Art Beat: Poetry In The Needle

Nov 20, 2018

"Eleven Houses and a Fish," a 2018 quilted wall-hanging by Elaine Seaman
Credit Elaine Seaman

Creative people often express themselves in more than one medium. Elaine Seaman is a fabric artist. She also writes poetry. Her quilts are personal statements, capturing aspects of her life. Her poetry collections include the chapbook Bird at the Window and Rocks in the Wheatfield (Finishing Line Press, 2004).

“I did quilting a long time before I took up poetry,” Seaman says. “But I’d say now, I probably write more poetry than I make quilts. The nice thing about writing is that you can come up with something fairly quickly. You may work on it forever. But in the scheme of things, you could conceivably write a poem in 20 minutes if you’re really good. You cannot make a quilt in 20 minutes!”

Seaman says she learned how to sew as a girl in 4-H, where her mother worked as a 4-H leader in Iowa. But she didn't make her first quilt until she was married.

"Stained Glass Trees," a quilted window hanging by Elaine Seaman
Credit Elaine Seaman

“And that was out of pure boredom,” she says. “The first place we lived—he was a veterinarian— was in an apartment above his clinic. I was alone all day in this small town where I knew no one. I asked my mother for all the fabrics she had and I started putting them all together.”

Seaman says her native Iowa, with its rolling hills and grid of farm fields, has long inspired her quilting. When beginning a new quilt, Seaman says she sometimes has a firm idea in mind, but with others she just begins to see what comes together. Working in family stories and history is also a common topic in her quilting and her poetry.

Poetry and quilts have on occasion intersected for Seaman when she's added images of her quilts to the pages of a poetry book, or used the titles of quilts as the titles of poems. While quilting calms her, writing poetry can create tension in the creative process.

Elaine Seaman is a former Kalamazoo Arts Institute registrar. She regularly participates in art shows as well as author readings throughout southwest Michigan.

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