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26. Interview with Andrea Tsang Jackson of @3rdStoryWorkshop – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
Show Notes from recording:
Andrea’s Website 3rd Story Workshop
Interview with Andrea Tsang Jackson Art Pays Me podcast
Gemology – Andrea’s book 3rd Story Workshop
Kurt Pio Kat Jones MJ Kinman Gemstone Quilt Inspiration
Here and Elsewhere immigrant quilt Andrea’s Bee Quilt
MQG bee quilt winner Archives of past Bee Quilt winners
Bear paw block Quilt block design used in the Bee Quilt
Double wedding ring quilt Quilt design used for wedding dress quilt
Fat Quarterly Keep House Studio Collaboration
Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community.
Nicole: In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies.
Ada: I’m your co host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado, Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own natural skincare business called Chuan’s promise. That’s C-H-U-A-N-apostrophe-S promise and sharing my marketing tips on my blog. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing @i.hope.sew on Instagram
Nicole: And I’m your co host, Nicole, I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homeland of the Council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Philippine American woman, a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram @NicoleAngelineSews.
Hi friends, co-host Nicole here, due to personal circumstances, which I addressed in the first mini episode for season three. I was unable to join Ada for her interview with Andrea from Third Story Workshop to talk about quilting. So no checking in about our projects this week. We’re just going to dive straight into the interview. They had a great conversation and I’m sad I missed out but I am just as excited as you are to listen. Enjoy.
Ada: So we are back with another quilting episode. You might remember in season one that we featured Bhiravi of Strawberry Creek Quilts who talked us through the quilt pattern design process, setting up her quilting business, the differences between quilting and garment making and some of her favorite tools for quilting. Since then, Nicole and I have both tried our hand at quilting. I’ve made a few baby quilts to varying levels of success. And I think Nicole made a quilt coat. And so we’ll post all of those makes in our show notes. I am also currently working on more baby quilts or I should be based on the timeframes I need to ship them off to the babies that are arriving.
But the world of quilting is vast beyond just baby quilts, and especially modern quilting, and today we are excited to speak with Andrea Tsang Jackson of Third Story Workshop to learn more about modern quilting. Andrea is a Canadian quilter of East Asian descent based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada and describes herself as a textile artist, quilter, author and teacher. And we hope to dig into each of these aspects of her today. Welcome, Andrea, can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your business, Third Story Workshop.
Andrea: Hi Ada, thank you so much for inviting me to be part of the podcast. I’m excited to talk to you today. So yeah, my name is Andrea. And you might know me online as Third Story Workshop. The name came about six years ago when I started quilting. Or started quilting for real, I guess, I made about four quilts before that. But I joined my local chapter of the modern quilt guild in 2016, the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild. And that’s really where my quilting journey kind of took off. In those first few months, I started a business, I applied to a craft show and I got in and I needed a business name. And Third Story Workshop came up because my sewing space was in the attic of my home. And it was kind of like I called it my sanctuary, I had really small kids at the time. And so it was kind of a quiet space, I could lock the door if I needed to if there were other adults around, and you could actually think with a clear mind and play around with that. And so that was kind of the name where the name came from. I wanted it to be not too sewing specific, I have a background in design and architecture and I wanted to be able to fold all of my creative and design self into my business. And so I didn’t want to limit it to quilting and sewing necessarily, although that would be a big part of it. And so that kind of that neutral ish name that doesn’t necessarily refer to sewing and quilting directly in the name. So that kind of another layer of meaning for Third Story Workshop is that I have two kids and this is my third story. And I will see where that story goes.
Ada: That is pretty clever and pretty thoughtful. When you started Third Story Workshop, I guess was that when you started sewing in general or did you start with quilting, like how did you learn?
Andrea: That is a very good question. And I think that a lot of us as sewists will have this understanding that I am a serial creator or serial hobbyist. I have done a lot. So since my childhood like my kindergarten report card, talked about how I really liked doing crafts. In high school, I did some like jewelry beading, a lot of paper crafts, or like making greeting cards and things like that. I spent a lot of time in my room on my desk making stuff. In university years, I was studying architecture and my roommate who was not creative at all, she decided she wanted to try silversmithing and there’s a there was a lot of different resources or different places offering craft courses in Montreal, where I was living at the time. And we took a jewelry smithing class, silversmithing class, which was really fun. I also at that time, bought my first sewing machine in 2005, from my mom for Christmas. And so I dabbled in making bags and things without patterns. I just was like, I like this bag, I want to make another one. And then I tried my hand at replicating those things without really knowing a lot. And without having the resources necessarily of well, I guess blogging, sewing blogging was starting up. And so there were some things I could find on blogs, and less on YouTube, but still some on YouTube. And I was like screen printing kind of like screen printing hacks, like using glue instead of like, proper shooting screens and things like that. So yeah, I’ve done a lot of different creative things. And I love learning new things.
Ada: How did she know to get you the machine?
Andrea: Um, I don’t know, I don’t think I even asked for it
Andrea: Yeah, yeah, it was a little like Kenmore from Sears. I think. You know, I don’t think we even talked about it. She did sew a lot. I mean, she sewed a lot, she sewed when we were kids, my sister and I, and she sewed us dresses and garments to wear. I didn’t know until like 2017 that she had ever tried quilting. And she showed me some things that she did. She did some by hand, and quilted kind of whole cloth quilt blocks, which are pretty cool. But then didn’t she never took to it. Yeah, I don’t know how she knew. But she and I are very similar in a lot of ways.
Ada: And now sewing is your business?
Andrea: It is yeah. Yeah.
Ada: So you kind of talked about how you’ve always been into this creative process and trying different crafts, were you always drawn in addition to your architecture background to I guess, creating your own patterns and designs?
