Interview with: Diane Rusin Doran

I am thrilled to present a one on one interview with one of today’s premiere art quilters, Diane Rusin Doran.

Diane Rusin Doran 2011

Always fascinated by color and fabric, I’ve been sewing since childhood and quilting since 1987.  Focusing on machine techniques, I use piecing, appliqué and digital imagery to create complex, heavily quilted pieces.  My quilts have been exhibited nationally and won awards at a variety of major shows. A background in engineering has led me to use computer generated images and designs for much of my work.


• Quilting Arts TV Series 800 and 900

• Instructional DVD, Digital Collage for Quilt Design from Start to Finishproduced by Interweave Press, 2011



Selected Juried Shows & Exhibitions:

• American Quilter’s Society, Paducah, KY 2001, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2009

• ARTQUILTSimages 2006

• Fine Focus 2002, 2004, 2006

• Hoffman Challenge 1995, 1999

• International Quilt Association, Houston, TX 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011

• Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, Williamsburg, VA 1999, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2009

• Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza 2003, 2006, 2008, 2011

• Quilt Odyssey, Gettysburg, PA 2000, 2003

• Quilter’s Heritage Celebration, Lancaster, PA  2001, 2008

• Quilts By Marylanders, 2001,2002

• Quilts=Art=Quilts 2002

• Road to California, Ontario, CA 2002, 2003, 2007

• World Quilt & Textile, 2001, 2002

Group Exhibitions  & Invitational Exhibits:

• New Focus, Coos Bay Art Museum, December 12, 2008 – February 21, 2009

• The Art of the Quilt, Piedmont Arts Association, Martinsville, Virginia, November 7 – December 27, 2008

• Fiberlectic Group Show, Howard County Community College, May-June 2005

• Greenbelt Federal Courthouse, 2005,2007,2010 Invitational exhibit

• Del Ray Artisans Gallery, June 2003 (With Q&A Quilt Art Group)

• Q&A Quilt Art Group Show, Middleburg Library, Middleburg, VA November 2002

Debra: Diane, I would like to thank you for taking time to give my blog followers a snapshot of you amazing talent. I must say I have been influenced by your work’s precision, and vivid color palette, not to mention your impeccable free motion stitching. When did you start sewing and what brought you to art quilting?

Thank you so much for interviewing me! I started sewing at a very early age – probably when I was 8 or so. My mother made amazing clothing for the four of us (two boys and two girls), including lined suits for my brothers for Easter. Her example and guidance led me to make many of my own clothes up until my mid-twenties – when I found quilting! I started as a traditional quilter in the late 1980’s, and gradually segued to art quilting in the late 1990’s.

Return of the Grackle 2010

DG: Can you explain your intentions before you set out to make a new piece?

Sometimes I make a piece for a specific exhibit, show, or charitable event. However, usually my pieces grow from a fascination with a particular image.  I spend many hours combining a variety of images – photographs, paintings, drawings, previously manipulated files  – until I end up with something that I love. I have thousands of images on my computer, but only quilt those that really strike me, and would benefit from the additional line and texture of quilting.

DG: Has this always been your process? Or has the process evolved over the years?

 Diane: This process has evolved somewhat over the years. Though I have been designing my own quilts for a very long time, I first began using digital manipulation in my work around 2000. My original digital pieces were single photographs or scans that were manipulated in a single layer. Most of my pieces now are composed of many different layers.

Debra: Is there now, or has there ever been a time when you are apprehensive about starting a piece of art? Or a time in which you were concerned about the outcome of the piece?

 Diane: Because I spend so much time designing my work before printing it I’m usually not apprehensive about starting it. Occasionally there has been a technical issue that concerned me, especially when I first began making larger pieces from digital images, but now the process is fairly straight forward to me. There is always a moment (or more!) of apprehension about whether the quilting design, line, and color will enhance the piece. It’s hard to quilt that first part, breaking up the pristine surface of the digital image, but usually the more I quilt it the better it gets. In particular, the color of the thread can make a tremendous difference in the final impact of the piece.

Debra: Because we are close personal friends, I know you went to school and had a career as an engineer. Can you tell us what kind of engineering you have done and how that has played into your quilts – if it has.

Diane: Back in the heyday of the Space Shuttle program I was part of the ascent trajectory design team. I also analyzed wind loads during launches to support Mission Control, worked on the design and verification of onboard flight software, and provided software support for satellite data analysis. I have a natural tendency to pay attention to details, and analyze things. This has served me well in my quilting endeavors. Having so much computer experience has made me pretty fearless in terms of experimenting with a variety of software. Being detail oriented has compelled me to always try to use my best craftsmanship, which has in turn encouraged me to improve my skills.

