Tag Archives: Quilts

Work on Display in Nairobi

One of my pieces, along with others from QuArKe (Quilt Artists of Kenya) will be on display at the Friends of the Arts Exhibition at the International School of Kenya, April 11-16.

The piece I selected is an All-in-One Reverse Appliqué art quilt called Foreign Shores. Machine appliqué, hand painting and hand beading join forces in this experimental work focused on technique to create an original design.

Foreign Shores, an All-in-One Reverse Appliqué quilt by Dena Crain

Foreign Shores, an All-in-One Reverse Appliqué quilt by Dena Crain

Details about the show come from an email notice I received:

ISK Art Show 2014 dates and times

Dates: Friday April 11 until Wednesday April 16, 2014.

Grand opening on Friday April 11 from 18.00 hrs until 21.00 hrs.

 at the ISK School – Commons Multi Purpose Room.

Art Show Times:

Friday: opening from 18:00 – 21.00 hrs.

Saturday 10:00  -  14:00 hrs.

Sunday:   12:00  – 16.00 hrs.

Monday & Tuesday: 9.00 – 16.00 hrs.

This is a special show held annually, I believe, to feature some of the best artistic talent in Kenya. This is the first time ever that the show has included patchwork quilts as works of art. If you are in Nairobi next weekend, I hope you will make time to see the show and help promote the arts in Africa!



Filed under Art, Art in Kenya

QuArKe at Manyika House Retreat

Last week, seven members of QuArKe, the Quilt Artists of Kenya, traveled upcountry on the new Thika Superhighway, a four or six-lane expressway, to Manyika House for their first ever art quilt retreat. We traveled in three cars with at least eight sewing machines, rotary cutting equipment, food and drinking water supplies to last at least a month (!), and a few items of clothing to enjoy three days of being away from it all and with time to work on patchwork quilts as art. What fun we had!

Manyika House is an old colonial settler home, probably built to house the owner of a coffee plantation and his family sometime when the British Government was doling out Kenyans’ lands to returning military who came home to not much of anything else after World War I.

Manyika House, Thika, Kenya

Manyika House, Thika, Kenya

It’s a beautiful home, prime for its style, with a raised ceiling over the sitting room to cool the house, hardwood parquet floors, built-in shelves and cupboards, moldings around the tops of the walls for hanging pictures and casement windows. It boasts three large bedrooms, two full baths and two half-baths plus two smaller bedrooms all on one end of the house, separated from the main living area by a generous foyer that leads into a large L-shaped sitting room.

Manyika House sitting room

The sitting room opens onto the dining room beyond, and it features a huge fireplace and storage/bench seating that wraps around the end of the room below large windows that open onto a lovely garden. The benches are covered with wonderful patchwork cushions from India!

Manyika House sitting room

A large and comfortable kitchen lies just off the dining room and opens onto a paved utility courtyard behind the house. Jasvinder and Charu, working with Joel, made themselves right at home there.


The garden is home to a couple of mature palm trees that set off the front verandah which looks out at Mt. Kenya, often visible on cloudless days. Walk off the verandah and a small pool full of bullrushes lies ahead; beyond that a paved circle that hosts a round table and six chairs with a huge umbrella to cover all. Of course, flame trees predominate in the community!


Manyika House

The house immediately captured my heart, for it was full of the romance of an earlier time in this remarkable country. It is rumored, but not yet established, that Beryl Markham once owned the house. It is highly likely that she might at least have been a guest there, as the owners were not far removed from the Happy Valley Set.

We arrived about 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday and by lunchtime had unpacked our cars, set up our equipment, spread out our fabrics and chosen our beds–we were ready for lunch and then WORK!

We had earlier agreed on a vegetarian menu that would suit all, and a couple of our members had worked together to organize all the food. The house has a cook in residence. Actually, Joel is more like a majordomo, the man in charge of everything!

Manyika House

He made coffee and tea and served them beautifully, prepared and cooked our food as needed and instructed, cleaned the house and made our beds, and generally supervised the property. John is the shamba-man, the gardener and dishwasher who was ever-present as well, and there’s a nighttime askari, the best kind, I never saw him! We were well looked after and made to feel right at home at Manyika House!



