Sister Artists 2 is our second quilt initiative to connect fiber artists in the Global South with quilters in the North. It is built around 41 embroidered animal designs that were made at the height of the pandemic by women in the informal settlements of Kibera and Kangemi, in Nairobi. The participating partners in Kenya are the Tandaza Trust (Kibera) and the Kangemi Advocacy Self-Help Group.
We first met the Kenyan sister artists when they produced embroidered stories for the Women’s World Quilt in Nairobi in November 2019. Many are single mothers and were already struggling with the challenges that come from living in overcrowded settlements. The COVID-19 pandemic has added greatly to the pressure.
Their blocks have been turned into quilts by art quilters from North America, who are profiled on the third tab. The quilts themselves will be auctioned online before the end of the year. Profits will be invested in the Kenyan sister artists. AP is also producing a catalogue featuring the quilts and artists.
As well as rewarding the Kenyan sister artists for their work, this project has also contributed to their well-being during the worst months of the pandemic by giving them a creative outlet for frustration and anxiety. Trainings also helped. They met several times – in the open air and wearing face-masks – and this allowed them to socialize with friends after weeks of lock-down and isolation. Several built friendships with the sister artists in the north who were turning their blocks into quilts. All of this provided therapy and raised morale at a difficult time.
It also led to a new embroidery project and even action. Caren Mbyaki, who coordinated the Kangemi team, created an WhatsApp list to coordinate the trainings and this provided her team members with an emotional life-line during the months that followed. They used it to encourage each other, praise their emerging blocks, commiserate in times of trouble and generally keep in touch.
Late in 2020 the Kenyan sisters embarked on a third quilting adventure and signed up for a AP’s global program to tell their story of the COVID-19 pandemic through embroidery. They produced wonderful designs which were assembled into three spectacular quilts in the US and can be viewed here.
Caren was so impressed by her team’s enthusiasm that she registered the group as an association with the government. She expressed the hope that it could eventually advocate for better services in the overcrowded settlement and this is exactly what has happened. One of the quilts has been sent to Nairobi, where it is being used to make the case for vaccinations in the settlements as we report in this bulletin.
We are delighted to once again reward the creativity of women fiber artists during this period of stress and anxiety. Special thanks to Gill Rebelo, Sigrun Hansen and Bobbi Fitzsimmons for their tireless work and encouragement, and to Humanity United for its generous financial support.
Questions? Contact Bobbi Fitzsimmons firstname.lastname@example.org
The artists from Kangemi and Kibera wore face-masks and observed social distancing when they gathered for a group training, and welcomed the opportunity to work with their friends while making their blocks. Each block features wildlife from Kenya and was made to serve as the foundation for an art quilt. The average size is 14″ by 12″. Profiles of the artists can be found on the last two tabs.
Judy was delighted to receive Stella Makena”s wonderful embroidered piece. It is masterfully stitched and Judy was determined to give it a setting that showcased its beauty and personality.
Putting marks on fabric, whether with paint, dye, or thread brings Judy joy and her quilt incorporates several of these techniques. The central piece was drawn and watercolored to create a setting for the embroidered red bird. Touches of embroidery were added to reference the original piece. The borders are hand-dyed linen. It is quilted using hand and machine stitching.
“Though Kenya and California my a world apart, they have been joined by art and a love of craft” Judy states. “I am honored to have shared this adventure with my sister artist.”
Princeton, New Jersey
Juandamarie started quilting 15 years ago. She is the founding President of Princeton Sankofa Stitchers Modern Quilt Guild, and her quilts have been exhibited in museums including the Ellarslie House/Trenton Museum, Montclair History Center; at venues in Boston and on Martha’s Vineyard; and at Swarthmore College where she was selected to participate in the “Response to Gee’s Bend,” exhibit.
Juandamarie received an email regarding a call for quilters to create works for the Sister artists 2 project, where US based quilt artists would use embroidered blocks created by women artists from Kenya as their foundation to create a work of art. Juandamarie has traveled to Kenya numerous times to visit her family there, and was really excited to participate. ”I feel honored to have been paired with Caren Mbayaki, with whom I’ve had the delight of corresponding” Juandamarie shares. She look forward to collaborating on future projects.
Juandamarie has used African fabrics to represent the water and the land of the crocodile in this block. The quilt is machine-pieced and machine-quilted with free-motion details to enhance the embroidery.
Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Veronica has been quilting in earnest for five years and gave up teaching in the summer of 2019 to quilt full-time. She runs her own company, Conaky’s Quilt Company, and produces vivacious quilts, usually in an African style.
“The Finest Rhinoceros” has a beautiful hand-embroidered centerpiece. It is surrounded by rich border-stripe fabrics featuring African animals. Machine stitched, cotton fabrics, batting and thread. What a blessing to work in collaboration with such a talented sister artist!
Veronica is a member of two guilds in Rhode Island – Quilters by the Sea and Rhode Island Threads – as well as Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA).
Deborah Weir is a mixed media artist who primarily uses textiles in her work. Though contemporary in every sense, her art references traditional “women’s work,” done mostly by hand, with a needle, using gentle materials – thread, floss, beads – and more modern, edgier ones such as Tyvek, Fosshape and found objects. The artwork is detailed, often with reflective surfaces and tiny, rich elements, and does not always neatly fit typical categories but includes collage, 3D and heavily worked or embroidered surfaces as well as art quilts and weaving.
She loves the process of making, but her work is always idea driven. Recently her art explored issues of incarceration: a series of cells, along with a growing body of art quilts based on photos she took at Alcatraz. Her current project involves 3D images referencing Paleolithic cave mark-making.
This vibrant ostrich is surrounded by bright fabrics that have been fused together in free-form pieces. Deborah then quilted around many of the small pieces to ensure their stability. She added the ostrich’s tail of white feathers and included a stabilizer inside the quilt to ensure that the feathers don’t get bent. The quilt also has machine-piecing and quilting.
