During spring break, most students chill at the beach or catch up on sleep; however, Rayna Parks, a senior at the University of Florida, focused her efforts this break on completing a painted quilt for her favorite singer Lorde.
Parks’ interest in quilting began right after she graduated high school when she wanted to make a T-shirt quilt using all the shirts she had collected during her high school career. “I just didn’t want to throw [all] the shirts away since it would be a waste, and at the same time, my grandma had already bought me a sewing machine,” says Parks. “From there, I just figured out how to connect the dots.”
Admiring the final product, she noticed that she had a knack for quilting and began to sell her quilts on Etsy. Unquestionably, she found joy in her new-found hobby. “Quilting is the best way to express my creativity. I don’t really think I’m great at drawing and I know I’m a terrible singer,” says Parks. “Quilting gives me an outlet to express myself [and] motivates me to practice my creativity.” Consequently, she made a few more T-shirt quilts and soon moved onto more complicated quilts.
Starting a new chapter of her life, Parks decided to take a small break from quilting in order to focus on her academics but eventually found herself back in the land of stitchery. “Whenever I’m stressed from my college work, I turn to my quilting — although it is a stress in [and] of itself. I’m trading stress for a different kind of stress,” Parks says.
“But I don’t mind it as much — I am able to exercise my brain by creating patterns and dealing with all the math that comes with it. Quilting [gives me] the chance to flex my brain in ways that I don’t typically do in academics.”
Taking her hobby to the next level, Parks came up with the idea of painting and stitching a quilt of the image on Lorde’s album, “Melodrama.” She had seen 40-square-inch painted quilts that people usually hung on their walls on Pinterest, but she was hoping to make a throw blanket for her favorite singer.
While trying to find examples of the quilt she wished to make on Pinterest and YouTube, she had no luck — the quilts she found on the web were smaller than she had hoped for. “For this project, I was just doing it on a much bigger scale than anything I could find online.”
Despite the roadblock, Parks continued on with her quilting project. When buying the fabric for her project, she contemplated the process and worried about her ability to paint. “I have never really painted anything before in my life. I just painted words onto posters for school, but I never painted a picture,” Parks says.
“Initially, I kept questioning whether I even had the capability to paint the album in the first place.” Looking up different painting approaches, she also chose to make her own fabric paint by mixing her acrylic paints and a fabric medium.
Once Parks began painting, her worries quickly dissolved as she noticed it was easier than expected. At one point, she accidentally set her black paint container on the quilt and when she took it off she realized that there was black paint on the bottom, which left a blemish on the blanket. Rather than fixing her mistake, Parks left the mark alone.
“I thought the mark gave the blanket more character,” says Parks. Within two days over her spring break, Parks was able to finish painting the top layer of her quilt.
Going off of her usual straight-line stitching, she decided to learn a new technique called free motion quilting, which requires different settings on the sewing machine — her hands and feet had to be synchronized in order to achieve her desired stitching pattern. Compared to straight-line stitching, free motion quilting is not as structured and can be more aesthetically pleasing, depending on the artist.
After giving Lorde her blanket at a concert in Tampa, Parks hopes to make similar quilts for her other favorite singers. “It was very rewarding to see her thankful expression — [and] she was not only appreciative the second I gave her the blanket, but also when she took it up onstage and sang with it.” Parks adds, “Even later that night, she saw me again and kept thanking me for it. She even posted it on Instagram, which was, altogether, surreal to me.”
Subsequently, Parks has been receiving more quilt orders from her Etsy. In the near future, she aspires to discover and expand more on her variety of different stitching and design patterns. “I definitely don’t see myself quitting quilting anytime soon.”
From day one of her interest, Parks’ parents have always been supportive of her hobby whether it’s funding her supplies or helping her figure out what fabric to use. Although she had no guide to turn to for help in terms of learning quilting techniques, her parents and grandma remain a strong support system.
When asked of who motivates her for her quilting, Parks says, “It’s the expression that people give me — the look on their face — and the gratitude. It’s not a person [who motivates me], it’s more of just a moment of happiness.”