Architect builds quilts one block at a time

Textile architect Luke Haynes appliqued his self-portrait onto a traditional log cabin design that is 86 inches square. Titled “On My Bed #3,” it won honorable mention in 2011 at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. This self-portrait also is part of an “alt_quilts” exhibit opening Tuesday at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City

This quilt by Luke Haynes is titled (“Man Stuff #1) Hammer” and measures 84 inches by 72 inches. He accentuates perspective and a diagonal visual movement toward the lower right. Haynes describes this piece as a testament to his place in the art world as a male using a process that has been dominated by women.

In (“Man Stuff #2) Screwdriver,” Luke Haynes depicts a tool from his past career when he built houses. “I think the crossover of metal tools into fabric is a dynamic one,” he says. The quilt measures 55 inches by 90 inches.

“Rags to Riches,” part of of Luke Haynes “Iconography” series, superimposes images of Kanye West and Jay Z, expressing them both as musicians and as the faces of the hip-hop scene. Its epic scale, 90 inches square, reflects a milestone in Haynes’ art making history: It is his 101st quilt. Haynes, shown next to the quilt, spent six months sewing it from reclaimed clothing.

Quilts are the building blocks of Luke Haynes’ artistic expression.

The 31-year-old Los Angeles resident refers to himself as a textile architect, because of his previous job in architecture. For the past five years, Haynes has made his living as a full-time cloth artist.

“I’m a modernist, and I’m a designer, more than I am a quilter,” he explains in a website video at “I’m an architect who makes quilts rather than a quilter who makes art.”

He often fashions his own yardage from reclaimed clothing, hundreds of pounds of it acquired from Goodwill. Usually working in a series, Haynes combines a traditional background, of log cabin blocks for example, with a portrait appliquéd onto it by machine.

A self-portrait series is ongoing, in which Haynes makes an annual quilt of himself and uses it on his bed. His “On My Bed #3,” measuring 86 inches square, won an honorable mention award in 2011 at the International Quilt Festival in Houston.

Often exhibiting in galleries and museums, he hopes to expose visitors to the dichotomy of mixing an age-old tradition with a contemporary style, Haynes says in a recent phone interview.

Five pieces of his textile art are part of a new exhibit titled “alt_quilts,” opening Tuesday at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. It runs through Jan. 5.

“It will be a fun divergence” from the galleries where he usually exhibits, Haynes says, because his work doesn’t have a folk art aesthetic. “But I’m excited about the crossover from my own work to what’s usually defined as folk art.”

According to the exhibit curator describing the show at, Haynes is a contemporary artist who is inspired by the history and structure of American quilts yet not inhibited, constricted or defined by it. Rather, he exploits the tension inherent in historical quilts between function and significance.

One of Haynes’ five showpieces, which is going into the museum’s permanent collection, is No. 7 in his “Iconography” series. Titled “Rags to Riches,” it superimposes the images of musicians Kanye West and Jay Z. The combined portrait on a pieced background expresses both men as individuals and as the faces of the hip-hop scene.

Another artist, Troy Gua, created the original image and helped Haynes transfer it to cloth. Using reclaimed textiles — white sheets, blue jeans and black dress clothes — he sees it as “an encounter between urban graffiti and the art of quilt making,” both in visual terms and in the investment of time.

Haynes’ method of sewing is machine piecing the quilt top, basting it and then machine appliquéing the raw-edged portrait to it. He quilts on a longarm machine. His design process starts with an image, which he manipulates in Photoshop, then prints to scale and assembles on a design wall.

When he made another series called “Man Stuff” in 2007 and 2008, the idea was to answer the question: Can a guy make quilts that aren’t feminine?

The result are quilts depicting a red pickup, a hammer, a screwdriver and a trophy buck’s head mounted on a camouflage wall.

About the larger-than-life tool in “(Man Stuff #1) Hammer,” Haynes says he wanted to show a masculine item in a way that illustrates the use of fabric and light and stitching as notations of an art piece. It’s a testament to his place as a male making art with a process that has been dominated by women.

Now, he’s working on his newest idea, a “Cloth Portrait” series with images of his friends on a traditional log cabin background in monochrome white, black or red. Four of 15 quilts Haynes has planned are finished with half-inch log cabin pieces randomly sewn from his Goodwill stash in a 3-foot by 5-foot format.

Again, he photographs his friends, each holding an object that expresses that person’s identity. In replicating those images, Haynes requests their actual garments worn during the photo sessions. He then composes from those a cloth portrait and appliqués that figure in the foreground.

The second in this series, (Cloth Portrait #2) Helmet,” completed last year, is one of those in the upcoming “alt_quilts” exhibit in New York City.

I asked Haynes if he has a favorite subject among the textile art he’s built, but he doesn’t single one out. He focuses, instead, on “being more engaged in making the quilt, its design process” and relishing “how the work comes together organically.”

And that’s the gospel … according to Luke.

Email Sherida.Warner 


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