An Interview with Laurie Tigner

I met Laurie Tigner in Houston at Quilt Festival last year.  I had exactly 2 minutes to say, “hello, lovely to see you, I’ll try and drop by your booth again later.” We all know how that part goes! We “met” on fb sometime before that and connected in a most fun way.  I have 2 of Laurie’s Icons: one of Mary and St. Simeon hanging over my sewing machine.  I’m intrigued by Iconography and love how Laurie has incorporated this imagery into her quilting, so I asked if she’d be open to a blog interview.  Here goes.

Teri: How did you get started quilting?  How long have you been a quilter?
Laurie: I had no intention of becoming a quilter, but was getting burned out in nursing after 28 years. I went to a quilt show here in town, there were so many vendors, so many quilts!  
The colors, the patterns, the color!!!! Did I mention color? So, went home absolutely saturated with ideas and desires to create….an icon quilt. It was, at the time, the only reason I wanted to learn to quilt.
Went back the next day and asked one of the vendors if they sold fabric with gold on it, and she said they had some at their shop and asked me questions, and laughed because I wasn’t a quilter but already wanted to design something. She told me about a free one hour class she gave called “quilting for the clueless”.  I signed up and the rest is history.

I went to the shop the next week and bought all the fabric I needed for that first quilt. It is still in a box as it is not what I want to use now, but it is sentimental to me. As to the class, well it was great.  She showed us quilts, told us about machines, needles, thread, and showed us how to use a rotary cutter and mat….I still do it “wrong”, but it works for me.  It is the only class I have taken.  It was about 7 years ago.

Teri: What machine do you use for piecing?
Laurie: My sewing machine that I use consistently is my older Bernina 130.  It skips stitches once in a while, but otherwise works great.  It has been used to death, so a few skipped stitches doesn’t bother me….

Teri: Do you quilt on a domestic, mid arm or long arm?

IMG_0612Laurie: I have a Gammill Classic longarm machine for quilting.  It has a stitch regulator, but no computer.  Didn’t see a need or have a want for the computer at the time I bought it, but sometimes wish I had. For now, this is great….I actually bought it before I even  really learned to quilt….it was the part of quilting that I thought would be the easiest….you know, what you are “drawing” on the quilt is what you are quilting sort of thing, and I found that to be true. It came with a bunch of pantographs. I tried one, hated doing it, and gave them all away at the next guild meeting. Am so glad that I did. I can’t imagine doing pantographs all day!  I love doing custom quilting. It is so much fun figuring out new designs and patterns!

Teri:  Favorite threads?

Threads.  I love thread!  I use Aurifil 50 wt almost exclusively for piecing, although sometimes I use Superior Sew Fine.
For quilting on my longarm, well, it is just backwards…. I use mostly Superior Sew Fine and Aurifil 40 wt. If I am working on a piece that is thread painted, I almost always use Aurifil 50 wt. I am starting to use Silk thread a bit and have figured out how to get my longarm to tolerate it…..

IMG_2384Teri: Tell me about your patterns…how do you come up with the designs?

Laurie: My patterns are all fusible appliqué because that is what I started out doing.   Remember, I bought the longarm first because that was the easy part.  One of my first quilts was my Pumpkin Patch pattern.   I made it, took it to show and tell at the local guild and several people asked me to make a pattern, so I did.  No one told me that I couldn’t, or that I should maybe wait until I knew more. I had only made two quilts before that and they were from patterns, so I reviewed them, saw how they wrote their directions, adapted that to fit my pattern, and it was…!  Fun trying to write directions so that others could make my design!  Someone had told me to write the directions very simply, so that is what I did.  Anyway, I draw and paint, so drawing designs is easy for me, and with an very active imagination, my patterns vary from whimsical to the seriously beautiful. I love Halloween, so I have a series of witches doing different needlework. While I have taught myself to piece and paper piece, and have won ribbons on those quilts, I haven’t had the nerve yet to write a pattern for those designs….mostly because I wouldn’t know how….I just figure them out as I go…..and that wouldn’t make for a very good instructional pattern!

