Reddingite finds her ‘stitch’ in fine art quilts

Laurie Russman produces fine art quilts in her Chestnut Woods home. On right is one of her quilts, featuring a black cat and a cup of coffee.

For most Reddingites who travel on regular business trips, the tiny seats, crying babies and Sky Mall magazines occupying an airplane cabin don’t make for a creative sanctuary.

But for resident Laurie Russman, the experience is quite the opposite.

As a fine-art quilt maker and financial consultant, she puts her down time on flights to great use. Not only does Russman edit and illustrate images she later uses as quilt designs while flying, one of her most successful quilts was based on a photograph she actually took on an Air Canada plane.

The quilt — which features a steaming cup of tea and a tiny spoon — has been touring the world for three years, traveling a path from quilt show to quilt show until finally arriving home to Russman’s Chestnut Woods home a week ago.

“A couple of things came together in terms of my interest in quilting and technology,” she said during an interview at her home. “I could sit on every one of my flights on a business trip and plot out my next piece, and the pieces just got bigger and bigger.”

Over the last fifteen years, Russman has spent a great deal of time perfecting the art of quilt making, designing pieces that are made to hang on walls rather than be used as blankets — though the best part of art quilts is their tactile nature, she said.

“You can touch it, unlike a painting or a watercolor,” Russman said. “A great quilter wants to reach out and touch a work. The first thing one does is touch it, and figure out, ‘What’s that texture? How did you do that?’

“They feel [in order] to see where the stitching is very intense, and how it adds a different dimension to the piece.”

Russman teaches courses on quilting under the business name Neon Kitty Quilts, and creates works that are hung in quilt shows throughout the world, including the National Juried Show of the Canadian Quilters’ Association.

Russman was working on a colorful quilt at her home a few weeks ago. — Christopher Burns photo

The beginning

She started creating quilts after another craft didn’t exactly fit her expectations.

“It all began in 2001 when I made my first quilt, after I had a disastrous episode with knitting,” she said with a laugh.

“I really tried, and I think I got really good at scarves, but every sweater I made had three sleeves! Plus, when I was on a plane, I always found that my ball of yarn went rolling down the aisle. Quilting is a little bit more restful.”

The subjects of many of Russman’s quilts are her own animals, including some cats and dogs that are memorialized by quilts made in their likeness.

“I gain my inspiration from the faces of animals,” she said. “I’ve done them on themes of both serenity and turmoil, but nothing touches me as much as working with these little guys — their faces and especially their eyes.”

As a part-time artist more organized than most, Russman said her secret is to annually set goals for herself. But this year, she surpassed even her own set of goals.

The artist has been invited to demonstrate the intricacies and singularity of her working process on Quilting Arts TV, one of the most watched quilting programs in the country.

“You absolutely have to be very focused about your goals, particularly if something like this is not your full-time job,” she said. “I set month goals, years goals and even weekly goals.

“Being on Quilting Arts TV was not something I expected to happen for another couple of years,” but it happened early.  

“It was a big stretch goal that’s now an achievable goal.”

But, Russman added, creating art isn’t simply about setting and achieving goals.

“Everything is fun, everything about it … and buying fabric is always extra fun,” she said.

“And then you begin to meet people in the community. I’ve been overwhelmed by the enormity of the talent of the community and how friendly everyone is.”

She sits on the board of the Quilting Alliance, which is dedicated to the preservation of quilting as an American tradition, and has an important request for any quilters out there.

“Make sure you label everything!” she said.

Sometimes alliance members will find a quilt and “they look on the back and there’s just no clue sometimes who made the quilt, while other times there will be a tremendous history written on the back,” Russman said, “explaining the quilt was made for so-and-so’s 12th child, and the stories that emerge are just amazing.”

For more information on Russman, or Neon Kitty Quilt classes, visit www.neonkittyquilts.com.

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