Quilting As Art: All About Art Quilts And 15 Dramatic And Imaginative Art Quilt Designs

I recently went to a quilt festival and saw some absolutely breathtaking quilts displayed. 

These quilts were masterpieces and didn’t look like fabric until you walked up close to view them.

They look like paintings or photographs.

Today, we’re going to discuss and look at some gorgeous art quilts that will hopefully inspire you to step outside your comfort zone for your next quilt project. 

What Are Art Quilts and What Defines Them? 

The Studio Art Quilt Association defines an art quilt as “a creative visual work that is layered and stitched, or that references this form of stitched layered structure.”

The makers of these quilts layer fabrics and fibers to create an overall design.

Art quilt designs can feature realistic images that almost resemble a photograph, or they can be abstract modern designs. Like painting or drawing, art quilt designs are limitless.

Collage quilts are a form of art quilting. Let’s review a few features that make art quilts “art” instead of “regular” quilts. 

  • The overall quilt design is not pieced using traditional piecing but is typically pieced using different applique methods.
  • Instead of traditional quilting, many art quilts are stitched using echo quilting or some other simple quilting method. 
  • Some art quilt designs are made entirely from free-motion quilting on a blank background.
  • Many art quilters use a stitching technique called thread painting, which uses thread to add shading and highlights to their designs. 

The most significant difference between art quilts and traditional quilts is that art quilts are meant to be enjoyed as art. An art quilt is intended to be hung on the wall and admired like fine art paintings.

A traditional quilt can be enjoyed as a bed covering or blanket for your loved ones. Wall art quilts are too delicate to be used and washed like a traditional quilt. 

How Do You Design an Art Quilt? 

I’m not about to act like I know everything there is to know about designing an art quilt. However, I have spent a lot of time researching and studying them since I learned about the art form. Here is the breakdown of how to make a simple art quilt. 

1. Choose Your Design

You can use a photo or image as inspiration for your art quilt. I recommend something that has a reasonably simple outline for your first project. Consider a sunset or simple flower arrangement.

2. Choose Your Fabrics

Decide what color palette you want to use and pick your fabrics. Batik fabrics are a popular choice for art quilts since they have varying shades which help with creating a realistic piece of art from fabric. 

3. Draw Your Outline

Drawing might seem daunting, but if you take the image one section at a time, you can do it! Draw out a simple outline of your chosen image on a blank piece of paper the size that you want the finished art piece to be. 

Blank newspaper paper works great for this, or you can tape several pieces of printer paper together to create a larger “canvas.”

4. Trace the Outline on the Back of the Canvas Paper

Flip the paper over that you drew your outline and trace the outline so you get the reverse view of the image. This will be very helpful when you trace the outline onto the back of the fusible glue for the back of the fabrics.

5. Trace the Reverse Image Onto the Back of the Fusible Glue Paper

Lots of tracing, but ensuring everything lines up correctly is necessary. Use the fusible webbing of your choice and trace the reverse outline onto the paper side of the fusible web. 

6. Cut Out the Template Pieces from the Fusible Web

Cut out each template piece from the fusible web. Make sure to be precise while you cut these pieces out.

7. Attach the Fusible Web to the Fabric

Press the fusible web to the corresponding fabrics for each template piece. Ensure you are pressing the fusible glue onto the wrong side of the fabric. 

8. Trace the Outline on Your Foundation Fabric

Trace the original outline onto your foundation fabric using a water-soluble ink pen or pencil. This will help when placing the pieces onto the foundation in the next step. 

9. Press the Fabric to the Foundation Fabric

Now is the fun part of laying out the fabric pieces to create your design. Before you use your iron to press the fabric permanently to the foundation, ensure it is in the correct place and have the fabric layers in the order you want. 

10. Quilt as Desired

Create your quilt sandwich with the art quilt top, batting, and backing fabric, and quilt your art quilt any way you would like. 

11. Bind the Quilt

Bind the quilt like a traditional quilt, and then it is finished!

How Do You Mount Quilt Art?

You can mount an art quilt to hang on the wall in several different ways. Most wall art quilts are smaller, making them perfect for hanging as a piece of art. Here are a few ways you can mount them.

  • Art Canvas. You can glue, stitch or use velcro to attach the quilt to the canvas. 
  • Mat Board. You can glue or tape the quilt to the mat board and then place the mat board into a picture frame and hang it on your wall. 

