A club in East Los Angeles started by LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina and some of her close friends is taking the American craft of quilting and giving it a uniquely Latina and Mexican flair.
Better known as TELAS de la Vida, The East Los Angeles Stitchers will hold its first showcase of member produced quilts this Sunday, Cinco de Mayo, at Self Help Graphics & Arts in Boyle Heights.
The “Quilted Rebozo & Quilt Show” will include one-of-a-kind quilts with Latino themes made by TELAS members. Colorful piñatas, Day of the Dead skeletons, cultural prints and colorful fabrics are some of the designs that will be featured in the show.
Quilting was born out of necessity, according to Molina.
“…People just took old blankets and covered them with new fabric or pieces of used fabric … But I think for us, what we are trying to do is take the tradition of quilting and all the different styles, from handwork and appliqué to machine quilting and patchwork … and add a Latino flair which is really uniquely different,” Molina told EGP.
“And we’re also introducing a whole new thing about our culture, which is the rebozo (shawl),” she said. The quilted rebozo will be debuted as a new quilting form at Sunday’s exhibit, she added.
They do a particularly good job of showcasing the stitcher’s talent, Molina noted.
South San Gabriel resident Maria Morales has only been quilting for about a year and a half, but on Sunday she will be showcasing a quilted black rebozo with colorful large squares made to resemble papel picado (paper cutouts).
Another a quilt is themed “De Colores,” a folksong often associated with the United Farm Workers. As its name implies, the quilt is bursting with color.
Molina said adding an ethnic theme is not unique in the quilting world. She said other ethnic groups, like Hawaiians, Native Americans and African Americans, have also incorporated their culture into their quilting crafts.
But “they were just waiting for us,” she jokes.
She also noted there are Latina quilting groups in other parts of the country, such as Texas.
A quilt is basically three pieces of fabric, a front and back and usually batting in the middle and it’s quilted, according to Molina. At Sunday’s show people will be able to get a close up look at the quilting process, which will be demonstrated by TELAS members.
And while TELAS members are supportive of each other’s work, they are also a little competitive and have included a “Viewers Choice” rebozo and quilt competition as part of the show.
An array of handcrafted items reflecting the Latino culture, including some quilts and rebozos will also be on sale.
The nonprofit TELAS de la Vida was started in 2011 when a tight-knit group of 6 or 7 friends, including Molina, Gloria Flores, Ida Ramos, Yolanda Barrozo, and Maria Madariaga decided to start their own quilting group. The first gathering in April of 2011 attracted about 30 people. Today the group has close to 70 members, they said.
The group also engages in works of philanthropy, including donating quilts to comfort children in the Los Angeles County foster care system.
They have traveled to quilt shows to pick up ideas and fabrics in places like Kentucky and Puebla, Mexico they told EGP.
“We never expected it to become a passion,” said Molina who started quilting about 17 years ago.
While most quilting shows last several days, TELAS first show will last just one day.
The quilting industry is a billion dollar industry when you calculate in the cost of sewing machines, rulers, gadgets and fabrics, Molina explained. TELAS members are constantly looking for quilt shops and have acquired quite a collection of fabric and more than one sewing machine, she added.
The sewing skills of the group’s members, who come from as far away as San Diego County, Santa Clarita and Albuquerque, New Mexico, range from the novice to the very highly skilled. They meet once a month. The out-of-state member participates by mail in the “block of the month” exchange where members exchange blocks of fabric to create quilts.
The meetings are an opportunity to learn new techniques, share patters and ideas, and perhaps more importantly, a chance to socialize and make new friends.
Morales recalled that she did not know very much about quilting when she attended her first meeting. She took a note pad and pencil intending to take notes, but left having created an iron-on rose. “It was just so inspirational that within four hours I had learned so much,” she said.
A person’s skill level is not what matters, members say.
“Quilting is a very specialized craft, I mean you can either be very precise or you can be as we say ‘very artistic’, where none of the seems match and no one cares because its you expressing your artistic creativity through quilts,” Evelyn Martinez-Zapata said laughing. “It all has to do with colors,” said Martinez-Zapata, who won a ribbon last year at the Pomona Fair for one of her quits.
“I hadn’t touched a sewing machine since high school. It takes practice but I was so thrilled to be able to make a quilt for my granddaughter,” added Alhambra resident Ida Leon Ramos, who also explained that the group’s members are of all ages, the youngest workshop participant being an 8-year-old girl.
The women told EGP that the hours they spend working on their quilt-making hobby are “therapeutic.”
It’s “relaxing” and “fun,” and they really hope people will drop by for a half hour or so to see what they have created, and perhaps become inspired to take up quilting.
The group said Cinco de Mayo seemed like a good time to hold their first show, since the day is a celebration of culture and heritage.
“Come see… then go do the mariachi and tequila thing,” Ramos joked, referring to the other Cinco de Mayo events taking place that day.
“A Quilted Rebozo & Quilt Show” will take place at Self Help Graphics & Art, located at 1300 East First St, Los Angeles, CA 90033. The event is from 12p.m. to 5p.m. and admission is free. Refreshments will be available.
The next TELAS meeting will take place at Centro Estrella in East Los Angeles, from 10am to 1pm on Saturday, June 1st.
For more information, call Ida Leon Ramos at (626) 806-5512. TELAS de la Vida is on Facebook and on Yahoo Groups.