Cristina Arcenegui Bono bought her first long arm and discovered that she is more than a patchwork piecer, she is a machine quilter. She makes whimsical whole cloth quilts inspired by vintage coloring books. And, is now exploring improvisational quilt making.
How did you start designing quilts?
I had never heard about patchwork until I watched the movie How to Make an American Quilt in 1996.
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I did my first quilt in 1999 when I got pregnant from my son. What really, really got me into this is when I started thinking about having a long arm quilting business. I bought my first long arm in 2005 and I entered my first machine quilting contest in 2008. I’m more than a piecer, I am a machine quilter.
I quickly realized that I wanted to focus more on the machine quilting side of the process than the piecing. If you do patchwork and you don’t any piecing at all, what do you do? You do whole cloth quilts. My specialty is whole cloth quilts, with no piecing at all. In 2008 I started designing whole cloth quilts and they were traditional designs.
In 2015, I watched a segment from QNN TV, which is not anymore. They talked about pictorial whole cloth quilts based on coloring books for adults. The episode that got me started was Collaboration Quilting with Jodie Davies and Ebony Love.
I thought, What is that? The next thing I did is I went to a bookshop the next day and I bought four or five books and I was hooked.
My first pictorial whole cloth quilts were based on someone else’s work, obviously with their written permission. Since the pandemic, I have started designing my own whole cloth quilts.
So what motivates you artistically?
Children. My childhood. Games with my cousins. Our world. The the way we used to play.
When I think about quilts, I think about those child games. All of the happy memories that I have from playing with my with my cousins. This is what I think about. To be honest with you, this is what really, really motivates me.
I’m not afraid of making mistakes anymore as far as painting is concerned. I’ve been doing watercolors for the last few years. I’m not a painter and I will never be a painter, but what really motivates me is color. I want to see color in my life.
These are the two things that motivates me, color and children.
As for color, I like bright colors. Depending on my mood, because at the moment it is so hot here, all I want is autumn colors and winter colors. When I look back at my quilts, I can tell you want I was doing at the time, but the colors reflect the time of the year.
When you start a project, do you plan your work out ahead of time or do you just dive in and just get going and start playing?
To honest with you, I plan. I use the I iPad to sketch out ideas. I work on several projects at the same time.
I might begin a project that I have done on the iPad. I begin working on the project and then I decide to do something else. In theory, I pre plan, but not really.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule time in your studio, or do you only work when you’re inspired?
I don’t I don’t schedule time in my studio. Basically, I am in my studio all day, seven days a week, because I work from home. Even on weekends. I might not be quilting, but I’m doing coloring. I’m doing painting. When I finish the painting, I go to the iPad and work on designs. This is nonstop.
Do you finish all your projects or do you have a lot of unfinished projects?
I have a lot of unfinished projects.
Tell us a little bit about your studio and what it looks like.
Messy. It is quite messy.
We live on the first floor of our home. We have the second floor dedicated to the long arm quilting business and and my workshop. I must tell you, this is a three, three floors house and I have things everywhere.
I have things in the attic, I have things in the workshop, and I also have things where we live. Often I don’t find what I’m looking for, so I buy more.
You use an iPad for design work. Do you also use a sketchbook or a journal?
I’ve tried to have a sketchbook and sometimes I think I’m going to do that and I keep it for10 days, maximum 14 or 15 days, and then something comes up.
I believe that sketchbook would be very beneficial. I could keep track of what I do and what I was thinking about.
I have everything in my head. It would be nice to see what I was thinking about.
Quite often I find something that had been in a drawer for years. I become amused to look back at what I was doing.
In a way the iPad is like a sketchbook. I use Procreate, an app for for the iPad. I can see what I’ve been doing for the last few years. It’s not a sketchbook, but it could work like that.
There is something very powerful with our mobile phones. We all receive messages every day reminding us of memories from two years ago, one year ago, and they give you photos related to today.
For instance, my cat. My two cats together. So today I got memories with photos from them in the last two years because they are two years old when they work together. I find that the mobile phone is also like a journal of your work and life.
You travel quite a bit and teach. When you, do you create while you’re on planes and in waiting areas? And what do you take with you?
Again, the iPad is a very good thing.
I’ve was in New England in June for three weeks and I stayed in several homes. I went to Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
It’s quite amazing to be able to stay at someone’s home and see what they see when they wake up. All that greenery. Our land is dry at the moment. It’s it’s like Arizona. To be able to see the different geography is quite an inspiration.
For the first time in my life that I saw a hummingbird was last June. You only find hummingbirds in America.
Through traveling you see these new things. Really. It is a big inspiration for me. The greenery, the rain, all that is so different from what I’m used to.
