Q & A Patricia Belyea
Popular Patchwork|December 2017

A trip to Kyoto was the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Patricia Belyea, whose love of Japanese textiles and passion for quilt-making is combined in her exciting new book East-Meets-West Quilts. Here, we find out how her journey unfolded.

It seems that turning 50 sparked a change of direction in your life. Can you tell us more about this? 

Exactly. A mini trip to Kyoto when I turned 50 created a sea change in my life. I had always wanted to go to Japan and the looming half-century milestone pushed me into action. I often get asked why I felt so compelled to go to Japan. I don’t have an impressive answer: I just always wanted to go. Perhaps the pile of National Geographics in our family home beguiled me as a child with photos of pagodas. At the time of my first visit, I was super busy as the leader of a creative agency. So my husband, Michael, and I only went for five days; and one of those was a travel day! It was more like a long weekend in Kyoto. At the end of our trip, Michael and I said, “Let’s do that again.” Besides returning many times, we’ve hosted eight Japanese homestay students, and founded a home-based business that imports vintage Japanese textiles.

You took up quilting for the first time at 53. Was this prompted by your visits to Japan or for other reasons? 

It all began when I decided to make a baby quilt for one of my employees. I had no idea what I was doing. So I visited Maurine Noble, the gal who founded the quilt guild at our church. A beloved teacher and the author of three quilting books, Maurine was uber-generous to me. Although there was a 20-year age difference between us, Maurine and I became fast friends. We loved getting together and talking about all things quilting. Maurine encouraged me to make quilts any way I wanted – to keep trying new ideas. I’m sure that if I hadn’t met Maurine, I wouldn’t be a quilter today.

How did your practice evolve? Did you experiment with lots of techniques before settling into your own style? 

From the get-go, I embraced the fact I was a beginner. This approach emboldened me to try anything without worrying about perfection. I purposely made my early quilts as quickly as possible, calling them quilt sketches. By not trying to make masterpieces, I made speedy compositions that taught me new skills and honed my quilting style.

Are you more of an improvisational maker or someone who prefers the structure and planning of paper piecing? 

Improvisational, absolutely! When I start on a quilt, I don’t want to know what the final design will look like. Working without a pattern is like heading out on an adventure. I feel more alive and more aware, open to inspiration. Instead of looking at a map before I take my next step, I look around to see where I want to go.

You’ve said that every quilt is a gift to the world. Can you tell us what you mean? 

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