Quilting puts Israel on the map

This month, the Israeli Quilters Association celebrated 25 years since its founding.

Dutch Tulips’ by IQA chairwoman Elsy Menko. (photo credit: IQA)
Dutch Tulips’ by IQA chairwoman Elsy Menko.
(photo credit: IQA)
Israeli quilters are making a mark on the international quilting scene. This month, the Israeli Quilters Association celebrated 25 years since its founding.
“Israeli quilt makers are at the forefront of the field. Their works are displayed in international exhibitions,” says IQA chairwoman Elsy Menko.
“There is an exceptional quality to their work, and something in the color that is very unique to Israeli quilters. When you go to an international quilt exhibition, you can spot the Israeli quilts.”
Menko started quilting in 2009. After her retirement as director of the United Jewish Appeal and the Jewish Agency in Amsterdam, she took a course and was immediately hooked.
“In Holland, quilting is very big, and the quilting guild there has some 13,000 members. You can take a workshop every day!” She moved to Israel from Holland in 2011, and is a resident of Zichron Ya’acov. Shortly after arriving, she contacted the late Ita Ziv, founder of the IQA, to become involved in the field in Israel. The purpose of the IQA is to promote the art of patchwork and quilting in Israel, and to connect to the international quilting world.
“Quilting became big in America, with a large patchwork community,” explains Menko. “Israelis in the US for various reasons were exposed to quilting there, and returned to Israel with the new technique. This is how the association started in 1992.”
The 300 members of IQA are women of all ages with a mosaic of backgrounds and professions from all over Israel. Among them are many international award-winning quilters. For most of them, quilting is a hobby, though there are some who developed it professionally. The IQA publishes a monthly newsletter, where it publicizes workshops, courses and exhibitions – both in Israel and abroad. It also publishes a colorful magazine twice a year.
The exhibitions are held at various venues in Israel.
Several years ago, “Many Faces to Jerusalem” was at the Brigham Young University Center Jerusalem. Exhibitions are held at Beit Gabriel on Lake Kinneret. Recently, the IQA held the “Voices of Joy and Happiness” exhibition in Ashdod with 37 huppot (wedding canopies).
IQA members had their works displayed in “The Festival of Quilts” in Birmingham, England – Europe’s leading patchwork and quilting event, which attracts 24,000 quilters from all over the world.
The IQA’s milestone year is being marked at its annual exhibition, which includes a contest, held at the Jerusalem Theater. This year’s theme is “Home,” and Rachel Klein’s quilt, There Was a Home, of an Arab woman in front of her destroyed home, won first prize.
“Patchwork, or traditional quilting, is made by joining together pieces of fabric to make the top of the quilt,” says Menko.
“Originally, quilting was a thrifty business, made of materials from old clothing that wouldn’t be thrown out. The designs are often based on geometrical shapes, and the quilts are used as blankets or bed covers.”
The quilt’s three layers are the top, the batting and the backing material.
“The layers are connected by a running stitch, either by hand or sewing machine, in any way that the quilter fancies. Today the sewing machine is used most often.
The stitching gives the quilt an extra dimension, and adds volume due to the batting.”
Artistic quilts are also very popular.
“I think of the sewing machine as my paintbrush, and my quilts as the canvas,” says Cindy Richard, a textile artist and landscape quilter, whose work Put up Your Feet and Take It Easy took second prize at the Jeru- salem Theater exhibition.
Richard came to Israel 25 years ago from New York.
Today she lives in Beit Shemesh. Although it took her 10 years to complete her first quilt, today she is fortunate to have combined a hobby with a profession.
As a young mother working full time in tech-writing, with little interest in handiwork, she took a class with friends in Ramat Aviv and found cutting fabrics to be fun. At another class, she discovered the sewing machine, which facilitated the process. She was mainly self-taught, and learned from online courses about making artistic quilts. She also works part time in hi tech. Eight years ago, she opened a small business, CindyRQuilts, Textile Art (CindyRQuilts.com).
In addition to selling artwork and items made from quilting (including purses, table runners and trivets), both on her website and through the online Etsy shop, she teaches the art of quilting, writes a blog, and is the Israeli dealer for Handi Quilter long-arm sewing machines.
“There is more to quilting than geometric shapes for blankets. The techniques enable me to make art from fabrics – whether realistic or abstract, although most of my works are realistic. At an IQA workshop, I learned from a teacher from California about making portraits by quilting. I felt that portrait-making was for me.”
The portraits are based on photographs, and Richard cuts out the fabric based on the shapes. She stresses that there is no printing on the fabric itself.
“I’m passionate about things that are meaningful to me – my family and Israel. I take pictures in Israel, my own sort of hasbara [public diplomacy] through my art. I send things around the world and they display the beauty of Israel.”
Richard explains that the three-dimensional aspect of quilting enhances their depth, and the angles can be intriguing, as in the award-winning Put up Your Feet and Take It Easy,” where she is looking down into a scene of her family’s legs in her living room.
Quilters apply their talents for charity causes, too.
During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, IQA members made quilts for wounded soldiers.
“I love quilting, and I do it every day,” says Menko.
“I want to make sure that I can donate them to good causes. I donated three large quilts to the wounded soldiers.
Recently, the quilters group of Zichron Ya’acov donated small blankets to the premature infant ward in Carmel Hospital in Haifa. Quilting for me is an island of calm and happiness _ especially in Israel where the lifestyle here is intense.”
The “Home” exhibition of the Israel Quilters Association is at the Jerusalem Theater until September 26, from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
The Israel Quilters Association website: www.israeli- quilt.com/