'Mixed Greens' quilt exhibit pieces together heritage, eco-consciousness

"Mixed Greens," an exhibition at La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum through Oct. 2, 2011, consists of 22 works by the Pacific Northwest African American Quilters.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sustainability is the theme of the Pacific Northwest African American Quilters exhibit on display in La Conner. Through materials and design, the group's 22 traditional and contemporary quilts all address the ethic of recycling, repurposing and reusing.

The quilters are skilled artists. Some have made hundreds of quilts. They give them to family and friends, sell them or donate them to charitable auctions or nonprofit agencies.

The women also voluntarily teach quilting in schools and senior communities, encouraging others to share its satisfactions.

Each one of the displayed quilts has an interesting story behind it.

Oneda Harris learned the art from her grandmother and perfected it as a member of the group. Her quilt "White Flour/Black Faces" is both hand- and machine-stitched. It incorporates Fisher Flour sacks that date from the 1910s to 1940s, when it was common for images of black people to appear on foodstuffs and domestic items.

Harris found the sacks at estate sales and secondhand stores. Her quilt thus ideally suits the show's theme, but it also offers a bit of Seattle history. Fisher Flour Co. was so successful, it branched out into other industries. Best known, perhaps, is Fisher Communications, which owns KOMO-TV.

When looking at the many kinds of quilts at the museum, know that each offered its own challenges.

For instance, Iris Franklin, one of the early members of the group, created a wall hanging made from men's discarded ties. Most ties are made from fabric that is cut on the bias so it will stretch. That's fine for the neck — but it's a problem for the quilter. Franklin solved it by adding a layer of interfacing before cutting. In quilt making, cutting is usually the most time-consuming part of the task.

Marilyn Wilson Hanseling's first quilt was 72 inches by 92 inches and took five years to finish. Then she joined the group.

Her projects now are often smaller in size but not necessarily smaller in concept. Her quilt for this exhibition embraces the environmental theme in both design and materials.

Using fabrics she already had, she created a quilt with the stylized image of a girl who has left her carbon footprints behind as she embarks on the long road we all must travel in our quest to take better care of the Earth.

There's a butterfly on the girl's back, symbolizing our new commitment and encouraging us to fly with it. Up in the sky are puffy clouds — made from fabric-softener sheets filled with dryer lint.

For these women, quilting is an extension of family traditions and a break from everyday life. Since 1997, when the group was founded, they have enjoyed camaraderie and shared their passion and expertise.

This exhibit proves the saying that every quilter has a masterpiece within.

Nancy Worssam: nworssam@earthlink.net

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