This the largest quilt I’ve done so far. Nine feet by nine feet. Eighty-one square feet of hand-dyed Indonesian batiks and colorful Hawaiian prints (162 square feet if you count the back). I pieced together strips to create the beach landscape, moving from sunset sky colors down to ocean colors and finally the sand. I love the way the long horizontal strips create a feeling of vastness and make you feel like you’re just catching a glimpse of one small part of a much broader picture. The border is mixture of more of the batiks and Hawaiian prints and gives it a finished look without harshly cutting off the beach scene.
After stretching the background out onto the frame, I free-formed the designs on top of the beach scene, cutting each piece out of paper first to make sure proportions were correct. Once I had everything laid out correctly, I cut the pieces out of fabric. Each appliqué has the edges turned under and ironed down, making it a very useable, washable art piece. It is a king-sized quilt, however that isn’t completely why I called it
“The King”. One of the Hawaiian prints shows a King Kamehameha style character surfing in an old helmet. There are old structures and lush foliage that hint at ancient Hawaii. He’s not a prominent part of the quilt, but he seems to be there watching over it. It’s one of the many little subtle details you will find as you explore all the images in the batiks and prints.
After I lay out all the fabrics and get the design just right, then it’s time to take the entire piece off the frame and add the finishing detail work with lots of freehand quilting. I always compare it to drawing, except I am moving the paper instead of the pen. All the thread work is my own design and is created as I go along. No computerized stitches, no pre-programmed patterns and I don’t draw patterns out ahead of time onto the fabric. It’s just me moving the quilt around under the needle, drawing with the thread. Not only does it add beautiful lines and textures, but it is another layer of subtle details to be explored.
The backs of my quilts are always a favorite part. The front has all the variety of colors, but the back is just the thread work on one large batik. That allows for a graphic line drawing version of what’s on the front. It makes it visually beautiful from both sides, which is important for a quilt that will be used and scene from both sides. In this case, it is a dark blue batik with a multi-colored tropical foliage. I used a variegated thread for the back that is the same tones as the batik design.
My quilting business started with a surfboard quilt very similar to this one. It was a twin-size quilt that I made for my son eight years ago. But, despite the fact that I’ve been making these surfboard quilts ever since, no two are ever exactly alike. Or even too close. I don’t reuse patterns, and although the theme of the surfboards in the sand recurs quite frequently, the sizes, shapes, colors and fabrics are never the same. Each piece I create is always a complete original. This quilt represents about 70 hours of work from conceptualization to construction and all the finishing touches. Stop by and visit Studio 19 to see it in person. It’s too big to hang on the wall for display, but that means it will be on my table and you can touch it and inspect it close up.
Oh, this quilt. It will be the subject of several posts because there are so many aspects of what I do that are captured so well in this project. Custom orders can be so tricky, as I have mentioned before. On one hand I have to at least partially assume (or hope…) that the customer chose me because they want my signature style and so will hopefully trust me to just do my thing. However, any time a person seeks out custom work, it is because they already have some idea of what they want (or don’t want) and they want you to make it happen. This can be difficult when you don’t live in that person’s brain, and no amount of sketching and exchanging photo ideas and color palettes can 100% portray all those thoughts. I am never more anxious about mailing off a product than when it’s a custom design. I just want the customer to be happy and to love what I did and ideally, to feel like I exceeded their expectations. It can be stressful!
When Leah contacted me about this custom crib quilt design, I was excited, but also a little terrified. First of all, she is a photographer and creating art for another artist can be a blessing and a curse. I know other artists appreciate my work, but they also have a more discerning eye and often a strong idea of what they want. She was no exception. Second, this quilt is very complicated. Most of my work is a single scene, so my research stays pretty focused and the layout isn’t the most difficult part of the journey. This quilt was a collage of many of the places her and her husband had traveled to together. So, not only was it a complex layout and design that required researching many different places and landmarks, but it also held great sentimental meaning. I didn’t want to create a flat, lifeless version of these vibrant locations they had actually visited in person. I wanted to do justice to their memories. Third, I tend to work in bold, vibrant colors. Leah asked for a softer palette with pops of color here and there. I have to say, subtly is not my strong suit! But, I took this as a great challenge and looked for the opportunity to learn and grow and do something I don’t normally do. And I’m so glad that I did. And fourth, and perhaps the most intimidating part of this project, is that all these things I just mentioned had to come together not just for the quilt itself, but it was for their very first child! So, not only was it sentimental because of the subject matter, but also because this quilt would be the big thing she did to commemorate the birth of this sweet baby girl. Her first child, with all the emotions and expectations and hopes that come with preparing for such a once-in-a-lifetime event…so absolutely no pressure whatsoever! And as if there needed to be more pressure, this quilt would be arriving in time for the baby shower and would be unveiled there to all of her friends and family. And to add more to the suspense, even though she knew I had shipped it, her husband kept it aside and didn’t let her see it until the baby shower. So….I was VERY relieved to find out that she loved it! The last thing I wanted was for her to feel let down at that precious moment. Thankfully, all went well, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.
