Quilt Engineering with Sarah Wilkinson
Sarah Wilkinson started her sewing avocation as a Camp Fire girl, making doll clothes as a project, which were then donated to Goodwill to outfit their dolls. Three generations of her family have been Camp Fire Girls, where they learned craft sewing. She used her mother’s sewing machine with some trepidation that she would somehow break it, and finally got her own Pfaff as a senior in college.
Breaking with sewing clothes and doll clothes, in 1998 Sarah took a “watercolor quilting” class at the Cotton Ball in Morro Bay, her first venture into quilting. While all the other attendees made floral quilts, Sarah designed a dolphin for her first quilt. (See photo) With her background in civil engineering, piecing together fabric was much simpler. Sarah frequently uses graph paper and colored pencils to design her quilts, then transfers them to her CAD program to make the final designs before cutting her fabric. Her designs use colors in bold and innovative ways, almost always geometric, with repeats. She sometimes makes the same design in different color ways for other family members, with impressively diverse results.
“Family” is very important to Sarah and is evidenced by the numerous quilts she makes for relatives and their special celebrations, whether it’s a wedding, a new baby, or an anniversary. Her home also reflects her celebration of her family heritage, with many artistic artifacts from her grandmother and great-grandmother. She also has many Asian-inspired pieces of art and textiles, inspired by her Filipino, Korean, and Japanese relatives. She enjoys showcasing the accomplishments of her artistic family.
Another part of Sarah’s community involvement is her dune buggy club. She has built her own “Daisy 2,” an award-winning dune buggy in California competition. It even sports sunflower quilt fabric on the undercarriage, carefully coated with sealant. She can build, or oversee the building of, just about any part of the buggy, from the engine and frame, to the fiberglass body. Once again, her engineering background comes into play. It also helps that her dad built his first dune buggy, “Daisy,” in 1969, and has coached Sarah with the construction of hers.
Sarah recently celebrated 14 years with C. A. Rasmussen, Inc., a general contracting firm that has built landmark projects throughout southern California. She majored in Civil Engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and now works in the Estimating Office for Rasmussen in their Valencia office. She handles “quantity analysis,” calculating what the company is bidding based on the plans for a project. One of their large projects that many of us have seen is the new bridge/interchange construction at Hwy 126 and Commerce Center Drive in Valencia right by Magic Mountain. The eastbound bridge recently opened, soon to be followed by the westbound section. Another of her projects is the Springville overpass/interchange in Camarillo. Sarah is following in her father’s footsteps; he graduated from UCLA with a degree in Civil Engineering as well.
It doesn’t matter whether Sarah is talking about her newest second cousin and designing his baby quilt, the recent mysterious gas leak in her dune buggy, or her next big construction project with C. A. Rasmussen, you can feel her enthusiasm and dedication to the task at hand. Ventura Modern Quilt Guild is fortunate to have had Sarah as a member from the get-go; she attended the very first general meeting and has attended every meeting since, with the exception of one time when she was sick. She has also served as Secretary for two terms, 2014 and 2015, and is in charge of the audio equipment for 2016.
Thank you, Sarah Wilkinson, for your steadfast participation with modern quilters in Ventura Modern Quilt Guild.
Catching up with Georganna Hawley
Please provide a one-sentence description of yourself.
I’m a wife, mom, grandma, long-arm quilter and archaeologist with too many interests and ideas and not enough time.
Did you grow up in a crafty household. If so, who in your family or friends taught you sewing, quilting, etc.? If you learned, when and why did you learn to sew and quilt?
My mom was a self-taught sewist. In 9th grade I took Home Ec and brought the new sewing techniques home and taught her what I learned. She was an amazing knitter and in turn taught me to be an adequate one. Her quilting came a bit late. I showed her the newest tools and rules and she made her first quilt at age 88, won first place in the My First Quilt category at the Northwest Washington State Fair. I’m using the leftovers from that very quilt to make two of her granddaughters’ wedding quilts.
When did quilting “take hold” for you (i.e., became an obsession)?
We lived in Arkansas in 1980 when I first became aware of quilting as craft. This was in the rush to do all things homemade around the Bicentennial and in the wake of the back-to-nature hippy movement of the 60s and 70s. There must have been guilds, but I was unaware of them. I found quilting books at the grocery store and used cardboard templates and scissors. Very old school. I thought (silly me) that quilts had to be hand-quilted, so I got a big frame and did 21 quilts in about a year and a half. A few of them are still around. Lots of red, white and blue and cut-up kids clothes. There was a gap from about 1981 until 2004. I was working at Yosemite for the summer and there wasn’t much to do in the evenings, so I found some contemporary quilt books (mostly watercolor quilting by Pat Maixner) at the tiny library in El Portal and sewed in my room.