Andrea: Yeah, I mean, I think so, I think that having a design background kind of makes everything possible in my head, not in reality. But I think as a designer, I think of a future, right, I think as creatives we think of, we have an imagination to imagine a future something. And to get from the present to that future. There’s a process. And so I think having that background to make it possible to make like it, this is super cheesy, I would never say this, like, make that dream come true. Like, here’s the like, there is a process to follow and to get there. And so having the confidence to know what those steps are, and having a footing in reality of what that means was really key. I think it’s a lot it was a huge confidence builder, especially as a young adult when you’re just finding yourself and I could go on a huge rant about how design education is such a confidence builder, for youth, for people in general, what really integrated way of looking at the world interdisciplinary. And it’s like, amazing, I think everybody should have a design education. But that’s just like my soapbox I like to stand on sometimes.
Ada: It’s like, sometimes your brain is working a few steps ahead of your hands. And you have to figure out how to make that sync up.
Andrea: Yeah, and even have a step back further and say, you know, five years ago, maybe six years ago when I started Third Story Workshop I had a vision for what I wanted to do, I wanted to see craft be elevated beyond the domestic art, which it was already, it’s just I didn’t see it, or I didn’t know about it. But I have stepped into that world and started to understand it better and been able to participate in that way. And it’s really cool to be able to say like it was it’s not I don’t believe in like manifesting something just to be like I wrote it down six years ago. So I’ve arrived because I feel like I’ve accomplished a goal. It’s not about that. It’s just having an understanding of this is where I want to go and so I’ll just take one step at a time and look out for opportunities and, and have those things go together. So it’s like designing a path towards kind of a vague future.
Ada: Yeah, let’s dig into that transition a little bit more, because you said you kind of saw wanting to elevate the craft. So what was that actual transition into making more art style quilts, like a wall hanging quilt, let’s say versus a baby quilt? What did that look like, feel like, experience seem like to you?
Andrea: It’s a really complex question, to kind of define what craft is or crafts, versus what art is, I think that’s it, like, you could have a PhD or a postdoc, and like, talk about that for your entire career. So I think for me understanding that it doesn’t, understanding the conversations around those that topic, but also not really ascribing to any of it. Fair enough, I’m just gonna,
kind of just taking this step at a time and saying, you know, this is what I need to explore right now, I think somebody’s pulling me in this direction. And I want to make a baby quilt over here. So I’m going to, I think there’s a lot of, for me, I’m always looking for opportunities to move quilting, outside of quilting. So we have a very defined way that we see quilting. I know in Instagram, you have a lens, and there is a niche, and you get kind of a funnel, then of course, the algorithm is telling you what to look at too. And then you think this is the quilting world, but it’s, it’s an industry, so you know, it’s gonna get the, you’re gonna be seeing the most likes, the most funny reels or whatever it is now. And so it’s going to shape the way that you think about the craft. And so, for me, I’m always looking, I’m always looking outside, and kind of looking at the periphery, and then how it connects to the outside world. And for me, that has looked at a lot of different ways I did a, I’ve connected to my local art community. And it’s a fantastic way to understand the conversations around this topic. And I had a mentor for a year through a mentorship program through our provincial arts organization. And so she really helped me to understand she, I don’t have an art background, I don’t have an art or training. And so and she is a retired professor, and so in textiles, and so she was able to kind of, also, I think that that idea even came from her that she like, you can understand the difference between art and craft and talk about it forever. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Like, that’s not what’s going to lead the way you make things or the way you look at the world. So that kind of step into, into the art world. Also, to be honest, money is where I was also like, I wanted to be able to make art and things that I wanted to make without the pressure of the market. And so I was looking for grants, funding opportunities. And so being able to articulate in grant applications what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, project specific, helped me to start looking for other ways to express myself through quilting.
Ada: So speaking of that art community and art paying you, you are on the Art Pays Me podcast. And when you’re on there, everyone should listen to it, we’ll link to it in the show notes. It’s a fantastic podcast. But if you describe yourself as many things right quilting – quilter, textile artist, author, teacher so on that podcast, I think you said that it was actually quite hard to start describing yourself as an artist. And I don’t know if it was kind of through that process that you said, of connecting with your local art community. But it was much easier to describe yourself as a designer previously, do you still feel that way? And do you still struggle with that?
Andrea: I don’t anymore. It’s actually I didn’t think I would see the day where it wouldn’t seem like an uncomfortable fit to call myself an artist. But I just ordered new business cards. And it used to say Andrea Tsang Jackson, designer and maker and this time it says artist and designer. So I did that. Like I don’t know if that’s the right thing. Like I feel comfortable wearing that moniker now. And I don’t know if it’s because I have been professionally recognized as an artist, or because I have said it, again, I don’t believe in the manifesting thing. Like I don’t think that saying it makes it true. But there language does help us inform the way we think about ourselves. And so you try it on artist, doesn’t really fit and then you start doing things and you’re like, oh, yeah, that was art. I mean art like that. And so, you know, if you’re not limiting yourself, then it really kind of grew into it. Maybe? I don’t know you’re asking all these fantastic questions and I haven’t answered these questions in this way. Yeah.
Ada: Some guests like to reflect to me like this is like going to a personal sewing therapy session, not a licensed therapist, or social worker. But I think it’s just interesting to dig a little bit deeper into what you do and how you think about it. And now that quilting like is your primary business and livelihood. You mentioned diving right in and getting into your craft show, within your first few months. How was that decision? Like to make this a business? What prompted that decision? And how did it actually like impact you and your family? Because you’ve, you’ve mentioned you have kids?
Andrea: This is a really good question. And also something that I had to kind of journey through. I was at a point in my life, when I started Third Story Workshop where I was out of the workforce, I had taken a step back to have babies, and time with them as youngsters, they’re much bigger and less cute. Still cute.