Teri: How did you get into Iconography?  Tell me a little bit about Icons (please)

IMG_9964Laurie: The Iconography interest started when I was 11.  My Dad was in Vietnam. It was summer and I had just had major chest which meant that I couldn’t play at all, so I did lots of drawing and painting and reading….I read “the Agony and the Ecstasy” about Michelangelo….pretty big read for a 6th grader, but it is still my favorite book. I also read “The Kitchen Madonna”. It is about a young socially shy English boy who makes a Madonna icon from a newspaper picture and toffee wrappers for his families’ Russian cook, who missed her home and her Madonna that had once hung in her family kitchen.  By giving to someone who was sad, he found himself. I loved it. (My husband found me a first edition copy of this book a year or two ago, best present and surprise, ever!)   Anyway, I found all the books I could on icons, and fell in love with them. Even when I went to art school at University, no one taught it. There are only a handful of iconographers in America that work with the traditional methods/materials. About 26 or  27 years ago, I found a priest who painted Icons, with all the traditional materials and methods…..we are talking about cooking your own rabbit skin glue, etc. I was in heaven. I worked with him for over a year, every chance I got.

We moved to Italy ( I was a nurse in the Air Force) and I was able to actually go find these real icons in Europe and see them. I have continued to paint “write” them over the years.

The writing of Icons is specific, traditional, with rules and recipes that have been handed down over the centuries. Non-wavering. It is all about tradition.

IMG_9971That is why most Icons look alike, the same poses, same facial characteristics, with little variation, for the different stories that they tell. The only differences are due to the skill and abilities of the individual iconographer. Icons are traditionally not signed, which throws some people. People almost always ask me to sign them. Once in a while I will sign the back for them if they are adamant, but that is all.

Teri: How did you translate the Icons from the painted images to quilt making?

Laurie: While traditional icon writing is my very favorite thing to do, I also struggle with doing only that.   When you have an active imagination and are creative by nature, you need to express that, and that is where quilting Icons comes into play for me. I will never, ever, break with tradition in “writing” an icon, but quilting is fair game.   I don’t even need to look at pictures of icons to draw them anymore, because I have spent so much of my life doing them. I know people think I “copy” them for my quilts. I may refer back to a picture for the lettering or a specific hand gesture, but they are mine and I am slowly getting away from the most traditional aspects. For my newest gold Christ Icon, I made my husband pose for me. He got a kick out of that.   It is a traditional pose, in traditional dress. Anyway, I started out trying different media to do an under painting of the picture, and then I thread painted over it. I finally ended up with using some ink pencils that give you a permanent and soft look, while also leaving the fabric soft…. 

IMG_0306I love the old icons that have the heavily worked metal overlays that were used to protect the icons while the monks traveled.   I wanted to recreate that and tried everything I could think of. I spent many hours and lots of money none of the results pleased me. They just weren’t right. Then I saw the spandex used by a Scottish quilter in a project that seemed perfect.  I contacted her for details and “permission” to use it, she must have thought me crazy for asking permission to use a commercial product, but I wanted to be honest and fair. She encouraged me to try it and it was perfect! It took a while to figure out how to best stabilize it, as it is stretchy in four directions, but it is incredibly fun to quilt once you get the hang of it, and I am hooked. It is fun to “break the rules” and do what I want with an icon. I have been dreaming of some incredibly different designs and colors for some new ones, and can’t wait to try them. I know that I probably need to branch out and do “other” things with my quilting to stay current and viable in the industry, and I try to I do that with my patterns and the odd show quilt or two, but my heart is with the Icons….written or quilted….they are where my heart and soul are…..

Thank you so much for sharing your story with me Laurie.  Your quilts and Icons are just stunning.  I look forward to spending some time in your company very soon.

Happy Quilting!


5 thoughts on “An Interview with Laurie Tigner”

  1. I can remember reading and enjoying The Kitchen Madonna when I was about 11 also, thanks so much for sharing Laurie’s story Teri, it’s nice to know where quilters get their inspiration from.

  2. Thanks for this interview. I first became aware of Laurie’s work when I saw one of her Madonnas at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival several years ago, but THEN I saw the Silver Madonna at last year’s Pennsylvania Quilt Festival in Philadelphia. My poor little Perspective in Threads quilt was hanging right next to it, completely outshone by her wonderful Silver Madonna. 😀 😀 So I studied it a lot. Incredible work. I eagerly anticipate seeing what she does in the future.

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