A conversation with Sheila Frampton-Cooper


Upper Street Events talk to Californian quilter Sheila Frampton-Cooper about her work, inspirations and teaching.

Sheila, you’ve long been an artist and maker but only started sewing 10 years ago. What brought you to the world of quilting?

I never had an interest in sewing other than making a few halter tops in the 70’s. My mom sewed our holiday outfits every year when I was young and she’s also a traditional quilter so there was always a sewing machine in the house. An organisation called Project Linus brought me to quilting. In January 2009, I answered a call to give either donations or time. Because sewing wasn’t my thing, I brought some fabric to donate and ended up spending the whole day there drawing on freezer paper backed fabric. The table was set up for kids, but since none were there, I sat myself down. As I was leaving, a voice inside me urged me to return to one of the regularly scheduled meet ups. That first year I made 35 small quilts to donate, and this is how I taught myself to quilt. In January 2010, I started my first quilt as art, and the rest is history.


You work without plans, sketches or an agenda, preferring instead to improvise. What do you think this approach brings to the aesthetic of your work?       

It’s true that I create most of my work with no preconceived idea or sketch. My first love is improvising. It’s exciting but slow and can’t be rushed. My brain tends to overcomplicate everything, so I need time for solutions to come to me, naturally. Because I really enjoy the most basic technique of piecing, this provides me opportunities to problem solve! And when you add in the curved forms, it’s not really a straightforward process when it comes to construction. It often requires thinking a few steps ahead and a great deal of trust. I tend to get lost in the process.

What this approach brings to my work is an organic unfolding that I could never plan in advance. It is a moment in time; a period of my life; and all of that is infused in each creation. I can’t duplicate or try to do something else like it. Believe me I have tried! Each time it goes in the direction it wants to and I go with it.

Sheila-Frampton-Cooper-Maui-scaledWhat role does your native California play in providing inspiration for your work?

I suppose it’s the constant sunshine, the diversity of Southern California and the free thinking. San Francisco was the incubator of the Hippie Movement and I am certainly a product of that. Much of my work is about nature; oceans, gardens, fantasy landscapes and various creatures. Clearly, my environment and everything I’ve even seen or dreamt of influences me, on a subconscious level.

Sheila-Frampton-Cooper-Kelp-detailYou’re a passionate quilting teacher, teaching workshops all over the world. What does that experience bring to your life, your creativity and to your own quilting practice?

I am very passionate about teaching, absolutely. For me, creating in this way is a form of meditation, and as I mentioned before, requires trust. This philosophy is what I share with my students as I guide them into uncharted territory. What it brings to my life is something magical. To be the witness as their vision unfolds is not something I take lightly. I’m constantly in awe of what many can do in 2-5 days. I’m very slow!

There was a week last year when I received six emails from students sharing finished pieces with me. My workshops are not ‘project classes’ where one can hope to go home with a finished top. In a way I am planting seeds and if the ground is fertilized, they will grow. When I open my email and see a finished piece after a few months or years, I feel a warm glow inside.

My students have inspired my colour choices. I taught a 2-day workshop in 2017 and loved one student’s palette. When the workshop ended, she gave me a thank you card in which she glued all the fabric she used in her piece. A few years later, I referenced that card, which influenced my palette for the piece I had traveling with Quilt National ’19.

I have made lasting bonds with many of my students and am so grateful for every workshop and opportunity I have given and received. And I receive a lot! I find that as quilters, no matter what country we live in, we share a deep bond. We love to put pieces together to make a whole. For me, that is symbolic on many levels.Sheila-Frampton-Cooper-The_Arrival-scaledAnd finally, for anyone that has never picked up a needle and thread, what is it about fibre/textiles that is so enjoyable to work with?

Quilting is a labour of love. I enjoy the challenge of bringing my visions into form using fabric. It’s one thing to paint on canvas, but this medium requires a lot more problem solving, at least when you work like I do. I enjoy every part of the process: dyeing my fabric; choosing my palette; witnessing what comes through; and finally, the quilting. But what I appreciate most is the community and the fact that there is a unity between quilters, no matter if you consider yourself traditional, a storyteller, modern, art or whatever else.

Sheila Frampton-Cooper’s exhibition, Fantasy Abstraction, was due to feature at The Festival of Quilts this year. We hope she will return to a future festival with her colourful abstract works.

The Festival of Quilts Virtual Competition 2020 is now live and we have some exciting news. To make sure your masterpiece gets the attention it deserves, all entries into The Virtual Competition 2020 will be displayed on The Festival of Quilts website as part of a virtual gallery, with selected stand out pieces in each category to be featured in an upcoming special one-off Festival of Quilts magazine. What’s more, winning quilts across each category will be taking pride of place amongst the Textile Galleries at The Knitting & Stitching Shows in the autumn!

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