When did modern quilting cross your radar, and how? What emboldened you to try modern quilting?
I really can’t remember how I found Ventura MQG. A flier in a shop, I think. I belonged to two traditional guilds and we were blown away by the energy and enthusiasm of the new modern guild.
In my long-arm business I’ve worked on literally hundreds of traditional quilts, and still do in fact. When a quilter makes a 30s reproduction basket quilt, she puts her whole heart and talent into it and it is likely the only one like it she will make. But for me it is the fourteenth 30s reproduction basket quilt. They are all lovely and deserve the very best quilting I can do for them, but they call for a rather narrow range of quilting styles and motifs to complement that type of quilt. Modern quilting is more innovative and much less structured and frees me from those traditional strictures. I can just let go and let the machine flow. My color sense has grown also; I find I gravitate toward color ways that are not usually found in the traditional quilts my clients usually feel comfortable working with.
When did you try out long-arm quilting? When did you get your own machine?
In about 2005 I went to the annual craft show in Pamona and saw a long arm machine for the first time. I had taken a class at Quilter’s Studio on home machine quilting and knew after about 10 minutes that this was not for me. But I needed to get my tops quilted. It just sorta clicked. I could get a long-arm machine, do my own quilts, stay home instead of working hundreds of miles away, quilt for other people and make tons of money! Ha! So I got a loan, remodeled the spare bedroom to accommodate the new long arm and was scared to death of the darn thing. But I had payments to make, so I had to figure it out. I joined the Simi Valley Quilt Guild, then Camarillo Quilters and took a class from the brilliant Jenny Carr Kinney in Ventura and some very brave quilters took a chance on having me quilt for them. I’m very grateful they did.
When did you start quilting as a business? What is satisfying about it? What can be frustrating?
The satisfying part is seeing an idea really work well on a quilt. I’m saddened when I see quilting that does not enhance a quilt; a pantograph that does nothing to make the piecing stand out, or the lost opportunity of inadequate or just plain poor workmanship in the quilting.
The frustration I sometimes have is doing the same quilts over and over. After 11 years its pretty rare and exciting to get a wholly new pattern of quilt to work on. Enormous quilts often seem like they have no end and I lose my enthusiasm.
And when my machine is unhappy, I’m a very unhappy quilter. A good sewing machine mechanic is worth their weight in quilt shop cotton fabric!
What was your previous, non-quilting profession?
I have a BA in Anthropology and and MA in North American Archaeology. Due to some new federal regulations in the late 1990s, my specialty, human osteology (yes, bones), became almost nonexistent right about the time I finished grad school. I did work as an archaeologist for the Army Reserve in Fort Hunter Liggett, the National Park Service at Channel Islands and Yosemite NPs and on the Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests. I still work a few times a year on local projects, but usually as a monitor on construction projects.
Where did you grow up? How long have you been married? (include the naked wedding story if you like).
My dad was a State Park ranger and I grew up in a number of parks in Washington’s Puget Sound, on Orcas and Whidbey Islands. My children’s father and I were married for 20 years. We moved all over the country much like military families do. In 1989, two kids were mostly grown, I started college, the marriage finally gasped its last, and I found myself stuck in Lompoc, all at the same time. I was studying at the beach in February 1991 when I met the most amazing, funny, kind man. We got married at the same beach. Yes, it is a nude beach and no you cannot see our wedding pictures. He moved his business to Santa Barbara so I could finish grad school and eventually we ended up in Fillmore. Its been the best 25 years of my life so far.
Are others in your family quilty or crafty? Do you get inspired by one another?
My daughter Jennifer avoided the sewing machine as a kid as that was where I went to get a bit of down time from kids and chaos. Now she is an expert machine embroiderer and a great sewing machine educator. Her boys, Andreas and Thorin have designed quilts for their church, and can operate a sewing machine, but only to make it go really, really fast. Not much finesse, but fun. Jennifer does all the embroidery my clients may need for labels and such and we sew together and consult quite a bit.
From where does your inspiration from on quilt come from? Is it hard to be consistently creative?
It may sound funny, but while I am working on quilting one, I have the next spread out on the guest room bed and I look at it every time I go by. They eventually sort of “speak” to me, but I’m not above searching the internet for ideas. Recently I did two very large pieces for a client, Louise Rupp. They are both enormous Paula Nadelstern feathered designs, all paper pieced. Both will hang in the entrance hall at Road to California in January 2016. The quilts are quite extraordinary. I searched the web for other quilts of the same patterns, blew up the photos until I could see the quilting and used about a dozen different examples as inspiration for Louise’s. We both love the way the first one turned out. The only problem is, I’m also quilting the same quilts for a friend of hers (they like to go to classes together). Now I have to make sure they are not quilted the same…
Yes, it can be hard to find the creative spot on demand, but so far the creative spirits still come when I call.
