January, usually over the MLK day holiday weekend, Lynn
and I go to Asheville, North Carolina for a short getaway
(well, depending on how many children we're forced to
take with us). January is the dead off-season for
Asheville, and there's not much going on, but that's how
we like it. Motel rooms are cheap, the churches are
lovely, and the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway
is always open. We usually go there Sunday morning and
wander through the galleries and the gift shop for a
pleasant hour or more.
This last time, as we wandered up the ramp to the upper
gallery, we encountered some small framed quilted pieces
made from the prints of actual leaves. An elaborate
process for transferring the plant dyes was detailed in
the accompanying narrative, and the name of the artist
was Iris Aycock, a name I knew -- from somewhere.
A few minutes later we spotted a gorgeous full-sized
quilt on the far wall made from the same technique, and I
remembered that Iris Aycock's name appeared in my
subscriber database for this publication. She'd been a
TVQ subscriber almost since the first issue, but this was
the first time I had encountered her work. After
returning home I e-mailed her (she lives in Alabama) and
she agreed to assist me in doing a profile.
"Quilting has been familiar to me all my life,"
Iris says. "Not the construction - but quilts have
been part of my life. My grandmother made quilts perhaps
because they were needed (she was not alive when I was
born, so I didn't know her, but I slept with quilts that
she had made when I was small). My mother made quilts as
gifts for her children and others. Quilt making wasn't a
dominant factor in her life, as she also gardened, wrote,
painted, and collected just about everything! I made
quilts when my children were young - one for each - but
am ashamed to say that I haven't finished the third one
(almost 29 years after the start of it). I haven't spent
those years in between making quilts, instead I have been
involved in photography and weaving (amateur for both
activities). My interest in weaving led me back to
Asked to characterize her quilting style,
Iris says straightforwardly "I consider that I make
quilted botanical prints. . . . One of my weaving
magazines had an article on hammering leaves onto fabric.
I tried their technique, wasn't completely happy with the
results, but was intrigued with the idea of leaf
printing. I researched all the books on natural dyeing I
could find. I also read dye catalogs and wondered if
products that other people used as auxiliaries with
synthetic dyes could help me do what I wanted to
"Through much experimentation (several years of
off-and-on trials) I came up with my own technique for
making leaf prints on fabric. My technique is detailed
(with many others) in Jean Ray Laury's Imagery on Fabric.
I also wrote an article which appeared in the Spring 1996
issue of American Quilters Magazine.
"I made a few leaf quilts (for my children and yes,
the youngest who hasn't gotten her childhood quilt got
the first one this time!) I decided to make one more for
myself, felt so good about it that I entered it in the
AQS show for 1994. At age 59, I entered my first quilt
show and won the award for Best Wall Quilt. My quilt is
now a part of the permanent collection of the Museum of
the American Quilters Society in Paducah, KY.
"My next big challenge was to apply to the Southern
Highland Craft Guild (Headquartered in Asheville). I was
admitted to membership through a jurying process and was
elated to make it in on my second try. I currently sell
my work at the twice annual Fair of the Southern
Highlands held in Asheville and through the Guild shops,
(Allenstand at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge
Parkway, Guild Crafts in Asheville, Parkway Craft Center
on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Arrowcraft in
"I do whatever I
can to enhance the leaf image. After acquiring the image,
I add penwork to enhance veins and irregularities in the
leaf (the imperfect leaves are the interesting ones to
me). The quilting is done to add dimension to the leaves.
I quilt the leaves using a smoke invisible thread; the
background is usually stipple quilted rather closely to
provide a textured setting for the leaves, not be a
feature in itself. I quilt on a home machine; I wish it
had an industrial motor.
"I'm not sure my quilts fit the current idea of art
quilts - I'm certainly not a traditionalist - although I
have made a few in a traditional style using leaves where
antique quilts have used appliqued fabric.
"When I started making these leaf quilts it was a
point of pride to say that all my border fabrics were
dyed with plants from around my home. I have since begun
to use commercially available dyes and paints for the
border fabrics. I find I can achieve a more organic
'look' with these than I could with natural dyes.
Besides, it is a lot more fun than standing over a hot
stove in June or July when I have a deadline. The
synthetics aren't seasonal; this lets me play around with
fabrics and dye when I have a lull in work.
"My weaving is one of those things that I will get
back to - in the meantime our cats love the half-finished
rug on the loom. It makes a great hammock for them."
Although her artistic technique is in many ways very
"low tech," Iris does make use of a computer in
her work. "I use my computer to do some of 'dog
work' tasks for my work - making labels, keeping records,
helping with border quilting designs. I like to work with
real leaves to make quilting designs for my quilt
borders. These are arranged in the space I have available
for that border for part of the length of the border,
then I trace off the dominant lines to create a design,
scan it in, then I take in into PhotoPaint and use the
symmetry filters to help with the corner designs and
finally flip and flop the leaves to create the design for
the whole border. I then have that file I can print out
later to fill another size border."
Iris is also internet active, as her subscription to TVQ
would indicate, but she doesn't complain that it keeps
her away from her quilting. "I 'lurk' on a few lists
online, but I read these slowly, usually a month or more
behind. I spend just about all my time on some aspect of
my work. I became focused rather late in life; I have so
many things I have yet to try."
For someone so "late to focus," Iris has many
honors for her unique quilts. In addition to her Southern
Highlands and AQS accomplishments, her quilts have been
or are on display in a variety of places. "I have
had quilts in the NQA show, was in a two-person show a
couple of years ago in the Focus Gallery at the Folk Art
Center; I have twice had quilts on loan to the
Appalachian Regional Center in Washington, D.C. and
currently have work included in the Art in Embassies
Program of the U.S. Department of State. A quilt of mine
is currently exhibited in the American Embassy in Canada.
My work was profiled in the Sept/Oct, 1996 Fiber Arts
magazine and A Quilters Gallery, by Marie Salazar,"
as well as in Laury's book.
Asked if she ever teaches her technique, Iris says:
"I have spoken to a few quilt guilds, but at present
I prefer to concentrate on making work. I enjoy going to
Asheville twice a year for the Fair. I talk to people in
my booth all day, for four days, teaching if they are
interested. I get to meet a wide range of people and I
look forward to these trips."
So if you want to get to know Iris in person, and learn
more about her technique, you'll probably need to go to
Asheville in July or October. The motel rooms won't be at
rock bottom, but the crafts will be on display and
quilting's Mistress of Botanicals will be there to share