Call what Meredith Mitchell creates symphonies for the eyes.
The former music teacher at Walla Walla's Edison Elementary School and flutist with regional symphonies nowadays keeps her creative instincts - not to mention her fingers - busy making richly textured and visually satisfying quilts.
And she's prolific. She currently has 27 quilts in her home, from wall hangings and small projects to much larger sizes.
Her expertise has also brought her ovations, most recently her being named Featured Local Quilter in the Walla Walla Valley Quilt Festival coming this month.
"We felt she epitomized the essence of the quilting community," said Cathy Wiese, a festival organizer. "She has balanced family, a demanding educational career, volunteer efforts, and now retirement as well as quilting, and still manages to create, colorful quality quilts that are very pleasing to the eye. With every stitch she works toward creating the perfect quilt for the occasion."
An artist with her music and her quilting, Mitchell says "it's easy to switch from one art form to another," she said.
Music had been her life's work, but quilting has been a lifelong hobby passed down from her grandmother to her mother to her. And when she had children of her own, she and her mother, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, made quilts for each grandchild.
Other children also benefitted from her craft. While teaching music at Edison, Mitchell hung some of her quilts, such as one with ice cream cones and another one with pumpkins for Halloween, in her K-5 classroom and often used them to help introduce seasonal songs.
Time has changed quilting techniques, and time brought changes to Mitchell's family as well.
In 1987 her mother, Mae Rugg, passed away.
"I couldn't even touch quilting for awhile," Mitchell said. But as more years passed she gained a new perspective. "Mom would want me to continue, so I did."
The results are stunning, in color and design. She has made quilts for babies, decorations, gifts and items for the home.
She no longer quilts by hand, and appreciates advances in quilting tools, such as quilting mats and rotary cutters that make crafting them less labor intensive. It's easier for the smaller wall hangings and baby quilts, but her larger ones pose more of a challenge. For those, queen size and larger, she sends them to a quilter with a long-arm machine for stitching.
Still, for her quilts are all about texture and touch; how a quilt feels is as important as how it looks. Each quilt should have a feel that's consistent with the idea being expressed. The fabric she uses is all cotton, and she likes cotton thread and often chooses sparkling gold or a variegated color.
A quilt of the Nativity in her home uses sparkling gold thread as beams of light from the Star of Bethlehem. Another she designed with a fall theme relies heavily on orange, brown and green highlights.
Mitchell's creations are made in her own dedicated quilting room with an ever-expanding fabric library. Quilters understand this. If you have the fabric, it's ready when the inspiration hits.
She chose natural florescent lighting for her room so she can get a truer perspective on the fabric. "The yellow florescent light changes the colors," she said. "I'm color-painting with fabric. If I don't like the colors I don't do it. It takes the most time to find the way they work together. When the colors are right, I'm at peace with it. Then I'm free to go ahead and create."
In addition to teaching elementary school music, Mitchell also taught at Walla Walla University, Whitman College, Walla Walla Community College and gave private flute lessons. She also was a flutist with the Walla Walla Symphony, Oregon East Symphony and Inland Northwest Orchestra. She currently plays with Walla Walla Valley Bands.
She draws parallels between her music and her quilting - mainly that each art form demands "precision."
Quilting, however, is a solo art she finds more relaxing.
"In a symphony, you have to come in there or the conductor will eat you alive," she said. "Quilting is a hobby, not another profession, it's my therapy … and it produces something for home or a gift for a friend."
The Walla Walla Valley Quilt Festival will be held at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds, September 16-18. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days. ENTRY FORMS DUE BY SEPTEMBER 1, 2011
QUILTS DUE AT SEW ‘n VAC BETWEEN SEPTEMBER 8-10
For information visit: wallawallaquiltfestival.org.