Speaking with Grand Forks quilter Rae Salkeld is an immersive experience. On the couches, quilts. Walls, adorned with fabric, stitched pieces of art. The rag rug under the coffee table – soft and lightly padded too.
The drapery designer has always been crafty and had an affinity for stitching. Salked completed her degree in textiles and design at the University of British Columbia in the 80s and clothes for her and her family, but it wasn’t until she moved to Grand Forks in the early ’90s that quilting took over.
“A friend took me to the local quilt guild,” Salkeld recalled. “That was the beginning of the end.” The project that solidified her identity as a quilter was a baby blanket for a nephew.
After hundreds of quilts, many award ribbons and what would certainly be thousands of miles of stitching later, Salkeld is taking her latest work of art to the American Quilter’s Society International Quilt Show, this week in Paducah, Kentucky.
This week, her quilt – a blue and white textile reproduction of an ornate tile floor from a church in Costa Rica – hangs beside works from 38 American states and 14 countries beyond Canada and the U.S.
Salkeld said she was encouraged by a friend last April, while at another quilt show in Idaho, to submit the “Costa Rica Challenge.”
“She said, ‘Well you have to put it in a show,’” Salkeld recalled. “She said, ‘More people deserve to see it than just you.’”
The Grand Forks artist insists that she doesn’t quilt for the prize money (though there’s a total of $121,250 USD up for grabs in Kentucky), nor to keep them for herself. Her works, for example, line walls at Hardy View Lodge, and she has trunks full in her home that she tries to offer to friends and family, in addition to selling what she creates.
“I started that way,” Salkeld said. “But, I mean, I have a large family but there’s only so many quilts that you can give away.
“I do so much quilting, I had to start to slow myself down from mass producing,” Salkeld said of why she took on a challenge that a friend put to her while on a quilting retreat in Costa Rica in January 2018.
“It was the first time I’ve ever done anything like this,” Salkeld said of the project. Meaning, “Costa Rica Challenge” was the first time that she’d made a quilt from a picture. When she began planning how to piece together the quilt’s second border – grecian blue and grey patches anchored with flower-like corners of navy – she felt the challenge take hold.
“I was getting frustrated with the angles and trying to figure out how tile work is different from fabric,” she recalled of the experience, when she was working on the project next with a friend visitng. Salkeld had to improvise in the grouted spaces of the tile work she was aiming to recreate.
“How to translate their angles and their parametres into fabric was frustrating me, […] so I had to put it aways because I didn’t feel it was fair to be grumpy while she was visiting.”
Eventually, she figured it out. She would piece together a four-inch block, consisting of 47 pieces. She then went on to multiply the section 44 times.
“I knew it was possible, it was just a matter [of concentration]. It was the most frustrating part and the part I’m most proud of because I accomplished it.”
Though she’s not expecting piles of cash prizes, Salkeld said she’s looking forward to Paducah because it means an opportunity to learn from other prolific and prominent artists.
“I just love seeing what everyone’s doing,” Salkeld said. “I can spend hours looking at a quilt and I take pictures of details that I want to maybe reproduce.”