Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

Judith Baker Montano
Fibre Artist and originator of the "Centerpiece Crazy Quilt Method"
By Rita Vainius

The Alberta foothills, lying in the embrace of the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains are home to Judith Baker Montano. It is a place where, as Judith claims, "Once you have lived in this area, no matter where you roam or for how long, this glorious region will, like the sirens, call you back."


 Elegant Stitches Floral Stitches 

Judith's great grandparents immigrated to Canada in the early 1900's. Judith's father, James Allen Baker, built up a huge cattle ranch, The Bar U, and farm auctioneering business in the High River area, bordering on Indian reservation territory. Judith acquired her father's work ethic along with her mother, Joyce Van Winckle's, artistic bent. Joyce was a wizard with any type of needlework and sewing.

Detail of Crazy Quilt Friends

Growing up on the ranch, Judith had 2 secret places to draw and sketch. "A blank page and a fistful of crayons were my favorite toys," she says. One of her first encounters with the use of embellishments was watching Dorothy Lefthand, the wife of their ranch foreman, a Stoney Indian chief, engaged in beadwork done on leather jackets and gloves. Thus began Judith's passion for beads and vivid colors. It was only much later in life that Judith discovered her own Cherokee heritage. She reveals, "It was a relief to discover my Indian roots because I have always felt different from others. My Indian heritage is a great source of pride and this is expressed in a lot of my artwork."


Keeper of the Sacred Shield
Art Garment

Others sources of artistic influence followed: Bert Smith, an oil painter and Charlie Beil and Charlie Russell, both painters and sculptors, whom Judith met while working at the Banff Springs Hotel. Taking art lessons with Charlie Beil was one turning point in Judith's life. Thereafter, she began using pen and ink for sketching. Johnny Hodges, a saddle maker provided artistic inspiration, as did Duncan Crockford, a world-renowned painter, commissioned by Judith's father to paint the Bar U Ranch foothills. Duncan wholeheartedly supported Judith in her artistic pursuits, much to her family's dismay as they were convinced that all artists were bound to starve to death in garrets. Duncan proclaimed, "Don't listen to the nay sayers lassie, follow your heart," a path that Judith has always doggedly followed.

Pekisko Memories

Another turning point in Judith's life came while attending Trinidad Junior College, CO. She enrolled in some art classes and met the man who would become her mentor: Bill Johnson, chairman of the art department. Early in his own career, he had been an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post. From their first meeting, there was mutual admiration and a special rapport developed between them. Many years later, after Judith had published her first book, Bill's reaction was, "Well Baker, you got married and you had kids and got fat but by God you are using your talent and I'm proud of you." Judith graduated not from Trinidad College, but from the University of California at Chico with a degree in art and journalism.

Award Winning Quilt
Made by Judith's Great Grandmother

Judith's involvement with quilting began with the birth of her son. Though a lifelong artist she had virtually no interest or experience in needlework even though her own mother and the women on Judith's father's side of the family were well known for their beautiful needlework and quilts. Judith's first attempt was a king-size Ohio Star quilt. She now maintains, "All I can say about this quilt is that was very busy and rather ugly." Her next project involved the appliqué of animals onto a single bed quilt. She comments, "This too was rather ugly and never did get finished." Not to be deterred from any challenge she set herself, Judith went on to win her first quilt award for a Blanche Young Trip-Around-the-World design, which she entered into The Calgary Exhibition and Stampede in 1982. It won Best of Show ­ the very same award her great grandmother, Lola Devore Burns, had won in 1934. Other award winning quilts followed. "Peskito Memories," an appliqué quilt depicting her childhood home, won Best of Show at the Texas State Fair and Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, BC, as well as the Mountain Mist award, The Margaret Steel award for design and color, plus many more.

Trip-Around-the-World Quilt
Adapted from a design by Blanche Young

Crazy quilting is actually part of Judith's heritage. Once while rummaging through a chest, which belonged to grandmother Baker, Judith found a crazy quilt her grandmother had made. This heirloom holds special significance as Judith feels a unique bond with her grandmother. She says, "Crazy quilting is a special love of mine, the answer to all my diverse pleasures. What other handcraft combines embroidery, sewing, appliqué, laces, buttons, ribbons, beading, painting and color design? Though other crafts may distract me, I am always drawn back to crazy quilts. They remind me of mysterious, glittering jewels, like gypsy cousins peeking out from a patchwork of traditional sister quilts."

