They look like photographs. A red truck parked against a biscuit-brown adobe house. A woman's legs walking away in old-fashioned seamed stockings. Two lawn chairs — one turquoise, one violet — half-sunk in an emerald lawn. Vivid colors, rich textures, oblong compositions — but they measure four feet by five feet. They're quilts.
Each part of each image is cut out of different-colored cloth and sewn together via a process known as machine appliqué. San Francisco-based textile artist Marcia Stein creates these quilts and sells them for as much as $5,200 each. She shows home crafters how to do it in her new book Picture This!
"Like many people, I used to sew all my own clothes, but sometimes you reach a point where it's a nice change to create something that doesn't need to fit you when you're done, especially if you've managed to gain a few pounds while you were working on it," said Stein, who will launch her book with a potluck party at the Berkeley Public Library's North Branch (1170 The Alameda, Berkeley) on Thursday, December 9.
"When I took the photos in Santa Fe and France in the early 1990s that inspired me to make quilts of this kind, I had just taken a beginning quilting class." Viewing those photos after returning home, she imagined them as quilt designs — and found a way to make that happen.
"I cut out shapes of material to represent particular parts of the photo, sew them together with other pieces, and then sew those pieces down onto a background to complete the finished picture," said Stein, whose work has been exhibited all over the country and has garnered numerous awards. "But first I need to enlarge the photo to make a master drawing the size of the finished quilt. To do this, I project a transparency of the photo onto paper with an overhead projector. I then trace the projected image onto the paper with a pencil, making changes as necessary. I work from this master drawing to create the necessary fabric shapes."
Picture This! includes tips on taking quilt-friendly photographs: Get up close to your subject; check the corners of your viewfinder; use a tripod. Elements can be added or subtracted to images during the appliqué process, but no drawing skills are required.
Some of Stein's newer quilts depict empty cafe tables, window-shopping tourists, and Venetian gondoliers. "Ladies in Waiting" is a striking rear view of four women sharing a park bench. The viewer can easily imagine his or her own relatives, friends, or neighbors among the quartet.
"While the quilts represent what I saw when I took my photos, I like it best when they also remind viewers of their own experiences," Stein said.
Those first pictures she took in the 1990s were just random travel snaps. "Now, though, I almost always think, 'Quilt' when I look through the lens." 6:30 p.m., free (bring a snack to share). BerkeleyPublicLibrary.org