It was great to have this time to work, to relax and to get to know one another better. Gretchen and Patty worked in the dining room, and there was a great guffaw from that part of the house about every fifteen minutes.


Bibiana spent the first day on the sitting room floor, working out plans for a new design on paper, then moved the next day to a table in the sitting room to begin the sewing on that project.


Charu, Jasvinder, and Raji worked in the open area of the sitting room and there was plenty of laughter from that quarter. Raji, who enjoyed the peace of the verandah, got the giggles on Thursday afternoon and could not stop!!


I set up around the corner in the sitting room, near the foyer, to have a design wall behind me (I ended up using the floor instead as I needed more space), and got back to art quilting in a big way!



We carried on like this until Friday morning, all of us sorry we had not planned to stay longer. We had booked during the week for a lower rate, given that the house is usually booked over weekends by families and other groups who can meet only on weekends. If you’re in Kenya and looking for a wonderful experience and a delightful place to stay, check out Manyika House. It’s truly special!! If you’re not on Facebook, google it and find local tour operators who can put you in touch with Markus Dierling, the owner/manager.

It seems QuArKe, the Quilt Artists of Kenya, have established a new tradition–an annual retreat at Manyika House. Gretchen now reports a tentative booking for next year that will include an extra night–yippee!! And if you’re interested in our work, the art quilts we are making, they will be on display at the Friends of the Arts Exhibition at the International School of Kenya, over the weekend of April 11. I know, the ads all say April 5-8, but I have it on good authority that the show opens April 11–ring the School to find out for sure. See you there!

Oh, and be sure to visit Gretchen’s blog–too cool!! She’s soooo talented, our Gretchen!


Filed under Art, Art in Kenya, Patchwork Quilting, Quilt Groups, Tourism

Work on Display at Texas Quilt Museum

Exciting news for me, just in from Sandra Sider, Past President of SAQA and now Curator of the Texas Quilt Museum!

"Redefinitions VIII: Desert Sands," art quilt by Dena Dale Crain

“Redefinitions VIII: Desert Sands,” art quilt by Dena Dale Crain

Sandra informs me that my quilt, Desert Sands, acquired last year by well-known American quilt collector Del Thomas, will be one of 45 pieces on display at the Texas Quilt Museum from July through September. This exhibition, representative of the Thomas Contemporary Quilt Collection, is expected to fill two of the three galleries.



Filed under Art, Quilts

Ragged Cloth Café Discussion

This email is just in from Christine Nielsen from Nova Scotia, one of my online students, who read an article I wrote recently for the Ragged Cloth Café.  The article was an examination of the importance of a focal point to composition as it tackled the dangerous question of whether composition is required for a work of art to be declared a “work of art.”

"Trapped: Paradise or Prison?"--work in progress by Christine Nielsen

“Trapped: Paradise or Prison?”–work in progress by Christine Nielsen

Christine sent a photo of her artwork in progress along with this discussion to add to what I had said on Ragged Cloth Café:

I read your piece on Ragged Cloth Café and thought you’d be interested in this. This is an in-progress shot of a piece which is now done and in a local show. I can’t show you the final construction because a lot of it obscured what I wanted you to see.

I took the Darned Quilt idea and applied it to the most formal background construction you can imagine. I recreated the Nova Scotia tartan through quilting and applique and couching. I then used the darned quilt technique to deconstruct it. The deconstruction has meaning within the total effect of the piece. It wouldn’t mean the same thing if I had not started with such a formal and recognizable background.

BTW, the whole piece is called Trapped: Paradise or Prison? and is set inside a constructed lobster trap with some other related items. The deconstruction is truly the background to the entire piece.

By my way of thinking, Christine made a background when she reproduced the tartan. When she applied the Darned Quilts methods of shifting, repositioning and darning into place a set of shapes cut from the tartan, she began composing. There was a decision-making process ongoing as she worked, a thought process that making the tartan did not require. She was designing in a more formalized way, a way that took more effort than mere repetition.

