It’s taken them hundreds of hours to complete and more than a few sleepless nights worrying if all the pieces would come together. On Thursday, more than a dozen women showed off their custom, wearable art jackets at Gila Community College — albeit some still had a few basted pieces to finish.
Under the guidance of Leslie Peacock, one of the best and most recognized wearable art teachers, students explored the infinite world of thread and textiles this semester, weaving form and fashion together in show-stopping style.
From a safari coat with tigers popping off the fabric to a coat paying homage to spring, with grasses and flowers highlighted using every quilting technique under the sun.
First-year student Marie Robertson’s love of Oreo cookies and a black and white color palette inspired her coat, appropriately titled “Oreo Cookie.”
Robertson said she was nervous quilting her first jacket and each step posed a new challenge.
Peacock convinced Robertson that the coat would turn out despite her hesitations.
“When finished and she tried it on and looked in the mirror, all she could say was, ‘Wow, it’s beautiful and it really fits perfectly and I made it,’” Peacock said. “The entire semester she didn’t even show her husband her progress, so she couldn’t wait to show him and the rest of her family, who couldn’t believe she had made it from scratch.”
Paper piecing on the back of the coat and shoulder was especially difficult, but Robertson surprised herself with how well it all turned out.
Robertson used scrap material so the coat was inexpensive to make.
“It might not have cost much to make, but she said she wouldn’t part with it for a $1,000 — Well, for that price she might have to think about it,” Peacock said.
While some coats cost pennies to make, others used expensive fabrics, threads and appliqués. The hours put into each jacket make each priceless.
Some of Peacock’s award-winning jackets have sold for thousands.
Peacock can’t count the number of awards she’s won. Just recently, she won awards at the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival in wearable arts and the Pacific International Quilt Festival in California.
“I always said I didn’t want my avocation being my vocation,” she said. “I never dreamed I would teach more than a semester, because I figured they will make one jacket — but they keep coming back.”
With hundreds of jackets under her sewing foot, Peacock can teach just about any technique. However, this semester, instead of telling students what jacket pattern to make, Peacock let students design their own as the semester progressed.
“I brought in a few of my garments and did a trunk show and they picked an idea of what they wanted to do,” she said. “Then they created their own design.”
The majority of students said they got their pattern ideas from the fabric.
Karen Bruns said as she was working with one fabric, the word “sweet” kept coming to mind. As she sewed, the jacket took on a garden motif and the word “hope” popped up.
“We all need to know that there is hope in this world and so ‘Sweet Hope’s Garden,’” Bruns said of the title of her coat.
Peacock said she uses a similar technique.
“Everyone laughs, but I let the fabric tell me what to do,” she said.
And Peacock has been letting the fabric tell her what to do for years.
She got into wearable art like many of her students today. Peacock found herself bored with cutting up little squares and then sewing them together into a quilt.
Frustrated, Peacock started designing her own jackets using a repertoire of techniques found in traditional quilts, but put together in a free form approach.
“I can’t use 40 quilts because I don’t have enough walls to hang them all, but I can always use 40 coats,” she said.
Pat Bray found her way to wearable art after she retired.
“I wanted to do more and I knew I needed something to do,” she said.
After six weeks of hard work, Bray proudly wears a safari themed jacket.
Natalie Elliot discovered wearable quilting after a trip to Italy last year.
After studying Italian for months at an institute, Elliot and her quilting friend Barb Boehm said they were wiped out on book learning.
“When we went to Italy, we found out that we were both quilters,” Boehm said. “We decided that we need to be more creative.”
Now every Wednesday, Boehm and Elliot get together for three hours to practice a new technique, from fabric painting to appliqué work.
Boehm joined the Threadplayers, a group of art quilters, while Elliot signed up for Peacock’s class.
“What years I have left, I want to spend them creatively,” Boehm said.
Elliot’s first quilted jacket illicited oohs and ahhs from the audience Thursday.
Elliot’s coat included a series of panels, each highlighting a different technique, stitched together.
From appliqué, couching, Seminole piecing, fusing to Textiva fusible film, Elliot stretched her creative ideas with each new method.
Peacock said she was amazed at the hard design work new students took on.
“I didn’t think I would get to see it all put together,” Peacock said of Elliot’s jacket.
“I was putting it together at 11 a.m. this morning,” Elliot laughed.