2018 Pacific International Quilt Festival

I love seeing exhibitions of quilts in museums, and enjoy visiting quilt museums. Those  usually provide contemplative, intimate experiences, by allowing the visitor to examine quilts up close while surrounded by a peaceful quiet.

Quilt shows, however, are an entirely different beast. Crowded, noisy, brightly-lit and packed-full with amazing works of art and an array of booths, quilt shows are a sensual overload.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the 2018 Pacific International Quilt Festival at the Santa Clara Conventions Center. I came out exhausted and energized at the same time. The show displays a huge array of quilts of many different kinds and techniques, made by people from all over the world. It gives a glimpse of human creativity that is truly inspiring!

I was awed by many quilts at this show, and wish I could shown you all of them. Sadly, I can only share a few here. Choosing which ones was not easy!

Some quilts had elaborate patterns and intricate quilting. This is “Majestic Mosaic” by Joyce Payment:

And this is “Marie’s Treasure” by Marilyn Badger:

And up close:

Karen Eaton Garth’s “Reborn” had truly impressive quilting as well:

“Exploring Colour” by Catherine McDonald had beautiful stitching with a different flavor:

And up close:

Sandi Stone’s “The Thread and Nothing but the Thread” was a very different kind of quilt. Hers was made not of patched fabric but .. of quilted thread!

As you can see up close:

Kimberly Lacy’s “Sunset on Coyote Buttes Mosaic” truly did look like a mosaic, and probably incorporated fabric paint:

Some quilts were magical. This is “Do Dragons Like Cookies” by Tanya Brown:

There were many impressive quilts of animals, such as Leigh Layton’s “Jag,” which included a lot of machine embroidery:

“Sisters/Best Friends” by Sandra L. Mollon:

“Keeping Up Appearances” by Jan Reed:

Or “Heron’s garden” by Susan Smith:

I also liked the shredded fabric that Hiroko Soeta used to create “Peacock:”

There were quilts that used traditional imagery from other parts of the world. This is “African Sunset” by Claire Wallace:

Some were modern, like Ziva Keidar’s “Movements Catalog:”

Pat Archibald’s “Hong Kong:”

Or Kristin Shields “Rhythm of the Rails:”

There were even political quilts made by high school students:

Some quilts were fun and whimsical, like “Strut Your Stuff” by Sheila Collins:

“Portrait: Holiday Relatives” by Lynn Dinelli (who was even there!):

“Face by Ahni” by Eleanor Balaban and Marina Baudoin:

And there was even a quilt of a quilt show: “Show Time!” by Cynthia England:

One of the quilts that impressed me most was “Reflections of Cape Town,” which took Cynthia England a year and 8,400 fabric pieces to make! This is me admiring this quilt:

And the quilt itself, which could be mistaken for a photo from afar:

And up close:

Even the back of this masterpiece was pretty!

Did I give you enough reasons to go? If not, perhaps mentioning the many vendor booths might help: quilt lovers, you can find everything here, from thread to fabric to patterns to machines to finished artworks, and even clothes and accessories!

The show runs through Sunday (Oct. 14th), so if you’re in the Bay Area and have time to spare this weekend, make sure to go!

Dare! My New Moths and Butterfly Quilt

I’ve been working on my moths and butterfly quilt for the last few weeks, and I finally finished it yesterday! Today I wanted to share not only the final result, but also the process that went into its making.

I call this quilt Dare!, and it is a tribute to anyone who ever took a stand, both big and small.

Thought Process

The idea for this quilt has been brewing in my mind for many months. It changed over time, of course, as most ideas do.

It first sprouted during my visit to the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland over a year ago. There is a very large display of Lepidoptera at the museum. The moths and butterflies there are arranged neatly in rectangular glass displays, old-fashioned way. Seeing them all together, beautiful and diverse, is striking. At first, I just wanted to make a quilt to convey that beauty. The composition that formed in my mind mimicked the glass displays.

With time, however, this imaginary quilt gained more meaning. Instead of a random array of pretty butterflies, I started thinking of many moths, all dreary and the same, going in one direction, as opposed to one gorgeous, colorful butterfly going the other way. I wanted to proclaim that some things are worth being different for, standing up for, fighting for.