I will go into more detail about the process next time.
People ask me all the time if I do custom work, and I feel there is always a pregnant pause, a funny look and a caveat to my “yes” answer. Art is so subjective that it’s hard for me to do something custom. I can’t okay every fabric with you. I can’t FaceTime you as I place each ray of sunlight. And I can’t go back and forth making sure you are getting a precision replica of something that is in your head. I am the artist, after all. I need room to breathe.
When I make a piece on my own and then put it up for sale, you get what you get, and you know exactly what you’re getting up front. But custom work–there is an expectation sometimes that I will build exactly what you want. And believe me, I will try to capture your vision as best I can, but there has to be some trust there, and some desire for my fingerprint–my artistry. I assume you have asked me because you’ve already seen my work and love my style. So that should put us a step ahead. My favorite collaborations are when the client gives a few specifics, like a general theme or a particular subject, and then says “go for it!”. That was the case with this beautiful manatee quilt.
And to be honest, it wasn’t just any ordinary client. This was for my mother and I knew she would love it no matter what. But I still didn’t want to phone it in…I wanted it to be extra special. My mom loves manatees and asked if I would make her a lap size quilt (50″x70″) and her only requests were that it have a manatee and a setting sun, like one she had seen in a previous quilt. I love requests like that where I’m given a little bit of direction, but largely trusted to create what fancy ideas or forever swirling in my head.
Sometimes I have to think about a project for days, and sketch ideas, but I knew right away what I wanted with this one. The sunset over the water was already set, but I wanted to make sure that this looked like a manatee habitat and not like one of my typical ocean quilts. I looked at lots of photos and came up with this idea to have the grasses and some fish and also a sea turtle. Mom also likes my sea turtles. I knew that the sunset, the manatee and the sea turtle would each be so visually interesting that the rest would just be enhancements. A few palm trees, some grasses and some cute little fish would round it off nicely.
I started off with a strip quilt. I love using strip quilts as a background for several reasons. One is that I can gradate the landscape colors to create depth in the sky and in the water. Another reason is that it gives a strong feel of a horizon line, which is perfect for this type of image. It also allows me to use lots of my scraps and that allows for me to use many, many different prints and colors to make up a larger block, like the water or the sky. Much better than just a big piece of one fabric. The nature of the wax resist method used in making batiks means that most designs are only going to have about two to three colors. This means the prints will usually be bold and contrasting. Throw all those bold, colorful prints into an area that is meant to be one thing, like a sky, and it adds movement and life to an otherwise plain space. It is also a way of throwing in these hidden gems if you have just the right scrap. For example, I love the octopus batik at the bottom of the quilt. It’s a vibrant way of adding more sea life into the quilt without making another appliqué.
The next step is to put the quilt together. I pin the quilt back to the frame with the wrong side showing. Then I lay the batting on top and finally the pieced quilt top. After it is all stretched on the frame and pinned, then I build the rest of the design. This phase is all done with appliqués that I design and create myself. I never use anyone else’s patterns. Because the manatee and sea turtle were such focal points, I drew them out of paper first to make sure I had the proportions correct. I admit, I fly by the seat of my pants a lot and often skip any kind of patterning. But this one required more precise proportions to make sure they were the most prominent figures on the quilt. Once I got that correct, then I cut them out of fabric, used my handy spray starch and steam iron to turn the edges under on the appliqués and iron them flat, and then pin them into place.
After the quilt has been laid out and I’m satisfied with the design, then the appliqués get glued into place with a washable glue. This is my favorite trick! Plain old Elmer’s washable school glue. WASHABLE being the key word! I glue everything in place and let it dry thoroughly. I don’t overdo the glue–just enough to keep the piece in place. When the glue dries, I pin the whole quilt and remove it from the frame for the free motion stitching. The dried glue doesn’t gum up the needle and if you don’t use tons of it, it’s still very easy for the needle to permeate the fabrics. And then it’s all downhill from there!
Haha. Just kidding. Another question I get asked frequently is if I do my own quilting. Of course!!! As an artist, all those thread details are half of the design! I create and build every single aspect of my work. I would never give away the chance to do all the finishing touches. The thread gives personality to faces and all the finite details that make the quilt unique. Think about it. I could always build two of the same quilts–same fabrics, same layout, same pattern. But when you quilt freehanded, it is absolutely impossible to do two designs that are exactly alike. So, when you buy an original piece from an artist, you’re getting a little piece of that person that nobody else will ever be able to have.