Deborah has shown her work on six continents and curated over a dozen art exhibitions. Her art has appeared in journals online and in print. She is delighted to be involved with the Advocacy Project! See more of Deborah’s work at https://www.deborahweir.net/
Los Alamitos, California
Carol Churchill grew up in Southern California. She practiced law for 30 plus years, then joined two textile art groups: Quilts on the Wall Textile Artists and Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA).
Carol loves to travel around the world, taking photographs, and visiting art galleries. Carol put Kenya on her travel “Must See” list, and was lucky to observe warthogs running across the hot dry African landscape while wagging their tails high in the air . . . an amusing sight. Carol chose Everlilne’s warthog because it brought back wonderful memories of her travels in Africa. The background fabric was selected for colors matching the embroidery and theme, and then gold metallic threads were loosely woven across the top and glass beads were added to create texture and the feeling of heat from the African sun.
Carol’s art projects have been published in Quilting Arts Magazine and Art Quilting Studio Magazine, and have been exhibited in many quilt shows and art galleries across the United States.
As chair of Quilts on the Wall Exhibit Committee, Carol posted member’s art work organized by annual themes: Sunrise/Sunset, Life’s a Beach, Heat, Ice/Cold/Frozen, Fiddling with Fabric, to name a few. The gallery may be accessed at: https://www.quiltsonthewall.com
Nairn began quilting in 1989. In the early years she was self-taught but has since attended various inspiring workshops. Nairn has done only hand quilting in the past and is new to machine quilting. Fortunately, as a quilter it is always good to have a new challenge! For this quilt, another challenge for her has been the effort to enhance and complement the lovely embroidery work, rather than overwhelm or detract from it.
This is Nairn’s second entry to a Sister Artists project and she is very happy to be involved in an endeavor aimed at improving the lives of her sisters around the world. This quilt features many different sections of patchwork, from tiny squares to little circles all pieced by machine. The quilting is also done by machine in free-motion style.
Peg has been quilting and teaching for over 30 years. She first became involved with Sister Artists – Mali in 2018 and has been inspired by the incredible work done by these women.
To design her quilt, Peg contacted Spencer, her Sister Artist, and researched Lake Nalcuro and the rhinoceros to create an abstract of the picture of the lake. She sent pictures of the quilt to Spencer and truly hopes that she is pleased with the result.
Peg has used photo transfers to compliment this rhinoceros. The machine-piecing is done with many African fabrics. She has used big stitch hand embroidery to further embellish the quilt which she then machine-pieced. She used fabric from her collection of African prints to represent the vibrancy and beauty of the continent of Africa.
Peg has worked with many young African people in her career as an educator in nursing. She says that being part of the Sister Artists 2021 is an honor. She hopes her contribution to the project will assist more women to participate and grow in this “hobby” that she loves. Quilting is a very large part of her own identity and a source of peace, pride, and satisfaction which helped her to survive throughout the pandemic.
Jessica is an artist who lives in Hyattsville, Maryland. Most of her experience is with drawing and painting, so she enjoyed using fabric to paint and draw!
Jessica was hoping to capture the feel of the expansive sky and landscape she experienced when she visited Kenya in 2013. Jessica volunteered at a youth empowerment center for homeless children and teens where she learned of the great strength and resiliency of many young women. The women and child figures in the quilt are her attempt to honor those she met during that visit.
Jessica has chosen a color palette to match the fabrics she brought back from Africa. These fabrics appear in the two figures at the bottom. The water buffalo is in the center to honor the fine embroidery skills of Betty Namalwa.She has done some intricate and innovative piecing of the sun. Jessica used a combination of raw-edge applique and machine piecing. The quilt is machine-quilted.
Jessica hopes this wall-hanging quilt brings joy to its new owner and furthers the important mission of the Advocacy Center.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Victoria Rugo has been sewing since she was 8 years old and quilting since she was 18. She is now 65 years young and retired. Currently, Victoria likes to sew, read, travel, and volunteer. Her mother taught her and her 3 older sisters how to sew on a Singer machine, Both of Victoria’s daughters can sew and quilt and they all made fabric face masks this year. Her grandmother had a treadle foot, not an electric sewing machine.
Victoria enjoys people and art and mixing fabrics and colors. She has made many quilts and given them away. Victoria likes hand quilting and finds it very relaxing. She likes to use natural fabrics like silk and cotton.
Victoria has completed this quilt almost entirely by hand, including piecing and quilting. The fabrics and color palate reflect and compliment the embroidery of the hyena.
Victoria supports the Advocacy Project because it helps women all over the word who need assistance.
Christine Danler has been quilting for 20+ years. Growing up, her mom’s quilt bee met every other Thursday, and she remembered socializing with the ladies every time it was hosted at her house. “My mom was very involved in the bee and guild, and I was always interested in the arts, but didn’t really take an interest in quilting until I was in my 20’s”, Christine shares.
Christine was attracted to the Sister Artists 2 project after seeing the first round of amazing quilts come from the Sister Artists project. The design for my quilt was inspired by the baobob trees in Africa, the kind of iconic tree you think about when picturing the African grasslands. She thought, “well, the baobob tree is pretty cliche, so let’s jazz it up a bit with this funky fabric, to really give it a nice alternative to some more traditional landscape scenes!”. In the upper left corner, you’ll see some decorative stitches depicting a sun spraying its rays over the tree. To the left of the tree trunk, there is an outline of Kenya quilted into the background. Decorative ribbon outlines parts of the background blocks, as well.
Christine wanted to keep the quilting simple, so as to not take away from the embroidered rhino that she chose to build the quilt around. She really enjoyed working on this project, and wished the embroiderers best of luck!
Boulder Creek, California
Julie took art training while at university in California. She is particularly interested in women’s issues and took part in Sister Artists – Mali, having been drawn by the cause and the thought of making a connection with women in Africa.
For the Sister Artist – Kenya project, Julie chose one of the embroidered lions. She created intricately pieced borders that echo the colors found in the embroidered block. Some African fabrics have been used. The machine quilting is free-motion.