These can be mundane things, like opposing an illogical school rule that everyone else obeys (mom, you know what I’m talking about!), or liking and wearing colorful clothing when everyone around you wears black. In a way, this is what I do with ANY Texture: I make bright and colorful accessories even when the prevailing trends call for a lot less color, only because I like colors and think the world needs more of them. That is one reason why my butterfly is colorful and the moths aren’t.

Of course, there are more meaningful things that call for resisting trends. We each have our own list of those. Here is but one example from my own, long list: I live in Silicon Valley, where being a tech person is valued, but being an artist isn’t. I still chose to be an artist. My choice, although right for me, came with consequences and a price. It also resulted in constant pressure, sometimes explicit and sometimes less so. That is one reason why there are many moths, going in one direction, but only one butterfly, going her own way.

Then there are the really important issues. Again, we each have a personal list of those. One of the issues important to me is the global struggle for women’s rights. Signs of gender inequality are all over the place, unfortunately, even in our twenty-first century. Take the tech industry, for example, which is close to home here. Women in the tech world are still a minority, and are still payed less. Only recently, when we thought it was all behind us, there was a fresh challenge to women’s place in the tech world… Some of my good female friends are computer scientists. I wanted to tell them, my daughters and women around the world that it’s OK to be a woman and choose your own way.

The glass ceiling women are facing on all fronts has cracked a little, maybe, but is still far from breaking. You need not look further than the results of the latest elections to realize there is yet a long way to go, even here in the Western world. Things are a lot worse for women in many other parts of the globe. That is why my butterfly is female, as opposed to the male moths. She is also strong, daring, and pushing her way. She has to.

Although I’ve been planning this quilt for a while, I started working on it obsessively only recently. This happened mostly because of what I’ve been seeing in the news. Some things, you see, are SO important, that they brush everything else aside. Current events seem to assail us from all directions. Bad news are pouring in from all parts of the world. We can’t do much about natural disasters, but there is a lot we can do to fight some people’s assaults on human dignity. Each and every one of us must stand up to hatred, bigotry, prejudice, racism, antisemitism, homophobia and all other types of human narrow-mindedness and evil. We must all work together to ensure the survival of humanity and keep the planet on which we depend healthy and safe.

This is what this quilt is about. It is about having the courage to be different, to stand up to pressure, to resist. It’s about finding beauty, color and positivity amid ugliness and negativity. It’s about soaring above pettiness. Most of all, it’s about hope.

When I started planning this quilt, I was thinking of making the moths in shades of blue and the butterfly in purples and magentas, my favorite colors. But recent events changed my color pallet. They turned the moths black. And somewhat military-looking.

The Making Process

I started the quilt by selecting fabrics. I chose an increasingly brighter spectrum for the background, to indicate that there is light at the head of the tunnel, hope:

Then I selected fabrics for the moths, all in shades of black, gray and gold. The colors of authoritarianism.

I stitched the background fabrics together, then went on the internet to do some research on moths.

I didn’t know much about them, really. In my mind I had a picture of drab winged creatures, like the ones you see when you turn the lights on in the middle of the night. I wanted to see what they looked like exactly, the details of them, so that I could recreate some convincing-looking ones. It didn’t take long for me to stand corrected. Some moths, it turned out, are absolutely glorious! Some are large, beautiful creatures, prettier than many butterflies. In fact, the differences between moths and butterflies are minor. You need to be an expert to sometimes tell them apart. Thus, in my effort to fight prejudice I was confronted with some prejudices of my own!

This changed my plans somewhat. I now had to make my moths a lot nicer than I had originally intended to, and more diverse! So I sketched some out on a scrap of paper, and proceeded to cut the moths out and pin them onto the background:

I then stitched them on, both by machine and by hand, and manually embroidered some of the details:

I slowly completed eight moths:

Once that was done, I needed to turn this into a quilt by sandwiching the top to a batting and a backing:

I quilted the piece together by hand, since my machine cannot handle such a thick sandwich. It’s been a while since I completed my last upholstery quilt, and I forgot how taxing quilting thick fabrics by hand can be! Once again, I forgot to use thimbles, and boy, did I feel it later!!

