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For the love of quilting

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By Carol A. Clark

Nicole Dunn has been interested in sewing, fabric and color since she was a child. She remembers making everything from Barbie doll clothes and “blankies” to her own bags, clothes, pillows and other items, with her mother’s help.
One of her earliest memories is of a quilt that her mother made for her bed using hexagons, one of her mother’s own designs.
“I ‘helped’ her thread her needles for quilting and played many hours next to her while she quilted it by hand,” Dunn said. “Art is such a never-ending learning process and every day I discover something new and fascinating. My greatest inspiration is the natural world around me. I love traveling, taking photographs and fabric. The colors of Northern New Mexico are incredible and I never tire of seeing the beautiful scenery. I am also inspired daily by the quilts my customers entrust me with to finish for them.”
Dunn has been an artist all her life — it just took her a while to identify with that title. She grew up in an artistic family. Her grandfather, Louie Ewing, made his living as an artist. Her grandmother, Marrie Ewing, also was an artist as were their two children. Dunn’s uncle taught drafting at the high school level for many years and is now a sculptor, metalworker and woodworker and her father is an architect and “sometimes painter.”
“To my mom I owe the knowledge of how to use a sewing machine, the confidence to just do it and so much more,” Dunn said. “I will never forget the afternoon that I spent with my grandma Marrie painting out-of-doors while she helped me ‘see’ all of the different greens there were in just that one spot.”
Her family was “absolutely the best” as she was growing up and supported her in anything she wanted to do, Dunn said.
She explained that some “very practical side of herself” decided that to be an artist was not a good idea — that it would be hard to make a living. She married and had children.
Dunn eventually earned her associate’s degree in liberal arts from The University of New Mexico.
She started her own business saying it seemed like the right thing to do because of the flexibility it allowed her. She was able to be home with her children while learning as much as she could about fabric, color and quilting and making a little money along the way.
Initially, she sewed and did alterations, but soon decided it just wasn’t for her and it didn’t pay well, she said. That endeavor morphed into making stuffed animals for a friend, from wonderful all-cotton Beacon blankets from the 1930s-1950s. These sold on Canyon Road in Santa Fe and furthered her sewing skills, Dunn said.
“I’d made some quilts with my mom when I was young and I took a class to make a quilt for my not-yet-born daughter in 1990,” she said. “I loved it. Then in 1992 on a trip to New York City, I literally stumbled upon an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art with quilts by Nancy Crow and I stood there stunned. It was definitely an ‘aha’ moment — understanding that I could make art with fabric.”
Dunn went to work part-time for her friend Narra Tsiagkouris at Mountains of Fabric and Quilts in Los Alamos in 1995, the next year Tsiagkouris bought a longarm-quilting machine. Dunn saw its potential and jumped right in doing all the quilting for the store for two years.
“I bought the machine from Narra when she closed her store a few years later,” Dunn said. “My longarm quilting business, Dunn Quilting, has been many things for me. I love the fact that my customers trust me with their art and their quilts and allow me to be a part of it. All along I’ve been creating quilts for art, for love of color, for gifts, for sale, or just to make me happy, which often takes a back seat to making a living.”
All her life, even today, there has been an internal yearning inside Dunn that she said she simply cannot deny. She feels miserable if she is not creating in some way.
“I would much rather be making a quilt to cover the bed than making the bed,” she said.
She spends a lot of time studying art through books, workshops and observing other artists; learning about colors and how they relate to one another as well as setting goals for herself.
“Why is it that these non-realistic quilts or paintings work … why does this artwork stir a certain emotion … why does that person react to it in this way … why does a particular quilt sell for $20,000 …” Dunn said. “Don’t you ever get a thrill when deciding to put this fabric next to that one or when someone takes a second look at a quilt you just finished? All of these things fascinate me as does the actual act of creating a quilt.”
For more information visit www.dunnquilting.com.