And, you know, it was a point of contention in my own, it was an inner struggle for myself to, to think about my work as I kind of went in being like, if I was a single parent, could I do this on my own? Turns out, that’s a lot of pressure. And not really healthy. I don’t think in the end. But definitely worth thinking about that, you know, can I have a viable business, viable career in this work, which made me think about my place in the market and the quilting industry, and then thinking about my work as an artist. And right now, I’m straddling both, I would say I swing more to one to the other. But always thinking about, I need to make money from this. And I contribute meaningfully to my household income, but it’s not all of it. And I recognize that that’s not a privilege everybody has. But there’s all these different models of thinking about how your life fits around your craft, or your craft fits around your life. You know, some people, their primary time is spent as a caregiver. But there are other debts as a parent, or as a child of an aging parents, like these are realities, or maybe you have a full time or if you’re a lawyer, and that’s your full time job. And that’s, you know, 60 hours, whatever, 40, 60, 80 hours of your week or whatever.
And, so you craft bits around that. And so there’s always these different things that are tugging on all of us as people. And the way you prioritize it, sometimes you don’t have a choice. And sometimes you do, and I did have that choice. And so I wanted to be meaningfully back into the workforce at that point when I started 3rd Story Workshop, but on my own terms, and so I didn’t want to go work for somebody else. And so the quilting thing became a trial, like it was just an experiment, like, what can I do with this, and my husband’s pretty smart.
So he was like, you know, writing patterns is similar to what a designer and architect does. So we as designers and architects, we conceive of an idea. Rarely does an architect build a building that they design, right. And so they’re coming up with verbal instructions, and drawings and illustrations. And instead of documents that goes to a contractor, and the contractor builds something, without them, they’re holding their hand through it, necessarily, you know, there’s touch points and things like that. So this is how I approach pattern writing. It’s the same skill set just like a smaller scale. So you know, that was always going to be the baseline, this was something I can do. And it became, that’s how I think about it now is kind of my, that’s my base product, pattern and pattern design production, which you talked about here in season one. And then there’s all these other things that I want to do on top
Ada: almost in a very timely way, if you consider what other folks are thinking about, you know, the news is always telling us about the great resignation and people having that kind of thought process of I want to work on my own terms, or on livable terms and practical terms and not be kind of subject to late stage capitalism, as we kind of all have been for the last many years on autopilot. But away from economics.
Andrea: Yeah, and it’s hard like this system is very interesting.
Ada: Oh, yeah. I will point out that you are in Canada. So healthcare, I’ve talked to a few entrepreneur friends about this. I actually talked to somebody yesterday about this. I left my job, immediately became a caregiver for my dad, and had I not had a supportive partner whose health insurance I could be on, that would have been hundreds of dollars out of my pocket every month from my savings that would have made all the different ideas that I tried and things that I tried right after that infinitely more difficult to afford. And it’s infinitely more difficult for anybody who’s single and working to afford in the States, at least. At least you have healthcare covered, to what I understand, to a certain degree. I don’t know if you follow one of our past guests, Leila Kelleher, who recently busted her knee. We send our best wishes on recovery, because that’s just a really, really terrible injury from skiing, like the worst. But she was documenting her kind of journey through getting all of that taken care of. And I think everybody from the States was like, Oh, my God, an ambulance doesn’t have to cost $3,000
Andrea: Oh, yeah, no, it costs $45. In my province, it does.
Ada: Yeah, that’s literally an uber.
Andrea: People get like, when they get slapped with that in the ambulance bill, they get like, they’re mad. The $45. But, wow.
Ada: Anyways, we’ve taken a really long detour. So let’s go back to quilting. You mentioned you’re kind of at the forefront of the modern quilting movement, to put it lightly. So can you tell us for our listeners who might be new to quilting or who aren’t as familiar with it, what is modern quilting? And are there like rules around it?
Andrea: Whoa, okay, so I’m not necessarily an expert in modern quilting. But I can tell you what I have absorbed and understood from my years. And I think my entire, like I told you, I joined the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild in 2016 when I started with Third Story Workshop. So it is a very big part of how I think about quilting. Generally functional quilts. But functional can have a lot of meanings so it can be wall, it can be bed, there’s a lot of negative space, lot of solid colors, a very graphic quality to them.
This is actually one of my least well, this is the only quilt I’ve ever made with all prints. It just happened to be the one that was ready to hang behind me. If you’re listening to this podcast, you can’t see it. But it’s a Rifle Paper Co like, cute quilt it’s called Express post. It’s one of my patterns from 2021. But I generally work in solids, I do work with mostly solids, I found that really helped. When I made my first quilt with solids, and I discovered solid fabrics. I actually was like, oh, like I think I might have a voice in this medium called quilting. And I didn’t know anything with the modern quilt movement movement, which started in like 2009 formally. I would say there was like Flickr, and a whole bunch of other cool things that happened online in 2008, 2007-2008. And then I think that Modern Quilt Guild officially launched in 2009. And so are there rules? That’s kind of a pointed question, I would say, a little contentious at this point. Because where as the modern quilt guild probably started off like, we don’t abide by the rules of traditional quilting. They have become, there’s like, there are now rules. There’s a new set of rules. And so you know, but I think I think the spirit of it is that we’re always open to new things. And so there’s that so traditional quilt will be you know, what you imagined a quilt to be with, with blocks that are in a grid. There’s like borders, maybe sashing, which is like the separating the blocks, and then a modern quilt, quilting kind of busts all that just like it could be anything could be like a squiggly line. It could be. Yeah, like, yeah, so yeah, it is. Yeah, it’s a funny, it’s funny to see it come become be established an establishment or an institution.
Ada: And then it has you’re kind of witnessing a new creation of those roles, I guess, as it as it happens.
Andrea: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s kind of fun. It’s exciting to see.
Ada: So you also do a lot of foundation paper piecing and me not being a quilter you will probably describe it better. So could you please explain what that is for our listeners?