The quilting was solely utilitarian. It had to hold all the layers together, not to give visual interest. Upholstery fabrics are too thick, too stiff, and too textured to enable detailed quilting… Finally, I finished by pinning the border and stitching all around:

You will note that I left one space open, for my butterfly. So now I started practicing making three-dimensional textile butterflies. That took a while, and several tries. When I finally knew how to make her, I needed to settle on a color. Purple and magenta didn’t seem to go with the blacks, grays and golds of the months. They were also too mild. I wanted something more outstanding. More DARING.

I contemplated this for a few days, comparing different colors and fabrics. In the end, I decided to go with silk, to make my butterfly more majestic. The silk’s smooth texture also stood in contrast to the moths’ mostly rough, upholstery feel. I chose a deep red for the upper wings and orange for the lower. The red seemed the most contrasting to the colors of the moths. The orange gave the creature more color, life and vitality. It also made it more conspicuous. The orange silk came from one of the fabrics I recently saved from my late mother-in-law’s estate. This made the quilt more personal, as if by doing so I was able to weave a piece of my mother in law into it…

Once finished, I sewed the butterfly onto the quilt:

And there it was, my finished quilt, a call for action, intended to empower and provide hope at the same time.

Since she’s already a part of this work, I dedicate this quilt to the memory of my late mother in law, a strong, willful woman who did things her way all the way to the end.

Falling Leaves Art Quilt

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent every free moment in my sewing room, laboring over my Renaissance Totes. I really wanted to get them finished in time for the German Holiday Market (tomorrow!), and did my utmost to make that happen. However, I couldn’t help but start another project on the side. I never thought I’ll manage to complete that, as well, but miraculously I did!

ANY Texture Falling Leaves art quilt

This all started when, around Thanksgiving, my workroom started to feel like a golden cathedral. The culprit was our maple tree, which remained persistently green until a day or two before Turkey Day, whence upon it metamorphosed seemingly overnight to its most glamorous state.

Being right outside my studio’s window, the tree overwhelmed the room, filling its windows and door with breath-taking reds and yellows, and shining golden light onto everything. My quiet sewing moments thus turned into a truly spiritual, almost meditative experience. In the presence of this awe-inspiring natural beauty I felt like the most lucky person on earth.

The maple tree outside my studio window

My maple tree in full glory

Beautiful fall leaves

Despite being engrossed with my new tote series, I felt compelled to do something with those leaves. And so, encouraged by my “Give a Hand” quilt, I started working on a smaller, “Falling Leaves” wall hanging. Since it required many relatively-short steps, I was able to work on it on the days the kids were on vacation, and in the short intervals in-between cooking and house chores. I also pulled a few late nights this past week, with the crafts fair looming near…

First, I started by selecting an array of fall-colored fabrics, onto which backs I ironed applique double-sided interfacing. I then drew leaves on the paper side, including some maple leaves but also interesting-looking leaves from other kinds of trees:

Getting ready to cut a leaf for applique

Then I cut them all out:

Cut red maple leaf

I deliberately chose different-textured fabrics, as that is the most exciting aspect, for me, of working with upholstery fabrics versus the more traditional quilting cottons. By incorporating this golden silk, for example, I think I managed to convey some of the radiant light that illuminates from real fall leaves:

Cut maple leaf on gold fabric

I arranged the composition, and ironed the leaves onto the background, fusing the pieces together:

Fusing fall leaves onto quilt

Now the piece was ready for the labor-intensive hand-stitching stage. I started with appliqueing around the leaves. When I worked on my Hand Quilt I used only a blanket stitch. This time I decided to use several kinds of stitches, to make the work a bit more interesting. I still used blanket stitch on some of the leaves:

Appliqueing fall leaves onto quilt

But I also incorporated other stitches, such as this chain stitch:

Appliqueing fall leaves onto quilt

You will notice that I learned a lesson from my previous experience, and used thimbles right from the start on this one! Upholstery fabrics are really hard to stitch through… Despite my precautions, however, I still got a blister on my thumb…

When all the leaves were appliqued to the background, I went on to embroider their veins:

Appliqueing fall leaves onto quilt

Then, as in any quilt, I sandwiched the three layers together: top, batting and back.

