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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 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
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

See other archived columns here

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