Julie is a member of Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA); the Modern Quilt Group; Contemporary Quilters; and Fiber Artists in the Bay Area.
Glenda is primarily a Shibori textile artist and also enjoys collage quilting. She tries to incorporate naturally dyed fabrics into her pieces and especially Indigo.
Glenda draws heavily on the natural world for her art and tries to make a statement with each piece. She is also drawn to creating pieces that highlight social issues. Glenda sews for the Social Justice Academy, an organization that creates memory banners for victims of violence. Her piece “Roots” was selected by the Artists Against Racism and also displayed as part of the exhibition series Art & Social Justice: Art for the People by the People at the Ellington-White Contemporary in Fayetteville, NC.
Glenda is so glad and honored to be part of the Sister Artists and the Advocacy Project. She hopes her use of the block by her sister artist Harriet Njeri Kariuki brings joy. Glenda incorporated fabric that she mud dyed with a print design and highlighted the colors in the block by using colorful batiks. She used a simple geometric quilting pattern so as not to draw away from the fantastic embroidery panel. There is hand-painted and hand-stamped fabric in the borders. The quilt is machine-pieced and machine-quilted.
Glenda is a member of the Mid-Valley Quilters Guild in Salem, Oregon and belongs to a wonderful sewing group called the “Knotty Stitchers”.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Dr. Barbara Fitzsimmons has been an early childhood educator for years. She began sewing at an early age, making most of her own clothes until she found quilting in her 20’s. From that point forward, she combined her love of working with young children and her passion for quilting. She has used her quilts to share many valuable lessons with children, such as the importance of persistence and the joy of sharing with others.
Bobbi is now the quilt project coordinator for the Advocacy Project. In this position she gets to work with many women of the Global South to tell their stories though embroidery and to connect with quilters to put these stories into finished quilts. She recently spearheaded an exhibit at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, NC to showcase quilts of COVID stories from Nepal, Zimbabwe, and the US. Sister Artists Kenya is the latest project she is coordinating.
After the Kenya animal embroideries were selected by Sister Artists, one block remained. Bobbi took this block to make her Sister Artist quilt. Having visited Nairobi in November 2019 and helping these same ladies to complete their Woman’s World quilt to present to the United Nations leadership, Bobbi decided to have her block reflect the landscape of Kenya. She brought in both the subdued and the vibrant colors of Africa in her design. Having Elizabeth’s antelope going to the water hole, highlights the importance of this precious, and sometimes scarce resource. She hopes her Kenyan Sister Artist will approve.
This quilt uses several different methods of piecing: hand-pieced octagons, strip piecing, and raw-edge applique. There is some unique open work near the bottom border with short strands of African style beads. The border is African fabric and the piece is machine-quilted.
Bobbi is a member of Swan Lake Quilt Guild (Sumter, SC) and Quilters By the Sea Guild (Wilmington, NC).
Wilmington, North Carolina
This Hippo block was embroidered by Jackline Kamene of the Kangemi community. The block was turned into a quilt by Mary Harned in North Carolina. Mary learned quilting from her sister and she has been quilting for 10 years. The sisters enjoy quilting together and sharing their projects on their blog: www.quiltingsistersunravelled.com
Mary was introduced to the Advocacy Project by a member of her quilt guild, Bobbi Fitzsimmons, who is also a Board Member. She loves making fabric art wall hangings and is always experimenting with new techniques. Creating fabric art for a good cause and to enrich someone’s life, is one of Mary’s favorite things to do.
Mary was happy to receive the hippo embroidery block and was attracted to its sweet face. She surrounded the embroidered block with wonky log cabin blocks and added a little hand stitching around the hippo for some additional texture. The color scheme that she chose represents the water, grasses and the land. The top border fabric (village print) was donated by a fellow Quilt Guild member and it was just the finishing touch this quilt needed.
Mary loves a challenge and this one was extra special and an honor to highlight another woman’s beautiful embroidery work.
Aarti started quilting in 2019, when she decided to make 2 baby quilts. She hasn’t stopped since, and has recently started trying garment making as well. Aarti learned about Sister Artists through a fellow member of the DC Modern Quilt Guild and was drawn to the project and the amazing blocks from Kangemi and Kibera.
With Pauline’s beautiful embroidery, Aarti wanted to play off the colors and elements that Pauline chose, so she added the green and orange frame, and then chose to add paper pieced leaves. Describing her quilt she states: “I love the precision of paper piecing and the complex elements you can create”. Aarti also loves that Pauline says she can see herself improving, just as she finds herself learning new things with each quilt she makes. The quilt is finished with both hand and machine-quilting.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Anne Watson was born in England and learnt to sew at an early age. There was no television, only radio. Her aunts would listen to the radio and always had handwork: knitting, quilting, embroidery, tatting. She was encouraged to sew along. Sewing at school was part of the school curriculum. Anne’s first knitting project went from pink to grey as she took the stitches out so often.
Quilting became an interest in the late 60’s when Anne came to America. Her first quilt was a block-by-block by Georgia Bonesteel and then she progressed from there. Anne enjoys art quilting and experimenting with textures.
Anne’s first quilt for the Advocacy Project was the COVID-19 quilt assembled from blocks created by embroiderers in Nepal.
This quilt has an embroidered snake by the Kenyan artist and an appliqued snake by the American artist. There is machine-piecing and raw-edge applique used throughout. Anne has used significant bead work and has applied a hemp-like cord around the edge. The quilt is machine-quilted.
Ellen learned to sew as a child, mostly clothing and practical items. Inspired by her mother’s quilts, she has been quilting herself for about 20 years. Since her mother had made so many wonderful bed quilts for the family, Ellen tried smaller pieces. Her background in drawing and graphic design, as a part of her study of landscape architecture, encouraged her to experiment with unique quilt designs. From that, it was a logical step into art quilts. Ellen’s quilts usually reflect her interest in plants or landscape.