How did you find the Ventura Modern Quilt Guild? What were your initial thoughts about us?
I think what drew me in was the sense of fun and joy I felt coming from the members. There is a palpable sense of something new and exciting that is often lacking in traditional guilds.
What prompted you to run for office?
Actually, in other guilds my strategy was to volunteer for the little jobs so I didn’t get talked into the big ones. In the case of Ventura MQG I was blindsided by Kelly Stevens, who was the search committee for 2015 Board. She asked and yes came out of my mouth before I could think. I think knew how we could achieve some enhancements, and I felt a camaraderie with the small group that Ventura MQG was at the time. The membership has gotten larger, but no less fun. It’s so darn upbeat and creative. The stuff that comes off members’ sewing machines astonishes me every month.
Please talk about the exciting quilt show you are running (that is taking you away from Ventura MQG..sniff)
First, I’m not leaving. I will be writing the newsletter each month and want to be part of the Opportunity Quit construction. And I get to sit in the back row and just listen now.
There are two reasons I wanted to step down from the Board in 2016. First, I think it is too easy to get into a rut and keep doing things the way we always did. New Board leadership can help keep things fresh.
I was asked to be guest curator for Modern Quilt exhibit at the Ontario Museum of Art and History, from December 2016 to February 2017. The idea came from Carolyn Reese (owner of Road to California) and Pam Overton (President of SCCQG). They thought a Modern exhibit would interest Road patrons and Museum patrons also. The title of the exhibit will be Modern Quilts: Redesigning Tradition. Nice, huh? My friend Greg Palmer made a great logo for the show and I’ve designed an exhibit quilt based on that. Not to be in the actual exhibit, but to be hung at the Museum entrance. There are four wonderful, high ceilinged rooms that can accommodate at least 40 quilts. The planning will take all my time from January 2016 through the end of the exhibit. I’m very excited about the whole idea.
What will you miss about being our President?
Silly, but I do enjoy making the meeting slides. Now that we have some experience, the Board meetings are blessedly shorter and much more enjoyable. Without doubt though, I appreciated working with the 2015 Board. I think we have made real connections even though we are of different generations and come from different quilting experiences. I am still struggling with Cary Lyn and Becky making me be a nicer, more patient person, but I will miss their encouragement for sure.
Getting to know Kyle Crowner
While relatively new to Ventura Modern Quilt Guild, Kyle is not new to quilting. In 1971 she had an “ah-ha” moment while viewing the “Abstract Designs in American Quilts” exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York, which is “regarded by most quilt scholars as instrumental in igniting the quilt renaissance of the 20th and 21st centuries. The exhibition elevated quilts to the same level as ‘high’ art by presenting them on the walls of a prestigious art museum and by comparing their graphic and painterly qualities to those found in modern abstract art.” By 1980, Kyle had developed her stride and began quilting simply for the joy of creating a new work of art.
Kyle draws her inspiration from art and specifically paintings. When she sees a painting, mosaic, or mural, she asks herself how she could adapt that art into a quilt. She uses graph paper and colored pencils to put her designs into a grid format and then adjusts as the design demands. She lets the design speak to her, rather than force herself on the design. She has redesign a Matisse painting into a raw-edge applique quilt.
She also enjoys repurposing old quilt parts into new designs. Sometimes she takes an “old favorite” block and changes the values in the pieces for a fresh new look. Over time she has found that she is using much less printed fabric and more solids. Her design for Nordic flags is a perfect reflection of her modern aesthetic.
In 2005 Kyle and her husband Stuart moved to Ojai in a move to downsize, but ended up adding on to their home to create her studio at the back of their house. Her workspace is spacious, with a high ceiling, and a design wall that can be raised and lowered to work on a large project easily. Large windows provide excellent natural lighting and track lights focus on task spaces.
Kyle’s father was a doctor studying tropical diseases with the Rockefeller Foundation, so Kyle grew up in China, India, and Rio de Janeiro. She returned to the US to attend college, where she studied Costume Design and English drama. She has kept a beautiful bookcase from her father’s study in Rio, now carefully placed in the master bedroom of their home in Ojai. Bold colors on the walls and artwork throughout the house are a reflection of the many cultures in her life. See Kyle’s latest exhibition here
Kyle’s husband Stuart Crowner is a successful TV producer, with many popular TV shows in his CV. Their daughter Sarah Crowner is a successful artist living in New York. You can see some of her work in this gallery.
