Creature Comforts

'Blue Bird of Happiness,' a quilt by Barbara McKie, of Lyme.
"Blue Bird of Happiness," a quilt by Barbara McKie, of Lyme.

Lyme - An image of a sea lion sunbathing near several iguanas was printed on one sheet of fabric, but the two types of animals portrayed are texturally worlds apart.

Quilter Barbara McKie, of Lyme, uses a technique called thread painting to add texture to her digital imagery quilts, where photographs are printed onto sheets of paper that are heat-transferred onto polyester fabric.

"You use thread almost like you use paint," McKie, 69, said.

Thread painting does, in fact, create a visual effect similar to that of numerous strokes of a paintbrush on a canvas. The technique helped McKie achieve the visual for the plush, fuzzy texture of the couch cushion that Preston the dog leans his chin on in "I'm Watching You," a piece one notices immediately upon entering McKie's studio on her Bill Hill Road property.

McKie's devotion to digital imagery quilting has earned her numerous accolades from associations and judged shows around the world. Dozens of ribbons from her shows hang on one wall of her studio, an expanded garage that she shares with her husband, Jim, a sculptor.

The International Quilt Association recently named two of McKie's quilts as finalists in its annual spring show.

McKie, a former microbiologist and computer consultant among other things, began quilting 30 years ago. She quickly developed a contemporary taste that led her to op art, or optical art, where two-dimensional images appear to pop out into the third dimension.

She took a 15-year hiatus from quilting in 1978, when she pursued various degrees in higher education. By the time McKie returned to quilting, she discovered that quilting technology had improved dramatically.

McKie always had a fondness for photography and began dabbling in digital imagery quilt-making. She now works almost exclusively on quilts based on photographs she takes of animals and nature and is especially fond of basing quilts on photos she takes from trips abroad.

Because her heat press is only 16-by-20 inches, she must piece together printed fabrics to create one quilt. Each quilt takes her about a month of half-day-long work days, often seven days a week.

She has no plans to quit; she loves "the creative thing" too much. More quilts are in progress, and dozens of her works are scattered in shows across the country.

One piece, a quilt depicting a baby sea lion nose-to-nose with another sea lion, is displayed through Saturday as part of the Machine Quilters Exposition in Providence.

For more on McKie, visit www.mckieart.com.

Barbara McKie of Lyme works on her latest quilt.
Barbara McKie of Lyme works on her latest quilt.

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