Josh is an American quilter and blogger living in Sydney who’s alter ego, Molli Sparkles has taken on a life of her/his own. The Molli Sparkles blog is a glittery, sparkly place to hang out, but be careful he doesn’t spill the truth tea! I met Josh at the Australian Modern Quilt show in May 2014, where he took out the best in show for his Sparkleworks quilt.
Tell us about how you started quilting and how you found modern quilting.
I grew up with my grandmother quilting. She’d actually started to learn when I was quite young and I remember her own learning process. Back in the late eighties it was a lot of country nine-patches, appliquéd hearts, and fan quilts galore! There was nothing modern about it, but I did help Grandma Sparkles lay out blocks on the design floor. She’d always ask me to move things around, and get my opinion on what she was working on. While I didn’t learn to quilt or sew during this time, I firmly believe it aided with my own design skills, and gave me a foundation of confidence that I now have in quilting.
I started my own quilting journey about three years ago. I was visiting my childhood home in Oklahoma for five days, and as soon as I stepped off the plane I said to Grandma Sparkles, “I want to make a quilt together this week!” To which she replied, “Are you out of your mind?” Well, I took that as a rhetorical question, and off to the fabric shop we went! By the end of my trip, Grandma Sparkles had sewn up a quilt top I had designed called Collecting Memories. That creative process was all about creating a shared memory between me and my grandmother. While I didn’t learn to sew that week, it did set me on a path of quilt glory.
Fast forward six months later, and I found myself back home in a Sydney Lincraft store with a stack of fat quarters, rotary blade, ruler and cutting mat. I was on a mission to make a surprise quilt for my grandmother, and document the process by starting a blog. I got home ready to teach myself to sew, only to realise I didn’t actually own a sewing machine! While that put a damper on that initial night’s sewing activities, I quickly remedied that by buying my first sewing machine at Ikea the following day.
Like I said, I really didn’t know anything about the actual how-to of sewing, and I didn’t know anyone locally who sewed. I had to turn to technology and social media to find the answers I was looking for. Oh, and there were many! I stumbled upon the Quilt Club Australia Facebook group, discovered I wasn’t the only one with a quilting blog, and finally got on the Instagram bandwagon. I quickly realised any quilting question I had could be answered somewhere online, and it was all at my fingertips. That’s how I’ve taught myself to sew. No books, no classes, but simply the kindness of others in the virtual community and the trailblazing paths they’ve left before me.
What does it mean to you to be a modern quilter and a modern man?
People tell me I’m a modern quilter, and that’s fine. However, I don’t like to think too much on how I define my style. I just make what I like, and it falls into whatever category it falls in. As creators, we should only make those things that bring us joy, and hopefully someone else will also find the joy in it. In twenty years, what we’re making now will undoubtedly not be modern. Because of this, I find it difficult for any of us to self-classify ourselves into an artistic movement that is still occurring. Yes, my quilts are very unlike my grandmother’s of the eighties and nineties because I use bolder colours, more negative space, and other “rules” of the modern quilt movement. I don’t necessarily think this makes them modern, it just makes them current.
As a gay man, I consider myself to be extremely liberal. My social and political attitudes probably wouldn’t align with those of most quilters. Does this make me a modern man? Nah, it just makes me an individual! Like me, that’s all I want my quilts to be. I want them to have a sense of originality, and reflect my own multi-faceted personality. I often look at my quilts and think they all look so different because I’m not confined to using particular fabric styles, patterns or shapes. The more I reflect on this though, the more I see it truly is an exact representation of my individuality, modern or otherwise.
Which quilt that you have made represents you and why?
All of them! I have learned so much from each quilt, and the process along the way. I find that one quilts often leads into another, and I’ll continue to perfect skills and techniques learned previously. Every quilt has a little bit of my own spirit imbued into its countless stitches. Of course I have favourite quilts, but even then it’s often for various reasons. Sometimes a certain fabric really speaks to you, sometimes it’s the smile of the recipient, and other times the reaction of the online community.
I’ve made over twenty-five quilts and countless cushions, and I still remember each one vividly. They all bring a really different emotional response, or a memory of a different part of the process. It’s all positive though; there’s not a single quilt that’s left me with a negative feeling. I’ve made some unsuccessful creative choices along the way, but I choose to learn from those, so that’s always positive! There’s still one quilt top that’s got me in all sorts of confusing hot water that I’m trying to resolve, but I’m sure it’ll turn out okay!
How do you connect with other modern quilters?
I often think about how much social media has affected the world we live in. In general, I truly am on the fence as to whether it has been a positive or negative influence on our society. However, in regards to the sewing community, I think it must be seen as generally a positive influence. I’ve never known a sewing world without technology and social media, and as previously mentioned, how would I have ever learned to sew without it!?
Around this time last year, I founded the No Girls Allowed Quilt Bee as a virtual quilt bee for men only. I’d started to feel there were men out in the quilting community that were looking for others like themselves. The interest was so incredible I went on to found the Men Who Quilt Facebook group which now has over 350 global members! Both of these avenues have allowed quilters who may have previously felt ostracised in their own quilting community a safe place to explore and share their passion.
I am able to connect to the Glitterati of the world through my blog and email, I share photos and inspiration on Instagram (molli_sparkles) and I can participate in community groups through Facebook. Our ancestral quilters never had the opportunity to participate in this long-distance sense of community, so I appreciate all that technology has done to bring us together!