At the Festival of Quilts in August, the Crea team met some truly inspiring quilters. Among them was American art quilter Susanne Miller Jones, who created (and curated!) an amazing international display called ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Here she shares the story of her own quilting journey and how the exhibition came into being.

When did you first start quilting? What inspired you to start?

My grandmother taught me to sew when I was five, but I didn’t start quilting until 2010. Lisa Ellis, former president of Studio Art Quilt Associates, suggested that quilting would give me both a hobby and a community of dear friends who shared my passion. I planned to make lap quilts and baby quilts and went into traditional quilting wholeheartedly.

I made my first art quilt for a contest run by the Quilt Alliance in 2013. It won a Judge’s Choice and I was flabbergasted. I made my second art quilt for the Sacred Threads fibre art exhibition at my church, and it was followed by Rain for the Art Quilt Challenge, ‘Inspired by the Beatles’. After that, I was hooked.

Who came up with the idea to commemorate the space programme and lunar adventures?

On July 20, 2014, my husband and I saw a news item about the 45th anniversary of the moon landing. I remarked that a collection commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission would be cool. My ever-encouraging husband said that I should do that. I knew nothing about creating challenges, let alone exhibitions. But my friend Donna DeSoto had worked with Schiffer Publishing on ‘Inspired by the Beatles’, so I filled out a book proposal for them, outlining the components of the collection. Schiffer asked me to write the book and then I had to find the artists to make the quilts.

Tell us about ‘Fly me to the Moon’: the project, book and show at the Festival of Quilts.

The title of the collection has been ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ (FMTTM) from day one. I promised Schiffer 90–130 quilts in the book (what was I thinking?). Through the magic of social media, over 200 quilts were submitted, including 179 art quilts from artists in eight countries: the US, Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, New Zealand and Australia. It includes quilts about all the Apollo missions and astronauts and all things lunar. My artists have become friends and I’ve been privileged to meet many of them. The collection premiered at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas, in 2016.

FMTTM has been shown at NASA and is scheduled for several more exhibitions there.

This summer the 179 were seen by visitors to the National Quilt Museum (44), the Virginia Quilt Museum (100), and at the Birmingham Festival of Quilts (35). It was such a privilege this year to travel to Paducah, Kentucky, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Birmingham, England, to see them on display and meet even more of the artists.

I must give a big shout out to Annedore Neumann from Germany, creator of Honeymoon in Amalfi.She wrote to the Birmingham FoQ organizers to recommend that they book FMTTM. She also spent hours manning the exhibition with me and my husband, Todd. Thanks also to artist Claire Passmore for helping with the hanging.

Could you pick two quilts and describe them to us, explaining how they were made.

At the Birmingham FoQ, we had an incredible variety of techniques and materials. Since you asked me to describe two quilts and explain how they were made, I have chosen my own and a quilt by Ellen Icochea and Jayne Bentley Gaskins,both shown at the FoQ.

My own piece, Connected by the Moon, was made in loving memory of my maternal grandparents, Annie and Clifford Mullins. They were engaged when he was shipped overseas to fight in France during World War I. Annie stayed behind in Alabama. They were young and in love. It was before technology and cell phones. Letters were slow. So they devised a way to be connected. Each night after the sun went down and the moon came up, they would both look at the moon. They were connected by its light and watching its changing phases. This story was told to me by my grandmother. The quilt uses sparkly polyester costume fabric, lamé, and organza. The people and continents were embroidered. The moon’s reflection was made with opalescent organza and Holoshimmer thread.

The subject of my other choice, Captain James Arthur ‘Jim’ Lovell, Jr,is a veteran of four space flights, but it is Lovell’s command of Apollo 13, his final flight, that is best remembered. During the 56th hour of the mission, there was an ‘explosion’ in oxygen tank two, causing a leak in tank one, resulting in the loss of all Command Module oxygen. The mission was aborted and the lives of the astronauts hung in the balance. They used the Lunar Module as a life boat, as it still had oxygen, battery power and propulsion. Lovell had to manually adjust the course twice to get them safely back to Earth.

When artist Ellen Icochea was at work on the quilt, her own disaster struck. Ellen describes what followed. “After completing Captain Lovell’s face [by thread-painting], I became ill and artist Jayne Gaskins kindly agreed to share her talents and completed the quilt. It is an honor to have co-created a fiber art portrait of Captain James A. Lovell, Jr. who valiantly and creatively faced life-threatening issues in Apollo 8 and 13 in order to successfully return the astronauts to Earth.” The resulting piece, a true collaboration between Ellen and Jayne, is thread-painted and trapuntoed on duck canvas.

And your plans for the immediate future…?

I have two other collections, ‘HERstory Quilts: A Celebration of Strong Women’, currently touring. ‘OURstory: Human Rights Stories in Fabric’ will premiere at the International Festival of Quilts in Houston this autumn. The book will be out in 2019.