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A beautiful life, quilted. The Cohen Life Quilt

As a quilt designer, my favorite part of my job is collaborating with clients to come up with a quilt design that perfectly suits their vision, their style, and tells their story. One of my favorite collaborations to date happened with an incredible woman who I am delighted to call a friend. Her name is Dayna, and this is the story of her Life Quilt.

Glenda, a friend of Dayna's, lives in a very fire-prone area in Northern California, and has to quickly pack up valuables and dash from her home every few years due to impending fires. Luckily, her home has never been damaged from forest fires, but has been close a few times. Glenda showed Dayna the comprehensive list of items she made for her husband, in case he's the only one at home when they need to quickly pack and evacuate. The first things on her list are her Grandmother's quilts, followed by personal photos and a few pieces of jewelry from her mom. Dayna wrote to me, "It made me realize when I read her list that although I had many things in my life, I did not have many things of consequence, aside from my relationships with the living things in my life - my husband, my dog, and my amazing friends and family. That is when I realized I could combine my need for some new bedroom decor with a lasting and personally valuable quilt from you."

Thus the idea for the Life quilt was born.

Cohen Life Quilt -15

Dayna contacted me last summer with the idea of making a quilt that visually represented her life. I was immediately inspired and excited about the project. She sent me a list of a couple dozen things that are significant to her and her husband and their lives together and before they met. The list contained all sorts of words from "Woodstock" to "Seattle", from "books" to "our dog, Murphy". It also contained a list of a dozen or so words she wanted stitched into the quilt. We decided to quilt these in white so they blended in when looking at the quilt from afar, but were visible up close. Like secrets.

Cohen Life Quilt -27

I'm not going to share all the quilt's secrets, but they spanned from inside jokes, to favorite quotes, to pet names for one another, to the actual names of pets they had had together and loved.

Cohen Life Quilt -20

Stars and moons were also significant to them and she wanted them to be scattered throughout the quilt.

For the main fabric in the quilt, we chose this fabulous 100% cotton that had the beautiful texture of linen. It gave the quilt a dynamic and airy appearance. Dayna has a great eye for color and design and chose the color palette. She wanted various oranges, sea blues and greens, warm vanilla, grey and charcoals.

Since there was such a plethora of different, sometimes unrelated items to include, we decided to create a quilted collage of all of these items. So we started with a design. I did a lot of sketching and came to her with a black and white sketch of the shapes and their layout. She responded with an email, "I LOVE this so much- I actually welled up with tears when I looked at the images!"

She gave me notes on a couple tweaks to make, then we moved on to fabric! I have a large collection of fabric, and I pulled some that I thought would work well in this piece. I then went around to my favorite local fabric shops, collecting more to fill out the palette. My unique method of quilting (on which I wrote a book) calls for dozens of different fabrics collaged together to form a single image. This quilt contains many hundreds of tiny pieces of fabric, intentionally selected and thoughtfully collaged.

Cohen Life Quilt -11

Every single one of those 600 + pieces is carefully satin-stitched on all sides to ensure that this quilt will last for generations.

Cohen Life Quilt -13

To keep the images sacred and subtle, Dayna decided she wanted the actual images to be on the backside of the quilt. This would allow her to pull it back in different ways to reveal different images. All of the words are quilted into the front (all white) side of the quilt, and the images are all appliquéd and embroidered on the back side of the quilt.

Cohen Life Quilt -7

Dayna was excited to be a part of the design process and to watch as it came together, so I sent her photos at each stage of the project. After receiving and opening the quilt, she wrote to me:

"I cried when we started finding the sayings embedded into the Life Quilt, like precious secrets. Wayne was thrilled and may have teared up a bit too. It is absolutely perfect."
and later wrote:
"The finished product exceeded all expectations and my husband and I cherish it. I have friends and family members who are looking at their own possessions in a different way because of what you have created for me- thank you so much for your artistry and your excellence!"
I love the concept that quilts can be used as a medium for story telling and archiving memories; it was such a privilege and a pleasure to be entrusted with this special project.
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6 comments

  • What a wonderful sentiment with this quilt! It is subtle with an immense impact. Wonderfully done.

    Quilting Jeannie
  • So now the story has caused me to we’ll up, anew…and I am sitting.in an airport in Philly being a mush. Thankfully, I don’t give a hoot about what people may be thinking…I love this story, Shanny.

    Dayna
  • Great inspiration!

    Carlie Holdredge

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