Vickie Van Kotens quilts compete in national contest

September 3, 2011

Fabric becomes theatric in the hands of Hood River's Vickie Van Koten, whose quilts travel to a national event this weekend.

Judges accepted Van Koten's quilts for a contest in the 2011 Quilt Expo, Sept. 8-10 in the seventh-annual Quilt Expo to be held in Madison, Wis.

"I think it's wonderful. You can only enter two, and they took them both. I was just astounded," said Van Koten, who is modest about her textile talents. (They were evident this year at Hood River County Fair, where she won several blue ribbons.)

Judges accepted Van Koten's quilts, titled "Origami Cranes" and "From Tikal to Chichicastenango."

"Just to be included in the group is a real honor for me," said Van Koten, whose children, Carolyn and Kevin, are Hood River Valley High School graduates. She grew up in Klickitat County and graduated from Lyle High School.

"Some of the big shows, the quilts are so amazing you can't even believe it," Van Koten said. "It takes years."

The Expo contest judges quilts on visual impact and stitching technique, and awards $500 for first place, $300 for second place and $200 for third place in each category. Best of Show receives $1,500 and a Viewers' Choice winner, selected by Quilt Expo attendees, receives $500.

She said Quilt Expo is one of the largest American Quilting Society shows, but it is not the first time her quilts hit the road: She had a quilt in an AQS show in Des Moines last year and one of her works was chosen to travel for a year in the Hoffman Fabric Company challenge.

"There are so many fabulous quilters in this country. This is almost nothing compared to what some of these women are doing," said Van Koten, who has been quilting for about 20 years.

Quilt Expo highlights include hundreds of quilts on exhibit, a vendor mall representing more than 185 national and regional companies, educational lectures and workshops and stage presentations by industry leaders.

Judging was based on images Van Koten provided on a CD.

"Visually they pop well from a distance, or up close. And I think judges kind of look for strong design, strong colors."

She also provided judges with the following summaries:

"Origami cranes symbolize a hope for peace. This quilt is all silk with all fabrics but the indigo silks from my collection of vintage kimonos.

"Guatemala has so many wonderful colorful birds. Combining the birds with the ikat fabric, corte (skirt) worn by the Guatemalan women reminds me daily of a most fabulous experience from Tikal, Chichi and Lake Atilan." (Ikat is a method of printing woven fabric by tie-dyeing the warp and weft yarns or both - double ikat - before weaving.)

The origami style images on the cranes quilt is done by a method known as "paper piecing," Van Koten explained:

"It comes out like that. It's not really folded paper; it looks like it. It's kind of trickery.

"I just was fascinated by the origami crane motif and wanted to do something with that," she said.

While Van Koten's visit to Guatemala inspired the "Tikal" quilt, she has yet to visit Japan, but owns a very large collection of vintage kimonos, most of them "so gorgeous I haven't been able to cut them up.

"I have a very large stash of fabric that I have to use up before I die," she jokes.

Does she add to her collection?

"I do, on occasion. My daughter threatens me, 'Mother, you can't bring home any more fabric.' But you just can't help it."

She said that when she bought the parrot fabric, "I had no idea what I'd do with it, but it was so cool."

What's next for this well-traveled quilter?

"I have two or three more in my head that haven't come out yet, but they're waiting. And then three or more will come after that," Van Koten said.

"I really like the fabric and color and design part of it, coming up with the fabric and then turning it into a quilt design. That's the part I like the most."

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