Christine had to think about the nature and sizes of the shapes she cut and about the ways in which she could move them around and reposition them. Although a more thoughtful way of working than merely laying down the stripes of a mock tartan, the result of this effort might still have been understood by a viewer as a background.

The addition, however, of the three topical motifs, the schooner, the fiddle and the lighthouse, cemented the deconstructed tartan as a statement about Nova Scotia. Emblems of the Scottish diaspora in the New World, these symbols collectively identify a culture and give emotive value to the work.

What I want to see now, though, is what Christine has yet to send me–a photo of the finished piece on display. How about it, Christine?!


Filed under Patchwork Quilting

Dreams and Visions

Well, it’s a dream come true!  One of my quilts, a new one from my Redefinitions series, is on display at the Visions Art Museum!

"Redefinitions VIII: Desert Sands," art quilt by Dena Dale Crain

“Redefinitions VIII: Desert Sands,” art quilt by Dena Dale Crain

Part of the “Recent Acquisitions from the Thomas Contemporary Quilt Collection” exhibition which opened in San Diego’s Visions Art Museum on November 9, “Desert Sands” is made from 100% silk fabrics, some of them hand-painted.  The piece measures 30″ x 34″ and is densely quilted all over.

The quilt was acquired from me shortly after the Studio Art Quilt Association conference in Athens, Ohio, held in conjunction with Quilt National.  Its owner, well-known collector and quilt maker Del Thomas, was charged with carrying the quilt to the Visions Art Museum for sale in the Museum Shop by curator Beth Smith because Del was traveling by car and Beth did not want to fold the piece and pack it in her suitcase.

You can imagine my surprise and delight when Del emailed me a few days after leaving Athens for Paducah and said, “The more I look at this quilt, the better I like it.  I’m buying it for myself, so you’ll have to make others for the Visions Art Museum Shop!”

Now you know why I’ve been working so hard to develop new fabrics.  The next episode of my fabric dyeing exploits with mud, henna and more will be posted soon.  Isn’t quilting fun?!


Filed under Art, Patchwork Quilting, Surface Design

Mud, Glorious Mud Part 4

OK, so we ran low on fresh fruit and veg in the house and there were a couple of errands to run, so I made the two-hour drive to Nakuru to stock up.  I once made the trip in an hour and five minutes, driving at 130 kph, but in those days the road was good enough.  Not so anymore!  Just getting from our house to the main highway takes me nearly a half hour over unpaved, stony ground!  This is due to Lake Baringo having risen so much over the last couple of years.  I noticed a story about that in The Daily Nation today–all about schoolchildren battling snakes to get an education!

I shopped where I usually do, calling in at the new Gilani Meat and Eat butchery which has recently moved to a new location, and from there going on to Nakumatt for what Gilani’s did not have available. This little video of that Nakumatt’s opening will give you some idea of how modern we are here!

With my grocery cart heavily overloaded and already heading out the door, I remembered that I wanted to find some henna to try out my friend Charu’s suggestion of using it to dye fabric.  I awkwardly spun the overloaded trolley around and headed back in toward Customer Service.  The folks at the Nakuru Nakumatt who work the CS desk are great!!  They quickly put out a call, and someone came from deep in the shop to collect me and show me their stock of henna.  I parked my trolley beside one of the KK Security Guards and headed back into the shop.  Lo and behold, there was henna on the shelf!

I quickly made my last purchase of the day, added the henna to my waiting trolley and bumbled out the door for my car.  I had managed to accomplish all I needed to in the short time I had in town, and I was still facing a two hour drive to get home before dark.

Godrej Nupur Henna

Godrej Nupur Henna

Now, I have the henna!  The brand is Godrej from Mumbai, India, and it is “With goodness of Amla, Brahmi and Bhringraj”–the ingredients are listed as Amla, Bhringaraj, Brahmi, Jaswant, and Henna:  Emblica officionalis, Eclipta alba, Centella asiatica (funny–we used to export this one!), Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis and Lawsonia inermis.  Find Godrej on Facebook and eBay.