This quilt is Ellen’s second Sister Artist project. “When I made the quilt with my Malian sister’s embroidery, I loved the challenge of collaborating with another artist to create a blending of our work,” she said. “I was eager to do it again with the Kenya project.”
The embroidery Ellen received from Kenya depicts a regal leopard, lounging on the branch of a tree. Research confirmed that this is a typical daytime pose for a leopard, which relies on cunning and the cover of darkness to catch its prey. “It seemed to me that encountering a leopard would feel very different at night than in the daylight. That inspired me to show the 2 faces of a leopard in this quilt.” Raw-edge applique is used on both halves of this quilt, from the leopard’s spots to the trees and grass. Thread painting has also been used to enhance the design and the quilt is machine-pieced and machine-quilted. Ellen also enjoyed expanding the landscape implied so beautifully in the embroidery. Ellen is a member of SAQA, Studio Art Quilt Associates.
Willmington, North Carolina
Lynn is a retired pharmacist, originally from NH. She took her first traditional quilting class in Massachusetts in the early 80’s, before the birth of her second daughter. As a longtime seamstress, Lynn was intrigued with all the ways quilters were using fabrics and the endless possibilities. Hand appliqué and embroidery soon became her favorite techniques and she enjoys using many different textiles and fibers in her work.
Speaking of her experience with the project she says “it was an honor to participate in the Sister Artists Quilt project. I love that the Kenyan women are using embroidery as an art form and means to improve their economic prospects”. Her vision for the leopard that she selected was to incorporate him in a Kenyan landscape, looking south toward Mt Kilimanjaro. She thinks of him as a guardian of his environment.
Anne has incorporated the embroidered leopard into a complete African landscape using different beautiful fabrics. Nine patch blocks surround the center of the quilt in coordinating colors. There are a number of embellishments including silk ribbons and additional hand embroidery.
The quilt “Playing in the Sunshine” was worked on by both Kathy Springer and Cathy Franks. Read about them below. The quilt is machine-pieced with paper piecing on the trees and the sun. Machine-quilting has been used throughout.
Kathy fell in love with quilting at a craft show in Maryland. Shortly after, she made her first quilt from “Quilt in a Day” with the help of a neighbor. Since then, she has made many quilting friends and has collaborated with Cathy Franks who loves the quilting process as much as Kathy loves the piecing process. Together, they and others have made several quilts for the Advocacy Project including the tragic but beautiful Rehema Widows quilt. She has also worked on the Moroccan Amizigh quilt and the Women’s Microcredit Quilt from Bangladesh.
When contacted about the Sisters Artist -Kenya project, she selected the playful giraffe by Penninah. She wanted to highlight the giraffe, and felt a wall hanging that could go anywhere in a house, a child’s room, a nursery, etc. would be perfect. She used Electric Quilt to design this quilt as she knew the sun block would have to be paper pieced, as well as the trees. She already had the fabric with the giraffe, elephant, etc., on it and incorporated it into the quilt as the colors are vivid and bright just like the quilt.
The quilt is machine-pieced with precise paper-piecing on the trees and the sun. Machine-quilting has been used throughout.
Kathy has just recently retired and become a grandmother. She feels lucky that she can watch her grandchildren and spend a lot of time creating quilts, as this is truly her passion.
Cathy has been quilting for the last 40 years. She has had my own custom machine design quilting business for the last 30 – 35 years. Cathy has been fortunate enough to have been able to teach in almost all 50 states of the USA and also in several foreign countries. She has also been published in numerous magazines and have appeared in several quilting programs that are aired on the internet and also on TV.
Cathy loves meeting new people and is happy to share any information she have about quilting with everybody she knows. Quilting has been a wonderful and joyous experience for her. Cathy wants to thank the Advocacy Project so much for taking on this project and all the work and effort that has been placed in it.
Silver Spring, Maryland
Linda’s mother taught her to sew when she was a young child. When she was in her 30s, after a moving and painful experience, Linda wanted to put this experience into a quilt. She had no idea how to construct a quilt and took a studio class where she learned the basics of patchwork and applique. Linda has been making quilts ever since with some multi-year breaks along the way.
Although Linda has made quilts with traditional blocks and patterns, she is mostly an improvisational quilter. All that is involved in the composition of a design is very important to her. Linda usually modifies, expands, takes detours and allows serendipity to happen as she works on a quilt or wall hanging
Over the years, Linda has had several opportunities to collaborate with artists in other parts of the world. She embraces the chance to put the slogan “sisterhood is powerful” into practice. In this collaboration with Florence Wangu, Linda tried to situate the gazelle in the savannah, its natural habitat. Wangu embroidered the gazelle and much of the grass below it. Linda supplemented it with more grass as well as the wavy and couched lines above it. The backside and binding on the quilt are made from fabric given to her by a friend who had purchased it at a market in Nigeria but she thinks it may have been produced in Indonesia—another example of our interconnected world.
Tuckhoe, New Jersey
Merry May has lived in Tuckahoe, NJ for nearly all of her life. She has been a quilt maker since the early 1970s, and became a quilting instructor in 1988. She is also a lecturer, designer, author, quilt historian, curator, mentor, and fabric & button hoarder. She has designed and written instructions for over 40 patterns of Merry Mayhem’s Mystery Quilts, which have been enjoyed by quilters worldwide since 1994. Her work is in public and private collections worldwide
Merry has made several quilts for The Advocacy Project. Her most recent two quilts include blocks by Middle Eastern refugees from Iraq, Syria and Palestine (Fifth and Sixth Quilts).
The setting for the water buffalo quilt was machine-pieced with many different fabrics including African and African-inspired ones. Most of the quilting is done by machine except the water which is hand-quilted using a variety of thread colors as well as metallic gold. The colors of the original embroidery are reflected in the colors of the border. Merry has used a variety of embroidery stitches including couching, some of which are used for quilting as well.
