Quilts for the walls: Delaware artist goes from teaching biochemistry to making ‘art quilts’

Virginia Abrams was teaching biochemistry, when she discovered art quilts. She’s since traded the lab for a sewing machine.

Virginia has been making art quilts, which are quilts for the wall, for 20 years now. “It’s made to be put on the wall, so it doesn’t have to have a design that is comforting for somebody trying to go to sleep,” Virginia said.

Virginia studied chemistry in college and organic chemistry in graduate school and discovered quilting while teaching biochemistry at the University of Delaware. “When I discovered quilting I decided “aha,” I was not going to teach biochemistry, and that I was going to make quilts.”

Virginia started on her art quilt journey by taking a class in dying silk scarves. “Just putting color on white blank materials is just thrilling, it’s wonderful,” Virginia said.

She started out making Amish style quilts and than moved on to more geometric ones. After a while Virginia got out her camera and would look for shapes that were abstract. One such abstraction was the reflection of the water off the pier of a lake where her family would vacation. “The reflection is fantastic, it’s a natural abstraction,” Virginia said.

The test tubes and lab coat weren’t completely left behind however. Virginia mixes all of her own colors in her basement lab. Like a combination of Martha Stewart and Dr. Frankenstein, Virgina mixes colors, chemicals and other ingredients together before applying the colors to the white cloth. The resulting colored cloth then go to her sewing room, waiting to be transformed into art.

Having grown up around sewing machines, Virginia was already comfortable with their use. “My mother always sewed everything in our household,” she said. While in graduate school, Virginia would spend her Saturday afternoons sewing in her dorm room while listening to the Metropolitan Opera. “It was heaven on earth, and it made it so that whatever thing wasn’t working in lab would go away.” Its still that way for Virginia, sitting in front if the sewing machine listening to NPR as “the world goes away.”

Virigina’s two best customers are her two daughters and her sister. Virginia says they “are very anxious to have pieces on their walls so a lot of my pieces are there.”

As for selling to a wider audience, Virginia has sold “a bundle of them,” but states she isn’t a great salesperson. “The joy is making the quilt rather than the sales part.”

“I think what I like most about it is how beautiful the color is and that makes me say, ‘Oh, that looks cool.'”

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