Last year, I taught at the Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara, California, and Houston Quilt Festival. I went by train from San Francisco to Houston.
I love traveling by train. Traveling by train gives me the chance to see the landscape, to see people and it’s quite inspiring.
I have to go by plane to the States, but once I’m in the States, I love trains.
How often do you start a new project? And do you work on more than one at a time?
Yes, I work on more than one project at a time. I don’t know how many projects I have going on at the moment.
Last winter I did a 100 day challenge with SAQA. My challenge for my 100 days was to fully work with fabrics that I had in my stash. I challenged myself to use all those fabrics that have been in my stash for years that at one point in time I bought, but they no longer appeal to me.
I challenged myself to to work on both fabrics and I learned a lot from that. You’re always hearing you have to get out of your comfort zone to learn. And it’s right. I’m the kind of person who hardly gets out of their comfort zone.
After this challenge, I’m more confident on trying new things.
How do you think that’s going to impact your work coming in the future?
I see different quilts in the future. I’m already creating different quilts. I’ve become hooked on ombre fabrics. I’m experimenting with the color changes in the fabric.
I have also started to add in hand embroidery to those finished pieces. I used to do everything by machine. After this challenge I have become comfortable with hand sewing and hand embroidery.
I’m adding more and more organic embroidery to my quilts since after this challenge.
Which part of the quilt design process is your favorite and which part is a challenge for you?
As far as pictorial whole cloth quilts the background can be a challenge. The quilt design may be a girl or two girls and I know what they are doing. Sometimes I don’t know what to do in the background. Quite often you think this is the sky. When you have a whole cloth quilt, you have to quilt that.
In paper, that is just white. Deciding how to fill that space with quilting can be a challenge.
What is the most rewarding part of the quilt making process?
Thinking about it.
Playing and playing with the iPad and changing things. A lot.
I love playing with color with and adding things. The design part is probably one of my favorites, but I also enjoy machine quilting.
I love what I do.
It’s obvious. It’s so obvious in your enthusiasm and your work. Now that you’re adding hand stitching to your quilts, how do you know when a piece is finished and needs no more work?
I take pictures every day of what I do. At some point, I see the picture that day and I think, no I shouldn’t add more hand stitching. It’s too much. And sometimes I undo some some hand stitching because it’s too much. Again my mobile phone is, is quite a big help for me.
When you are close to the quilt you don’t have perspective. You need to look at them from a distance. I use photographs as a helper.
I also have my husband. He’s a big helper. Sometimes I’m stuck and he says, it is okay. I like it. You don’t need to add any more.
When was the first time you remember realizing that you were a creative person?
I didn’t see myself as an artist until my husband kept telling me. You are an artist. I said, No, I am a quilter. And he said, You are creating things. You are not just reproducing what someone else has done.
It was my husband who helped me realize that I am a creative person.
When you think about creative people what traits do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
My husband helped me into thinking that I am creative. It’s when I lost the fear of of doing something wrong that I discovered my creativity.
I think a creative person is someone who is not afraid of making mistakes. There are no mistakes. Creative people just learn and experiment. Try this and try that. Ask yourself if you should add more.
I believe that anyone is creative as long as they are not afraid. As long as they don’t hear someone else’s voice saying you will never, ever be able to do anything good. You don’t know how to draw. You don’t know how to . .. As soon as you forget about doing things properly, you start creating. You might never be a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt. You just need to do the work, do what brings you joy.
I always tell people, remember when you were a child and you loved drawing and painting and using your pencils and doing collages. Why don’t you do it again?
Who’s going to stop you? You have nothing to lose.
Tell us a little bit about the workshops. You mentioned that you traveled to the States and have taught. So what kind of workshops do you teach and how can people get ahold of you?
I teach at Houston, at the International Quilt Show. I’ve also appeared on The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims.
One of my best selling classes is iPad for quilters, which people love because I share with them how to make the most of their iPad, as far as quilting is concerned.
People also love my whimsical, pictorial, signature style. If you love vintage illustration, if you love pictorial whole cloth, that’s my thing.
I have also started teaching improvisational piecing. It’s all about, cutting, sewing, cutting again, sewing, and forget about matching points. I find that quite rewarding, quite liberating. Improvisational piecing, machine quilting, and iPad for quilters are the topics I teach.
I teach both online with virtual workshops and lectures, as well as in person.
I’ll be in Houston in the fall, as well as the Pacific International Quilt Festival in October in Santa Clara. April 2024, I will be traveling to New England to teach at quilt shops and quilt guilds.
I also teach online to guilds, quilt shops and online festivals. Anyone interested in having me can reach me via email.
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