Getting to know Kathy Musashi and Rob Morin
Kathy: I’ve probably been quilting about 15 years or so but have sewn most of my life. I went the Singer Sewing School at nine as a summer project. My focus from that time on was clothing. We lived on a farm and rarely bought store made clothing. All though school I made my own clothing, trying desperately not to have them look homemade. Our daughter Julie is probably the one responsible for our venture into quilting, suggesting that we make Christmas presents one year. It had been years since I had been in a fabric store. I walked into Barons 15 years ago and was awed by the beautiful quilts hanging there. The rest is history.
Rob started quilting when he retired about eight years ago, he enjoys creating his own designs using bold and unusual color combinations. Because I was already a quilter, I became his instructor and mentor. Although we advise one another on technical aspects, we usually make our own color and design choices.
Having seen a number of quilts made by both of you, they seem to me very different. Do you consult each other when you are in the design phase? Rob has at least one quilt inspired by a dream. Kathy, where do you find your inspiration?
Kathy: Yes, our styles are very different, although primarily modern. Color and design change up the way our quilts come out. My favorite part of quilt making is the machine quilting part. It adds another layer to your art, and in my estimation, completes a project. Machine quilting is Zen for me. Spending most of my childhood outdoors, I think I get most of my inspiration from nature. Nature can provide you with both design and color. As you stated, Rob draws inspiration from many sources. His dreams and his unique view are two common sources, but he also draws from art, individual fabrics and other quilts he has seen.
I know you share an HQ mid arm machine for quilting. Do you share workspace/design wall/fabric stash/thread?
Kathy: Rob and I share our equipment. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your point of view — we have transformed our dining room into a quilt studio. Lucky for everyone, we don’t do a lot of entertaining. No design wall, we use our bed or floor space to look at layout. Getting harder to stoop down! Fabric and thread are separate stashes.
Rob is much more generous than I about sharing fabric. I covet my fabric, probably a little too much.
Do you ever collaborate to make a two person quilt? Do you ever “finish” one another’s?
Kathy: We do collaborate! We are working on a “thank you” quilt now. The color scheme was set for us. I am making the top, Rob the bottom. We have talked about the layout as we go. Very fun, and stretches your imagination. I enjoy it.
What is your most creative time: early morning, late at night?
Kathy: Early morning is best for me. Even when I was a working stiff, I would sew or quilt an hour before work. I think I like the quiet of the morning. Less distractions, easier to be free from thought.
Rob typically works in the afternoon because he is not a morning person, he also enjoys taking his dogs to the park before starting to work on his projects, otherwise they just stare at him while he is trying to work. Because of his failing eyesight from diabetic retinopathy, I frequently do the hand finishing on Rob’s binding.
Of your own, which is the quilt you most fond of? What is your favorite of your partner’s?
Kathy: My favorite of all time is the lion. My friend Jerilee Petralba, a graphic designer created the lion. She uploaded into Spoonflower who printed it on fabric. I added a few accent pieces of fabric and quilted the heck out of it. Taking something from two dimensions and making it three dimensions was a challenge and great fun! Also I made a white and black Christmas quilt that is heavily quilted. That’s also one of my favorites.
My favorite quilt of Rob’s is a multi-dimentional geisha. Unfortunately, he gave it away for an auction to raise funds for a charity.
How many UFO’s (unfinished projects) are in your studio?
Kathy: Just a couple. My natural obsessive compulsive nature drives me to completion. Gotta get to that machine quilting. Likewise, Rob’s OCD prevents him from leaving projects unfinished.
Why modern quilting? As a quilt artist, what more would you like the Ventura Modern Quilt Guild do to encourage/inspire/educate quilters?
Kathy: Rob prefers Ventura MQG because he was in another, more traditional, guild for years, but felt their workshops and lectures offered little inspiration or encouragement for innovative design.
Personally, I love the modern aesthetic. Modern quilting provides more room for artistic impression. I am inspired at every meeting, seeing what my fellow quilters are producing. (July 2015)
Getting to know Judy Chaffee
Judy started quilting over 34 years ago! Her interested in quilting started after collecting fabric from all the baby clothes she had made for one of her daughters. She intended to hand-sew the baby clothes together to give her daughter a queen size quilt for her wedding. Sadly, the partial quilt and scraps were lost in her move to California (from Michigan) 12 years ago. She learned to quilt after moving to California when her younger daughter asked for a Halloween patchwork quilt for a king sized bed. The patchwork part was easy because she already had the ability to sew, but the quilting part was difficult because she wanted Judy to follow the outline of the characters on the fabric of a desktop machine. After that she decided she liked making quilts and took a class to become better. Since then she has taken several classes always trying to either improve skills or learn something new. Judy doesn’t just quilt; she has always worked with some kind of thread/fabric/yarn by doing macramé, embroidery, crewel, knitting, crocheting or general sewing.