Andrea: Yes. So foundation paper piecing is a way of, I describe it, when I teach it, I describe it as like, paint by color, but fabric. And so you’re actually sewing on paper. And which determines the shapes that you’re producing in piecing and quilts piecing. So if you imagine a traditional quilt block, you’ll have you’re limited by the way you can cut fabric, so your ruler, so you’ll have 90 degree angles, you’ll have 45 degree angles, 60 and 30 degree angles. And then that’s, those are kind of the standard things, which is you can, there’s a million, there’s an infinite variety there already. But foundation paper piecing allows you to kind of break away from that grid and produce angles with very, like very accurately that are within those parameters. So can I pull something up here? Okay, so for those of you watching, this is foundation paper pieced.
Ada: It is a pattern of a sleeping fox on a background of, the fox is like orangey and brown. The background is a metallic print that I can’t quite make out.
Andrea: Yeah, it’s a floral metallic print. And the fox is very geometric. But it almost creates like kind of it looks a little bit origami ish. There’s a lot of, you know, angles, and nothing’s really at a right angle. Well, yeah, the fox’s face, but that’s it. But it’s also tilted at a nondescript angle. So then it has all these possibilities. And I love that because it’s limitless then right, you are not bound by what your ruler can help you cut. So that’s foundation paper piecing and I started doing that with my first set of explorations in gemstones and quilting. And so I’ve produced a series of birthstone wall hangings in 2016. That, or mostly these kind of faceted looking compositions.
Ada: The gems are very cool to look at. Then when I try to think of doing it, I already, I struggled with my first, it’s not done yet, I think I gave up after a few seams. And I was just like this is when you explain it as painting by colors. Like that makes sense. But when I compare it to creating like, a crotch seam on pants, my brain is just like, can’t compute a little bit. So I will.
Andrea: When I think about creating a crotch seam like that’s three dimensional.I can probably like sew up some kind but that also boggles my mind,
Ada: You have all of these gem patterns, you have a great book called Gemology, which like even if you don’t know how to do foundation paper piecing or want to learn how to do it’s a great book, just to look at the pictures, I would recommend. It will be in our show notes. What was the inspiration when you did the study of all those faceted gems and also the book like how did that kind of come about?
Andrea: Yeah. So I went I joined the Modern Quilt Guild the Maritime Modern Quilt Guild, I applied to that craft show that I talked about with these gemstones. And so it was just an exploration because I love geometry. It comes from my architecture background probably. And he was really fascinating to me. I probably saw Kurt Pio’s paintings. He’s a South African painter. He does these like very detailed, large scale, not huge, but like large larger than life gemstone paintings. And I was like, oh, like that idea of something so tiny, being blown up big. And you can see all the detail is really cool. And then also the idea that this, like, very hard rock can be rendered in something soft, but it’s really kind of interesting to me. And that graphic quality of it. The way I did my first gemstone wall hangings was very kind of minimal. It was like this, the gemstone on a white background. I called them quilted posters, because I didn’t really like, wall hangings weren’t a thing in 2016. Like, I think it’s only been the last few years that textile wall hangings have come back. I mean, they had a thing in like the 70s.
Ada: Yeah, but as a term we use.
Andrea: Yeah, yeah. So I called them quilted posters. Because wall hangings didn’t, didn’t resonate with me, or anybody else really, or anybody, like any kind of pop culture, I guess like nobody would be like having, nobody in their 20s had a wall hanging on their wall in 2016. So, man, it makes me seem like I’ve been doing this forever.
Ada: 2016 feels like a long time ago, but it wasn’t.
Andrea: And so these quilted posters were just a fun exploration for myself. They were what I applied to the craft show with I had to simplify some of them to be able to sell some because that was something that I was just kind of struggling with. What’s the market price? What do people how do people see quilts? How do people value quilts, of course, they’re valued more if they’re a wall hanging than if they’re on your bed, because there’s just there’s so a whole lot of psychology that goes behind that, which you’ve might have explored on previous episodes of this podcast, but you know, if you can find a bed covering at Walmart, for less than $50 Like a queen size one, you know, you and you but you have to pay me $2,000 or more for a quilt that’s handmade. You know, it doesn’t, it doesn’t compute for a lot of people for some people who are very well aware of what it costs to produce anything in North America, which is a whole other discussion you know, that’s that makes sense. But if you spent how much would you pay for a painting that was the size of a queen size Bed? Yeah, like it would be several thousands It’d be well beyond $2,000. So there’s like this weird thing that I had to go through. I’m still trying to understand that fully, but I was talking about the gems. So after you know, so I was I couldn’t make it beds size gemstone quilts that just wouldn’t be feasible in terms of cost. And so they’re very laborious. There’s like lots and lots of pieces there, you know, 72 pieces maybe in, in one. The book is definitely, if you want to delve into it is not 72 pieces in the book. But so I made that series of wall hangings. And I, I got, I produced a collection of quilted products, which was not the intention when I started 3rd Story Workshop, I was actually going for patterns, right that that was what I was going to do. But I got sidetracked by this like, craft show opportunity. I get sidetracked by opportunities a lot for good, for better or for worse. So when I was at the craft show, people were asking for patterns for them, because of course, people who go to craft shows are also crafting themselves. They don’t necessarily buy a quilt if they can make it themselves. So you know, I was like, Okay, I gotta get to making these patterns. So I designed a set of four patterns in 2017, beginning of 2017. And right after I released my last one, a large gemstone quilt by Kat Jones won Best in Show at Quilt Con that year. It was a 96 inch by 96 inch princess cut diamond with lots of colors. It was beautiful, you should look it up. It’s called Bling. And so at the same time, there was another artist, MJ Kinman who’s been making gemstone quilts for a very, very long for several several years, maybe even decades before I came along. And she started selling patterns and things like that her gemstones are much more photorealistic. So mine are a little more graphic. And hers are very, very cool. They’re very, they’re much more realistic looking. And so a publisher, so Suzanne Woods from Lucky School Media, emailed me a few months in 2018. So a couple years after my first gemstone wall hangings. And she asked if I ever thought about writing a book, and I was like, maybe in like five years, like what about. It was really like, what would I write a book about? I need to have some type of like some experience. She was like oh, gemstones and quilting are really are kind of having a moment. They’re kind of trending. I was like, oh, that’s something, Yeah. Is that a thing? Anyway, from the examples I’ve given you it was. And so she wanted me to write a book about it. And so I was like, Sure. Like, I don’t, you can’t see my face, but I’ve kind of smirking because I don’t know why I had the audacity think that I could write a book. But I, I said yes. Because that’s what I do is I often say yes to opportunities I’m getting better at saying no to certain things. But so we went on this very fast paced journey of writing this book. And it was fun and a whirlwind. But it was like a tight timeline. She wanted to turn around pretty quick to capitalize on it. And so I, between when she emailed me first, and I went ahead and everything, everything in for photography and illustration, which was another, you know, yet another year after. But I did all my stuff in five months, six months. Which is a very fast book. And I was like, Is that reasonable? And my husband was like, Ah, you would get bored longer than that. Instead of like a slow burn, like it’s just like a band aid, like just like, take out the band and do it really quick. It’s gonna be stressful. Why be stressed for 18 months if you can just be stressed for 6 months. I guess, because he knows me. That’s not for everybody. But that, you know, that actually worked. worked out pretty well.
