I made my transition from Fashion into Theater in 1998 when I first moved to Toronto. At first it was supposed to be only a two-week stint. Well, twelve years later I am still here. I found costumes to be so much more interesting and exciting than contemporary fashion. Considering also my love of history – having the chance to work on all the different period costumes, researching and learning all the timelines and cultures was also an unexpected bonus. Quite often the show I was working on, a particular costume, piece of material or new technique we were using was the inspiration I needed for my next artwork. There are so many left over scraps from all the shows I’ve worked on in all of my collages.
Another influence I found in this line of work was all the incredibly talented people I’ve met here. Communicating with them on a daily basis and observing the development and completion of their own projects has often provided the inspiration I needed to get me back to my studio and begin a new piece, or the idea I was looking for in order to complete an old, left aside, “don’t know what to do with” project.
Besides working together, we all like to get together from time to time and create something different, but equally as beautiful as the costumes we make on a daily basis. We embrace opportunities to play with all the different and exciting mediums and exercise our designer’s chops. That’s how our tradition of making baby quilts was born.
Who wouldn’t embrace the idea of a beautiful hand made present, where all those long learned and well practiced skills can be applied, versus the standard, store bought item labeled “made in China”? Definitely not any of us. So, every time one of our own gives us the good news that there is a baby on the way, a small committee is pulled together and the work begins.
The committee usually includes people from the team the girl is working on, or her closest friends. They pick the theme, size and the color scheme, then prepare the pattern or size chart and distribute the pieces among everybody who wants to contribute. Depending on the style and the size of the quilt there have been between 10 and 40 people involved in making each one.
Once the pieces are distributed, every participant is free to create their own design and choose the techniques they like best for it. It is time for fierce, but very friendly competition. Everyone rises to the challenge and tries to come up with the most fascinating and unique ideas, resulting in some really striking quilts after all.
When all the single pieces are done a couple of people usually volunteer to put the whole quilt together, while someone else prepare a small accompanying booklet, containing the initial sketch, pictures and a list with the names of everyone involved.
I can’t even describe the overwhelming joy and excitement that is easy to read on the faces of the expectant mothers when they are presented with such a special and amazing keepsake, usually at a baby shower, thrown in their honor.
There was unfortunately one occasion when the idea of the quilt wasn’t born with a happy announcement. One of our friends was diagnosed with cancer and embarked on the grueling spiral of surgeries, treatments, diets and therapies, which usually completely takes over the patient’s life. It was hard for us to watch how this wonderful, vibrant woman, who was the heart and soul of every party, our Robyn, who was everyone’s favorite best friend, being eaten from within by this cruel disease. Unfortunately, we were incapable to help her much, except maybe lessen her financial burden, which is usually never talked about when a disease like this strikes, but is always one of the greatest side effects for a person of modest means. Besides all the donations and fund-raising drives, we decided to contribute with the thing we do best – with our skills. We organized a raffle in which the grand prize was to be one of our quilts. I was granted the honor of designing and organizing the whole project.
The word spread fast and we got 39 people wishing to participate from all the costume shops in Toronto, Stratford and Shaw Theater Festivals, even couple of former colleagues from Vancouver. After the quilt was completed, everyone got involved in the sales of the lottery tickets to friends, family members, co-workers and everyone they could reach. It was breathtaking to witness the immense energy, devotion and enthusiasm everybody invested in the realization of the whole endeavor.
At the end we managed to collect for over $8 000 which were donated to Robyn and her family to help them in those difficult times. Unfortunately, a few months later we lost her, but we still keep her in our hearts. The winner of the raffle was immensely happy to receive this precious quilt – proof that talent and devotion to your craft can go quite a long way to touch so many people in so many different ways.
I dedicate this post to my dear friend Robyn Kelly 1953 – 2003.