Dreaming the Night Sky

Photo by Deborah Wong

I had the opportunity to work on a double sized commission for a wee toddler. Her parents wanted to have quilt made for her that would grow up with her. That meant nothing too cutesy or any blatant imagery that a 20-year-old would not appreciate in 19 years. This is a parameter that I love working with.

Long-arm quilting by Sheri Lund of Violet Quilts. Photo by Deborah Wong.

Their interest in female astronauts as strong role models inspired her nursery decor, which was also the main inspiration for her quilt.

I had some fun painting “galaxies” with watercolour to get inspired. A quick and fun online course taught by Emma Whitte of Black Chalk Co led me through the exercise and got me back into a medium that I really enjoy. Because my quilting hobby has become my job, I’m on a bit of search to find a new hobby and watercolours might be it…

After a bit of discussion, the concept and design ended up relatively simple. 21 columns of 22 HSTs (half-square triangles) in 10 shades of navy/black/grey with four accent colours. The columns were offset by a half-unit.

Keeping track of sets of HSTs

The random geometric night sky was the background for four constellations overlaid one another at different scales. The constellations were in lighter shades of white to aqua.

Photo by Deborah Wong

Gemini, which was hand-stitched in perle cotton to emphasize it, is the little girl’s astrological sign. The other three constellations — not delineated but blended into the rest of the sky — are those of four significant females in the aerospace field:

  1. Jerrie Cobb, one of the central figures in Stephanie Nolen’s Promised the Moon, was a female aviator in the era of the space race. A privately-funded program (Mercury 13) sought female pilots to train to be astronauts, who had the scientific and technical background to fly space shuttles, but were physically easier to propel into space because of their smaller stature. Sadly, none of the women in the program ever made it to space. Her astrological sign is Pisces.
  2. Karen Nyberg (Libra) is a current NASA astronaut who had her work exhibited at Houston International Quilt Festival in 2014, starting with a block she made in space with limited tools and little gravity.

  1. Roberta Bondar (Sagittarius) was the second Canadian in space and the first Canadian female in space.
  2. Julie Payette (Libra), currently the Governor General of Canada, was another Canadian female astronaut and was Chief Astronaut of the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007.

I hope this quilt inspires a little girl to dream big. Her name is written in the sky.

Photo by Deborah Wong

  • Night sky in Kona Cottons: Nightfall, Storm, Navy, Windsor, Indigo, Nautical, Coal, Charcoal, Pepper, Black
  • Constellations in Kona Cottons: White, Sky, Dusty Blue, Azure
  • Backing: Essex Yarn-dyed Linen in Peacock

Photo by Deborah Wong

Prairie Storm + Female Artists

Side of the highway, on our way to Regina to see a Saskatchewan Roughriders football game.

I married into a family of Saskatchawanians. I had no connections or interest in the prairies prior to my relationship with my now-husband. This summer we had the chance to spend some time at the family cottage two hours north of Saskatoon, as we celebrated the Jackson matriarch’s 90th birthday. I had the chance to make a quilt for her based on a 16” x 16” sketch from the landscape charrette series that I created last spring.

16″ x 16″ mini quilt, April 2017 – Quilt Charrette series.

A few summers ago, my mother-in-law experienced an intense storm that hit as she drove by herself on a very late night in rural Saskatchewan. Using one of my favourite colour combinations, I imagined from her description — gold improvised fields and very regularly spaced rain, quilted with metallic gold thread.

Side of the highway near Warman, SK

There were a couple of stops along the side of the highway to photograph the prairie-inspired quilt, which measured 50” x 72”. The intensely yellow canola fields were a regular siting along our long drives around the province. This time I used Glide Thread in Fool’s Gold for the quilting. I wasn’t sure how regular metallic thread would fare in my Juki TL-2010Q so I was happy to try this 100% polyester thread with a sheen. I didn’t get a chance to photograph the quilt label unfortunately, but I suspect I will get to see the quilt again.

We made time to escape for a day trip to the city of Saskatoon, which has its own cultural vibe going on. In the fall of 2017, the new Remai Modern opened up, an art gallery dedicated to contemporary art. The building was designed by KPMB with lead design architect Bruce Kuwabara. It is located at the junction of a bridge crossing the South Saskatchewan River, the river itself, and multiple recreational bikepaths.

Remai Modern, designed by KPMB Architects. Image via remaimodern.org.

I really enjoyed our time there without our kids to take in the artwork. Of special note, two installations in the public areas of the museum. Lucky Charms by Pae White makes use of neon “doodles” (terminology mine) in colours of light used in “happy lamps”. These wavelengths of light are used to help the symptoms of depression caused by seasonal affective disorder. On our visit to Saskatchewan shortly after the summer solstice, we experienced daylight until past 10 pm. That means that the opposite season of cold dry winters have very limited daylight hours. This installation touches on the effects of daylight, living at such a northern latitude.

Lucky Charms by Pae White

The second piece was Sol LeWitt Upside Down by Haegue Yang. These very rational looking boxes are a re-interpretation of his modular Structures but hung upside down. Each cube of the framework is enclosed with a surprising material – very mundane Venetian blinds. I love these very rational boxes against the geometric linear lights suspended above them. The Venetian blinds capture both the artificial lighting above it as well as the natural light coming through the atrium space that connects all levels of the museum.

On a non-aesthetic level, what strikes me about these two installations is that they are works by female artists prominently displayed in public spaces. Women’s roles in the public realm has evolved greatly in the last 100 years and I hope that this artistic representation continues to grow. Especially as a Asian female artist, Yang’s artwork as the first encounter in a museum of such importance really encourages me. Asian females are often perceived as the most reticent, passive, and submissive in European and North American cultures. Although none of the females in my family fit this profile — we are a particularly assertive and vocal bunch! — I have certainly been subject to this stereotype. I have begun to make a case for my role as an female Asian artist in a dominantly white art form, as well as for domestic arts to have a place in the public realm. This is a relatively new dimension to what I think about in my artistic practice, and I’m excited to see how it informs the way I work.

The lobby of the Remai Modern.

The vast Canadian prairie landscape is one that I really took notice of this trip and I’m sure we’ll be back again in the next few years for another Saskatchewan adventure.

Photo by Bruce Jackson