale Village art gallery will host an exhibit full of some of the women’s best work.

Dolan said that the group sat on a two-year waiting list before their number was finally up.

“For me, it’s a culmination of efforts on the part of our group to be better know,” Dolan said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready


What: “Creative Ways: Unique Art, Using Cloth, Thread, Paint and More”

When: Aug. 21-Oct. 10

Where: Foxdale Village, 500 E. Marylyn Ave., State College

Info: 238-3322