In her “spare time” she manages a local cemetery, and owns two tons of buttons (no, really!). Merry is Past President of the Greater Tuckahoe Area Merchants’ Association, and established their annual Handmade in America Professional Craft Show in 2014. More of her work can be found at: www.MerryMayhem.com
On a trip to the Serengeti, Hope and her group were taken to an area known for having lions on top of very high rocks. They were told that this was the area that animators for the movie, “ The Lion King” came to for the inspiration for the opening scene.
When Hope saw the beautifully hand embroidered Lion done by Modester Makhungu, she knew immediately the scene for the art quilt.
Raw-edge, machine appliqué was used to create the massive rock on which the lion stands and the sky is made of hand-dyed fabric. The machine quilting also includes some thread painting.
Hope is a long time quilter. After blanketing her family, friends and new babies with quilts, she turned to the fun of making Art Quilts. This is her second one for the Advocacy Group.
She has been a long time supporter of women’s rights and spent the majority of her working life as a Nurse Practitioner for Planned Parenthood. A mother of five, she now has five grandchildren.
Pati has been quilting for almost 30 years. Her background is fabric and graphic design. After teaching and blogging for many years, she found her passion in supporting others in their creative endeavors, and by making her own meaningful art, which just happens to include textiles.
Pati’s quilt was inspired by the Kenyan artist, Evelin Ndanu. She compares Evelin and her young child to the lioness and her offspring, both trying to protect those they love. The children in this piece were inspired by a photo she found while researching Kanjemi. They appear to be protecting each other as the lioness protects her pride.
The quilt was stitched entirely by hand, except for the finishing of the edges. Fabric was torn to give a soft, natural fray, layered and collaged, then stitched together with an assortment of threads to add texture and movement. This is a process Pati has been exploring over the past few years. “I find it to be similar to freely painting and sketching for me, as opposed to the rigidness of stitches made by machine”, Pati writes. She does very little pre-planning with this technique, because she enjoys making choices in the moment, whether that is how she layers the fabric or accentuates her stitches. It is a very freeing process, somewhat like doodling. The quilt is meant to be enjoyed up close.
South Dennis, Massachusetts
While researching potential speakers for my quilt guild, Jane happened to find Allison Wilbur’s Quilt for Change website and the Sister Artist 2 project. The embroidery work of the Kenyan women reminded her of story cloths created by the mothers of immigrant Hmong children she had taught in the 1990’s and 2000’s, Their beautiful embroidered story cloths chronicled the lives of the Hmong clans from their villages in the highlands of Laos and Vietnam, to the refugee camps in Thailand, to eventually new homes in the United States. With her new found collage quilting skills, Jane knew she wanted to be involved with this partnership.
Jane learned to sew as a youngster at the elbow of her grandmother, making clothes for her dolls. She spent her teenage years repurposing denim jeans into new garments. In college and beyond, Jane designed and constructed formal dresses and gowns for proms and weddings. Between raising a family and teaching middle school students science in an urban school district, she often was designing, sewing and altering bridal and special occasion gowns. This grew into a small side business for many years.
Upon retiring from teaching and fancy gown making, Jane had time to learn quilting, which has become her passion! During this past year with the pandemic, she has been able to learn quite a few new quilting techniques via youtube videos and zoom workshops. Her new favorite technique is art and landscape collage quilting. Reflecting on her quilt she states: “It has been my honor and pleasure to participate in this Sister Artists 2 project!”
The wildcat embroidery has been placed in a very realistic setting using raw-edge applique and raw-edge piecing. The quilt is machine-pieced and machine-quilted.
Jane is a member of Bayberry Quilters of Cape Cod.
Along with creating art quilts, Karen enjoys bringing the pleasure of quilting and sewing to students of all levels. Karen brings 40+ years of sewing experience to all who join her in class. Karen has had several articles written about her quilts in various newspapers, including the Boston Globe and Arts Around Boston Magazine.
Karen has used African fabrics to set off the realistic zebra embroidery. The quilt is machine-pieced and machine-quilted.
For Tricia, quilting is part of a larger creative process that includes her photography. It all comes together in Tricia’s quilts and she looked on Sister Artists as an opportunity to experiment with new approaches. Tricia knows Africa from visiting Zambia and was impressed when a friend started an education fund for young Africans.
Tricia has made quilts for fund-raising and was drawn to Sister Artists because she wanted to help. Tricia picked the giraffe embroidery square because she thinks Giraffes are majestic. Tricia thought the giraffe embroidery was beautifully crafted. The piecework in this quilt accurately reflects and enhances the colors of the embroidered giraffe block. Tricia has used some African and African-inspired fabrics and has machine-pieced and machine-quilted.
Tricia is a member of Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA), Quilters Connection Guild, Based in Watertown; and Rising Star Quilt Guild in Arlington. Tricia sells her work through galleries and takes on commissions.
Hudson, New Hampshire
Zebras is Rhonda’s 2nd quilt for the Advocacy Project – she also participated in the Mali Sister Artists project in 2020. Rhonda was especially happy to get the embroidered zebras to work with on this project, having just finished another art quilt involving zebras.
This Sister Artists Zebras quilt was a particular challenge because Rhonda suffered a stroke just after receiving the beautiful embroidered square. Rhonda planned the quilt while spending a week in the hospital and a week in rehab learning to use her left leg, arm and hand again. When she returned home, she considered working on the quilt to be part of her therapy.
Rhonda continues to work to recover coordination and strength, and has resumed work part-time as Director, Environmental Health and Safety for the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA. She lives with her husband and dog, and in her spare time enjoys making art quilts and bed quilts, gardening, hiking, and ringing handbells.
The zebra embroidery is set in a brilliant array of oranges and reds to represent the African sun. Within one of the yellow rays, Rhonda has added sunshine quilting motifs. This quilt is machine pieced and machine quilted.
