To Dye For

WELL-LIGHTED PLACE: Johnston's studio at her home in Lake Oswego, Ore., features lots of natural light, and walls and sliding closet doors where she can "audition" fabrics. Photo: Andy Batt

Think of a quilt store and the spectrum its bolts of calico represent. No disrespect meant, but Ann Johnston is done with that. A quilter for 35 years, she now works with fabrics entirely of her own dyeing—each swath of cotton broadcloth and billow of silk unlike any other. "I can paint the cloth like a painter," says Johnson, '69, and the result is "soft—not stiff like canvas—and ready to be stitched." 

A red, beige and purple abstract design with beige antlers down the middle."Opening up" detail. (Photo: Courtesy Ann Johnston)Her work lives at a tricky intersection where quilters tend to ask, Why don't you just frame that painting, and painters tend to ask, Why do you have to sew that? The answer to both questions is that "the dimension of stitching is what makes it" work in her eyes. "Opening Up," detail Courtesy Ann Johnston 

Johnston creates, teaches and writes instructional books such as The Quilter's Book of Design at her home in Lake Oswego, Ore. Her studio features a wall and sliding panels where she "auditions" her fabric, sometimes working on a dozen projects at a time. A fuller rendering of the above image. "Opening up," 14 by 21 inches, 2009. (Photo: Courtesy Ann Johnston)Across the room there's a long-arm quilting machine—a combination of computerized sewing machine and 10-foot-wide quilt table. She bought it about six years ago. "I had to decide how much of a professional I was. Did I want to buy a car or the sewing machine?"