Spotlight: Sandy Peterson, Quilter with Compassion
Sandy Peterson’s sewing and quilting journey has led her along a creative fiber path. From sewing for dolls (a gateway activity for many) to sewing clothing with her mom to knitting with her grandmother to quilting on her own, her creativity and love of the art have grown. She has a studio that is envious, with her stash so organized! And, she makes the time to make quilts for charities.
I started creating when I used the scraps from Ritz(?) notions to make clothing for my naked troll dolls. I sewed clothing as a teen and young adult as a way to do something creative with my mom where we would get along rather than argue. Some of my favorite memories are our sewing escapades!
My grandma taught me to knit and crochet. Once I moved to Seattle I lost most of my connection to creativity. During what my husband calls my granola phase I learned to spin yarn and did that quite a bit. I didn’t sew, but occasionally knitted scarves.
In 2003 my husband asked me to fix some pants for him. I couldn’t find the bobbin case for my machine and that began the search for a new machine. As I looked for a new machine I was thrilled to meet up with creative people again.
I was working 70 hours a week and it was so refreshing to be around that creativity again! Of course since I was working so much I didn’t use my new fancy machine for a year. When my company was purchased and we were waiting to be laid off, the order was to send everything “over the wall” to the new organization. That left me lots of time to fill and I decided to make Christmas quilts for my young niece and nephew. A year after that I met Kathy MacDonald and Jackie Mason and they pretty much dragged me kicking and screaming into learning to trust myself!
I love the feel of textiles. Half of my enjoyment is how it feels to touch the fibers. I also love the colors.
There are a few things that have changed drastically over time. Purple is my favorite color so that is all I bought when I started. I still lean towards purple but it is no longer the largest part of my stash. I have learned that it’s the other colors that make the purple look so wonderful. Starting with prints, I have moved to batiks and hand-dyed fabrics. I still prefer cool tones to warm but have learned that they all have a place and can work nicely together. I didn’t trust my sense of color at all at first but have learned to trust it more.
I am lucky to come from a family that believes in helping others. Once I had made quilts for family members, I needed a new focus. My mom and I decided that it would be fun to do a project together. We decided that I could make the quilts and she’d help with the expenses of fabric and shipping. Unfortunately she died before we could make anything, but my sister and I now do one quilt a year together. I don’t work with any guilds but I do belong to a church quilting group and occasionally when they need a service project, we’ll do a group quilt for me to send off.
Making quilts that are cozy and happy is my focus; I figure everyone can use a hug and that’s what I want the quilts to feel like.
There are so many in need – how do you decide where to donate the quilts you make?
My mom and I made the decision before she died. I am a survivor of sexual assault so we wanted to do something around that. Mom was very interested in helping veterans so we started looking for something that combined the two.
I am currently making quilts to send to survivors of military sexual assault. It has been difficult to find organizations to support as it’s a fairly new advocacy but I think I’ve found one that will stick around.
I also occasionally send quilts to survivors of natural disasters. After Hurricane Sandy hit, Timeless Treasures and eQuilter put out a call for quilts. I got the church group to help me and we sent 12 quilts to them. My sister and I have decided to send at least the quilt we are doing together to Happiness is a Warm Quilt for survivors of the Napa/Sonoma fires.
What other creative mediums do you play around with?
I knit occasionally, but can’t be bothered with gauge so I make a lot of scarves and shawls.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you work in series? How does that affect your approach?
Fabric often inspires me, sometimes loss, sometimes something I see. I have worked in series; Lorraine Torrence’s classes inspired me to do that, and have continued when they call to me. I have a couple of simple patterns that I have made many times just to see how the different fabrics change the look and feel of the pattern.
What are your favorite techniques?
I do everything by machine when possible. Although my mom perfected the art of hand stitching, mine has aways been messy and irregular. I usually have my quilts quilted by a professional, although I just bought a quilting machine to try out with smaller projects.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? What does it look like?
I have a studio/condo for creating. It was a two bedroom condo but I took down a wall and it is now only one. I needed a place that was TV free so my studio has a sitting area as well as sewing and cutting tables. I use the remaining bedroom for fabric storage and as an extra guest bedroom. My studio is my refuge.
I use IKEA Billy bookshelves for storage and have UV-protective blinds in the room. I organize my fabric by type (print, batik, hand-dyed) and within each of those I organize by color. Sometimes I sit and stare at my fabric; sometimes I pet it; often I actually pull it out and use it.
What are your favored/most used tools and materials? How do they improve your work?
I have converted to Pfaff machines for piecing. I use the standard cutting tools and I love Aurifil threads.
I have had so many mentors!
My first was Kristi LeDuc who steered me towards my first machine. Then I met Kathy and Jackie who helped me understand that purple couldn’t stand on its own all the time. They convinced me to take Lorraine Torrence’s design class. Through Lorraine’s classes and the Off-Grain Stitchers, I’ve learned to trust my sense of color and to take risks. I think the most important was Ruth Vincent who gently lectured me on believing in myself rather than putting myself down.
Tell us about your most challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
My most challenging piece is not yet finished. I made it after I lost my dog Chico. My plan was to quilt it myself and embellish it with beads as a way to work through my loss.
Since I started quilting I’ve lost both my parents and two amazing friends. Regardless of the piece, the most challenging thing for me has been to move through grief and start working again. Lorraine and the Off-Grain Stitchers helped me with that each time.
I made a One-Block Wonder and swore I’d never do it again. Then Kathy gave me a panel and I started over again. It’s pinned to a design wall but I haven’t figured out how to finish it.
Where can people see your work?
In my home and in my studio. The rest have been given away.
Right now I probably have 5 or 6 if you don’t count finished ones that need binding. The advent of Koa, our puppy, has put a screeching halt on anything that takes more than 20 minutes!
When you are in your creative space, do you listen to music, read audio books, watch TV or do you prefer a quiet spot? If it is music or books, what types do you listen to? If watching TV or movies, what kinds of shows?
I generally listen to Audio books. I like urban fantasy, regency romances, regency detective, and some biographical and autobiographical. When I need to concentrate or clear my mind I listen to classical music.
Besides, “make visual decisions visually” I’d have to say to trust myself.
I started a website for my donation quilts and would like to get it up and running someday, but that isn’t a skill that I’m all that excited to learn so I have to find someone to create it. I’d like to have a place to post pictures of the quilts I’ve given away.
Interview date: February, 2018.
Editors Note: Sadly Sandy died February 13, 2019, after a short battle with brain cancer.
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