In the Studio with Victoria Findlay Wolfe
Growing up on a farm in Minnesota, everyone in Victoria’s family sewed; her mother was a seamstress, her father had an upholstery business and her grandmother, Elda Wolfe, was a quilter.
“My three-dimensional skills were pretty good from a young age. No one used patterns, so I would watch my parents and learn to make things as I went along,” she recalls. Victoria says she was always a maker: “I knew I’d be an artist when I grew up. I was always making all kinds of crazy things, and using fabric was one thing that was always accessible to me.”
Victoria started sewing when she was around four years old, making patchwork pillows and doll quilts by hand. “I finished my first quilt when I was 13; it’s pretty sad looking, but still in one piece,” she says. From ages 14 through to 20 she was making larger quilts, but many were abandoned when the pieces she had cut did not sew together as she wished. “I couldn’t figure out how to make them perfect, so they stayed as unfinished quilt tops.” These represent the young, creative free spirit who was cutting and sewing without knowing the ‘rules’ of construction. “I find it funny now when I look back at them and I think they are very charming quilts.”
It wasn’t until after Victoria was married that she stumbled across quilt blogs and saw beautifully made quilts and thought, “Hey, I could do that!” She set out to learn everything she could about making quilts, although “it had never occurred to me to get a quilt book, as I did not learn that way. So blogs were a huge source of skill building for me for finishing elements such as binding, facings etc.”
Coming from a family of sewers, she was surrounded by influencers. Her grandmother was making scrap, double-knit polyester (crimplene) quilts all through the ‘70s. “These quilts, made of bright amazing colours which will never fade, made a huge impact on me. In fact, I thought that was how you made beautiful quilts — by cutting up fabrics and sewing them all back together willy nilly.” This is where Victoria’s enduring love of scrap quilts, and ‘made fabric’, began. What she learned from that traditional scrap process influenced her processes and how she looks at building a quilt. “I start with scraps, sew them together and look for my inspiration. I wait for the fabrics to tell me what’s next,” She explains. “I ask myself — what do I have in front of me, what do I like, what colours do I see, what can I do with it, what new pattern can I come up with?” Victoria says it’s that exploring of design, pattern and colour that excites her the most in quilt making. “I’m always looking for a way to shake up my creative process so I’m not just doing the same thing over and over.”
Winning Best in Show at the inaugural QuiltCon event in 2013 was one of the highlights of her quilting journey. Her double wedding ring quilt Double Edged Love (quilted by Lisa Sipes) has become synonymous with the world-wide modern quilt movement.
From that quilt, Victoria went on to make 12 double wedding rings as a personal journey of quilts. “I made them to explore the relationship about where I came from, where I live now, my happy memories of my grandmother’s quilts, my sewing background and my family’s background.” Since then, she has made over 60 double wedding ring quilts and intends to continue to make more. Her current work influenced her latest book, Modern Quilt Magic. Herringbones, partial seams, curves, miniature piecing, Y-seams and more feature in her recent quilts.
Victoria opened her quilt shop, VFW Quilts, in New York City in September, 2016. Conveniently her studio is in the same building as the store, which is one building over from where she lives. There’s no time wasted on a lengthy commute. When Michelle Marvig hosts the TravelRite Quilt Tour to America this year she will be taking the group to Victoria’s NYC store. Watch out for a gaggle of Aussie quilters New York!
Although Victoria has won a number of awards, she says she doesn’t make quilts to enter shows. “I make the quilts I want to make, and I make them to the best of my ability,” she says. “I am not a perfectionist, but I strive to do my best each time I make a quilt. By doing so, my ‘best’ gets better with every quilt I make. When I do enter a quilt, it’s one that I think is my very best work to date on several levels: the quilt’s story, the piecing, the overall visual impact. If I have entered a quilt in a show, it’s so I can share it with everyone and inspire others.”
Victoria’s workload would weary even the most intrepid quilter. She works on 10 to 12 quilts at a time, including commission quilts for private customers and collectors, a new series for herself, is designing new fabric lines and patterns, and writing books. She also fits in teaching all over America and the world. “Giving people permission to ‘play’, watching the light bulb go on when they learn something new, sharing the joy that creating gives me and helping others to find that joy makes it all worthwhile,” she enthuses.
VFW Quilts studio
Victoria’s 28ft x 15ft studio features windows across the front of the space where her JUKI long arm sits. The long walls are covered in Quilters Dream cotton batting from floor to ceiling. The batting is tacked at the top ceiling edge with thumbtacks and hangs loosely to the floor. It can hold a quilted king-size quilt with no pins.
Projects are sorted, in order, on a baker’s rack. There are three stations for sewing/piecing — all with Juki straight stitch machines. The cutting table is custom-made for her height, with storage underneath, and there is one large bookcase, with cubbies for fabric, folded neatly and organised by colour. Another shelf holds her recently designed fabrics on bolts.
There is also an Industrial Reliable 300IS system for pressing and a custom-made ironing table pad, as large as a banquet table, that Victoria made with leftover wood, batting and fabric.