I mean, nobody ever has more of a piece of your soul than your own mother, but I feel like my mother got something a little extra special here. Don’t we really just want our kids to grow up, use their natural talents and their hard work and their loves and their passions to create a life that makes them happy and brings joy to others? This was my chance to give a little of that back to a woman who has loved me unconditionally and has only ever wanted me to be happy and to feel fulfilled. And that’s exactly what I felt when I gave this to her. I like to think she thinks it’s amazing and doesn’t just love it because I made it like I did some thumbprint animal in kindergarten, but I’m sure that has a lot to do with it, too.
“Like a Manatee, I am peaceful, respectful, gentle, kind and self-healing.” Jonathan Lockwood Huie
So….Once upon a time I surfed. Not well. But I did. One summer I decided it was time to learn after living
in California for several years, so I did. There are several reasons I hadn’t done it up to that point. For one, the Pacific Ocean is freaking cold, at least here in San Diego. And two, thoughts of crashing hard at my age, or sharks attacking or getting hit over the head with my surfboard and drowning always lurked somewhere in the background like that great white I was always afraid of meeting. But mostly, the water was too cold. However, I was often inspired but other women who surfed and did so many adventurous things, and I could not be left behind. Surfing is such a big part of Southern California culture, and many of my pieces have been inspired by it. Experiencing it first hand only inspired me more to create textile art that captured the magic of it all.
This quilt is one of my favorite designs. It’s very clean and graphic and each line and/or image is calculated. I only used the four fabrics and played with positive/negative space to portray this bold woman checking the break, listening to the call to come and ride the wild ocean waves. I like my girl designs to be strong and powerful, so I’ve always used bold prints and colors, just like I do in the boys’ quilts. When I was first designing quilts, I was struck by how many times I saw designs geared towards boys that were strong and bold and colorful, and the girls’ designs were always pastel and soft and flowery. I guess I’ve always been drawn to the stronger images and have always tried to depict that in my work.
When I first saw these batiks, I knew I was going to put them together. I loved how the four fabrics go together, but not really. They don’t match, they don’t exactly coordinate. But something about them drew me to put them together. I stitched the quadrants together and then hung it up and stared at it for a couple of weeks trying to decide what the quilt would be. One day I was flipping through my sketchbook and saw a sketch I’d done of a girl holding her surfboard looking out at the waves, like she was getting ready to answer the ocean’s call. I immediately knew that was the design. I played with line and negative space, keeping it bold and simple. I loved the black fabric for her body because it had a tribal feel, and the electric blue plumeria in those thin lines looked like tattoos. I kept her cheekbones high and angled, her face turned towards the water but not too much so you can still see her shape. I added the flowing hair to soften her a little bit. I did the free motion quilting in a simple design, following the clean lines of the shapes. I didn’t want to take away from the look of this one by adding too much stitching. I still love to look at this quilt. Or at least the photos…it sold a long time ago to a man who walked into the studio, pointed at it and said “I want that one.”
Most of us are a combination of strong and soft. I don’t think it always has to be two different things. She is both. So am I. Though I’m sure she surfs better than I do. But, I’m getting back out there this summer.
I often get asked how I got started as an working artist or how long I’ve been making quilts. There’s a story behind that, as there often is. Artists always having a story.
We adopted our first son almost nine years ago. When we got him, I really wanted him to have a surf-inspired room. Our house is in Pacific Beach and his name actually means “son of the sea”. But, when I looked around at bedding and/or decor, everything was either super traditional quilting, all pastel or very cartoony. None of which was really up my alley. I wanted something bold and colorful, but classy and cool. I really wanted surfboards on his quilt but not just surfboard quilt blocks. After searching around, I decided I knew what I wanted and I could make it myself. I’ve been sewing since I was ten and though I hadn’t quilted before, I knew I had enough sewing and reupholstering skills to pull it off. Maybe not like a seasoned quilter, but we were the only ones who were going to see it, so it really didn’t matter, right?? So, I bought a bunch of cool Hawaiian prints and some beautiful Indonesian batiks and designed and created the quilt above. It took a while…I wasn’t used to any of the proper techniques and I made things up as I went along. But, I truly loved the way it turned out! It was different from anything else that I had seen out there. In the process, I learned to do what would become a signature technique for me–free-motion quilting. That coupled with my wild color combinations and fun designs, I began to solidify my style and brand. And that led to an idea.