Stephanie Adams is a public health management consultant who lives in Bethesda, Maryland. She’s been quilting for four years and is a member of the DC Modern Quilt Guild. She’s always dabbled with crafts and then her best friend of 45-plus years pushed her into an Internet rabbit hole where she found inspiration from phenomenal quilters – Chawne Kimber, Jacquie Gering, Bisa Butler, Gee’s Bend and so many others. She hasn’t looked back. She is inspired by the ability of quilts to make powerful political and social statements.
A dear friend invited her to the first Sister Artists show and she was so inspired by the powerful quilts and jumped at the opportunity to make one to support the phenomenal work of the Advocacy Project. In making Simba Jasiri – or Brave Lion – she wanted to provide a simple backdrop to highlight both the extraordinary embroidery by Susan, the lion’s majestic strength and bravery, and the beauty of the savanna. She used wool batting and dense, wavy quilting to make the lion pop forth in a dreamy, undulating landscape. This dramatic presentation uses black-on-black fabrics which make the silver lamé moon shine even brighter. The multitude of yellow fabrics surrounding the lion embroidery also provide an artistic contrast. The quilt is machine-pieced and machine-quilted.
College Park, Georgia
Diane has always loved working with fabric. She “dabbled” at quilting while raising a family but turned to quilting full-time when her last child went to college. Diane likes art quilting “because I don’t have to follow a pattern and can be more ”individualistic.” She still takes Classes and has had several quilts hung in shows.
She was honored to work with Diana Adeya’s peacock block. She found the workmanship spectacular and loved the colors she used. Those colors gave her the inspiration for her portion of the piece. She used Diana’s colors and worked with flowers and leaves that she had drawn to create a whimsical framing of the beautiful bird. The flowers surrounding the embroidered peacock use an interesting applique technique. Each flower is outlined with fine contrasting fabric and then machine-quilted. The applique is raw-edge. The quilt is machine-quilted.
Diane is a member of the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA).
Wilmington, North Carolina
Donna became interested in working with textiles when she started sewing garments as a teenager. When she was 18, Donna made her first bed quilt using scraps of fabric from her mother’s stash of garment fabrics. Despite making lots of mistakes on her first quilt, she continued to make bed quilts and also sew garments for about 30 years.
When Donna retired from teaching children in elementary schools about 10 years ago, she started taking classes to learn more quilting techniques, especially for making art quilts. She was inspired by photographs from travels to make landscape quilts. She likes to experiment with different techniques like painting and dyeing fabrics and adding mixed media elements. Donna likes to participate in challenge quilts to get those creative ideas flowing in new directions. She enjoys making quilts for different charity organizations like Quilts of Valor, Habitat for Humanity, and quilts for kids.
Using photographs of Kenya as inspiration, Donna created a landscape background for the elephant embroidery made by Sabina Mutiso. Donna used fused strips of fabric to create the background and Angelina fibers on Menengai Crater. The trees are appliquéd using free motion quilting to the background. She used a combination of straight line quilting and free motion quilting. Donna has used raw-edge piecing and appliqué for this design. Hand painted fabrics, as well as shimmering fabric and silver thread on the snow-capped peak add realism . The quilt is machine-quilted.
Donna heard about the Advocacy Project through Bobbi Fitzsimmons at a Quilter by Sea guild meeting in Wilmington, NC. Donna enjoys doing challenge quilts and was happy to help with the Advocacy Project quilts to support their important work.
Donna is a member of Quilters By the Sea in Wilmington, NC.
Sandra has been an avid quilter for almost 25 years. Although she first learned her craft in garment construction, she has discovered that stitching traditional and art quilts is a very creative and challenging process. As a retired biologist and teacher, she frequently features animal and plant motifs in her work.
Sandra was so impressed with the level of craftsmanship in the embroidered wildebeest figure that she received from her sister artist that she initially hesitated to begin working with it as she feared her contribution would detract from its beauty. After researching the ecology of the wildebeest, she decided that her quilt would focus on the animals’ annual migration. The regal embroidered wildebeest would lead the herd!
Dyeing fabrics is Sandra’s newest passion and she used her own hand-dyed fabrics in the sky. The scene is constructed with batiks and commercially printed fabrics. By using a wool batting, Sandra was able to create the illusion of rolling hills with only a few stitched lines. Sandra has used fusible appliqué to create a herd of wildebeest to follow the leader. There is intricate diamond piecing in the sky and significant machine quilting, as well as machine embroidery, throughout the piece.
Sandra has often thought of her very talented sister artist while this quilt took shape. She recognizes that her partner is a true artist in every sense of the word. Sandra is a member of Studio Art Quilt Associates, Rhode Island Threads and the president of the quilt guild Quilters by The Sea, RI.
Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada
Dawn Piasta is an art quilter, graphic designer, pattern designer and motivational instructor from Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada. Her mother showed her how to see the world with an artists’ eye when she was very young, and she continues to pursue her passion to creatively play with fabric and paint today. Art and quilting is therapeutic, relaxing and brings her a tremendous amount of joy.
The term “ubuntu” is a collection of values that people of Africa or African origin view as making people authentic human beings. Living through the COVID-19 pandemic and experiencing such unrest and confusion led Dawn once again to participate in another Sister Artist Quilt series. Linking herself to this collective of creative women for a greater cause is ‘ubuntu’.
Dawn’s art draws on influences of family, travel, global awareness & social issues. Her art incorporates bold colours, graphic designs & interesting surface designs that highlight a variety of traditional and modern art forms. She gave significant thought to the colors and symbols used in her quilt. She used Adinkra symbols in her art deco design. She chose turquoise for wisdom, good fortune, and hope and yellow for the sun, happiness and positivity. She believes that “humanity should behave well towards others and act in ways that will benefit the whole of humanity.”
Dawn is a member and contributing exhibitor of the Fibre Art Network of Canada (FAN), Textile Fibre Artists of Manitoba (TFAM) and the Studio Art Quilters Association (SAQA) of Western Canada. She is also the Communications Director for the Canadian Quilters Association.
