Spotlight: Masako Wakayama, Quilter, Designer and Author

Townscape by Masako

Spotlight: Masako Wakayama, Quilter, Designer and Author

In the Japanese tradition of meticulous hand stitching, Masako Wakayama designs fresh-looking quilts using the colors of Americana. Her quilts, books and 20 years of annual fabric collections for Lecien Fabrics inspire quilters around the world.

Masako and her daughter Emi
Masako and Emi in their uniforms made using Masako’s fabric panel.

When and how did you learn to quilt?

I first discovered quilting in the American Pavilion of the 1970 Osaka Expo. I had enjoyed stitching since I was a child, but in that moment I realized that this was what I was looking for. So I quickly learned to sew and subscribed to several American quilting magazines as I began the labor of love of teaching myself to quilt. 

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How long have you worked with your daughter, Emi? What is that experience like?

Emi joined my company soon after she graduated from college fifteen years ago. Quilts have been always a part of her life. It is interesting that although she is not a quilter herself, I feel her love for quilting through our quilting journeys. She is the person I trust most to give me honest advice (sometimes too honest, ha ha) because we have very similar tastes, especially when it comes to colors. She is my partner and my best friend.

Townscape by Masako
“Townscape” 195x180cm 2016, has a log cabin pattern throughout, even the flowers on the edge.

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?

Apliquick rods from Apliquick. Whatever my motif’s shape, whether round, sharp, or pointed, they help me make sure my seam allowances are folded neatly inside. 

Applique Paper. If your applique paper is too thin, it will fold easily with the seam allowances. But if it is too thick, it will make it difficult to sew. That is why I decided to create my own solution, an applique paper with evenly distributed glue that ensures that I never waste any applique paper. .

Applique Thread and Needle. Large or irregular stitches can ruin even the nicest applique motif. To avoid these problems, I use a #100 applique thread and needle. The stitches are nearly invisible, but the thread is very strong and keeps my motif safely in place. I recommend using the applique needle as the applique thread is very fine and easily slips out of  most sewing needles.

Foundation Piecing Paper. I like foundation paper piecing and use my own paper because it is washable and I don’t have to take it out after piecing. Also, because the paper is soft, it isn’t troublesome when quilting. Another thing I like about it is that it comes in a 30cm x 10m roll instead of being pre-cut, which means no small leftover pieces go to waste.

Student exhibition
Every year Masako organizes student quilt exhibitions across Japan. These are from past exhibitions.

What plays in the background while your work?

My favorite music, Bossa Nova.

Student Exhibition
Every year Masako organizes student quilt exhibitions across Japan. These are from past exhibitions.

When you travel, do you stitch on planes and in the waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?

I always carry my sewing kit and projects whenever I travel. After all, one of my books is titled “Anytime, Anywhere Quilts”! The evening before I travel, I make preparations depending on how long the journey is. I put my materials in ziploc bags sorted by dates. When I fly, I usually do EPP and applique motifs that don’t require scissors to work on. On the train, in waiting areas, and in my hotel room, I make patterns by cutting and piecing strips of fabrics.

In my travel kit, I have scissors, threads, needles, pencils, rulers and, most importantly, my desk needle threader, because it has a small blade that can be used like scissors for cutting sewing threads on a plane.

New York City by Masako
One of her lifelong dreams came true in May of 2018 when she had an international solo show at “One Art Space” gallery in New York City. “New York City” 72x56cm 2018

How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?

I have been designing my annual fabric collections for Lecien Fabrics for two decades. I make a bed cover sized quilt every other year. In order to specially design a panel, first I make an actual quilt as large as a wall hanging. 

I also make projects for monthly lessons I teach in Tokyo, Kawasaki, Nagoya, Osaka, and Sapporo. And I often design small projects, such as bags and pouches, for sale as kits at quilting events. I am always working on more than one project.

Eight Hands Around by Masako
Masako with her newest quilt, “Eight Hands Around” (224x188cm, 2018), in front of her quilt shop, Crib Quilt.

What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work standout as yours?

The moment I see a piece of fabric, its design inspires me to make something. My work is dominated by the tri-color tones of red, white and blue, and I enjoy combining many other techniques—crochet, punch needle, cross stitch, and stenciling—in my quilts. 

How do you stay organized when working with multiple design ideas and processes?

When something pops into my head, I make notes and draw designs on a post-it. Then I put those post-its in my creative journal. Every night I make a to-do list for the following day.    

When embarking upon a project, do you pre-plan your entire endeavor or do you simply follow where your inspiration takes you?

I have a rough idea of the whole project in my mind. Then I move my hands to make shapes. In the end, the finished project always turns out much better than the original image.   

Masako Wakayama Quote

What’s next for you?

I have a new book coming out next year. My annual fabric collection, American Country, with Lecien Fabrics will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year as well. I have been invited to make some presentations at Spring Market 2020 for the launch of the new collection, so I’m really looking forward to that.

Interview posted October, 2019.


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