I decided I could make and sell crib quilt versions of this surfboard quilt, and even crib skirts and bumper
pads. I couldn’t find anything like it out there, so I made a boy’s crib quilt and a girl’s version. I love my girl designs to be just as bold and strong as the boy’s designs, so I made them essentially the same but with more fuchsia. They were a hit and I started to get orders. I started getting orders faster than I could really handle
them, and at the time just wasn’t charging enough. And then, we got our second little miracle. We were given the surprise chance to adopt another baby boy. I put the quilting on hold for several years while I took care of my two sweet boys.
About two years ago, I started looking at the possibility of starting my business back up and getting studio
space in The Spanish Village Arts Center in Balboa Park. I submitted my work for the jury process and was accepted for my quilts and textiles! From there, I created more surf-inspired quilts and pillows and began to branch out to ocean-themed pieces, wall art and lots of other subject matter. Though I have branched out to other designs and motifs, I still often create surf quilts and textiles using batiks and Hawaiian prints. My boys are still young and time is still a limited resource, but I’m making it work.
This quilt is immensely personal. It was conceived, constructed and stitched during a year that was perhaps the most difficult of my life. The imagery was inspired by the William Ernest Henley poem, “Invictus” which brought to my mind the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
I think most of us are familiar with the last line, but a few of the other phrases are what struck me the most. “Out of the night that covers me”, “my unconquerable soul”, “unbowed”, “unafraid”. I wanted to mesh the image of the phoenix with a very recognizable human female form. She is rising out of the ashes and flames and she is looking upwards, unbowed and unconquered and unafraid. I used bold warm colors for the sun and flames and cool blues and greens for the phoenix. I wanted the contrast of the warm and cool colors so she would stand out and be a strong image, but I also sprinkled in a few warm colored feathers to represent the fire, especially in her heart. She is beautiful and strong, bold and colorful. I stitched her in orange thread to bring a little of the warmth to her body. The sun is stitched in gold metallic thread and the flames have regular red thread and also red metallic thread. Lots and lots of details in the free motion quilting give her added depth and spark. The quilt is finished with about 1000 Swarovski crystals in the sun and two larger ones in her eyes. She is definitely an autobiographical statement that I hope inspires others to also rise up from whatever it is that is holding them down and be what they want to be.
(Follow me on Instagram @crystalpiertextilearts or Facebook at Crystal Pier Textile Arts for daily updates and process shots)
We are all connected. The seas, the creatures, the moon and stars and sun all move together to create life and write our story. We rise and fall like the tides and somewhere in there, there’s a splash of magic.
That was my artist statement for this quilt.
This quilt is one of the first ones I’ve done that has more of a story to it. The original idea was to have sea stars rising up from the ocean and when the cross the horizon line, they become the night time stars. I loved the idea of a strip quilt for the background. It gradates from a dark night sky into a sunset, and then from the bright surface of the ocean dow
n to the darker depths. As I was looking at the original sketch, I thought there needed to be more life and more connection between the sea creatures and the elements. I had this idea that an octopus would have his arm(s) full of sea stars and would be sending them up at dusk. This created an incomplete circular motion, so a setting sun seemed to complete that circle. But, of course we needed to have a moon in the sky with those stars, and I loved the idea of it being a crescent shape to mimic the crescent wave. The moon affects the tides so that seemed like another beautiful connection. I love the overlap of the two crescent shapes, especially since they both are in constant motion. The last piece to be added was the mermaid. Since all the other elements were connected in some way, I thought another creature should be involved in helping the moon to rise up into the sky. When I added her, it felt complete. I love all the bold colors and prints and how they work together to create a beautiful composition that feels like it is in motion.
Very few things scream Southern California beach culture like an old VW bus. Especially with a surfboard strapped to the top. I know they came from Germany and originated with no thought of the hippie life, but here, they are nostalgic and look their best with a peace sign wheel cover on the front up against an ocean backdrop. We used to have a white one and though we got tired of repairing it on a regular basis, I do miss roadtripping in it. This quilt was inspired by all the times I’ve seen one, often with the baby blue accents, parked at a beach while a surfer gets ready to head out to catch some waves. I designed it so you would only see half of the classic front end, with it’s signature circle headlights, the old 1960’s split window and of course, a surfboard leaning up against it. You can see the parking lot and posts and in the background, the beautiful California sunset coming to an end. This surfer is heading out for a famous sunset surfing session to relax after a day of work.
The background is a strip quilt and I gradated the colors to capture the darkening sky at dusk and the sunset reflecting off the water. I pieced together the strips and the parking lot colors. The sun, posts and bus are all appliqué. I love the contrasting colors, the larger, rounder shapes of the sun and the bus against the angular lines of the sunset. My backgrounds are often a little impressionistic while the appliqué details clarify what you need to know about the scene. This quilt didn’t last long, and I truly think it is because it’s such a classic, nostalgic image. If you’ve been here in San Diego for any length of time, you’ve seen this play out in person. It still makes me smile.