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Column #86

The Quilted Yurt

Linzi in her yurt.
Linzi in her yurt. Photo by Alex Labry

One of the must-see items at the last year’s International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas and this year’s in Chicago was the brightly colored, 10-foot diameter quilted yurt in the "Tactile Architecture™" exhibit made by Linzi Upton, a professional quilter with a delightful sense of humor and some serious longarm skills. (A yurt is a round, portable, semi-permanent tent traditionally used by nomads in Central Asia, and they have been in use since at least the 13th century.)

Linzi, who is also known as “The Quilt Quine,” has a canvas yurt in the garden at her home in Crathes, Aberdeenshire, Scotland that she uses year-round as “a place to chill with friends, especially in winter as it has a wood stove, and have coffee, suppers, and sleepovers.”

While trying to figure out how to insulate her garden yurt, she came up with the idea of making a quilted yurt for exhibition at the annual Loch Lomond Quilt Show in Dumbarton, Scotland in 2010. How that spark of inspiration grew into a firestorm of creativity—eventually producing two quilted yurts (an 18-foot Scottish version and the 10-foot American version)—is quite a story.

Linzi had the imagination, the connections, the materials, the tools, and the ability to carry out the project. She obtained financial backing through a partnership between the Aberdeenshire Council and the Scottish Arts Council. A professional yurt craftsman, Paul Spencer of Highland Yurts, built the wooden frame. But with less than a year remaining before the quilt show, the major obstacle to overcome was the fact that there simply weren’t enough hours in her days to complete the quilted panels.

You see, Linzi doesn’t have a lot of spare time on her hands. The mother of three lives on a farm in the northeastern part of Scotland with her husband, children (aged 14, 11, and 9), chickens, and pigs. She is an internationally known quilt artist, in-demand lecturer, longarm instructor, workshop leader, and the authorized representative of APQS longarm quilting machines in the United Kingdom. To say she is busy is an understatement, and to take on such a large project in such a tight timeframe was daunting.

Undeterred, Linzi reached out via the internet for assistance, enlisting a team of what she calls “stunt quilters” to help meet the deadline.

“My idea of ‘stunt quilters’ was to find people who would act as ‘body doubles’—to help me get the sort of piecing/quilting done that I would have done myself if I had not underestimated the time that making a quilted yurt would take,” Linzi explains. “It was not to get them to do dangerous tricks or amazing feats, but they were awesome for coming to the rescue to help get the original Scottish yurt ready on time for its first exhibition. The stunt quilters' panels are now all with the American yurt in Wisconsin along with another dozen or so of mine. Some of the ‘stunt’ panels were both pieced and quilted by American friends, while some were just pieced and sent back to me for quilting. The Scottish yurt now has a complete set of panels that I worked on independently, except for one, which was pieced by a friend and another one was quilted by a friend!”

Linzi and her stunt quilter stand-ins were able to finish the original yurt in time for its debut at the Loch Lomand Quilt Show and it proved to be tremendously popular, receiving offers to travel to a number of different countries, including the United States. Problems with U.S .Customs restrictions on imported wood in the yurt’s frame, however, meant that Linzi would have to make an entirely new yurt in order to exhibit in the U.S., and that’s how the second yurt came about.

Once again, Linzi turned to stunt quilters for help.

“I made some calls amongst the USA stunt quilters. Teri Kirchner, who was one of them, was involved at the time as President at the Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. She managed to secure a replacement prototype frame from Yurts of America in Indianapolis except that it was a very different shape and size,” Linzi says.

“The Scottish yurt is 18 feet across and has 5-foot walls at its outer edge, but the American yurt is only 10 feet across and 7-feet high at its outer edge. Using a few rough sketches scanned into an email, I hurriedly dyed yards of fabric and quilted an entirely new roof and wall "skirts" for the USA version so that the 54" long panels (originally constructed for the shorter Scottish version) would not be left dangling short.”

When not set up for exhibition, the yurts are packed up and stored, the Scottish one in Linzi’s garage and studio and the American one in the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts. If you hear of one of them being set up in an area near you, make plans to visit.

One has to wonder what those 13th-century Central Asian nomads would think if they could see either of Linzi’s yurts, replete with furniture and lamps inside. They would probably react in much the same way as does everyone else who sees the colorful creations: they’d smile, go inside, and make themselves at home.


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Archived blogs:

Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor

See other archived columns here

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