In early 2018 a friend forwarded me a Call for Artists from Walnut Creek’s Bedford Gallery. A summer show was in the works – ‘The World of Frida’. Artists were invited to submit work inspired by the life and work of Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo.
My imagination immediately went to the lush, leafy backdrops of Kahlo’s paintings, and her repeated imagery of fruits and flowers.
Since 2015 I have been quilting with silk, specifically silk from neckties. Whether salvaged from thrift stores or begged off friends who no longer dress as formally as they used to, I have gathered quite the stash of silk ties. The depth of color, the luster and richness of silk, is something I have fallen in love with.
There are various ways to stabilize silk and manage its slippery, fraying qualities. My favorite technique is to use a fabric foundation. I either draft my own or purchase a product made by Benartex; Foundation by the Yard. Setting their New York Beauty pattern on point created the effect of vines climbing up the quilt. I chose green, white and red, the colors of the Mexican flag, bordered by dark brown.
Silk ties were supplemented with scraps of decorator silks given to me by Sue. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found in her stash an acid green silk jacquard with little monkeys on it. Kahlo often featured her pet monkeys in her paintings. For a moment I was going to call this quilt ‘Monkeys, Magnolias and Melons’.
Constructing the quilt involved prepping several hundred ‘spikes’ of green, and all the pieces of background color to fit in around this motif.(1) At one stage the ‘fan’ shapes looked like pencil sharpenings!(2&3) – but I pressed on, the vision of the finished quilt clear in my head, and on a drafted and colored sketch in my sketchbook. I numbered the pieces as I pinned them on my design wall.(4)
Once the piecing was complete it was ready for quilting. I handed Sue Fox a sheaf of papers showing Frida Kahlo’s particular pieces that had inspired me. We discussed motifs of jungle-like leaves, thorns, flowers and melons, we pored over thread colors(5). Sue put the quilt on her long-arm machine and went to work. The dense, beautifully drawn results are spectacular.(6&7)
I bound the quilt and took it along to the Bedford Gallery. What a thrill to attend the opening of the show: There was a Mariachi band, a Frida look-alike contest and about three thousand visitors that afternoon! (8)
When the exhibition closed in September, the decision was made to send the show on the road to other galleries around the USA. I won’t see this quilt again for three years!
Click to see the full images: