She’s spiraling into control

Carol Olsen’s whorled patterns adorn a quilt to be sold at auction.

A quartet of quilters donate works to this year’s Auction for the Arts, the Oct. 23 benefit for Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council, Bainbridge Chorale and Bainbridge Per­forming Arts.

Wanda Rains, Maggie Ball, Jeannie McMacken and Carol Olsen each designed a quilt for the auction. For Olsen, whose work “Labyrinth II” features images of spirals, the event is also a chance to try out some new techniques.

“On this particular piece, I did a lot of new things I’d never done before,” Olsen said. “For instance, I actually stamped the quilt with circles in gold paint.”

Olsen carved a rubber stamp into a circle with striations. Then she scanned the stamp and used software to digitize the pattern, which was downloaded to her embroidery machine to duplicate the image in thread – ghostly embroidered circles that float in the background among the stamped images.

“Most people digitize patterns that are already done, patterns you can buy, flowers, fish, whatever,” she said. “I want to do my own.”

Doing things her way has been a theme of Olsen’s 17 years of quilting. With a degree in mathematics from University of California at Irvine but no formal art training, she is a software development consultant, most recently at the Navy’s Undersea Warfare Center at Keyport.

Her job has encouraged her creativity.

“Software, in a way, is very open-ended,” she said. “There’s a million different ways you can solve a given problem. Someone says, ‘build that for me.’ But you can go at that from a lot of different directions.”

When she began making quilts following traditional patterns, it only took her two years to venture off the beaten track.

“I had picked up a book on fabric dyeing,” Olsen said, “and I went to my quilt guild and said, ‘does anyone know anything about this because I’m not having very good results.’ And nobody raised their hand. And so I started experimenting on my own.”

By trial and error, she learned how to combine the right variables, how to use fiber-reactive dyes on unfinished cotton that had been treated with chemicals to open the pores of the material, a process known as “mercerizing.”

“Eventually I got to be a pretty good dyer,” she said.

She soon became proficient enough to sell her hand-dyed fabric to other quilters at quilt shows.

Olsen joined the Contemporary Quilt Arts Group in Seattle. Being part of a group that stressed innovation offered license to shake free of the traditional forms.

“That gave me permission to do anything I wanted – these people were doing very interesting contemporary work,” she said.

She made quilts with abstract forms appliquéd, embroidered and hand-stamped. The quilt she made for Auction for the Arts uses the spiral, one of her favorites.

One finds evidence of her affection for the circular form in her studio. A spiral of hand-prints graces a quilt on one wall. The clock hung on another wall has a spiral pendulum swinging back and forth.

Olsen might wear the emblem; a favorite shirt has a similar pattern.

“The spiral is a favorite theme of mine,” she said, “I don’t know why I like that, but I like it a lot. It’s just sort of an instinctive thing, I guess. I think that’s one reason I like quilting – my kind of quilting. it has nothing to do with computers. It has nothing to do with anything precise.

“When I get into this, I can just go where my mind takes me.”

* * * * *

Gala affair

The seventh Auction for the Arts returns to Kiana Lodge for the 2004 event Oct. 23. The event supports the educational and cultural missions of four major arts organizations on Bainbridge with proceeds from a reception and dinner, followed by a live and silent auction with auctioneer Laura Michalek.

This year’s highlights include trips to Tanzania, Costa Rica, Paris, Cabo San Lucas, Provence and Mazatlan.

Art abounds, with more than 50 donated works from antique beads to a 22-foot kinetic sculpture with swinging seats.

And so much more that a new “almost live” section has been added.

Silent auction 5 p.m.; live auction and dinner 7 p.m. No tickets at the door. While tickets for the event are gone, individuals who register online at still have a good chance of attending, organizers say.

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