Art Quilts

It's time to introduce my April artist. Before I begin I'd like to state for the record that I do not get paid to talk about these artists nor do I expect anything in return. I simply want to share my secret resources with you...and brag about the incredibly talented people I am surrounded by! If you have missed out on the previous artist intros click here and here

So far these artists have been near and dear to my heart, and this one is no exception:


Meet Murray Johnston (aka "Muff"), my wonderful aunt. Muff is an art quilter.


What is an art quilter?? you might ask.

It's exactly as it sounds. She quilts works of art. And they are. Amazing.


<click to enlarge- the detail is insane!! >

She takes scraps of fabric then pieces and sews them together like a collage to create beautiful works of art that can be hung on a wall! Atleast, that's how I describe it. Her description of the process is much more eloquent so I asked her a few questions and let her do the talking.. (from here on out I will comment in blue)

Who has inspired your artistic style?

I majored in art history in college – so the list of dead artists who have influenced me one way or another is very long and would get very boring to try and list them. (thank you for sparing us:) 

BlueCanyonMemory Actually – it is not really the artists themselves or their styles that inspire me – but it is nature and the land that surrounds me that seems to bring out my creative juices.  I am constantly challenged and inspired by what I see and hear as I climb the mountains or walk out onto my deck in the early morning or late afternoon. The colors of the day, the messiness and intricacies of bark and leaves, the sound of the wind and the rain are a constant delight.  For me – the trees in the moonlight whisper and creak and send me messages about what to do next.  Light falling across the yard and the shadows of the trees is the best kind of inspiration.  I also would have to include the contemporary quilt artists  Michael James– not so much their styles but the way they showed me how to take that artistic  leap and be willing to risk it and try something new. 


Windswept II copy copy 

The Studio 

Muff has a studio in her house that is dreamy...I told her not to clean up. It's perfect just the way it is! Here she describes the detailed process of creating her art quilts...

IMG_4162 "Beginning with an idea /memory, the surface design of the quilt grows and changes as I work to have it become the unique expression of the original memory. This surface is a combination of fabric collage and machine piecing. Cotton fabrics and batting and rayon threads are the medium. Textile inked fabric and hand printed words on fabric may be incorporated into the work. The process is primarily done on a large work wall... (see below)

The whole image is finally enhanced with free form thread drawing, outlining and filling in the abstract images of the surface design. The images that make up the quilt come from my heart and my head with little drawing ahead of time."


In terms of quilting, what is your greatest achievement so far?  

Without a doubt – it is the quilt that I was commissioned to do for the new chapel at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. It is a triptych that is 8 feet high and 10 feet wide. It depicts the Tree of Life and the River Jordan feeding the Judean desert. It took me five months to complete and I was not working on anything else at the time –which is unusual for me. It hangs above the entrance to the Care at the End of Life Offices in the School and was used on the Dean’s Christmas card the year after it was done. I am very very proud of that piece. 

Duke divinity 

(Have any of you seen it? Amazing.)

  What books are currently on your bedside table


Well, I always read several books at once- and tend to re-read certain things. But currently: White Teeth by Zadie Smith, John Adams by David McCullough,  Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman (I love this one!! It's the only book that has ever made me laugh out loud.) and lastly- Savory Baking and a Sarah Foster Cookbook – I can read cookbooks like novels – never have too many! (note to self: read recipes before bed if you ever want to cook like Aunt Muff)


What are 3 things in life you cannot live without? 

You mean besides my husband, my kids and my dogs?!

Well – I guess that would be fabric, good books and wine. (I'll second that!)

 Circling Light II 

(click to enlarge- so cool!)

Do you have any other passions or interests that consume you like the quilting does?

Abbey Yes – as a matter of fact- I am very into showing dogs - Bernese Mountain Dogs to be specific. I got coerced into it about 10 years ago and found that I loved the quirky world of conformation showing (if you have ever seen the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on TV – then you know what I do and how crazy it is!) (Muff, where on earth would WE get THAT idea?? *click here for my guess*) And I have also been able to successfully combine the two passions in my PupQuilt Portraits – people send me photos of their dogs that I print onto fabric and then surround with original fabric collage, quilt it and frame it for them.  And my latest is a free form quilted dog head for a health fund auction to raise money to research and battle cancer in dogs. (Seriously guys: Quilting dogs, and showing dogs- she rocks both!)

3pupsboxsm K's shih tzu 

Rolling Over the Ridge 

Of all of your quilts which one is your personal favorite and why

Whatever is the last one I am working on – I get excited about each new color or turn that I decide to take  - so it is always my favorite.  And my current favorite is the free form tree quilt – Watcher In the Wood...

Watcher 2 

It has been a huge change and very liberating for me to move from the confines of the usual rectangular shape of a quilt into this totally free form work. It is still a quilt in the sense of having three layers and being stitched – but it is now an almost sculptural form and I am very excited about this new direction.

Free-Wheeling2But then I also love my Box frame pieces that are smaller and easy to place, (like the one to the left- 13"x21"), my Christmas Trees – I call them my tipsy trees, (see below) , my smaller Christmas trees and hearts, (see below) my PupQuilt Portraits – it is hard to not love them all.

Snow Trees
Heart Strings 1 Tiny TIPSY 1 

(These small trees and hearts start at around $50 each, depending on the size. They are perfect gifts!)

Who would you most like to collaborate with on a project

 I already collaborate with my sister-in-law – Bo Berry – your mom. It is a really fun and always a challenge to see how to combine our work. I look forward to our next collaboration – you never know where it is going to take you .

(painting+stitching.... very cool!) 

I also collaborate with Liz Spear – a weaver in NC. I do quilted patches that she incorporates into her clothing. (I see a future Project Runway contestant in the works...)

Art Quilt in Room

When Hoyt and I got married we were lucky enough to get one of her art quilts for our home. I hung it above our TV and the colors and energy of this piece add so much to our room!


But what meant even MORE to me was when she surprised us with ring-bearer cushions for our wedding. Here is my nephew holding one of them before the ceremony (without the ring:). It was the perfect touch to our outdoor celebration!


Detail leaves on the tree

 Last question: What is your favorite luxury in life?

Seeing the clear light of any late afternoon create such wonderful patterns and images across the landscape.

I can never get enough....


To visit Muff's website click here. To contact her for more info or pricing email her at murraybjohnston(at)