Charu said to mix the henna with water and instant coffee and put it into a container with the fabric and some iron.  I happen to have an old iron–I mean, REALLY old.  You may never have seen one of these.  They look much like an electric iron for pressing your clothing, but this one dates from a time before electricity.  The people who used this iron had to set it directly into the fire, then lift it, wipe off any charcoal and “strike while the iron was hot!”  I think this one probably will not suffer too much from a night in a dye bath, so I intend to use it for my alchemical purposes.

Antique iron

Antique iron

What I don’t have, though, is instant coffee.  I cannot think why the coffee would be necessary, but if anything, I’ll simply brew a pot of the real stuff and throw that in for good measure.  To me, instant coffee is a sacrilege and I refuse to buy it!!

So, that’s the next step in my plan, a plan that seems to be unfolding day by day to help me do something with all the pink silk fabrics I have.  I have it in mind to do some kind of tie-dyeing for some of the fabrics I dye with henna, just to add texture.

Yesterday, though, I simply could not wait any longer to see how my mud cloth was doing.  I snipped a bit off one of the painted cloths and washed it in hand soap and cold water to see whether the soy milk had done its job, whether it was working.  OK, so some of the mud washed off, but I’ve definitely got color change!  

First test of mud cloth

First test of mud cloth

In this photo, you see the snippet I cut and laundered.  Notice the dark thread coming off it?  That thread probably took more mud because the fiber were more open than those in the more tightly woven cloth itself.  That thread nearly matches in color the mud you can see on the face of the cloth at top right.  I laid the snippet on the back of the cloth to show the difference in the fabric’s previously dyed color.  My hope is that the mud will result in more color change if I leave it on longer, but even if it doesn’t do that, I’m pretty sure I’m going to prefer the earthier color of the mud paint.

By the way, this last paint job I did, one cloth painted solid with mud, showed me immediately the benefits of working with some kind of resist.  I know you can boil the daylights out of potatoes or rice and use the thickened liquid as a resist.  I’ve done it before on cotton, but it was really hard to wash it out.

I think there’s some dishwashing liquid people in the US use as a resist; does anybody know why it works, what the key ingredient is?  If you do, please let me know in a comment below so I can try to source something similar here; thanks!  Whatever I decide to use, it will have to dry before I paint mud over it; otherwise any imagery would be smeared.

I intend to let the fabrics I’ve printed so far “cure” for about 2-3 weeks before laundering all of them and using them to make a new lot of quilts.  Meanwhile, I’ll give the henna a try and let you know how that turns out.

I realized while painting my mud cloths that I have a definite preference in fabrics.  I LOVE solid colors.  I love stripes, too, because you can twist and turn them in tricky counterplays.  I LOVE textures in dyed cloths, whether actual surface texture like slubs and imperfections, or dyed/printed to look like texture.

I do not like prints!  I don’t like prints because I never know what to do with them!  My designs are almost always based on lines, and prints obscure the seam lines that I find so important.  This is all great news to me!  It shows me a clear way forward in my work!!

What other suggestions do you have for creating color on cloth when you’re in the African bush?!  I need all the help I can get!!  Read more . . .


Filed under Art in Kenya, Quilt Tips & Tutorials, Surface Design

Art Quilts at Tazama Art Gallery

Redefinitions III: Urban Africa

Redefinitions III: Urban Africa

Tazama Art Gallery at The Junction accepted two of my pieces to put on exhibition and, hopefully, sell.  Urban Africa, above, is hand-dyed cotton with Kitengela Hot Glass embellishments.

Below is one of my favorites, Gee Whiz, 100% silk front and back.  The title is a tongue-in-cheek over the Gee’s Bend Quilters.  I figured that if they could sew wonky and get away with it, so could I!

Redefinitions III: Gee Whiz

Redefinitions III: Gee Whiz

Sorry, I forgot what they went in for.  You’ll have to ring up Tazama at to learn the prices!


Filed under Art in Kenya, Quilts