15 Gorgeous Art Quilts That Are Museum-Worthy

This collection of art quilts will have a mixture of different art styles and designs to give you an idea of what’s possible. The possibilities are endless with a bit of creativity and fabric.

1. Landscape Quilt

landscape quilt art quilts

Here is a gorgeous example of how you can take a photo and turn it into a one-of-a-kind art quilt. The maker shows us the steps she took to create this landscape quilt. She combines fabric, stitching, and fibers to create this amazing modern quilt design.

2. Beach Art Quilt

beach art quilt art quilts

This quilt is a fantastic beginner-friendly art quilt project. The finished quilt measures approximately 24” x 25 ½”, so it’s not a huge project to take on. I would recommend a project like this to anyone who wants to dip their toes into modern art quilts. 

3. Tranquil Morning: Mosaic Art Quilt

tranquil morning art quilts

Here is another beautiful beginner art quilt project. This art quilt would be perfect for using up fabric scraps. This is a mini quilt that measures 8” x 10”.

4. Frog Art Quilt

frog art quilt art quilts

Look at all the different textures on this beautiful quilt. If you look closely, even the frog’s foot is 3D with little flaps of fabric between the toes. This is an excellent example of combining fabric layering and perfectly placed stitches to create a realistic art quilt. 

5. Campfire Art Quilt

campfire art quilt art quilts

A quilt like this vibrant campfire scene would look gorgeous hanging on the living room wall, don’t you think? I love how the maker used tiny squares and combined strategic stitching to make the fire come to life. This quilt measures 15” x 35”.

6. Cats and Cakes

cats and cakes art quilts

Wow, that’s a lot of cats! This is the perfect quilt for all those crazy cat ladies out there. This quilt is called “Tea with Mom” by Naoko Suzuki. She used simple straight-line quilting to allow the cats and cakes to be the focus. 

7. Portrait Art Quilt

portrait art quilt art quilts

Portraits are a popular choice for making an art quilt. A quilt like this would make an excellent birthday or Christmas present. The maker used a fun meander quilting design to add texture to the quilt.

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8. Moonlight Stag

moonlight stag art quilts

Lucy Levenson is a modern folk art designer, and this is one of her many beautiful folk art quilts. She mixes thread painting and collage quilting to create gorgeous, one-of-a-kind art pieces. This quilt is a wonderful example of allowing creativity to come alive and make something colorful and unique.

9. Art Nouveau Quilt

art nouveau quilt art quilts

Art Deco quilts are a little more challenging to find, but I found this gorgeous art nouveau quilt. It features all kinds of foliage and a beautiful woman sitting in a forest. This type of quilt would make a fantastic conversation starter and wall hanging.

10. “Sisters/Best Friends”

sister/best friends art quilts

Can you believe this is fabric and thread and NOT a painting? Sandra L. Mollon made this incredible quilt, which was featured at the 2018 International Quilt Festival. The elephant’s skin has so much texture from different fabrics and stitching techniques. This is art.

11. “Iggy” Art Quilt

iggy art quilts

It’s not surprising that this quilt received so many ribbons. This colorful iguana quilt looks so life-like you can even see the muscles in the lizard’s legs. I’m sure this took well over 100 hours to complete.

12. Song of the Sea

song of the sea art quilts

Here is another art nouveau quilt that features an impressive octopus, fish, and sea plants. The designer pointed out that she created 321 yo-yo tentacle suckers for this quilt, and that’s just one of the elements that make this quilt so eye-catching. I would love to hang something like this on my wall.

13. Hang Ten

hang ten art quilts

This gorgeous quilt by Yvonne Chapman combines fabric layering, stitching, and beading to create this incredible surfer scene. The way the wave is placed, it actually looks like it’s moving. The beading adds to the movement of the water. 

14. Lily Pads and Cattails

lily pads and cattails art quilts

Here are two gorgeous art quilts made by Barbara Strobel that feature lily pads and cattails in a calm pond setting. She used beautiful Batik fabrics to create all of the applique pieces. If you look closely, she did super simple straight-line quilting on both quilts, which won’t distract from the quilt design.

15. The Birches

the birches art quilts

This gorgeous quilt features birch trees right at the beginning of fall. The attention to detail in this quilt is exquisite and speaks to the artistry of the artist who made it. I love the small detail of adding a thin border near the edge of the quilt. It frames the scene beautifully and draws your eye outward from the center. 

I hope you enjoyed these art quilts and they inspired you with their beauty. I am inspired and excited to try this new art form! What is possible with some fabric, thread, and a little creativity is genuinely remarkable.