Detail of Recollections of Love

While living in Houston, TX, in 1976, Judith enrolled in a quilting class but she eventually tired of the rigidity of traditional quilting and yearned to apply some crazy quilting techniques employing fabrics besides cottons and using more a more free-form approach. As her quilting teacher belittled the crazy quilt look, how-to books were not readily available and crazy quilting was not popular at the time, Judith decided to teach herself. The first piece she made was a sixteen-inch square, which later became the cover for a small footstool. She says almost apologetically, "It was a pathetic effort but I rather enjoyed the process." She found the appliqué work easy but found doing the embroidery stitches very difficult and exceptionally frustrating, making her wish that she had paid more attention when her mother had tried teaching her embroidery as a child. The next project was a vest made of old silk ties that also fell short of her standards, but which she has kept as a lesson in humility! Judith kept at it, continually practicing and improving her technique. What followed has made Judith into a household name for countless confirmed crazy quilters worldwide and her effort have made a considerable impact on the ongoing revitalization of embellished quilting and related textile arts.

Crazy Quilt Collage
Made for an Australian friend

Not only did Judith perfect existing techniques, she even invented an original method for creating the fabric foundation, which she named the Montano Centerpiece Method, a five-sided centerpiece method for piecing traditional crazy quilts. As Judith always considered doing the embellishments the best and most enjoyable part of crazy quilting, the base work for piecing the foundation is done by machine. She adds, "Over the years this method has become associated with crazy quilting and may people think this is how the Victorian woman applied their fabrics to the base fabric but I can assure you the centerpiece method was perfected by a dyslectic artist who came up with the idea through lots of trial and error."

Spirit Shield

Judith applies the same artistic principles to crazy quilting as she would to any other art medium. Because of the numerous combinations of fabrics, stitches and embellishments used, it is vitally important to have a balance of texture, patterns and solids when creating the pieced block. Using rich fabrics, colours, embroidery, beading, silk ribbon and punch needle for both foundation and embellishment, Judith's pieces have a unique style all their own. Along with the ethnic, geographic and artistic influences Judith benefited from while growing up, she attributes other aspects which give her work such a distinctive look to eight years spent overseas in England, Germany and Japan. Judith's career in art has taken her from painting to quilting, to crazy quilting and embellished embroidery work. Although it keeps evolving, crazy quilting is a staple element in her new designs, which reflect both the traditions of past crazy quilting and contemporary aesthetics.

Detail of Outfit
Created from Vogue pattern using Japanese Obi fabrics
And highly decorated with silk buttonhole twist

In addition to Judith's numerous books on stitching and crazy quilting, she has also completed first novel Recollections, a tender story of the family ties and heritage, which feature so prominently in her work. Sketches and watercolours by Kristine Smith and collages by Judith herself interweave the chapters. A Silk Ribbon Kit Line has been designed by Judith for C & T Publishers, as well as a gift line of wrapping paper, cards, gift enclosures, journals and gift boxes, taken from both her novel and her art pieces.

Detail of Silk Ribbon Floral Embroidery

An accomplished and renowned fiber artist, Judith is in great demand as a teacher and lecturer, moving with ease through the embroidery, quilting and fiber art worlds. Assignments have taken her throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan. Classes offered have included clothing design, crazy quilting, embellishments and silk ribbon embroidery. When not on the road, Judith works from her home studio in LaVeta, CO and spends the winter months in Los Angeles, CA.

Detail of Landscape Design

In closing, Judith reveals the significance of stitching in any woman's life, not least her own, "Our stitches reveal our influences and our environment. When a woman sits down to her stitching, she is not thinking, 'Here in my hands lies my contribution to history, my link to past and future.' But give it some thought. Pieces of a prom dress, an aunt's silk handkerchief, a section of Uncle Bill's favorite vest: all are cut and arranged in a pleasing design to show the sentimental pieces. From a mother's gift to a family treasure, sharing your life through a bit of stitching creates a romantic token that becomes your family's history."

The Crazy Quilt Handbook

Art and Inspirations by Judith Baker Montano
The Crazy Quilt Handbook by Judith Baker Montano
Elegant Stitches by Judith Baker Montano
Floral Stitches by Judith Baker Montano
Crazy Quilt Odyssey by Judith Baker Montano
The Art of Silk Ribbon Embroidery by Judith Baker Montano

Art and Inspirations

For Classes, Lectures and Commission information contact Judith Baker Montano: at:
c/o Judith Designs
P.O.Box 1123
LaVeta, CO 81055

or winter address:
1617 Donaldson Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026

For book information contact:
C & T Publishing
P.O. Box 1456,
Lafayette, CA 94549
Phone: (800) 284 1114
Website http://www.ctpub.com

© 2001 The Caron Collection / Voice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

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