Decorative Fall Finds
A quartet of items perfect for sprucing up your home and garden this fall
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The word “quilt” usually suggests a patchwork assemblage in regular or geometric blocks of pattern and color. Melissa Sarris’s quilts are more like paintings — playful, organic, free-form. Although she isn’t a painter, Sarris studied photography and sculpture at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. After graduating with honors in 1987, she moved to Maine, where her B.F.A. degree (as she likes to joke) enabled her to find work milking cows and substitute teaching.
She made her first quilt 21 years ago as a gift for her mother’s 50th birthday. “I was clueless, I didn’t understand scale — I didn’t even have a sewing machine,” she says. “But it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t do it. I cut everything out, and made a quilt with lots of triangles and a big 50 in the center. It was all made of clothing that we’d both worn, so it had a sentimental shtick going for it. Ninety percent of the way in, a good friend bought me a basic sewing machine. It was a medium that landed in my lap.”
Sarris went on to teach herself quilt-making, moved to Chatham in 1990, and started her company soon after. Because she didn’t care for most traditional designs, she began drawing her own, freehand. “I’d make wonky, askew drawings, and it took me a while to realize that’s what I wanted the quilts to look like,” she says. “I hadn’t learned any of the rules, so there was no little voice saying, ‘You can’t do that.’ If you’re working with triangles and squares, you cut them out and sew them, and it’s kind of tedious: cut, cut, cut, sew, sew, sew. I developed work that kept me interested.”
Although her contemporary-looking designs are often made of hand-dyed cotton fabrics, Sarris says she loves the “rich, wonderful history of quilts. What I’m most enamored of is their sentimental component. I’ve made quilts for people out of children’s clothing. Or when a beloved grandmother passes, incorporating pieces from her old garments with hand-dyed pieces. Making the fabrics work together is an interesting puzzle to solve, and it’s a segment of what I do that I really love.”
Unlike many quilters who have snazzy sewing machines, Sarris uses a 60-year-old industrial Singer. “It’s very simple,” she says. “It does one thing: it makes straight stitches, and does it so well.” She hand-quilts the finished product.
Quilts and wall hangings are mostly custom made, but there are pillows and tote bags in inventory, and some are also available as kits. “People are welcome to come to the studio by appointment if they don’t mind a messy workspace,” the cheery Sarris says.
Sarris Quilts. 15 Elm St., Chatham. 518-392-6323; www.sarrisquilts.com