Member Spotlight: Krishma Patel

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It would be seven years after discovering quilting that Krishma Patel would buy her first fabric, and nine years until should would make her first quilt. At a young age, Krishma remembers her mother making clothes in the South of India. Sewing was a skill her mother knew well, and Patel learned how to run a machine. At three years old, Patel would sit on the floor by the treadle and wait for the command from her Mother — “go.” At that, Patel would treadle the machine with her hands, helping her mother sew. When Patel was seven, Patel would run the machine on her own, standing up with one foot on the peddle, and sewing a straight line onto the fabric. She was a natural.

It wouldn’t be sewing that would keep her attention as she got older, but rather free-motion embroidery. Patel could embroider nearly everything: flowers, animals, bugs. “I was hooked on the way that the needle pierced the fabric on the way down and all of that,” Patel says. “But I always knew that there was something more.” It wouldn’t be until Patel was walking in a shopping mall after immigrating to America in 2001, now older and married, that she would see a quilting display in a store front for the first time. Patel looked at the seven quilts, each award-winning, and experienced a near out-of-body experience. “I had a flood of thoughts, instantly. My left brain was telling me that I already knew how to do this, and the right side was disagreeing, but the one thing I knew was that this was what I was meant to do,” Patel says.

However, a visit to the fabric store would curb Patel’s enthusiasm. At $12 a yard, she couldn’t afford the cost of fabric at the time. “All immigration was pushed back that year because of the tragic events of 9/11,” Patel says. “I should have gotten my work permit in one year but instead, it took five years.” In her free time, Patel walked to the local library, which had a small selection of quilting books and an inter-library loan system, which gave her access to even more books at bigger libraries in neighboring towns. “I was also watching Simply Quilts with Alex Anderson at the time and making tons of notes,” Patel says. Once Patel had exhausted all the books that she could borrow in the quilting section, her interests took her to the modern art and folk-art books. “I fell in love with modern art — Mark Rothko, Auguste Herbin, Frank Stella, and so many more. I was reading their art books like novels,” Patel says. In her mind, before even making a quilt, she was masterminding a style of quilting that would incorporate modern art design with the color palettes of folk art.

Five years later in 2005 and 2006, the internet went into a frenzy with craft blogs, how-to videos, and leading craft personalities. “It boosted my self-discovery, but at the same time, my bookkeeping career was finally beginning to take off,” Patel says. “I had to give it first preference, and that included an accounting shift that ended at 11 p.m. in the evening, and sometimes midnight.”

As Patel climbed the ranks of her position and acclimated herself to the industry of hotel bookkeeping in the U.S., her quilting exploration took a back seat. “On my days off, I would still go to the library, and I kept abreast of the new quilting blogs and videos that were being created online, but I didn’t have the time to make anything,” she says. Patel’s effort eventually paid off, and in 2012, Patel had finally reached a place in her career where she felt comfortable buying her first yards of fabric — but it would still be two years before she made a quilt. “I would buy two-tone fabric, and every time that I sat down at my machine to quilt, I would talk myself out of it,” Patel says. “By the end of that period, I had over $800 of fabric but still no quilt.”

Eventually, Patel had a reason to make her first quilt­­. “My husband’s co-worker’s grandson was being born, and I just decided that I would make a baby quilt,” Patel says. Shortly after, she made a quilt for her parents, a queen-size quilt for her sister, and a log cabin quilt for her other sister. Patel was quilting, and she was quilting well.

Everything changed for Patel when she bought her longarm. “Shortly after, I joined the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild, and I showed some of the quilts that I had been working on to the group for skill assessment and guidance,” Patel says. “But then the ladies started asking me if I could quilt their quilt tops.” Patel was shocked.

With her husband’s encouragement, she opened a small business and they cleared out the second floor of their home for a quilting studio. “At this point, my schedule is packed,” Patel says. “I fill up my December schedule in June, and it’s been like this for two years.” Many of the quilts Patel has worked on have gone on to win ribbons in state and regional competitions. “I have also led and completed two community quilt projects that were funded by grants from the New Jersey Council on the Arts,” Patel says. The mayor participated in one of the events. “I believe that a big thing that needs to change in the quilting community is inviting our communities to participate in making quilts,” Patel says. “Non-quilters need to believe that this is an approachable art form and not an intimidating one. It’s vital that we conduct and lead projects that go beyond shows and competitions for veteran quilters. These are important, but they don’t create new foot traffic.”

Patel has another community event scheduled with the Day Care Center of the New Jersey Family Court System to facilitate the creation of quilts to a group of teens in her neighborhood, and just finished a solo art exhibit at a local library. Before we end the call, Patel tells me that she thinks of how serendipitously she discovered quilting, and the way that it changed her life, and she hopes to continue giving that type of transforming discovery to others for years to come.