At 32 years old, Payson resident Gina Perkes is young for a quilter.
"Most people who quilt are over 50," said Perkes, who began quilting eight years ago. "When I go up and receive awards at quilting shows, people think, ‘Oh my gosh, she's young.'"
Perkes, who said she has won awards for her quilting since she was 28, is an emerging presence among the quilting industry's push to target younger people.
"The quilting industry is starting to want to relate more to young people," Perkes said. "They want to show that people can make quilts and still raise a family."
Perkes lives with her husband Chris, her 12-year-old daughter, Rylie, and her two sons, Dalton, 8, and Dillon, 6. She said her passion for quilting began when she made a quilt for her daughter's bed.
Perkes said she has since "branched out" of quilting with traditional patterns and now designs her own artful quilts, as well as clothing.
"A lot of people don't realize what an art form it is becoming," Perkes said. "They think, ‘Oh, she just makes blankets.'"
In April, Perkes received $5,000 for first place in the Young Designers category at the 23rd Annual American Quilter's Society Quilt Show and Contest in Paducah, Ky.
"They compare the show to the Academy Awards of quilting," said Perkes, whose quilt was selected among international entries. "It's a really big deal even to be accepted."
Several weeks ago, the national television show "Quilt Central" approached Perkes about tentatively developing her own show, to be filmed five times a year in Payson.
Perkes said she also recently shot a full-page advertisement for Gammill Quilting Systems, the company whose non-computerized longarm quilting machine she uses. It is set to appear in quilting magazines nationwide.
"They wanted to use me because I use the machine and I'm younger," Perkes said.
Heavy machine quilting is Perkes' signature. The device stretches from wall-to-wall inside her home studio.
Perkes pulls her latest quilt -- an ocean landscape -- taut between two large rollers. She grabs the attached sewing machine, which moves freely on a track system, by two handles. Her smooth, controlled movements create gills on a blue fish.
"It's like drawing with a needle," Perkes said. "It's basically a big table, so I can see more of my work."
Smaller domestic machines require the user to move the quilt while the needle remains stationary, Perkes said.
Another defining characteristic of Perkes' work is her use of color and size gradation.
"I like to change shades from light to dark, using the same color," Perkes said. "I use one shape and it gets smaller and larger."
"Complementary," the 70-inch-square quilt for which she won the Olfa Young Designers Okada Award, boasts circles and feather-tip shapes dyed varying shades of orange and blue, set against a black background. The repeating images enlarge and shrink, framing two peacocks in a center circle.
Perkes said she has recently been learning to dye her own fabric.
"You get the exact colors and texture you want," Perkes said. "It gives you more creative control."
Swarovski crystals are another distinctive trait of Perkes' pieces.
"I use them in all the quilts and garments," Perkes said.
The crystals add extra sparkle to a light pink overcoat and accompanying purse.
Most quilt shows include a fashion show where artists model the "wearable art" they produce, Perkes said.
The process for creating each quilt is different, Perkes said.
"I'm always trying different techniques and styles since I get bored easily," Perkes said. "It seems like I'm doing less and less traditional quilts. Or, I'll take a traditional style and do an innovative color scheme."
The first step is drawing a freehand design, which she then enlarges and copies, Perkes said.
In traditional applique style, Perkes said she cuts the designs out of the copied pattern and sews them onto background fabric, giving the quilts a raised texture.
Perkes' ocean-themed quilt features applique as well as piecing, where she pieces together cut-out geometrical shapes. The ocean water consists of juxtaposing blue and green squares, triangles and circles.
For finer detail on several fishes, Perkes said she also used paint.
"This is the first time I've done painting," Perkes said.
Perkes works on her quilts in spurts of two or three months for six to 12 hours per day. She makes quilts in 200 to 300 hours, which is a fast pace, Perkes said.
"It makes you feel good, especially when you design your own pieces," she said. "It's exciting to see how they turn out."
Perkes said she is getting ready to send out several quilts and a coat and dress set to upcoming shows, sponsored by the National Quilting Association and the International Machine Quilters Association.
She will also teach longarm classes this summer at Quilt Camp in the Pines in Flagstaff.
"I just do it for the art of it," Perkes said. "I don't want to hang it up. When I'm done, that was the fun and the joy and I'm ready to move on to the next piece."