This post is part of a series, How I Got That Gig, in which we ask craft industry professionals to tell us the story behind a great commission, job, freelance opportunity, or contract. Read other stories in this series from Lib’s Elliott, Erin Weisbart, Jennifer Perkins, and Heather Grant. If you have a good story to tell about a gig of your own, or would like us to reach out someone else who has a great gig, email us at email@example.com.
Sometimes things appear to fall into your lap until you take a moment to reflect. I was recently commissioned by my town’s Local Cultural Council to design and create a quilt celebrating the town’s bicentennial. The West Newbury Cultural Council reached out to me. In hindsight, I realize that there were a lot of factors that led to them to me.
I grew up in this town so I have roots here. I am also very involved in our community. I served a three-year term on the Historical Commission, spoke about quilt conservation and care at our Historical Society, have been a Girl Scout leader for 8 years, and spoke about my first book at our public library. Also, I have built relationships and friendships with other creatives in town, including Heather Karp, the current chair of the WNCC and a talented painter. A couple of years ago, she spearheaded an Art and Garden tour with the West Newbury Garden Club and I participated in that event, opening my garden and studio to the public. Heather, along with other members of the council, knew of me and my work, as well as my background as an Art Historian. When the council decided that they wanted to present the town with a bicentennial gift, they unanimously voted to make it a quilt and to ask me to accept the commission.
I entered into this discussion with caution because I have learned from experience that it’s miserable to work on a big project that you do not enjoy. At first, I suggested that I might not be the best person for the commission because I design in a modern style. I was assured that they knew and were interested. I asked about their guidelines and they said that they wanted to quilt to celebrate some aspect of the town’s history. I hesitantly suggested combs because they have a lovely graphic shape and the comb industry was founded in the US here in West Newbury, just a few doors down from me, in fact! I made a quick napkin sketch of my idea during our first meeting over tea; staggered vertical columns of combs with negative space set off center and the date of the comb industry in that column. They agreed!
I loved working with the Commission because they gave me full artistic freedom. I felt very happy about my design, the fabrics I selected, and the quilting that I chose. This was a paid job and I felt that they valued my skill and time. At the end of the project, I felt proud of what I had created and the working relationship with the Commission.
At the start of the design process, I visited our Historical Society to view their collection of combs. I chose the four combs that I thought could best translate into paper pieced block designs. Originally, I was going to design only one block, but when I saw all the variety, I had to include more! I imported the images into my EQ8 software and designed blocks where the combs were placed differently within the block so that the final block layout has a lot of movement. After looking at the combs, and doing some research on the comb industry, I learned that the combs were generally made with cow horn, occasionally tortoise shell. They varied greatly in shades of brown, and transparency. Some were really dark, nearly charcoal or black. I chose a range of fabrics to illustrate this point but stuck with more modern textured solids that I would be likely to select for my own work.
You may note that the 1759 date seems odd for a bicentennial quilt! The town of West Newbury, MA was a part of Newbury in 1759 when the comb industry was established. It was incorporated in 1819 as West Newbury. The comb industry continued to boom until 1904.
The project culminated in a talk at the town library at the beginning of January. The LCC is preparing a curriculum based on the quilt to share with area schools. After the quilt has traveled for this purpose, it will be given to the GAR Memorial Library where it will hang.
I loved this project because I found such joy working as a maker in 2019, creating a modern, graphic representation of the makers’ industry that was present in our town 200 years ago.
Amy Friend is a former museum curator turned designer. She designs modern quilts and specializes in paper pieced designs. She authored the books Intentional Piecing (2016) and Improv Paper Piecing: A Modern Approach to Quilt Design (2017). She is an award winning quilter and her quilts have been exhibited at a number of quilt shows as well as museums. Amy visits quilt guilds to speak about her quilts and to teach workshops. You can follow her creative path on her blog,or on Instagram @duringquiettime.