Last Dance 2008

Debra: I know photoshop is you choice of imagery manipulation. Can you tell readers the pluses and minuses of using photoshop. Can you talk about the learning curve and give advise to those artists who might be interested in trying to use PS for the first time.

Diane: I truly love being able to layer and combine many images to create a unique final product. The ability to add highlights, shadows, transparency and gradients is simply wonderful. However,  I would not call it an intuitive program! I advise anyone who wants to use it to experiment and *play* with the program. Give yourself time to figure out what effects appeal to you, and make note of them so that you can repeat them.  I’ve spent countless hours playing with it to determine what works in my design process, and  continually stumble on new features that I like. I often name the layers in my pieces based on what I’ve done to that layer – for instance “background copy screen” or “bird posteredges”. We are so lucky to have access to countless online tutorials and videos that show how to create various effects in Photoshop – take advantage of them! Finally, as a relatively frugal person I love that I can design countless compositions, using only time and computer memory, but only print what I really want to quilt. Try working in Photoshop or Elements and  I bet in no time you’ll have your own library of personal imagery.

Debra: When did you first get the idea of using digital imagery on cloth?

Diane: The idea of creating my own designs on fabric has always fascinated me. Back in the late 1990’s, before printers were really able to produce good prints on fabric, I anticipated that the technology would eventually be available. I can remember creating and printing several designs on paper that I thought would make great fabrics, and showing them to some quilting friends. They were not compositions, but rather designs. In 2001 I created a digital piece that was in Fine Focus. That was the first digital piece that I exhibited, though I’d been exhibiting quilts made from commercial fabric for several years.

Debra: When I was 5-6 years old one of my favorite things to do was to swing on a homemade wooden swing from a huge tall oak tree in my back yard. I would literally sit and swing and sing and have a grand time for HOURS! That peace, freedom and splice is one of my fondest childhood memories. I now know that it was “creative” time and it was meditative, even at 5. What can you remember about when you were 5-6 years old, that just by thinking about it, can bring you back to that time?

Diane: My mother used to make lots of crafts in addition to her sewing expertise. Thinking about her enthusiasm and patience certainly brings me back to that time. I particularly remember how magical it seemed when I would come home from school and she had made me a new dress or outfit during the day.I also had a wonderful recurring dream. I was fascinated by umbrellas, particularly the fancy ones. I would dream that I had an umbrella factory in our basement, and each umbrella I created was unique and beautiful.  I would love to have that dream again.

Bog Lilies 2008

Debra: Who do you specifically create you art for?

Diane: Me!! However, of course I love it when my work appeals to other people. I really means a lot to me when someone admires or is touched by my work.

Debra: Is there a message in your art

Diane: To quote Madonna “Beauty’s where you find it!”. Some of the images I use in my collages are not terribly appealing on their own, but when combined with other images may be just the spark or counter point needed.  Keep your eyes open and try to find beauty in your own surroundings.

Debra: I know you are VERY accomplished and have won many top quilting prizes. Do you have any tips for quilters submitting quilt entries into national competitions?

Diane: Be passionate about your work, and that passion will shine through it. You can’t control how others react to your design or color choices, but you can control your workmanship. Take the extra time to do your best work, and it will pay off in the end. Everyone who enters competitions has been rejected or not won at some point. Just keep trying and you never know what may happen!

Debra: I would like to play a silly association game with you to wrap up that I have played with previous artists that I have interviewed. Below I will list a list of words. Without planning please just write what first comes to mind. Here we go…

Inspiration: nature

Sky: blue

Obama: smart

Pie: pumpkin

Intentions: good

Why: not?

Women: rock

Shy: child

Men: tall

Cry: me a river

Historical Figure: Abraham Lincoln

Sigh: big

Torment: burying knots

High: note

Energy: bar

Bye: Bye Birdie

Debra: Diane thank you so much. One last question….Do you have a personal mantra? If so what is that mantra? If not what do you want to say to the people reading this blog.

Diane: Do your best, that’s all that anyone can ask of you!  Thank you so much, Debra!

  Thanks Diane!

Diane has a WONDERFUL NEW Video out about Digital Imagery! Check it out!! More can be found out about Diane on her website and blog at;


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Karin
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 14:55:09

    Thank you Debra, for introducing me to such a smart, creative & talented lady! When I saw her grackle (and we have LOTS of ’em, here in South Texas), my jaw dropped and I said WOW. Then I read her engineering answer, and I about had to pick it (my jaw, not my computer, thank Goodness) up off the floor! And she’s pretty, too! Not that I’m jealous or anything, nooooo……I still have my puppy, who loves me forever, no matter what, as long as I have food! 🙂


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