Nancy Lee Chong, Appliqué Artist and Instructor from Snohomish, WA, found her singular passion for stitching and teaching the art of needleturn appliqué, and has never looked back! The only thing she enjoys more than designing and making appliqué fiber art is teaching others to join her in this addicting art form.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I was always somewhat artistic, bouncing from one crafting medium to another until December 3, 1977; Honolulu, HI. I saw my first Hawaiian quilt at a holiday Craft Fair. I couldn’t afford the double bed Hawaiian quilt ($800), so I sought out a class in Kailua, Hawaii, where I could learn to create my own. My teacher, Luika Kamaka, changed my life!
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Why textiles? Why appliqué?
My mother and grandmother taught me to knit, crochet and tat during my childhood; but those techniques seemed tedious; and then I discovered hand appliqué.
What inspires you?
Tropical plants and flowers are visually so stunning, they are impossible to ignore as themes for quilts. I am also obsessed with contrast in my choice of fabrics. I’m not a fan of medium-value fabrics.
Are there recurring themes in your work? How does that affect your approach?
I haven’t stopped making Hawaiian quilts; but I’m also now exploring an obsession with hand needleturn appliquéd circles and squares.
Hand needleturn appliqué always and forever.
What do you do differently?
As a beginner, I discovered that I prefer to tuck under approximate 3/16” seam allowance. From then on, I add that 3/16” tuck-under allowance as I cut out all appliqué shapes (whether a single berry or leaf, or an entire Hawaiian quilt. I eyeball (or guesstimate) the 3/’16” turn-under allowance when I do the actual needleturning.
What is your signature? (What is it that stands out about your work that identifies you as the artist before the viewer sees the label?)
I don’t think I have a signature that anyone would ever notice; but I almost always just use two contrasting fabrics. In my ‘art’ quilts I don’t limit myself to just two fabrics, but generally limit myself to just two shapes (circles and squares).
Do you have a dedicated space for creating?
Nope. Creativity generally hits me in phases, rather than in a ‘space.’ I find that I have creative phases that may last from several weeks to several months, and then I am not creative at all, so that’s when I accomplish the ‘doing’ of those creative inspirations.
Tell us about your favored/most used materials and why you use them.
100% cotton solids, hand dyes or prints that read as a solid from a distance. I’m not a fan of prints that take over the quilt, since the shapes I appliqué should be the focus of what people see.
Are there indispensable tools in your studio?
Yes, except these go with me, they don’t stay in my studio:
- Aurifil 50 wt 100% cotton thread because it is high-quality thread that matches the cotton content of the fabric I use, and because it is so well made, it easily fits through the eyes of the thin needles I prefer.
- Milliner’s Straw Needles, Size 10, 11, or 12. A thin needle provides less stress on my hands as I make millions of stitches. (Wouldn’t it be nice if I had the chance to make millions of stitches every day!)
- Clover Desk Needle Threader. The perfect threader for the thin needles and thread I use.
- Beam’N Read. Portable, battery-operated LED light that hangs around my neck. I never leave home without it.
- Thread Caddy: “Karen Kay Buckley Perfect Thread Bag” holds 48 spools of thread and notions so I can appliqué anywhere with this on my lap.
Tell us about your most challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
I took a ‘challenge’ workshop years ago. For this challenge, we were to use at least one piece of a particular fabric the teacher provided to us. (It was (and still is) the ugliest fabric I have ever seen.) That was the ‘obstacle’.
I selected many fabrics that incorporated the colors from the ugly fabric, then appliquéd circles on squares (including one circle of the ugly fabric). Then I quartered each square and rearranged everything so it was a pleasing arrangement. I love the quilt, and it has always hung in my house; and what I love most about it is that I only included one ¼ circle of the ugly fabric and I have a hard time finding it. I then used the rest of the ugly fabric for the backing, where I never have to see it again (except when I hold it up to show it off—then I’m staring at that ugly fabric again – and it makes me love the quilt top even more!!!)
Have you had a “never again” moment, then gone and did it again?
No, I’m pretty serious about my “never agains.”
Where can people see your work?
I was a co-owner (with my sister) of Pacific Rim Quilt Company until June, 2015, and almost all of the patterns you can see there were designed by me. I now have my own website: www.quiltchong.com and I am working on getting more of my quilts displayed there. It’s a work in progress.
Do you lecture or teach workshops?
Yes, and teaching is my favorite thing to do, even higher on my list than appliquéing (well, maybe they are tied for being my favorite).
How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Tell us about your blog and/or website.
I love to spend my time appliquéing, designing, and making quilts, and I’m older than 65, so I don’t have a blog! I’m certain that I’m a nicer person in person than I would be if I were to start a blog. I have a fabulous sister who is making my website better and better all the time. www.quiltchong.com
How many UFOs do you think you have?
I have approximately 7 Hawaiian quilts in progress and perhaps as many as 15 “other” quilts that may or may not ever get completed. To me, it’s the “doing” that’s important, not the “having.” I used to have many more “other” quilts, but I’ve moved twice in the last two years, so some of those have been donated to Quilts From the Heart.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
As a very organized person, I love all sorts of creative uses for odd storage-type things. My favorite thing – a huge corner desk once used by a Boeing engineer. It also has a custom shelf that doesn’t take up any space on the desk itself (and this holds my printer and mailing stuff). This desk fits all of my ‘office-type’ things so the rest of the room (and another room) is all about “creativity and productivity.”
When you are in your creative mood, do you listen to music, watch TV or do you prefer a quiet spot? If it is music, what types do you listen to? If watching TV, what kinds of shows?
I was raised with the TV always on in the background, and I can’t stand a quiet space; so I turn on the TV and watch movies I like. I even have a DVD/VHS player so I can watch the tapes I’ve collected through the years. I watch new things on TV when I’m appliquéing each evening/night.
What is the best piece of advice that influences your work?
Every thing I learned from my first teacher, Luika Kamaka -and- “try it my way, then if you don’t like that way, do it your own way so you LOVE what you’re doing.”
Interview posted October, 2017