As a full-time civil engineer, Cathey makes her quilts in her spare time. She learned quilting from her grandmother and mother, and moved into art quilting after her grandchildren were born: “Art quilting allows for more imagination, decoration and techniques.” She particularly likes working with colors.
Cathey created a block for Sister Artists – Mali and was one of the first to select a block for Sister Artists – Kenya. For this newest quilt, Cathey has used an interesting technique. Loose pieces of fabric were arranged on a backing fabric, then a neutral-colored netting was laid over the loose pieces and they were quilted in place. Gauze fabric finishes the snow on top of the mountain. The embroidered lion blends seamlessly into the landscape.
Cathey is a member of the Narragansett Bay Quilt Association; the Quiet Corner Art Quilt Guild; and Studio Art Quilters Associates (SAQA).
Linda M. Kim combines her affections for textiles, found and recycled materials, and her concerns as a woman, parent, immigrant and American. Every project is an opportunity to impart a message and create original work. So naturally, when she heard about Sister Artists she got involved.
The lovely bird embroidered by Kenya’s sister artist inspired Linda to be colorful and joyful in this project. She also discovered from online research that this lilac-breasted roller, often considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world, is Kenya’s (unofficial) national bird. Aided by their long tail streamers, lilac-breasted rollers are known for their acrobatic aerial displays during courtship – which is where they get their name. Many Kenyans believe the wide array of feather colors – green, white, tan, black, yellow, turquoise, royal blue, reddish-brown, and lilac – symbolize the many different tribes of Kenya.
To reflect this rich diversity and the importance of conservation, Linda used only found fabric and saved scraps in many rainbow colors. On the center panel she appliqué a red heart as a message of hope and love from sisters in the USA to sisters in Kenya. The piecing is by machine but the quilting is done by hand.
Colleen learned the basics of quilting from her mother, who was an expert at crazy quilting. Colleen works in industrial textiles, where she currently tests upholstery for resistance to fire. She loves the idea of helping the Kenyan embroiderers learn a skill that will earn them money.
For this quilt Colleen took the idea of ‘art quilt’ quite seriously, as her asymmetrical design shows. The quilt is made with raw-edge piecing and additional applique. The inclusion of a piece of embroidered tea towel is a unique touch. A number of African fabrics have been used including the wording on the edges identifying them as such. The quilting is done by a free-motion machine and the edges are purposely left unfinished.
Colleen is a member of two guilds: A Patch of Lakeshore Quilters in Wisconsin; and Women Who Run with Scissors. She also has served as the Illinois and Wisconsin regional representative of Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA).
Providence, Rhode Island
Karen is a photographer/fiber artist from Rhode Island who supports the mission of Sister Artists, having been a “Sister from the North” for the Sister Artist 1” project.
Hand arts/embroidery is a universal art form women have in common all over the world, and Karen is proud to have received Winnie’s embroidery piece with which to create an art quilt. Winnie’s Oryx is the main attraction. She stuffed it to give it definition on the quilt. Karen then layered some Kantha (Indian sari’s layered and hand stitched together) to represent the Kenyan landscape. Hand and machine stitching binds that to her yellow hand dyed fabric to complete the art quilt.
The quilter has used a rough, raw-edge applique. Most of the quilting is a long hand-stitch embellishment. The fabric colors enhance the colors of the embroidered motif. There is also some machine-quilting.
Sue is a semi-retired university teacher. While her teaching career has kept her engaged academically and socially, Sue always made time for the arts, gardening, traveling, and birds. When she saw Catherine Nyabuto’s embroidered crane, it spoke to her. Sue saw it as an opportunity to travel during the Covid-19 pandemic by looking at the threads and design of this stately bird.
Whether she is creating an art or traditional quilt, the process is as important as the finished product. This particular crane needed to have a vertical setting. Half way through sewing blocks together, Sue realized that the crane was migrating when Catherine must have seen it; thus the arrows for directionality. Sue has really captured the colors of the embroidered bird in her traditional piecing. Free motion quilting is used throughout to enhance the embroidered motif.
Sue situated her sewing machine and tables so as to watch the birds outside her window. While planning and sewing the lovely embroidered stork by Catherine Nyabuto from Kibera, Kenya, Sue watched finches and warblers bathing in the birdbath. Reflecting on the experience, Sue shares “It is a joy to quilt something so lovely as Catherine’s bird!”.
Susan Louis has been a quilter for over 30 years. She has taught quilting in every venue imaginable and every age group from kindergarteners to seniors, in the States and then in Russia in 1994 and 1997. Her quilts have been exhibited in major quilt shows in the U.S. as well as in France and Russia. She has won a number of ribbons including a one for best embellishments at the N.J Quiltfest.
Susan was introduced to the Advocacy Project by Nancy Evans, another American quilter involved with AP. Blocks made by freed domestic slaves in Nepal were assembled by Susan to make it the sixth love blanket.
Susan has always been interested in using her passion for quilting not just to fulfill her own creative needs but to use it as a voice for positive change in the world. Thus, she has been involved with many quilting projects that hopefully would bring some joy to others.
This quilt features very precise and intricate machine-piecing and uses the colors of the embroidered flamingo to unify the quilt. The quilting in the borders is done by hand while the remaining quilting is done by machine.
The artists pictured above and profiled below live in the informal settlement of Kibera, a suburb of Nairobi with a population of over 300,000. Kibera is notorious for its lack of services. Many families live on less than a dollar a day and face a daunting array of medical threats, from HIV/AIDS to malaria. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenge.
In spite of this, as their blocks show, the inhabitants of Kibera are resilient, talented and proud of their county’s unique wildlife. Most of the artists learned creative stitching while producing blocks for The Woman’s World Quilt in 2019.
The project was led by Stella Makena, program manager at The Tandaza Trust.
