30 March 2016

Heather Jarmyn interview: From Modern to Art Quilts

Spooling Around by Heather Jarmyn, 2014,
w 56” x h 64”, block exchange with piecers
from Canada and US,
quilted by Krista Zaleski.
Prince Edward Island’s Heather Jarmyn creates for the joy of self-expression. Heather grew up in Southern Ontario, enjoying art classes and dabbling in different media. Her career followed a different path, however, and she now has considerable responsibility as a public servant. In spite of her demanding job, Heather finds time to create both art and modern quilts as well as to provide leadership in her local modern quilt scene. She is currently president of the very new Prince Edward Island Modern Quilt Guild, an organization that she helped launch in January of this year. Heather is also a collector of art and antique quilts.

Tell us about your quilt work.

Currently, my main focus is wall quilts. I make quilts for the joy of creating, both for my home and as gifts for family and friends. I’ve been very involved in the modern quilt movement, as a member of the Ottawa Modern Quilt Guild, as the PEI lead for the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild, and now leading the new guild on the Island. I’m drawn to the bright colours, flexibility and freshness of design in modern quilting. Modern wall quilts can be art quilts. Like art quilts, they can be abstract or representative and can use dense quilting or thread painting to convey movement.  

Descending into Gobblygook by Heather Jarmyn, 2015, w 32” x h 30”

Describe your journey towards becoming an artist who works with textiles. 

I learned to quilt while living in Nova Scotia, when I was in my 20s, and have made several quilts using traditional blocks and patterns. While working in Ottawa I took up modern quilting and was able to take classes from art quilters such as Elaine Quehl and Mary Pal.

I was recently delighted to learn that one of my modern quilts, Urban Pods, was juried into CQA’s National Juried Show. This is my second quilt juried into a CQA show. The first one, My Midnight Garden was an appliqué quilt of my own design.

But I’m not an artist in the sense that I create pieces for sale! I’m currently a full-time public servant with staff in five provinces. While it may evolve into something more than a hobby after I retire, for now, quilting is a creative outlet and means of relaxation. I try to spend at least 15 minutes a day on a quilt-related pursuit, whether it’s sewing, online reading or just fondling fabric!

My Midnight Garden by Heather Jarmyn, 2008, w 87” x h 86”, quilted by Cherry Tree Quilts 

Tell us about your process for creating. Where do you find your inspiration and how do you get from that to a final product?

I’m most creative in response to challenges, which provide me with freedom to experiment and broaden my horizons as a quilter. Photos or words/phrases often inspire me. The last challenge I completed had the word glitter in the title. It included a silver and gold print fabric that didn’t appeal to me, so I focused on how people are attracted to shiny things in today’s society, and our need to pause and to play. The result: a piece with the colour bars we used to see when the TV signal was down, together with the symbols we now recognize as meaning pause and play.

Pause and Play by Heather Jarmyn, 2015, w 60” x h 57”

Do you have a studio, or do you work wherever you can find a spot? 

I have a small sewing studio that was formerly a bedroom, with tables specifically for sewing and cutting. Not being the neatest of people, I like being able to walk away from a work in progress without having to clean up. Also, because it’s a small space, I can easily wheel my chair from ironing board to sewing machine to cutting table!  

What are you currently working on and why?

I just finished a piece that represents a slice of the earth in winter. I’ve always been fascinated at how pristine the snow is when it first lands, and how different it is after the wind and snow ploughs have acted on it. I wanted to show the transition of colour and structure I would find if I looked at a slice of that frozen ground. Using a gradation of solid fabrics, from white to earth brown, I played with curves, irregular edges and free motion quilting. This quilt was faced to float off the wall. 

Beneath the Snow by Heather Jarmyn, 2016, w 21" x h 35"

What (non-fibre) artists, either historic or contemporary, have inspired you and why?

I have enjoyed both the Group of Seven and the Impressionists, particularly for their use of colour. Also, the lines used by artists during the Art Deco period have inspired some of my modern works. 

What fibre artists are you currently interested in, and why?

I love the works of Mary Pal and Elaine Quehl. Mary Pal does portraits, particularly human faces, with cheesecloth. Elaine Quehl is known for her dyeing and stunning colour compositions. I’ve had the pleasure of taking classes from both these artists and have seen their work in person. I hope someday to add one of their pieces to my SAQA quilt collection. 

Tell us about your quilt collecting.

I have a small collection of art quilts on my wall, including work by artists Julie Haddrick and Martha Wolfe, purchased through SAQA's annual Benefit Auction, and a piece by Marcia Strong Middents, purchased through the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI). I also treasure several antique quilts made by my grandmother in the 1930s and 1940s.

I bought my first SAQA auction quilt in 2010 and have since bought two more in support of the organization. There are so many to choose from, it’s been easy to find pieces that speak to me. In the weeks prior to the opening, I admire all the pieces, choose my favourite and set my clock, so I can place my bid the moment the bidding starts. I always have a second choice ready to bid on, in case my first bid is unsuccessful. I find it fascinating to see which pieces are sold first!

What are your goals for the coming year?

I’d like to make several small pieces for my home and to exhibit at local shows. And I’d love to have something ready for the 2017 SAQA Atlantic show, Transitions! Meanwhile, I’ll continue to be inspired by SAQA’s website, journal and travelling shows. In April I’ll be taking the current SAQA trunk show to PEI quilt guilds. One day, I would love to have a modern quilt juried into QuiltCon, the international show and conference for modern quilts


  1. Thanks Heather, it's interesting to follow your transition from traditional to modern quilting. I really like your "gobblygook" piece.

  2. Heather, it's nice to meet you! I too learned to quilt in my teens in NS. My family is on the Island, so I have a lot of ties there.
    I was sorry to have missed Elaine's workshop when she was in Saint John.
    I enjoy your variety if work, especially the Midnight Garden.

  3. Nice to get to know you a little better, Heather, and I think that you will definitely have a quilt in QuiltCon in the future. Your quilts are wonderful!

  4. Heather: great article. Its nice to know more about you and your art. I look forward to seeing more of it at guild.

  5. Fascinating read about a lovely woman that I know in person. I particularly like " Beneath the Snow" for the colour striations and the texture that is quilted into it. Thanks, Heather, for sharing.