Monday, October 26, 2015

kimono scraps art quilt

This was the most interesting commission I have had yet.

At the study abroad fair a couple weeks ago, I was chatting with a long-time colleague about her upcoming retirement. She told me she plans to learn to quilt. Well that was a fun conversation!

Sitting next to me was a professor who is taking a program to London summer 2016, and he was listening to us with growing excitement. Understand, "excitement" is very measured in professors, generally. He said, "I have a commission to tell you about when you're finished!" And then Cindy and I chatted a bit longer.

I have tried to upload a better photo of three gold slivers, but I'm having technical problems.
You can see one here. A wonderful friend suggested doing something
with the Japanese tradition called Kintsugi of filling cracks of broken crockery with lacquer dusted with gold.
What a beautiful concept.

He proceeded to tell me that when he lived in Japan, he would go to the Chion-ji temple market regularly and pick up silk kimono scraps. (How fun is that!) He collected them week after week, not knowing what they would become but loving them all the same.

For years he has been looking for someone to sew them into some sort of small quilt. He asked if I would do it, and I could barely hold in my excitement. On my laptop I proceeded to show him the art quilts of Debra Smith I had recently discovered, all made with kimono silk, and I told him I had recently made an art quilt of Indian silks. Never had I dreamt of using silk in sewing quilts before. The fact that I was somewhat prepared for his request is just very serendipitous.

Here is an image of the scraps after I photographed them with my iPhone and saved them in a Pantone app, to match the colors for buying silk. This is actually one group of scraps. There is a second one with a decidedly different palette, so I separated them.

I stopped at the VOA thrift store a couple of days later to find silk blouses to fill out the design. I used three: taupe, lilac, and gold.

I struggled with the challenge of arranging these scraps in any satisfying way.

Below is one start.


But at last, after several arrangements on the design board, I started improvising in a way that felt right. I used one of the eight silk blouses I found thrifting for the background, first affixing it to featherweight interfacing. The interfacing took time to iron on, but it was worth it for ease of sewing and quilting.

I ran out of taupe silk for binding,
so I used this cotton Hawthorne house fabric
called "fronds" in golden canyon.

I also used pieces of the lilac and gold silk blouses I found.

I wanted a medallion on the side, like in ancient Japanese art.
This grew larger all on its own.

I plan to give him his art quilt tomorrow. Of course he is paying me, though we have not set a price. He seemed to think money was no object. Maybe I should charge $5000. :D

Let's see if he wants a second one with the other group of scraps.

This art quilt measures 24" x 27"
silk, with cotton binding


  1. Oh, Ruth! Just think of how you have come to ALL of this so serendipitously! I can hardly wait to hear his reaction to your creativity...and to find out how much he pays you. HA! I can FEEL your passion and love for this art form every time you post about it. BRAVA.

    1. Yes it's true, Boots. I do love it all! Thank you for feeling it with me, and for your support and encouragement ALWAYS. I love you.

  2. Love following along on your quilting journey! Like Ginnie...can't wait to hear about his reaction to this amazing piece of art!

    1. Robin, thank you so much for following along with interest! xoxo

  3. I love the bright colors on the gray ground. You MUST tell us about the whole experience of passing it onto him and his reaction. I find it glorious!

    1. Thank you, Jeanie! I will add an addendum once I've given it to him. :)

  4. My colleague was pleased! He was surprised that I integrated the scraps into a design. This is what he wrote in his note when he paid: "You've done a fantastic job, Ruth. I'm so impressed by your feel for the material and the pace with which you completed the quilt. It will find a prominent place of honor in short order."

  5. First, it is so charming that this man collected & kept these bits of fabric all those years.
    Secondly, you have created a wonderful way for him to enjoy his keepsakes. It glows like a jewel!

    1. I so agree with you about his collection, Beth! Thanks so much for your kind response to this piece. While I find all kinds of things I would change about it, I am also pleased. Typical after creating something so often, right?