Oryx by Winnie Achieng
Winnie lives in Kianda area of Kibera where she settled 6 years ago after leaving her rural home in Homabay county in Nyanza Kenya. On completing secondary education her family sent her to Nairobi to find a job but instead she got an opportunity to start a small shop using her savings from casual jobs. Unfortunately, the business soon wound up as Winnie ran out of capital since most customers who picked items on credit would not pay. She has been doing casual labour to help support her family and has realized that working with her hands while embroidering, brings her joy and supplements her weekly income. She is married with a son and is expecting another soon. Winnie plans to save enough capital to reopen her retail shop and build it to a wholesale business.
Lion by Beldine Akinyi
Belding grew up in Homabay county and was fortunate to proceed to college soon after high school. After finishing her diploma in Accounts she travelled to Nairobi in 2016 in search of a job but has since managed to get short contracts in the industrial area. Beldine has discovered her hidden talent because she could neither stitch nor embroider until she joined the Kibera ladies’ project. She has made new friends and aspires to open her own business selling clothes and fashion accessories. She is married and is expecting her second child.
Lilac Crested Roller by Caroline Achieng
Caroline was born in Ruai, Nairobi county; she got married and settled in Kibera 17 years ago! Despite her life challenges as a young mother of four and a casual labourer, Caroline has taught herself tailoring and currently makes African attire from her house in Kibera. She has enjoyed learning embroidery and hopes to perfect that too.
Wildebeest by Patricia Waithera
Patricia was born and raised in Kibera, Nairobi county but spent her schooling years in Nyandarua county in central Kenya. She has a very good history of Kibera before the rural – urban migration that transformed the area into an informal settlement. Patricia was fortunate to get a job in Karen, Nairobi after completing her diploma in Hotel management but had to relocate to her rural home following the 2007 and 2017 post election violence that rocked the country. She later returned to Kibera and has since been doing Housekeeping casual jobs to support her family back home. She also plaits hair and enjoys working with children and aspires to open her own salon. Patricia looks forward each week to embroider and meet up with the ladies because she has learnt something new that can help her supplement her weekly wages.
Crane by Veena Moige
Venah travelled from Birongo – Kisii county five years ago after completing secondary education. She later pursued a course in Computer studies but due to lack of fees had to drop out. Determined to make ends meet, she does Housekeeping jobs and is saving towards starting a small groceries shop. Venah is married with two children and appreciates spending time with the ladies each week. She learnt embroidery for the first time during the project and has found it an enjoyable source of income.
Crane by Catherine Nyambeki
Catherine studied Business Management in Nairobi after completing her secondary school education in Kisii county, Western Kenya. Despite the unemployment challenges she has been able to support her family through short contract housekeeping jobs and has since learnt how to save part of her weekly earnings from the project. Since joining the project in February 2020, she has learnt how weave a mat and how to embroider. She hopes to open her own business in future and not be employed as this will give her time to care for her family. Catherine is an expectant mother, married with two daughters.
Rhino by Irene Akinyi
Irene was born in Voi, a town in Taita-Taveta county. Her family later moved to the border town of Busia in Western Kenya where she finished secondary school and moved to Nairobi in 2012 to study Hairdressing and Beauty. Irene dropped out of college due to lack of fees but has since continued to pursue short contracts in various salons in Kibera. She aspires to complete her course and later open her own salon in future. Irene is married and lives in Ayani, Kibera with her three daughters. She joined the project in October 2019 when her last born daughter was a few months old. The project has been an enjoyable space for Irene and she looks forward to it each week.
Giraffes by Cecilia Marigi
Cecilia comes from Nyandarua county, in Central Kenya and currently lives in Nairobi where she came in search of a job 24 years ago. As a single mother of two young adults Cecilia recounts that challenges made her determined to educate her children and put herself through school where she did computer studies. She supplemented her income by doing short contracts and small businesses before joining Tandaza trust. Cecilia works in the toughest of places; in the slums and the streets of Nairobi because her heart is for women struggling with drug addiction, prostitution and gender violence. She really enjoys being with the lively ladies in Kibera and says that this project has sharpened her embroidery skills since joining it in October 2019.
Antelope by Eunice Wanjiku
Eunice is a single mother of two young adults and has lived in Nairobi since 2016. Her mother and siblings reside in Nakuru county where she schooled and completed her course in Community development and Social work. Life was really hard in Nakuru hence Eunice travelled to Nairobi in the promise of greener pastures but found herself working as a domestic worker in different homes; washing clothes to support her children and her extended family in Nakuru. Her personal experience and life struggles made her resolve to help vulnerable and disadvantaged mothers and youth struggling with poverty, drug addiction and gender violence. At Tandaza Trust she found a good opportunity to work closely with the less fortunate and marginalized communities living in informal settlements. Eunice says she never knew embroidery until she learnt it for the first time in October 2019 at the first AP project for Kibera and says she is enjoying every bit of it.
Fire Finch by Stella Makena
Stella was born in Mombasa county, Kenya’s coastal town and currently lives in Nairobi with her family. She has seen the struggles of single mothers and how poverty marginalizes people within communities. Stella says that it is heartbreaking to meet women and youth with big dreams and with such potential who remain disadvantaged because of lack of opportunity. She hopes that her work at Tandaza Trust will make a difference in the life of the less fortunate. Stella has thoroughly enjoyed this project and found it very therapeutic.
The artists featured on this page live in the informal settlement of Kangemi, a neighborhood of Nairobi. Kangemi does not have the garish reputation of Kibera, but conditions are almost as bad and were denounced by Pope Francis during a visit in November 2015.
The artists range in age from 18 to 65. As their profiles show, many are single mothers and struggle to put food on the table. About a third produced blocks for the Woman’s World Quilt in 2019. The rest had no prior experience of creative stitching and received training from Christine Kibuka, a well-known fiber artist in Nairobi. They tell us that learning this important new skill together at a time of great anxiety has been proundly therapeutic.
In late 2020, the artists formed the Kagemi Advocacy Self Help Group to facilitate management of the project. The association recently acquired legal status. The artists hope that it can provide a vehicle for a new income-generating project with AP, and a way to advocate for improved services n Kangemi. The project was led by Caren Mbayaki.