By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Kathie Greenwold has made quilts from many things, like antique reproduction fabrics, burlap sacks, glitter, and scraps covered in paint. But when she and fellow quilter Lynn Makrin decided to write their first book on the art form, they were inspired by a single, traditional square of fabric, or block.
The traditional Amish Shadows block contains a gradient of diagonal lines from light to dark. Purists create each block by measuring meticulously, cutting individual, tiny triangles, then sewing them together. The blocks are then combined to create a complete quilt.
Greenwold and Makrin, Niskayuna residents who both teach sewing and quilting around the Capital Region, have an easier way: they instruct their students to sew a long strip of fabric, then cut it into several blocks. Each displays the traditional pattern with a bit less toil. The only difference is that half the blocks fade from dark to light, and the other half from light to dark.
The two went into business together earlier this summer under the name KayLynn Designs, though they’ve collaborated for two years after meeting at the Quilters United in Learning Together, Schenectady Guild. They’ll start going to craft shows with quilts and their book soon.
At the heart of Greenwold and Makrin’s professional partnership is a delicate interplay between tradition and innovation.
Greenwold’s first job was threading needles for her grandmother’s friends during their quilting club. That was when she first fell in love with creating quilts, and where she learned her traditional background.
“My grandmother did everything completely by hand,” Greenwold said, who did so herself for a time.
“But then I said wait — this is way too much like work,” she said. She began to experiment and, over time, has made forays into creative styles her grandmothers would barely recognize.
“One would say, ‘You go, girl,’ ” she said with a laugh. But her other grandmother would connect better with her antique reproductions, truer to those early lessons.
Makrin, too, entered the quilting world through a family member and grew to love the process.
“My mother taught me how to sew in 4H,” she said. “It’s very much a therapeutic hobby that crosses over well with teaching.”
Both quilters have teaching backgrounds, a fact that shines clearly through their book, which contains instructions for beginners through accomplished creators. Makrin is a former music educator turned stay-at-home mom who now teaches quilting on the side, while Greenwold once worked in museums and has taken to visiting the classroom of her daughter, a third-grade teacher in North Carolina. In addition to their local classes and guild involvement, Greenwold has developed an interesting curriculum for kids: She equates the development of quilting with jazz and hip-hop music.
“The techniques came from all over the world, but we put them together,” she said. “It’s a true American art form.”
Inspiration comes from all around. One of Greenwold’s quilts, “Foundations,” was inspired by the dilapidated remains of a house she saw while hiking. She sketched a pattern — based on the Amish Shadows block, of course — that reminded her of that scene.
A creation by Makrin was sparked by the sight of Mars and Venus in the sky together. Based off the same block they love so much, she created a very modern quilt, subtly marked with an infinity symbol she thought of after talking with her kids about music.
Makrin is at the early stages of passing on her love for quilting to her children. Her 8-year-old daughter loves to help her quilt, and her 4-year-old son gets a kick out of pushing the reverse button on the sewing machine. It’s a start.
Greenwold’s four children are grown now, ranging in age from 26 to 47. They’ve adapted the lessons about quilting passed down from their mother in various creative ways. One, for example, is an enthusiastic cosplayer who made her sister a wedding dress. She learned the sewing skills helping Greenwold with her art. Her 19- and 13-year-old grandchildren have shown interest, too.
Their business, like their love for the art of creating quilts, is a collage of old and new, and they hope their first book will reflect that fact.
Greenwold’s quilts will be on display at the 2014 Quilt Show at Proctors GE Theatre, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 18 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 19. Makrin will also be there to talk about the pair’s new book. Admission is $7, and partial proceeds benefit Northern Rivers Family Services.