Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Unique Quilters, Friends Challenge Eachother To Make Better Art

Leslie Dewberry in front of her improvisational quilt
Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Quilters Shryl Daniel and Leslie Dewberry have been collaborating for almost longer than they can remember. Based on the age of her daughter, Daniel guesses they've been friends about seven or eight years.

Dewberry says they instantly clicked at the Log Cabin Quilters meeting, a Southwest Michigan group of about 300 artists.

Shryl Daniel's quilt using rare African fabrics
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK
Shryl Daniel's quilt using rare African fabrics

 “And there’s very few minorities in the group and so…she tells the story totally different. And we just happened to…she saw me and I saw her and we like ran up to like ‘Oh, how are you doing?!’ And we’ve just been friends ever since,” says Dewberry.

Daniel and Dewberry’s quilts will be at Friday's Kalamazoo Art Hop in the Epic Center.

Their work is a twist on old-fashioned and modern styles of quilting, including African American traditional styles:

“The stitching is bolder, the fabrics are bolder," explains Daniel. "They tend to use strip-piecing. Most times it’s more improvisational rather than using a pattern.”

A close-up of Dewberry's 'Calypso'
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK
A close-up of Dewberry's 'Calypso'

Dewberry says she uses a lot of improv in her work. But how do you improvise a quilt? Dewberry says she starts with familiar shapes you might see in a quilt...

“And then I had spaced to fill and I just asked myself. How do I want to fill that space?” she says.

In her quilt “Calypso,” Dewberry started with leftover stars from another project and then fit circles, squares, and other shapes around them.

In some areas of the quilt, the shapes are stacked tight like in a game of Tetris – in a range of patterns and colors.

“It’s a lot of energy in it. People look at it and go ‘whoa!’ Well, that’s good, that’s the reaction I want,” she says.

Dewberry also has an embroidery machine that allows her to make different designs even within the stitching.

Dewberry says some of her commissioned pieces use old clothing scraps. One customer wanted a quilt made of molas in remembrance of her late mother. Molas are traditional geometric designs often sown into women’s clothing in Panama.

“They used to be painted—paint their bodies—and then after they were industrialized, they started wearing them as garments," Dewberry explains. "And it’s a reverse applique and some of them are like seven layers thick. And so, over one hundred hours in just one piece and so they’re pretty remarkable.”

Quilt by Shryl Daniel
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK
Quilt by Shryl Daniel

  Even though they work together, Daniel’s style is very different from Dewberry’s.

“I tend to put fabrics together that most people would not put together," Daniel says.

"I think I put a lot of color. Whereas most people can only work with…they get very scared after four or five fabrics, six—and I can use 80 in one quilt, so. And I don’t look as it having to match as long as it goes together.”

Daniel says she and Dewberry push each other to step out of their comfort zones. They even buy fabric that they think the other would like.

And Dewberry says they give each other something every artist needs, a little feedback.

“Especially when you get so into it and you get too attached to it. And it’s like, ‘Whew!’" says Dewberry. "Just to have that person that says ‘Ah, you might want to step back.’”

Shyrl Daniel and Leslie Dewberry’s quilts will be on display at the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo in the Epic Center.

Related Content