Studio visit with Claire Sherman

One of the things I love about the US is the sheer scale of the quilting universe here.  I relish the variety and availability of fabrics and haberdashery, the old quilts, the quilt shows, the Quilt Museum in San José, the collections in local museums, and the sheer number of people working in this field. The fabrics, the designs, the passing on of skills, the new approaches and radical departures are all fascinating and impressive. There are at least 21 million quilters here over the age of 18 and in 2010 the US quilt industry was worth at least $3.58 billion.*

Quilts also live in my imagination as the authentic beating heart of the US. Their history here and their unique beauty to carry messages and meanings that are tactile, personal, political and practical just plain fascinate me. The experimentation with geometry and pattern alone is quite overwhelming but when you add fabric quality, community, place and story-telling into them, the scope of fascination and creative possibility seems endless. Living in the Bay Area, I also love the contrast here between the dominant digital world, and the slow persistence of these creative, handcrafted and defiantly soft, emotional, and often talismanic works.

Amulet quilt, 12 x 12 inches in blue with elaborate geometric embroidery and central panel with hebrew text

Amulet quilt, 12 x 12 inches in blue with elaborate geometric embroidery and central panel with hebrew text

Claire Sherman is a quilt artist of skill and imagination. I met her through the 12 x 12 challenge run by the Textile Dream Studio in Berkeley. When I visited her home studio in early December 2017 the skies were drab and overcast and it was such a treat to feast on the color and textures she works with and creates.

She graduated in ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1970s. Inspired by architecture and old ruined buildings her early pieces were explorations of structures, space and spiritual ideas. She moved on from this conceptual work into making beautifully crafted ceramic Jewish ritual objects that she sold through outlets like Afikomen in Berkeley.

Her first quilt was a ‘crazy quilt’ made between the ages of 13 and 18, which she took away to college. Now Claire works in the modern quilt arena, which welcomes bold departures from repetitive patterns and symmetry for more abstract and experimental forms. Narrative can still play a role in the conception and execution of a finished work but the rules of traditional quilting are there to be broken and played with in playful and surprising ways.

I had the luxury of viewing the complete range of Claire’s output and I can only mention a few of her quilts here. Her regular blog has for more information and detail about the making process and the technical skills involved. I particularly enjoyed her ‘Baskets and Hot lemonade’ piece below, which is wonderfully colorful and whimsical in its use of shape, fabric and overall composition. Claire tells the story of the quilt’s evolution on her blog, and I love the idea of her liberating the traditional basket form after being inspired by Gwen Marston, another quilter. The delicate and precise work involved in finishing and completing every detail gives you some idea of Claire’s skill.

Detail of whimsical quilt featuring a cut-out of a cupcake added to green stem as if it were a fruit, with mottled green leaf to balance and a wavy quilting pattern over the whole design
Detail of quilt called ‘Baskets and Hot Lemonade’ featuring stem, leaf and cupcake ‘fruit’ by Claire Sherman
Bright blocks of color with object shapes such as a cup made out of a print of lemons and a basket made our of a print of strawberries.
Medium view of quilt called ‘Baskets and Hot Lemonade’ by Claire Sherman

Check out these upcoming quilting classes with Claire Sherman:

Very Variable Stars is at Hello Stitch Studio, 1708 University Ave., Berkeley, Sunday Feb 4, 10 am-1pm.

Exploring the Hamsa: A Hands On Workshop, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley, Sunday Mar 4,  2-5 pm.

Claire’s blog is  


Useful quilting links:

Bay Quilts

East Bay Heritage Quilters


Modern Quilt Guild

Pacific International Quilt Festival

San José Museum of Quilts and Textiles

Social Justice Sewing Academy

Stonemountain and Daughter

Textile Dream Studio