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QUILTER PROFILE: Robbi Eklow

Chicago Quilter Brings Sardonic Humor,
Incisive Commentary, and the "Moon Hut" to Quiltnet

Robbi Eklow is a "presence" on Quiltnet. Her nearly daily postings from her mailbox at America Online, many dispatched in the late-night hours, are full of irreverent humor, jaundiced observations about suburban life, and the imaginative twists and turns of her own very creative mind as she shares her quilting knowledge and experiences with the 1200 other members of the popular internet maillist.

Asked how she got started quilting, Robbi says: "My first attempt at quilting was in high school in the early 1970s, a drunkard's path from a Chicago Tribune article. I cut the pieces out with an electric scissors. It was really ugly. I think it finally disappeared in a box of stuff that got lost in a dorm at Purdue University.

"I restarted quilting around 1987 when my two children were babies. They were only 14 months apart, and we were broke because I decided to stay home. I had been doing pottery as a way to socialize and get a break. Eventually the mushiness of the clay didn't seem too different from taking care of babies, if you know what I mean. So I spent the $10 a week I had been paying in class fees at a quilt shop in Wilmette called Cotton Pickers. They had a big toy bin there, and when I took my kids I felt welcome. One night I stopped there before going grocery shopping, and one of the employees told me that she was the new president of the local quilt guild, that the first meeting was that night, that Ruth McDowell was speaking and that I should come. I called my husband and told him I wouldn't be home until midnight. I LOVED the guild meeting. I couldn't believe there were about 300 other women who loved quilting.

"Then fabric collecting became important to me. I needed some way to get out of the house and relax. I found I could spend $10 on fabric at a quilt shop and that would do it. I started going to 'The Tuesday Night Quilters' every week, and made some very dear friends who gave me all kinds of advice and moral support.

"Quilting isn't just making quilts to me. A lot of it is an anchor for friendships, an excuse to go hang out at a quilt shop, or a reason to go have coffee after a guild meeting."

Speaking of her own quilting style, Robbi describes it as a combination of the traditional and the contemporary. "My first completed quilt was a Sunshine and Shadow," she says, "hand-quilted, a wall hanging and done very faithfully in the Amish style. The quilt I am currently working on is a paper-pieced log cabin I designed on a computer using Autocad. I am going to machine quilt it using either variegated embroidery thread or metallic thread. The quilt tessellates around the center in a grouping of 5. I design all my quilts myself, with the exception of one I made last year. I usually use my Macintosh to aid in the construction of the quilt somewhere. I am not sure where I fall in the scale of things. I machine quilt my quilts, heavily, using gaudy threads, and I use both purchased fabrics and fabrics I dye. I can't draw, but I can draft, so my quilts are geometric, and pieced. I rarely use the traditional block formats. I guess I make contemporary original pieced quilts. And then of course, there are these silly quilts I have been making that are cartoons that I throw together."

Though she steers clear of the strictly traditional, Robbi gets her inspiration from other sources which emphasize geometric form. "I like Escher, so I look at math books about tessellation, and books about Fractals. And then books about any type of design on computers. I am intrigued by Vasserely's art, which already looks like quilts. I like to buy quilt books which are catalogs of exhibitions. And I like to look at whatever art books catch my eye at the library. I believe in the theory that you go through a stage of design where you feed your mind with ideas, then have an 'Aha!' moment where it all comes together."

The computer also plays a central role in Robbi's quilt design, but she doesn't use a quilt design program. "My favorite piece of software is Canvas. My next quilt will be some sort of Mariner's Compass, and Canvas has a great tool to draw stars and polygons that I am going to use. I also play with AfterDark a lot, and have gotten a lot of ideas that I can't quite follow through on yet. I took a class in Autocad at the community college and discovered that Autocad is great for adding 1/4 seam allowances, but for now I don't have a computer that will run it. We bought an old 386 for cheap, but I can't get the CD-ROM drive I need to load Autocad on there. I am madly in love with the Macintosh environment so I think I will just stick with that for now. My quilts tend to have overall designs as opposed to being block quilts, so Canvas does most of what I need."

In addition Robbi uses her computer to entertain the rest of us with her musings on Quiltnet. Asked about the influence of the internet in her life, Robbi credits it with helping her to discover herself, both personally and professionally. "Quiltnet has changed my 'quilting life' in many ways," she says. "I have always been one of those people who sit in the back of the room during guild business meetings cracking jokes and annoying some of the people around me who are 'serious.'

"I have always been bothered by the fact that the presidents of the guilds I have been in weren't funnier when they had everyone's attention. I started being somewhat off-topic on Quiltnet, especially when I started writing about this 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado that my husband brought home last year. People were writing back to me and telling me how funny they thought my stuff was, and encouraging me to keep goofing around. At some point I also discovered that half the time I finished a quilt I was enjoying Show and Tell at the guild because then I had everyone's attention. I don't think I would have realized this had I not been getting instant gratification from Quiltnet. I have been wanting to lecture about quilts for a few years, but Quiltnet has made me realize that I don't have to talk about some technique or be an expert in some field of quilting, that I should pursue the humorous side of quilters' lives. Several women already do this, but I think there is room for more.

"I also love the concept of having a question first thing in the morning and getting it answered by noon. And I enjoy having the scoop on so many bits of information."

One of Robbi's major contributions to Quiltnet has been an ongoing discussion of her "Moon Hut" quilt and the anthropology that lies behind it. "A few years ago I decided that I needed to find my own vocabulary of symbols. I am Jewish, but not religious, and not well educated in that respect. So I decided to start reading books on Judaism. The next shelf over had a book entitled "When God Was A Woman" by Merlin Stone. This opened up a whole new avenue of exploration for me. One Sunday I was reading the Chicago Tribune, and the Woman's section had an article about how women were "honoring their menstrual cycles." The article also talked about how anthropologists were rethinking the theories about isolating women who were menstruating. The conventional wisdom is that women were shunned as unclean. The newer theory was that during this time women isolated THEMSELVES to take advantage of increased creativity. In at least one society this was referred to as a moon hut. At some point the concept of avoiding men and children during this time was brought up as a way to reduce stress and therefore perhaps ease PMS.

"One night my husband was out of town, and my kids were really getting on my nerves. I looked at the calendar and all this stuff dovetailed, and I made the Moon Hut quilt. Now the quilt itself is nothing to get excited about, it's all fused, and only has a few dyed fabrics. It is more of a punchline to a joke than a work of art. But it's fun, and I wrote about it on Quiltnet. Other women were amused by the idea, and began sending in email about renaming their studios 'the MoonHut,' or making their own Moon Hut quilts. We began discussions on the need for spaces of our own."

Robbi's space includes her family. "I have two children, Josh, about to turn 10, and Samantha, about to turn 9. My husband, Brian, and I were really college sweethearts, and got married with one semester left. We both have engineering degrees from Purdue, so our life is somewhat of a throwback to the 50's but with a twist. I'm staying home because I want to, not because there aren't opportunities for me. My kids come first, but I consider their school day to be my free time. I am not a very good housekeeper, but I think I am a good mother. I am there for my kids, but they have to be somewhat independent as I can get preoccupied with whatever project I am working on." In addition Robbi has taken on teaching a couple of quilting classes and is taking a beginning art course at a local community college, an experience she has shared with Quiltnet.

Whether she is talking about quilting, art class, children, Toronados, or Moon Huts, Robbi Eklow always enlivens the chat on Quiltnet with her insight and her irrepressible humor. The members who read her daily ramblings are fervent in their wish that she will never stop "goofing around."

 

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