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Phoenix Home and Garden
Fabric Artisan Jennifer Brown
Author: Shawndrea Corbin
Issue: May, 2014, Page 30
Photos by Garrett Cook

Artist Jennifer Brown explains how color is the driving creative force behind her work. “My kids would get annoyed because they used to ask, ‘Mom, what’s your favorite color?’” she recalls. ”My answer changed constantly. It would always be the color of the fabric I was working with that day.”

Jennifer Brown draws from a deep well of generational mastery to stitch a new kind of family heirloom

A kiva ladder—common in many an Arizona home—is propped in the living room of artist Jennifer Brown’s Scottsdale residence. But instead of being draped with more customary Native American textiles, hers holds priceless family heirlooms—hand-stitched quilts from the heartland.

Growing up in southern Indiana as a member of an “old farm family” forged within Brown a desire for a different kind of life. Hailing from a long line of quilters, the mother of two recalls that one of her earliest memories is of watching her great grandmother work on an antique quilting frame. “We’ve always been quilters,” she states.

The first woman in her family to graduate from college and to have a career, Brown worked as an 8th-grade history teacher for several years. As to how she failed to escape the kismet she had tried to avoid in her younger years, she explains: “The spring of 2001, I was on extended maternity leave and my grandmother came to visit. My mother suggested that I take her to a fabric store. We went, and suddenly it all just clicked. And now I’ve been hoarding fabric for the past 13 to 14 years.”

Soon, every member of her family had a quilt of Brown’s creation. She built up her endurance for doing the fine stitchwork required and found the craft to be a good distraction from a series of health complications she was dealing with. “It takes about six to nine months to make a bed-sized quilt by hand,” she notes. “So I went looking for some variety and smaller projects.”

In 2008, Brown began to make fabric bowls, which are now her signature creations. She started by experimenting and eventually invented her own style. The quilter now dyes some of her own fabrics as well, reveling in the opportunity to “play with the beautiful colors.”

To make her bowls, she first selects pieces of fabric and then dyes them. Next, she cuts the various fabrics into 1-inch-wide strips and glues the ends together to make one continuous piece. She connects one of the ends to a cotton clothesline and then coils and sews the strips together.

In response to requests, Brown has recently started making special holiday items, including Easter baskets and heart-shaped bowls for Valentine’s Day, as well as coasters and zippered bags. She also has moved toward using recycled fabrics. In fact, some of her “upcycled” pieces will be among an array of products sent to celebrities in honor of Earth Day.

“I get to lead this artistic life that my foremothers did as an everyday part of theirs. I can take this practical skill and make art,” Brown acknowledges. “My dream is to open my own boutique and assist other local artists who need help getting started.”

She fondly refers to her creations as usable and unbreakable. “Creating art out of what you have on hand is amazing,” she says. “And my coasters make lovely frisbees, according to my boys.”

“I ‘undye’ some of my fabrics by using bleach,” the artist notes. “With other sewn bowls I’ve seen, people use alternating colored strips, which produces a harsh, color-blocked effect. My colors blend and fade, so you can’t tell where the strips begin or end.”