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  • Art quilt maker bringing gem quilts to Canada

    Art Quilt gem quilts pic 2

    A group of 10 women from the Calgary area, B.C., Saskatchewan, and Manitoba attended the Gem Affiliate Training retreat in Calgary. Throughout the retreat, the group learned techniques from art quilt maker and creator of the gem quilts MJ Kinman. Kinman was first inspired to create a gem quilt after she received a flyer in the mail with an image of a gem about 25 years ago. It took Kinman seven years to figure out a way to place hundreds of pieces onto the quilt. Since then, Kinman has developed gem quilt patterns, and quit her corporate career to pursue her passion. Photo by Emily Rogers

    Nancy Strath, owner of Bow Bench Retreat, welcomed art quilt maker and creator of faceted diamond quilts MJ Kinman to Calgary for a Gem Affiliate Training retreat.
    “I love teaching this at my facility, but I can’t reach all of Canada,” Strath said.
    “I was very excited when MJ offered to come and teach some other people how to teach. Now we can share this knowledge all over the country,” she added.
    Quilting instructors from the Calgary area, B.C., Saskatchewan, and Manitoba came together to learn the proper techniques in teaching others how to create gem quilts.
    “I mostly make quilts that are one and done, and a one of a kind that people put on their walls,” Kinman said.

    Kinman first began gem quilting approximately 25 years ago, after she had received a flyer in the mail with the image of a gemstone.
    “I had just learned how to quilt. I looked at the gem, and I thought it’s just straight lines, there’s got to be a way to make a quilt out of that,” Kinman said.
    However, she was unsure how to design the quilt, and how to put hundreds of pieces back together once she cut them up.
    She began to research quilters and their techniques, and once she found Cynthia England’s picture piecing technique, she knew how to complete the innovative quilt.
    “The key is freezer paper,” Kinman said.
    Kinman uses freezer paper as a template, while the back of the paper acts as an adherent to the fabric when ironed, which can be pulled off without leaving a residue.
    Seven years later, she diagramed the quilt with colour codes and visual clues of where to place the pieces.
    “It took me seven years to it figure out. Since then it’s captured my soul. I quit my corporate America job five years ago to devote all my time to this,” Kinman said.
    “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but it had been the truest, and the rightest thing I’ve ever done,” she added.

    Roughly a year ago, Kinman developed patterns for other gem makers, and quilting instructors began asking her if they could teach her patterns to their students.
    “They were independent quilt teachers, and they had people who were interested in making the quilts but needed a little bit of extra help,” Kinman said.
    During a collaboration, Kinman decided to create the Gem Affiliate Training retreat, which brings people together who want to teach the patterns.
    “I teach them how to teach,” Kinman said.
    “I teach them the techniques. I teach them where they came from, tips and tricks, and give them resources that they can’t get when you’re not a part of the affiliate system,” she said.
    “We’re adding this to the menu of the classes they can offer to their quilting community,” she added.
    Collaborating with Nancy Strath and her Bow Bench Retreat facility was a simple decision for Kinman, as Strath has experience teaching the gem quilting classes, and knows common questions quilters have, and where they get hung up.
    “I can talk about where it came from and the ideas, the tips and tricks that I use, but she knows what it’s like to actually teach it,” Kinman said.
    Kinman’s gem guilts are unique in the quilting industry as there is not an emphasizes on perfection, unlike other projects.
    “It’s a wonderful, and marvelous industry, but there’s a lot of emphasizes on perfection and precision, and that can cause a lot of fear in people,” Kinman said.
    “They get all tense, and you can’t have fun when you’re tense. With these patterns’, precision isn’t a priority,” she said.
    For quilters who have been told they need to match their points up perfectly, letting go of precision will either freak them out or give them a massive sense of relief.
    “I want to let people know how important it is to be joyful in your creativity because that’s where creativity comes from and not to work out of fear,” Kinman said.
    “I want to help people restore joy into their quilt making, and to their practice that they can bring back to their studio,” she added.
    Although the creation of gem quilts is an innovative project in the industry, the students in the Gem Affiliate Training retreat dove right now and understood it immediately.
    “I had a blast,” Kinman said.
    “The weekend went great. It was awesome,” Strath said.
    “We have all gotten to know each other, we’ve formed new friendships, and we’re collaborating, it’s a combination of all of our favourite things,” she said.
    Strath added, the world is loving gem quilting because quilters are tired of making quilts like what their grandmothers have made in the past.
    Calgary quilting instructor, Allison Spence had previously made one gem quilt block. However, after she attended the Gem Affiliate Training retreat, the process became a lot simpler.
    “With this weekend we’ve received a lot more information, and now it makes a lot more sense,” Spence said.
    “Once I got to sewing, it goes together really quickly. It is well worth it in the long run,” she added.
    For Spence, Strath, and Kinman getting to know each other, building relationships, and collaborating was a highlight from the weekend.

    “People love diamonds, and it’s time to bring them to the world,” Kinman said.

    “It’s exciting because there’s nothing out there like this right now. I get to be a part of that. I get to introduce that to the world and bring joy to other people,” she added.