Accolades for quilts come from cats, karma

Jackie Aguilar of Grand Junction began making quilts in 2005. Almost every year since, her quilts have received first-place ribbons at the county fair.

“Starburst” is the third quilt made by Jackie Aguilar, and she finished it in three weeks. “I was on a mission, and my husband had to send Search and Rescue for me on that one,” jokes the Grand Junction quilter. After it won a blue ribbon at the Mesa County Fair, the quilt was juried into Denver National Quilt Festival in 2007.

Bold, bright and colorful describe Jackie Aguilar’s quilting style, such as this “Blackford’s Beauty” with rickrack trim. It won Best of Show at the 2009 Mesa County Fair.

This quilt of Aguilar’s, titled “Jackie Got Into Aunt Millie’s Garden,” was juried into a special exhibit to be shown at the International Quilt Festival in November in Houston. It also will appear this fall in Quilt Scene magazine.

Cats and karma are synonymous in quilter Jackie Aguilar’s life.

She and her husband, John, share their Redlands home with three furry felines. And it was her love of cats that led Aguilar in 2005 to the beginning of a most successful quilting career.

As a collector of artist Laurel Burch’s vividly painted and whimsical images of cats, she learned from a friend that a downtown Grand Junction quilt shop had one of the artist’s Fantastic Felines coffee mugs for sale.

Without delay, Aguilar rushed to the shop to purchase yet another tchotchke to add to her vases, decorative plates, colorful carvings, picture frames, even a wearable vest and a throw for the couch. That’s when she discovered Laurel Burch’s line of quilting fabrics with those cat faces she finds so irresistible.

“I fell in love with the Felines and Canines pattern, but they wouldn’t let me take the class” because it was too advanced, she says. (Aguilar hadn’t had the prerequisite beginner’s instruction.)

“I bought the pattern anyway and did it myself. It won a second-place ribbon at the Mesa County Fair that year,” she says proudly.

Almost every year since, her quilts have taken first-place honors at the fair.

But the crowning jewel is Aguilar’s 2012 county and state Best of Show winner, “Jackie Got Into Aunt Millie’s Garden.” The pattern is a Piece O’Cake design by Linda Jenkins and Becky Goldsmith. Jenkins is a Grand Junction resident, and the floral pattern was named for Jenkin’s Aunt Millie Phillips.

“I know Aunt Millie, and I know Linda Jenkins,” says Aguilar. All three women are members of Sunset Slope Quilters in Grand Junction.

“I’d been wanting to do appliqué,” so that pattern seemed like a natural.

However, Aguilar had never tried needle turn appliqué by hand, and after the first block of flowers, she thought “this is crazy.” Still, she persevered with some pointers from fellow quilters.

After the Best of Show honors, the quilt received a third-place ribbon in April at QuiltWeek USA in Paducah, Ky., as a first-time entry in the large bed quilts category. It then appeared in American Quilter magazine.

Since then, “Jackie Got Into Aunt Millie’s Garden” was juried into a special exhibit, “In Full Bloom 2013,” at this fall’s International Quilt Festival in Houston. The exhibit, which consists of floral quilts in memory of Helen Pearce O’Bryant, also will travel to other venues for a year after that.

Shortly after learning her quilt was accepted for Houston, Aguilar was notified that it will also be featured in Quilt Scene magazine, published by Interweave Press in conjunction with the annual festival. She was told it is one of about 10 quilts chosen from 100 for inclusion in the magazine.

“What is it about that quilt?” Aguilar wonders. “It has good karma.”

Other quilts she has made cover the beds in her home — “Starburst” featuring a Lone Star design that was juried into the 2007 Denver National Quilt Festival and “Blackford’s Beauty,” a mystery quilt in purple and lime green that won Best of Show at the 2009 county fair.

Despite her business career as owner and stylist at Hairscapes on North Avenue, Aguilar produces an impressive number of quilts in her spare time.

Of course, she says, she would like to have more hours for quilting, but rather than starting many projects at once, Aguilar focuses on one project at a time and sees it through to completion.

After the tops are ready, she quilts them on a Janome 6600 domestic machine and enjoys the process.

“The quilting breathes life into a quilt,” Aguilar says, adding that the secret is quilting in a small area and then moving on to the next area.

Only one king-size quilt balked while she quilted it, a Laurel Burch scrap quilt with a thick Minkee backing.

“That was a full-body experience,” she jokes. “It was like stuffing a giant sausage through” the throat area of her machine.

But, as with all aspects of her hobby, she was undaunted. Whether it’s paper foundation piecing, mitering multiple corners or stitching free-motion feathers, she says, “I just find a way.”

Aguilar’s newest project again is rather complicated, “morphing a pieced Irish Chain pattern with a Rose of Sharon appliqué.” The floral blocks measure 6 inches square, and she plans to machine appliqué this time with a satin stitch. She made the Irish Chain blocks after taking a class on precision piecing earlier this year from national instructor Harriet Hargrave.

When the quilt is finished, Aguilar plans to title it “My Wild Irish Rose.”

She says her current goal is to perfect her machine quilting, because now “I’m going to have to become a better quilter to live up to my reputation.”

I’d say that reputation is pretty well-established by now, and with Aguilar’s karma that comes on little cat feet, she can expect many more ribbons and national honors.

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