Ada: So timeline wise, around the same time, I think in 2017, you’re also an artist in residence at the Canadian Museum of Immigration and you worked on a bee, a quilt bee in quotes. And can you tell us more about how the quilt works and the story behind this particular one?
Andrea: Yeah, sure. So a bee quilt. So b-e-e quilt is a group quilt. It’s something that you work on together. So a quilt guild will have a bee and everybody will make blocks, the same block, let’s say similar colors, and they’ll come together usually it’s for charity often it’s for charity cause or just an artistic expression. They’re very cool. You should check out the modern quilt guilds like winners past winners of this group bee quilt category. They’re very cool. Very, very cool. Collaborative works. And so I, the opportunity came up that the museum was looking for an artist in residence, it was going to be their second artist in residence program ever so is the second annual so since then, there’s been more. But I proposed to make a collaborative quilt out of inspired by a book about a little girl a fictional one, but a little girl who flees Pennsylvania, in the Civil War, and she has to leave her grandmother behind. And so just her grandmother gives her this quilt top, it’s a bear paw quilt. And she brings it to Canada, they, they flee to Canada for safety. Not an, it’s not an uncommon theme, although it’s not that, Canada has its own problems, everybody, it’s not a utopia. And so, so I propose to make this collaborative quilt with people that are coming to the museum and visiting the museum. And they were telling their own, telling their own narrative, immigration narrative through making a quilt block. And I didn’t teach anybody to sew, that was not the point of the residency. The point was to express their story and understand, you know, how they fit or how, what their story is, because you don’t really, don’t often think about it, I don’t think. Maybe we did during the pandemic, but this was before the pandemic before when life was busy. Do you know what I mean? Like we weren’t so navel gazing, because we had other things to do, right? And especially for immigrants, like, if you think about an immigrant who came during the war, they don’t have time to think about, like, where they came from, or why am I here, it’s like, those existential questions, you just got to survive. Yeah, right. So you’re just moving forward in your life day by day. And so a lot of times at this museum, people come back, this is a port, it’s at the port here in Halifax, a lot of immigrants from Europe came through this port between 1920 1970. And so when they have a moment to pause, usually later on in life, they’ll come back to Halifax and visit this place. And so, you know, there’s, there’s a moment of reflection, to understand, you know, really, why am I here? Why, why did my life? Why is my life in Canada? You know, and where was my journey here? Why did my parents decide that we were going to come here, a lot of people, yeah, come to this place with the, with that kind of reflection in mind. I mean, there’s also tourists who come and kind of enjoy the museum as kids and kids are like, I don’t really, you know, they don’t necessarily know the whole their whole immigration story. But some people, you know, if they have, or they been in Canada for a long, like many, many, many generations, they still have to reach back and think like, I have French Acadian ancestors, for example. And they came here before the English came, and they have to think about their, their, their relationship with their own history and get Canadian history. It was pretty cool. So I put together you know, kind of gathered these stories, and really was a facilitator of them understanding their own story, and got to group them. According to theme, this only came to me in the middle of the process that these themes kept coming up over and over and over again, where people were talking about their families, of course, their grandparents often coming here for education or for work opportunities. Come here for love. There’s like people who are like my parents met at University in Toronto, and the latest one was from Hong Kong, who was from Germany, and then they decided to stay and have a family here. And, you know, there’s really sweet stories. And that’s, you know, there’s some, some people who come from came because of conflict in their own kind of like, or conflicts in their countries of origin. And so all these themes are very, very human, who they cross cultures, they are just part of who we are. And they’re very universal. And so I got to group them into these these thematic trees and make this gigantic quilt, which is gigantic in that it’s so it’s like as a wall piece it’s very gigantic, but it’s like, it’s like a king sized.
Ada: Yeah, it’s a 10 by 10. And you keep saying like, there’s a lot of stories for listeners, it’s called the here and elsewhere bee, you should google it. It will be in the show notes. But there are 1200 immigration stories. And so there were quite a number of people that I think you facilitated that connection with.
Andrea: Yeah, yeah, it was really, really an honor to be able to listen to all those stories. And they were some really amazing ones. I can’t get into detail. Like I have a whole lecture about it if anybody ever wants to, to listen. But it was a really amazing experience. It was the first time I felt like an artist for real. I felt like I the stories were my raw material, like and I was sculpting these stories into something else. And yeah, I felt comfortable calling myself an artist. In that process, I still couldn’t. Outside of that it was like semi an artist, resistant to the idea, like a one off one time deal. But you know, slowly building projects on real projects like that have made me again, grow into that, that artists moniker.
