Allegra Brelsford
Northern Magnolia Creative Quilts

photo © 2011 serenacurry.com

Allegra Brelsford Quilts

I grew up among the gently forested hills and wide meadows of Southern Vermont, the eldest of five children. Summers are my best memories – the sky always seemed very blue and the subtleties of yellows and greens in the meadows, darkening to shadow-dappled woods, provided an endless playground in which we roamed all day until it got dark, and so just a bit scary. Even the rainy days held beauty; the greens became richer and the shadows deeper. Although the cold of winter often discouraged my spirits, I remember the days of gazing out the window and noticing the purples and blues and deep olives of the so-called “gray” contrasting with the ever changing texture of the snow. I especially remember how the brilliant sunlight pierced through the huge icicles that accumulated along the roof line, turning the south-facing windows into blinding beams, and creating a place to bask on the floor below among books, drawings, and paints.

When I was in college choosing a major, I put three small, tightly folded pieces of paper into the cupped palms of a friend, each named Literature, Art, Theater. I pulled Theater. Directing theater and eventually teaching became a vehicle through which I could practice all three; and so, although grateful for the choice, I continued to struggle with the “what do I want to be when I grow up” question, allowing chance to take its course through law school, into sales, marketing, research, editing, and operations management, taking in the urban landscape of Washington DC and New York City. Orchestrating color and pattern in the design of quilts satisfies my aesthetic taste for the beauty of the natural world, and now I work from home every day knowing that I can create a special beauty that integrates all that I am.

My greatest inspiration as a quilter comes from Kathleen O’Connor Franklin, a friend who, decades ago, suddenly seemed to “go crazy” and began dying fabrics of all sorts (practically anything seemed to do) making the most incredible quilts, first inspired by the Amish, and not much later by I don’t know what. Kathy made a living from her quilting for quite a time, and as the enormity of her passion and the brilliance of her work, particularly her color, completely overwhelmed me, as it did most of us. I stood back, watching in wonder. One day Kathy charged me with assembling, from her scattered piles of seemingly endless unused portions of fabric, a baby quilt for a mutual friend. So pedestrian, so simple, in contrast to the undulating beams and ribbons of texture and light that covered her walls in twelve-foot dimensions.   I carefully selected 36 four-inch squares of her gorgeous over-dyed cotton, and took them home to the faithful Singer my parents had presented to me for Christmas when I was 15 (I cried with joy at that gift). I spent hours piecing them together, the only guidance being to keep a ¼” seam. I put a couple of small borders around the large block; my big “risk” was the way I somehow managed to insert a highly-contrasting bright piece of red and blue mottled fabric in one corner of one border. I was very proud of my efforts and presented it to Kathy. “That’s a great start!” she exclaimed. I remember her mother Barbara was in the studio with us that day, and together Kathy and Barbara proceeded to do the most unimaginable things to what I considered the sanctity of a baby quilt:  nearly neon pink with red swirly things as borders in 15” widths, scrap-happy cast-offs of rejected cushion tops in the corners, teals and blues somewhere, a bright red binding. Needless to say, our friend never used it for her baby (now a senior in college), but it has hung on her dining room wall ever since. Kathy observed correctly, with humor and wisdom, “You’ve got the bug now, don’t you.”

My quilting has evolved from plunging head first into a huge quilt made from the scraps of fabric left from making dresses for my daughter, my maternity clothes, and our nightgowns.  We still have that one! I sketched out a rudimentary block design after looking at some patterns at a local big box store, and then went for it without a clue as to how to make anything square or how to cut triangles to make them fit together. My first class was taken out of desperation when it finally dawned I knew nothing of piecing.  My first teacher, Jan Drechsler, introduced me to my first quilt guild, and more mentors and friends. The study of color has been my greatest passion, and I draw from three sources: the innumerable ambers, purples, teals and reds of Kathy’s self-created fabric collection; the highly effective theory and watchful training from Joen Wolfrom (Color Play and The Visual Dance); and the vast possibilities presented in Shigenobu Kobayashi’s mood categories in A Book of Colors. The study of technique, design, and the creative process has taken me into days-long workshops with Judy Dales (Curves in Motion), Rosalie Dace (The Thinking Eye), Mickey Lawler (Sky Dyes), Robert Fritz (Your Life as Art), Nancy Crow, Lisa Call, and others. I even sought out  a local college classroom where the 20-year-old art majors finally decided it was OK to sit at the same table with me. Anne Laroche, my Two-Dimensional Design teacher, advised me to give away everything and start over as the best way to get to the next level. The giving it all away was the fun part. Getting to the next level will always be a struggle, but one that I now embrace.

