I'm Not Here to Make Friends: The Reality Show Villain Quilts of Alissa Rowinsky Wright

Reality TV stars inspire blogs, clothing lines, fragrances, and even foods (SkinnyGirl™ Margarita, anyone?). So why NOT a series of quilts?

Nov 1, 2011 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

So, I'm part of this group called the Los Angeles Modern Quilt Guild and it's exactly what it sounds like: a big bunch of quilters who like making things that tend to veer off the beaten path, tradition-wise. There are meetings once a month where all kinds of stuff happens: members show off what they're working on and get feedback, we host fabric and gift swaps, people demonstrate certain techniques -- all with snacks and beer. It's a hell of a lot of fun.

My socks are regularly knocked off my the work people bring in to these meetings. One guild member in particular, Alissa Rowinsky-Wright, also made me laugh my head off when she unveiled a project she has embarked on called the "I'm Not Here to Make Friends" series, an exploration of reality show "villains" as interpreted in thread-and-fabric.

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I was surprised to find out that Alissa has owned a sewing machine for a little under two years, and has been quilting for less time than that. I actually used to own a craft shop where Alissa took her first quilting class, so I'm especially excited and proud that she took the leap from making simple pillows and the like to creating these full-fledged art pieces without any hesitation. Crafting takes balls, people!

Her first attempt at one of these wall quilts was 4-time "Survivor"/2-time "Amazing Race" contestant "Boston Rob" Mariano. She made him in hopes of cheering up come fellow "Survivor"-loving friends who were going through a tough time. Although she was completely winging the process (and there was definitely trial and error), she finally settled on a method that worked for her.

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"I find a picture online of the person and then I have my husband, who is a Photoshop whiz, do his magic to the picture and simplify it into 10 colors or so. Then I print out a color image and work from that as a visual reference. I do all the cutting freehand.

Once I've decided what colors of fabric I'm going to use, I get out my Misty Fuse and iron it onto the fabric. The way the Misty Fuse works is that you iron it onto the fabric, it fuses with the fabric and basically turns the fabric into an iron-on. So once all my fabric colors have been Misty Fuse-infused, I start cutting out the pieces of the face.

Once all the face pieces are cut out and arranged (arranging them perfectly is the hardest part. Every millimeter you move an eye makes it look like a totally different person.) I iron the whole thing together. You only get one chance to iron it together, so you have to be very careful. The eyes are definitely the hardest part."

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...and after doing all THAT, she stitches the whole thing together with about a zillion different colors of thread and binds the edges. I love Alissa's description of her assembly process, since it reminds me of the many ways that quilting (that stereotypically crotchety and looked-down-upon artform) has so much in common with painting, except you're creating your images with fabric.

Seeing as Boston Rob turned out so well, she decided to keep going and turn this thing into a series, naming it after that well-worn phrase reality show contestants seem to compulsively repeat for the cameras. The inspiration for her next quilt came from the "arrogant, pretentious, and unpopular" Marcel Vigneron from "Top Chef."

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Alissa says she never realized she had a gift for working with color and fabric until she embarked on this crafty adventure. She also shared that working on these quilts focused on so-called reality show "villains" can actually affect her feelings towards them.

"I always used to hate Marcel and root against him on "Top Chef" until I made his quilt (which was between when he was on "Top Chef" and on "Top Chef All-Stars"). Now I love him. Making these quilts makes me feel so much affection for the people I'm portraying. I feel like I know them better afterward."

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Wondering which other reality TV stars are on Alissa's to-do list? She told me that after wrapping up work on Marcel, she'd started making a Spencer Pratt quilt, but it stalled out because, "I just hate looking at his stupid face!" However, she's got a partly-finished Gretchen Jones (winner of "Project Runway" season 8) quilt in the hopper, and plans to tackle Abby Lee from "Dance Moms" at some point as well. It seems like a public showing of the completed series will be a no-brainer.