Ada: And I think part of that is like both community and storytelling kind of being brought into quilting as a medium. So can you tell us a little bit more about your experience being an Asian Canadian quilter and representation across like modern quilting, we’ve kind of talked to that in the podcast just by nature of like, where we specifically live like the Asian American experience across different contexts in sewing and I’m curious It’s like, for you who like lives and breathes this industry every day. What is that, like?
Andrea: There’s a couple of steps for me. Stepping into quilting, I realized that I wasn’t a man, it’s really strange. Like, I think for my whole life, I was just like, I can just do what a white man does, it’s just like, which is fine, I think it was, it was a fine way to be. But understanding quilting and the value that people put on quilts as a domestic medium, made me understand myself differently as a woman, for one thing, and which then the next step came when I went to Quilt Con in 2019. And I know there’s lots of different, most cultures have some sort of quilting, right. But when I went, there was like a handful of people of color. So, you know, it was predominantly white people, like, Caucasian people at this event, which was, I mean, it was an amazing event, I had a great time in it, like, it was a really great time. But I did notice that, you know, there’s a few people of color. And so there’s all these rich traditions that we don’t tap into, because again, we see this world through a very narrow window, I think Instagram is so great to build community and understand quilting, and get all the resources and, you know, kind of go on your own quilting journey. But that’s not all. That’s not the whole story, right? We don’t see all the different expressions of quilting across the world. There even for myself, I don’t I don’t speak Chinese very well, I understand it to a certain degree, Cantonese, my parents are from Hong Kong, but I also didn’t have grandparents, my grandparents died very young. So I didn’t have a person or people that I can speak the language to, in practice, very much. So I have a limited understanding of Cantonese, and you know, so I don’t, I can’t access the Asian, any Asian influences and quilting very easily unless they’re in English. And, and so there’s a limitation there, which is sad. But I think we can get there where we are understanding that our world is very small. And what we see is very small, and just a very just a taste of what it is to be a quilter across the globe and across time.
Ada: I guess I’m also curious, like, has your cultural identity, heritage or background shaped your business or your ideas in any way that you feel? And you, you I think you’ve shared previously on other podcasts and interviews about how your understanding and knowledge about race and culture have changed. And, and I kind of see that in pointing out how white Quilt Con was slash is, can you share more about like, what does that journey been like for you kind of understanding your identity? And how does it come into your business and kind of all of that stuff? That’s like five questions for you.
Andrea: Yeah, so it’s, it’s tricky, because my training has all been Western or in a Western context. And so even though we understand design is very Western, I’m still learning, there’s a lot to learn. And there’s a lot to dive into my own history, my own kind of relationship to textiles, is, I don’t really know the full story. Like I, my grandfather owned a textile trading company in Hong Kong. So he, like imported and exported or imported, whatever, whatever side of where they were on. Textiles to, to, like, retailers in, in the States, I think, mostly. And my uncle and I also have a similar business out of California. And so I don’t I don’t really know much about it. Because again, he died before I was born. So I think textiles, I think a lot about them because all of our clothes come from Asia, right? Not all of them, but most of them do. And so there was one project that I worked on a couple of years ago, where I was cutting up a wedding dress, and I was making it into a double wedding ring quilt motif. And it was a J Crew dress. It was second hand. I found it at a second hand clothing store, tons of fabric, beautiful dress, made in China. And when I was cutting up this dress, I was thinking about who made that dress. And you know, we they’re not neutral things, right? This person I was cutting up two dresses another dress was made with my mentor and I were looking at it we think it was made here in Nova Scotia by like, the mother of the bride or a family member. It was pretty simple 80s style lots of lace, but like kind of like boxy shoulder. It was Yeah. It was pretty simple. Like it’s sort of like it looked like it was a home serger home like always. She looked at it and was like, I’m pretty sure it was made at home, in a home on a domestic machine. But this person who made or several people who made this J Crew dress are professionals, right they know how to make clothes that is their job. And they do it well. And so I that that moment, I think I felt a lot of empathy. I felt connected to this unknown person, probably a woman, I did, like kind of make up a story about her. I don’t really like was she happy with her job, like, she doesn’t get to sew like I get to sew for a job. Right? Those are different stories. How did she get good at this? Like, how did she fall into this? Does she make enough money to help, you know meaningfully contribute to her family’s education, or livelihood or their life? And I think that relationship is different if you’re not Asian, I think putting yourself in those shoes, I think we could do it. It’s just, that’s just one more step of removal. But I know the value, it hurts when I see the value of people, especially in fast fashion, saying like, I actually you know what, there’s a part of me that internalized also, like, if it’s made in China, it’s not as good quality. I don’t think that’s true. I don’t know if it was ever true, but it certainly is not true now. But I did probably hear that a lot growing up. I think there’s a westernized part of my family history. Having my parents having grown up in British Hong Kong, right? That West is Western is better, better quality. You know, like there’s just that kind of idea that lives.
Ada: The colonized mindset, carrying through.
Andrea: Yeah. And so I’m struggling to think about it. I think about it often, but I haven’t come to any conclusions. Text me in 5 years Ada, maybe I’ll have some answers for you.
Ada: You’ll have new things to describe yourself as and probably more thoughts on it. Yeah, I’ve had similar discussions with friends, not Asian and Asian. I always think it’s like, most interesting when Asian friends don’t kind of understand the fast fashion industry, and what the implications of a $99 bridesmaid dress are, or a $200 bridal gown are like, the amount of skill that goes into these pieces. And like even, you know, like you were saying a quilt from Walmart, you have to, that has to go through a long arm or something like an industrial version to be quilted, because it is actually like there are stitches, and it’s not just painted on or printed on. So I think it’s interesting to kind of stop and think sometimes, especially when people kind of don’t necessarily do that, in their normal day to day.
Switching gears a little bit. I’m curious about where you want to see modern quilting go? Like how would you want to see it change? If any? And, yeah, do you see like an evolution beyond where it is right now?
