Member Spotlight: Esther Frenzel

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As a young girl in the Netherlands, Esther Frenzel color-coded her belongings. For Frenzel, color-coding provided order in her world and began a relationship with storytelling. By applying a visual logic to her items, suddenly, they gained meaning and awakened an emotional response. Even at a young age, Frenzel intuited color had a narrative, and crafting was the practice of curating pigments and patterns intentionally. She would spend her free-time reading the novels of her favorite young-adult authors and then retreating to her craft station to experiment with her own stories through mediums like Legos, paint, and clay.


Quilted wall hanging of paint tubes by Esther Frenzel


By the time she was in high school, Frenzel was learning to restore paintings at a local museum. She considered pursuing a career in archaeology, which was true to her nature of excavating meaning from raw material. Like her mother, a high school art teacher, she instead enrolled in teacher training. For the twenty-one years to follow, she shared with her students the joy of encountering artwork that, as Frenzel says, is weird, wonderful, and inspirational— the look in their eyes, lit with wonder, continues to thrill.

 


A train quilt made by Esther Frenzel.


Quilting, however, isn't considered a common hobby in the Netherlands. "I discovered quilting during a family visit in the United States ten years ago," said Frenzel. Her family met a woman who had an impressive collection of hand-stitched quilts. Frenzel describes the woman, refined with age and stuffed with pride, as she led the Frenzel family through her home, pointing to the quilts she had made, which were each neatly spread across the beds in every room. "I admired her craft and her use of color," Frenzel said, "but taking a whole year to quilt by hand didn't feel like something I could do." It wasn't until she met a quilter with her own studio and a knack for paper piecing that quilting began to click in her mind. This, she thought, I can do. Frenzel soon began making baby quilts and pillows for her friends.


Paper-pieced tea service and desserts by Ester Frenzel.


As a pattern designer and part-time quilter, she has a quilting studio in the south of the Netherlands. Her designs usually begin as doodles on graph paper or inspired by murals in Rome and Italy. "Others," Frenzel said, "are drawn up as a form of world-building." Her quilt, Chugging Along, was inspired by her nephews and their toys, including various train carts, buildings, and landscape elements. In the quilt, her nephews' dreamscape imagined playtime comes alive as a montage of a small village. Frenzel also uses foundation paper piecing, which is the technique that has most helped to achieve the precision required for her quilts without stretching the bias fabrics. "I am also a huge machine quilting fan," said Frenzel. "I tend to add dense free motion quilting and choose a bit of contrasting thread to work with." She gravitates towards the techniques that produce the kinds of shapes, feathers, swirls, and wishbones that she most enjoys.

 


Free motion quilting by Esther Frenzel.


Internet resources were so influential to Frenzel's development that she decided to contribute to the online database by providing free patterns and tutorials online. "I just find it hard not to share the new ideas or interesting grid patterns or free motion quilting designs," said Frenzel. "The urge to show fellow quilters how I do certain things must be the teacher inside of me bursting out." But it is through this generosity to commune and shares with quilters that she has built her community. "I learned it's okay to get help to figure things out, asking questions is welcomed, and it is worthwhile to take more quilting classes."


Free motion quilting by Esther Frenzel.


But they enforced quarantine measures in the Netherlands, Frenzel had to reimagine her understanding of productivity and what she could contribute to quilting in such a tumultuous year. "At the moment COVID and quarantine hit the Netherlands, I had just gotten back to full-time teaching after a work-related burn-out," said Frenzel. "Increased working hours due to online teaching, combined with not feeling well (enough), sprinkled with COVID anxiety was not the best feeding ground for creativity." She completely stopped quilting— there was no energy left in the day to measure fabrics, cut material, decide on a color scheme, and create a quilting design. She devoted herself entirely to her students.

Pumpkin Pie calligraphy and pumpkin drawing by Esther Frenzel.


When the warmer weather came, Frenzel's mood balanced, her schedule became more manageable, and she began 10-minute creativity exercises. "I did activities that helped me concentrate but left no mental space for my mind to wander back to stress and anxiety," said Frenzel. One such activity was calligraphy; Frenzel would write one word a day. She also took up embroidery, which was an activity she could do while spending time with her family with a hoop, a needle, and some thread. Soon enough, she was sketching designs on her iPad, and in July, she was able to get back to a Bernina Sugaridoo Quilt Along she had joined in November.

The rows Esther made for the Sugaridoo Quilt Along.


"That QuiltCon has gone virtual is a real opportunity for quilters, like myself, who normally wouldn't be able to attend," said Frenzel. "It would be exciting to see virtual classes offered as well." In 2019, Frenzel attended a course in designing fabrics using Adobe Illustrator, and she created a quilt top, Magical Forest, specifically to be pre-printed. Next year, she hopes to expand her free motion skills to more teaching opportunities, classes in shops, online classes, or working on a book. But as the world shifts, she is most concerned with taking a close look at her priorities, and until then, she will be tending to her garden, where she grows as many flowers as possible.


​"Magical Forest" pre-printed quilt designed by Esther Frenzel.