Quilting has stayed an integral part of my life while raising two children (both of whom have my sincere admiration for the choices they have made), nurturing a 27-year marriage to a wonderful man who supports me in whatever success looks like for me, and a small business and administrative career in family-owned businesses and at the World Wildlife Fund.

Fine Crafts Shows:

  • November 10-14, 2016: Philadelphia Contemporary Craft Show, Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia PA)
  • July 15-17, 2016: Guilford Craft Expo, Guilford Art Center (Guilford CT)
  • May 6-8, 2016: Morven in May, Morven Museum and Garden (Princeton NJ)
  • February 19-21, 2016: American Craft Council Retail Show (Baltimore, MD)
  • July 3-5, 2015: Berkshires Art Festival (Great Barrington MA)
  • April 24-26, 2015: Wadsworth Museum Show, American Art Marketing (Hartford CT)
  • February 20-23, 2015: American Craft Council Retail Show (Baltimore MD)
  • September 12-14, 2014: Fall Crafts at Lyndhurst (Tarrytown NY)
  • July 4-6, 2014: Berkshires Art Festival (Great Barrington MA)
  • May 9 – 11, 2014: Pennsylvania Guild Fine Craft Show (Philadelphia PA)
  • May 2-4, 2014: Crafts at Lyndhurst (Tarrytown NY)
  • April 4-6, 2014: Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show (Philadelphia PA)
  • October 25-27, 2013: American Fine Craft Show (New York NY)
  • July 18-21, 2013: Craft Expo, Guilford Arts Center (Guilford CT)

Group Exhibitions:

  • 2016: “Concrete and Grasslands,” Grant’s Pass Museum of Art (Grant’s Pass OR) Rising #23 – East River Winter Dusk
  • 2015: “Quilts=Art=Quilts,” Schweinfurth Art Center (Auburn NY) Rising #27 – Meadow’s Edge
  • 2015: “A Celebration of Fiber Arts,” Arts Center East (Vernon CT) Motif #16 (Third Place Prize), Rising #21 – Speculation, Rising #30 – Grain Grower
  • 2015: “Connections,” Central Booking Gallery (New York, NY) Rising #30-Grain Grower
  • 2012: Open Studio Hartford (Hartford, CT), multiple entries
  • 2011: IMAGES 2011 (Lowell, MA), Windows II
  • 2011: Sacred Threads (Reston VA), The Moon is Angry
  • 2010: Quilters Unlimited Quilt Show (Chantilly VA), Triadic, Bamboo Paths, Sampler
  • 2005: Nimble Quilters Quilt Guild Show (Gaithersburg MD)
  • 2005: Hands All Around X (Amherst MA) Tiled Pool, CMYK, and Kisses
  • 2005: Old Deerfield Challenge: Blue and White (Deerfield MA) Wheel of Mystery
  • 2004: Vermont Quilt Festival (Northfield VT), At the Edge of the Woods
  • 2004: Bennington Quiltfest (Bennington VT) Scrap Box II
  • 2004: Foundation for Fiber Art at the Fiber Art Center (Amherst MA) Juried Student Exhibit, Won’t Be in a Box and Cerise et Framboise

Memberships/Associations:
Member of the American Quilter’s Society, Studio Art Quilt Associates, The New York Textile Study Group, and the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen. Past member of Chevy Chase Needlechasers (Chevy Chase MD), Quilters Unlimited (Northern Virginia), and Nimble Quilters Quilt Guild (Gaithersburg MD) past newsletter editor and board member of Hands Across the Valley Quilt Guild (Amherst MA), volunteer at The Textile Museum, Washington DC.