Andrea: I do. And I’ve already seen glimpses of it. I would love to see quilt guilds invite speakers from other backgrounds to, to speak at their guilds. And I don’t mean like me, because I have a very westernized background that’s like I grew up in this. I grew up in this culture. And I was trained in this culture. So I mean, like people who have expertise, and knowledge and things that aren’t what you see what the quilting industry feeds us. And I’ve seen the Modern Quilt Guild do this pretty well. And I hope people pay attention. I think last year, they partnered with a textile museum, and SAQA I think the studio art quilts associates organization to fund these virtual talks of academic people who are studying different quilting cultures, and how quilting is expressed in different ways. And I think that’s really important for us to want to understand. I think there’s a hurdle for people some people are just like, I just want to have fun quilting, like you’d stuff, which is also okay. It’s just I think, as institutions and organizations, so we have, we can take on that responsibility to say, Hey, this is not all of quilting. It’s fun. Yes, for sure. But we can, there’s more than more to it. And we can add more voices to this. One of my partnerships in the last year has been with the black artists network in Nova Scotia. And, you know, we see African American quilting, and you know, the different African American quilt artists that have produced amazing different things, all different really cool things. But here in Nova Scotia, there’s also a very historic black community like several historic black communities in Nova Scotia. I could get into it for a very long time, but I won’t here but anyway, there are there’s a, there’s picture quilts that are produced by a lot of black artists here in Nova Scotia that tell stories, and they’re very cool. So I will, if we can find it, I’ll send you the link for the no show notes. But understanding, you know, my very vocal community and how that what, what quilting has been, again, it’s very segregated from, from the Modern Quilt Guild, like there’s no talking between the like this, this group of quilters with artists, and, you know, the Modern Quilt Guild necessarily. And so bridging those gaps, I think is a, hopefully something I would like to see in the future. It’s messy, it’s messy, it’s not, you know, and it’s work for, and so I, you know, there’s people who, I hope there are people who are willing to put that work in and take, take up that responsibility, too, to bridge, bridge our communities and learn from each other, and celebrate each other. I think there’s so much good out there.
Ada: I always describe it as building bridges, not wedges, especially between groups of color, people of color. I love the approach that you take to this, and that it’s kind of about building community and educating people and doing the work. You also happen to have a master’s in education, which, you know, is impressive enough in itself, aside from all your other accomplishments, but I guess I’m curious, like, now that you teach in the context of quilting, what do you hope to convey or instill in students through your teaching process?
Andrea: There’s a couple of things I think about, if I’m teaching technique, which is not my preference, because I’m not actually, I’m very still I find myself, I see myself as very fairly new quilter. But there are some quilters that dive deeply into technique, and like Master a certain technique, and then can teach that technique very well. I’m not one of those people I like, I’m very project focused. So I think I’ve come to realize that my, the way that I move from project to project is not to deep dive into a single thing, but to chase an idea and find a way to express that idea, regardless of technique. So if I might come to come to a totally different technical solution to one project than another because the idea is what I’m chasing. So I think in any of the teaching that I do both in workshops, whether that’s focused on technique, and my lectures is to bring people along in their creative journey. So it’s always been a goal of mine. It’s just like, take that next step. And whether that’s so that you can just be a little bit more confident in the way you think about color. Or if it’s just kind of broadening your horizons about how you think about your own quilting, or just mastering it, you know, foundation paper piecing, which is probably the technique that I have the most mastery of. And so that is always the goal is to bring people along, and in their journeys, just just to push them a little bit. Like not in a pushy way. Just be like, let’s take a step out or step forward or, and so that is kind of what frames my teaching a lot.
Ada: So they can kind of improve.
Andrea: Yeah, yeah. And I think that there’s so much, you know, I think there’s so much creativity that we have, and it’s bound by a lot of parameters and a lot of constraints on our time and our mental space. But if we want to we can be a space of self growth and self understanding. And then also understanding what’s around you.
Ada: So speaking of pushing people to the next level and kind of contextual awareness. You are also I guess this is something that we’ve seen as people achieve, like the next level in their sewing world related careers. They become ambassadors of things and companies. And so you are a Spoonflower Ambassador. Spoonflower, the fabric printing company. And I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see you on that blog post, as well as Leila Kelleher who we’ve talked about previously on this episode, and then Rumana Dawood, aka @thelittlepomegranate, just on this list of this year’s ambassadors, I think you were on last year as well. Can you share a little bit more about what you’re working on in this space and how these kind of endorsements and ambassadorships kind of help you and help your business evolve?
Andrea: Yeah, I’m pretty, this is my only ambassadorship that I’ve ever taken on or sought out. Maybe Oh, no, I was an aurifil ambassador at one point. But this one is really special to me because I Spoonflower’s, there’s a lot of reasons I like Spoonflower as a company, I think their practices are environmentally conscious. I think digital printing as much as it’s not, not ideal. I think the technology is catching up but it’s people don’t love it, but at the same time it is responsible. I think it’s a responsible choice to think about digital printing on fabric, for the sake of a lot of less resources a lot, a lot less water and human resources or, you know, and so that was something that I think about. And so, using Spoonflower fabrics, that is one of the reasons I like doing that. Another thing is, their commitment to diversity. They’ve always had for a long time, they’ve understood that and actually had it play out in their company. And so prioritizing that is important for some, you know, for me, when I’m looking for opportunities, is this company, what does their company look like? And can I contribute meaningfully to my own practice, and then their business, but through diversity, and understanding different points of view and stories and things? So, I think, you know, I also, they pay fairly, which is not always the case, like, it’s not always a given with ambassadorship programs. So that is something that I thought about from the beginning, again, like I was still thinking, like, you know, the, the attitude that like, if I was a single parent, could I take this on, and actually feed my family. And so I’m excited. I like, they’re fantastic to work with. And actually, Leila and I are collaborating on something in the fall with Spoonflower, which is exciting. And so I just talked to her last week. We’re excited
Ada: That’s exciting. And I can’t wait for us to post all about it. Obviously, you two are kind of leading in your own spaces and sewing you and quilting she clothing and pattern design and inclusive patterns. I’m curious, you’ve also made some clothes, as you’ve shared briefly. In the copious amounts of scrolling that we’ve done in research for this episode, are you interested at all in making anything else aside from quilts whether they be art for your wall or for your bed? And furniture in your house? Like?