Falling Leaves art quilt sandwiched for quilting

And went on to quilt them all together, using big, noticeable stitches, Japanese boro style:

Quilting my Falling Leaves art quilt

I played with the colors of the thread as well as with the direction of the stitches to give the piece added interest. Here is a detail:

Falling Leaves art quilt details

And the whole piece quilted:

Finished Falling Leaves art quilt

The big stitches gave the background a crinkly look that I really like. It somehow reminds me of the bark of a tree, or of a forest floor.

Experimenting with Fabric Art: “Give a Hand” Art Quilt

In the last year I’ve sewn practical items for everyday life, and greatly enjoyed seeing them put to use as well as making them. However, for a long time I’ve been eager to find time for fabric art per se. I had an image in my mind: my hand, repeated in a grid, in some of my favorite colors. This week I finally found the time to actually make it:

ANY Texture Finished Give a Hand art quilt, upholstery fabric wall hanging

There is something very primal about a hand print. It was one of the first images our ancestors created on cave walls, when humans first started making art. When young children get paint for the first time, they likewise print their hands immediately. In many cultures, a print of the hand, or a “Hamse,” protects against evil. Hands are crucial for everything we do. My work is all HANDmade, and that is what makes it unique. We all have hands, and yet each person’s hands are very much their own. Hands make us the individuals that we are, yet, in their similarity, unite us into the wider web of humanity.

I decided to make an art quilt, yet break all the rules of quilting. Instead of the fine cotton fabrics usually used for quilting, I chose to incorporate the upholstery fabrics I fell in love with over the last few months.

For a long time I collected suitable pieces in my favorite colors and textures, until I had enough. Early this week I ironed double-sided interfacing to the back of the pieces, and meticulously outlined my left hand on nine different fabrics. I chose to use my actual hand and not a mold. This way each drawing turned out slightly different, yet they are all of the same thing. I cut them each out, getting a mirror-image that looks like, but is not, my right hand. I ironed them to their background, and then chose embroidery thread to go with each:

Pieces ready for applique

Next, I appliqued each and every one by hand. There is something very soothing about the repetitive motions of hand stitching. It is a wonderful stress-reliever for me, and this week, Election Week, turned out to be the perfect time to do this kind of work:

Appliqueing pieces by hand

When I finished appliqueing all the pieces, I played around with their arrangement:

Deciding on piece orger

I then settled on a pattern I liked, and machine-sewed all the pieces together, using a zigzag stitch:

Sewing the pieces together

When the entire top was finished, I “sandwiched” the piece together: top, batting and back, and set about to quilt them. Here I encountered an unexpected difficulty: the bulk of two layers of upholstery fabrics, combined with the batting and occasional seam, could not fit under my machine foot! I hadn’t planned on hand-quilting this piece, but this is exactly what I had to do.

I hand quilted a few quilts before, but this one felt a lot different. Since each piece of fabric had a different texture, stitching through each felt very distinct. The more velvety segments were easier to sew through. Others were really resistant, and required the use of much force. It didn’t take long before I had to frantically search for my various thimbles!

Hand quilting my Give a Hand art quilt

At one point my needle broke, something that never happened to me before! I had broken many a machine needles, but never a “real” one:

Hand appliqueing my quilt

I chose to quilt this work with a color-changing thread that I thought might tie all the different hues together. Originally, I planned for an elaborate quilting pattern. After the first few stitches, however, I realized that neither the color of the thread nor the pattern mattered much: unlike with quilting cottons, the upholstery fabrics seemed to have “swallowed” the thread. It mostly disappeared within the textures, drowning into them. So I changed my plans, and quilted for practical reasons only: to attach all three layers together.

Hand quilting my Give a Hand art quilt detail

The stitching itself also had to be adjusted. Due to the heaviness of the “sandwich” I had to go for much larger, far-between stitches than I would have attempted on a traditional quilt.

The result, however, turned out to be very close to what I originally had in mind.

ANY Texture Give a Hand art quilt, upholstery fabric wall hanging

The heavy fabrics give the work a significant body, and the different, delicious textures give it lusciousness that traditional quilts lack.

Finished quilt detail

This is my “Give a Hand” art quilt. I like to think of this work as a gesture of peace: a welcoming wave of “hello” many times over. An offer of help to anyone who needs it. We desperately need such gestures at this time.