This month we are talking to Vanessa Vargas Wilson from Crafty Gemini. Not strictly a modern quilter, Vanessa is much more! She is a seriously amazing teacher who loves all things crafty, from crochet, to sewing, gardening and cooking. Her roots in law were no match for her love of craft and now she has a successful online business which she runs with her husband from their 5-acre organic homestead. Read on to learn more about Vanessa and her love of quilting.
Tell us about how you started quilting and how you found modern quilting.
How I found quilting is kind of a long and random story but in short, I was a depressed 2nd year law student looking for a creative outlet. I asked my mother to teach me how to sew and after she bought me a 1966 Singer sewing machine at a yard sale for $10 she taught me how to thread and then sent me on my way to stitching straight lines. I was quickly bored and started cutting up jeans and clothes and free hand sewing my own accessories. During final exams one day I was driving around town looking for a quiet place to study and happened across a sewing shop! It was a Sunday and they were closed but I returned first thing the next morning. I signed up for a beginner sewing lesson and one of the employees mentioned I was a perfectionist and would probably like quilting. I had no idea what quilting was. I’m a first-generation American and my family comes from the Caribbean where it is HOT. I grew up in Miami, Florida… also HOT! We never had a need for a quilt so a new world was introduced to me in the shop that day. That was 8 years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Even as a beginning quilter taking my first 9-patch class I just couldn’t follow the pattern to the T. I had to make it my own. So, once I had the basics down I started looking up different quilt blocks online and taught myself how to make a few and added them to my quilt. My teacher couldn’t believe her eyes. Talk about being an overachiever! We were working on nine-patches and I had blocks some pretty interesting blocks that featured half square triangles and flying geese in there! I have always enjoyed learning ever since I was a young child. I used to cry if I had to miss school for any reason. Now with technology I think that thirst for knowledge that I have is more easily quenched because I have EVERYTHING I could possibly want to learn right at my fingertips with a quick Google search. Because the internet affords me this never ending archive of ideas and inspiration I think that has definitely influenced my work. I don’t know that I have a specific style other than I like to do whatever I want. Sometimes the geometric shapes and precision of a grid like quilt design draw me in and other times I don’t even want a ruler around and want to improvise the whole thing. I’m a Gemini so something about the multiple personalities they say we have definitely comes across in my quilting. Social media is another aspect of this tech-driven world we live in because it helps me connect with other people all over the globe. I live on a homestead in the country so I don’t get out very much. Being able to still have those conversations and interactions with other quilters, designers and students really helps inspire me to try new things and push myself a little more with each project.
I began quilting and soon joined a local traditional guild. Now, I’m someone who just likes to do my own thing and will change my mind at the drop of a dime and do something totally different midway through a project. The more color it has the better. Whenever I would get up for show-n-tell and show off one of my latest quilts the majority of the members wouldn’t receive it with any positive words. So, I quickly learned that I needed to find another audience to share my works with. A group of like minded quilters who could appreciate my “style” a little more. So, I took to the internet since there was no modern quilt guild where I lived. After seeing so many others that I could relate to online and whose work I loved I decided to start up a modern quilt guild chapter in the nearest town.
What does it mean to you to be a modern quilter and a modern woman?
This is an interesting question for me to answer. First, I think it’s important to get some background on where I come from. I am a first-generation American who grew up in Miami, Florida. English is my second language and everyone in my family comes from another country. So, although I was born in this country I didn’t grow up with the same types of family heirlooms, historical teachings and other cultural aspects of being American as other Americans did. So, considering I had no idea what a quilt was until I was 22 years old I had no idea that it was considered by the mainstream public as something “grandmothers do or great-grandmother do.” It was a totally new concept to me. I just knew that I enjoyed making functional and practical things with my hands and I loved math. Quilting brought those two loves together for me and that’s all I really cared about. So, to me being a modern quilter and a modern woman really just means that in today’s crazy and hectic modern lifestyle I still enjoy making quilts. To me it is about making time for myself to do the things I enjoy doing… which I find is one of the hardest things to do today as a modern woman.
Which quilt that you have made represents you and why?
I think the quilt that represents me is my Keys Afloat quilt. It’s a simple modern design that features bold bright solids. It has everything I looooove in a quilt! Simplicity, geometric shapes and colour! This is probably my most favorite quilt I’ve ever made. It makes me feel fresh and bold when I look at it. It’s a statement piece but so simple and clean at the same time. I was happy with the design when I was first designing it but I was quite surprised to see how much more I loved it when it was completed with the scrappy binding and quilting. I really love everything about this quilt.
How do you connect with other modern quilters?
I started our local modern quilt guild back in 2010 as an informal group of quilters who wanted to share and learn more about modern quilting. I was a member of a traditional guild and decided to start my own modern quilt guild because I wanted to connect with quilters that enjoyed a more modern aesthetic. Because we live out in the country it’s hard to get together with other modern quilters at more than a monthly guild meeting so I launched an online quilt club in January 2015. This group of quilters is like another guild for me. We laugh, learn, share and swap and it is such a good time! It’s hard not to feel lonely as a quilter who works on projects late at night by myself. It’s so much more fun to share my works in progress or to ask for feedback on fabric choices with other quilty friends!
I’m starting to pass this craft down to my children who both sew and have worked on their own little quilts. It’s such a fun time to see them having fun doing something I love so much!