Her next family project was making a tied quilt for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary with materials gathered from family and friends. She asked each of them to make a 12-inch square with something memorable on it.
Judy’s interest in sewing started before her love of quilting. Her mother used to make clothes for the 5 girls in her family, but their mother never taught them how to sew. When I she graduated from college and started teaching, she convinced the Home Ec teacher to let her take sewing class with the high school students during her conference period. After she had her first child, she taught her to sew when she was 5 years old since her mom never taught Judy. Since then, she has taught her 10 year old great niece and her 4 year old granddaughter to make simple patchwork quilts.
Judy doesn’t have a favorite material to work with but has made a variety of quilts out of a variety of materials. She has made quilts out of cotton, satin, organza and other specialty fabrics for special effects and infrequently used flannel. The one material she disliked the most would be flannel since it doesn’t keep its shape when cut into small squares, hence the infrequent use!
Judy loves to take classes to learn new skills. One of the new techniques she learned, from a Modern Quilting book, is the flip and sew triangle. Since she would be happy to share that technique, look forward to that demo at a future meeting! The other classes she has taken have been more geared toward art quilting or designing a quilt. She is still refining these skills, but once she gets comfortable making a converging quilt she would be glad to teach that also.
Judy always challenges herself with her quilts and rarely chooses the same pattern twice. She is always looking for quilt contests to enter or looking for classes to take. One of those challenges was the Hoffman Challenge. Hoffman was one of the first challenges she tried. The first year she bought the fabric, but never made anything in time; even though she had a design planned and learned all about making origami fabric flowers for the design. The next year, she used the new fabric and made her origami fabric flower garden. It was not accepted, but she got great feedback. Last year, she used the Hoffman fabric required for the contest and spent some time with her Kaleidoscope design program designing a quilt. (VMQG members might remember the demo Judy provided at a 2014 Guild meeting on that design program.) But at the last minute, she changed her mind and made the Converging Triangle quilt that was shown at Road to California and going on the 2014 Hoffman Challenge tour!
Judy’s granddaughter, Peyton, also had a quilt shown at the 2015 Road to California. Peyton started quilting with Judy when she was 2 ½ years old. She stayed with Judy quite a bit at that age so Peyton became interested in what Judy was doing. Peyton would sit on Judy’s lap as grandma worked the foot-pedal.
Peyton would go through Judy’s box of scraps and chose which fabrics she wanted in her quilt. She would then decide which fabric went next to which (and she was very particular about that). They never cut them, just laid out the pieces next as she sat on Judy’s lap. How this worked, Judy would place Peyton’s hand on the left side of the fabric to guide the material and her hand below the needle. After the quilt was large enough, Peyton chose the binding fabric and decided how to connect the pieces. She would then lay the quilt on the floor and began laying pieces out next to it to ensure she had enough binding. To finish, Judy sewed the binding on and quilted it.
Peyton has started making a regular patchwork quilt. Judy cut several dog fabrics up into 4×4 squares for Peyton to use. She planned out which fabric went where on graph paper and colored the squares so we could look at it each time she worked on the quilt. (She is becoming her own pattern maker!) She then sits on Judy’s lap and they sew. This time Judy placed the foot pedal up on the table so Peyton could begin to use it with her hand. Next time, we are going to place a stool on the chair, the pedal on the chair and she will try to sew with less of my help. This is the way Judy taught Peyton’s mom. Peyton intends to donate the quilt to the hospital kids just like grandma does.
Peyton doesn’t have her own machine but she has made doll clothes with her mom while her baby brother is sleeping.
How Judy entered Peyton’s quilt into the Next Generation category for Road to California is a sweet story. She read the ad for the category and noticed it said 7+ so she sent them an email explaining that Peyton had started quilting at 2 ½ years old and finished her first quilt at her current age of 4 years old. Judy mentioned Peyton knew grandma’s quilt was going to be in the show and how exciting it would be for Peyton if her quilt could be in the same show as grandmas! They approved her entry even though it was past the entry deadline. So, Judy paid the fee and shipped the quilt. Peyton was excited when the quilt was returned because she received several nice items: cutting board, thread, fabric, finger guards, gift certificate and of course a blue ribbon. That ribbon is proudly displayed on her wall. (March 2015)