Andrea: Yeah, so quilting clothes I’ve made. So I have two pieces of quilting clothing. I’m making another one in the next month or so. The next yeah, with spoonflower as well. But actually, you know what? They’re going out on exhibit next week in Fredericton. And I won’t get to wear them for a month. But they are cool. So I made them in 2019. And this was actually like, I think quilted clothing was on the runway before that 2017 2018. And then now it’s coming into the fashion world. Like, mainstream fashion. So, yeah, so I’m always trying to think about quilting clothing, because I think it’s really cool in that it’s so structural, like it’s so bulky. And it can I think of it kind of like housing, your body and like wrapping your body in one. I think that’s why quilted coats have been so popular in the last couple years because we want to be wrapped up in something cozy and warm. We want to be comfortable and comforted I would say. So yes, there are I will continue to think about garments. It’s kind of ongoing. I have another one that I’m thinking about. For a grant funded project. I have a like I have a few I printed out patterns. Like there’s a couple of garment patterns that are pinned up on my wall. And they’re printed out large scale, I just haven’t done anything with them yet. So it is always on my mind. And I will show you once I get more made, hopefully the spoonflower one, that’s coming up as quick. It’s just a vest so there’ll be some small, small. And so hopefully fast.
Ada: Patterns on the wall, I don’t have patterns on the wall. I have patterns in a queue, like physically lined up to work on kind of similarly, including quilt patterns. But the Instagram posts of your, I think it would have been a Wiksten shift or Wiksten top from a while ago. Definitely inspired by that I had the same fabric. I think a lot of people have gravitated towards that, like Jacquard, quilted fabric from Merchant and Mills. But it’s so great. It’s so warm and comfy. And you’re definitely right about when you quilt something that it gives it that body and it’s almost like the extra thread kind of helps it become that structure. And so as we draw to a close, you already kind of hinted that you’re working on something with Spoonflower with Leila for the fall which we will be so excited to see. Is there anything else that you want to share about what’s next for Third Story Workshop?
Andrea: Two things, I have an exhibition going up next week in Fredericton, New Brunswick at the craft college there with my collaborator Alissa Kloet of Keep House Studio. So that will be for local folks if they want to go to if they’re in Fredericton, which is maybe not, maybe not the audience that we’re talking to you right now, but that’s fine. But having exhibitions is one thing that is vital to an artist’s work, to be able to show their work and to be able to talk about it. It’s a ton of work to put together an exhibition, I’m actually sewing sleeves on some, some quilts. So Alissa and I have worked on a collaboration for the last year, almost two years now called Fat Quarterly, where she is a hand screen printer. Local, she’s a textile designer, and she’s hand screen prints fabric. And so we put together designs from her in a fat quarter bundle. And I designed a pattern that goes with that. And it’s a little kit that you get. And so we’re launching a new one in May, which is exciting. It’s gingko leaf themed. So it’s exciting because it’s different. And I’ve got a little bit obsessed with gingko trees, I think they’re so fascinating. And so she and I are putting on to this exhibit next month. So we get to see actually all the quilts together, most of the quilts together, which is, you know, we’ve only seen them separately. Like I have a quilt, like, so it’ll be interesting to see all the fat quarters together, and the quilts together, as well as some of our own work. And then I have a public art project. So when I started out, I wanted to see quilts outside of the quilting world. I’ve alluded to this, or mentioned this a couple of times already in this in our conversation. But I want to see quilts really, really big, like building size big. So I in the last year, I’ve been working on a project with the province, here in Nova Scotia, and I’ve designed some artwork that is going on a parking building downtown. And so it’s the first panel went up this week, and they’re about eight storeys tall. And I haven’t posted a picture yet I posted some progress in my stories, but I don’t have a photo on my feed yet of that. But that will be coming, it’s going to take months to get them all up. But construction projects, they’re just the timelines are long, like we’re used to, you know, sometimes on Instagram world, we think of projects as one minute long, when we know it actually takes like five or six or 10 or 20 hours. But this is like several, like it’s years, years and months. And so and a lot of people, and it’s pretty cool to see it come together. But one of the main questions through that product that I asked was about cultural appropriation. There are several cultural, historic cultural groups in Nova Scotia that I had got to have conversations with individuals from those communities. And it was a huge, huge question. It was a hard that was the main, I would say the main work of the project was having conversations around this topic. It was tough, but it was a journey. And yeah, it’s coming together.
Ada: I don’t want to say that’s one of our favorite topics on this podcast. It’s probably like the bane of our existence at this point. People are probably sick of hearing me talk about it. But since that’s months away from being done or posted, kind of in a more final state, where can our listeners find you and follow along and get updates?
Andrea: Yeah, so you can find me on Instagram @3rdstoryworkshop. That’s 3-rd Story Workshop. And 3rdstoryworkshop.com. And those are the best places.
Ada: Amazing. Thank you so much, Andrea, for being on the podcast today. I really appreciated getting to know you and letting me ask you all these invasive questions to learn more about you and your work. I’m so glad that you made time for us and I’m sure our listeners will be excited to hear this as well.
Andrea: Thanks Ada.
Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on kofi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and allows us to give back to our all volunteer team. You can make a monthly or one time donation at ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective. You can find this link in our show notes, on our website and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram @asiansewistcollective, that’s one word asiansewistcollective. You can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would appreciate it if you could rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts PocketCasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Nicole: All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website. That’s AsianSewistCollective.com and we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes at firstname.lastname@example.org This episode is brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Ada Chen, produced by Aarti Ravi and edited by Aarti Ravi and Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.