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SYMMETRY & SURPRISE: The Kaleidoscope as Design Inspiration

Posted by Paula Nadelstern on Jun 14th 2022

When you work in a series, the questions you ask yourself get more complex but the answers get simpler. I know this because I’ve been absorbed in a series of kaleidoscopic quilts since 1987. I’m now working on the 45th quilt in the series. One of the inherent perks of this kind of focus is sudden intuitive leaps of understanding—actual breakthroughs to new and deeper perspectives on problems you didn’t even realize needed to be resolved. It feels as if, out of the blue, effortlessly, you now know something essential that you did not know the second before. The feeling is both surprising and fulfilling because you intuitively understand that the new knowledge will forever be part of your arsenal of design strategies.

My interest in things kaleidoscopic began 35 years ago when I was struck by a bolt of fabric – a sumptuous, sinfully expensive, bilaterally symmetrical Liberty of London fabric known as Ianthe. Little did I know that an initial quarter yard purchase would change my life forever leading me to a new career. The insight from this anecdote is obvious: buy that piece of fabric no matter how expensive it is.

If you ask me how long it takes to make a quilt (and I’m asked that a lot), I’d have to give my standard answer: My whole life. Because every time I start a quilt, I bring everything I’ve learned in the past to the table. Sometimes I revisit a theme or a technique explored previously. Sometimes a quilt is creative kindling for another or a response to the last.

I’m enormously proud to announce my newest C&T collaboration: KALEIDOSCOPE QUILTS, a 2023 wall calendar with twelve of quilts. Available July 2022. Scroll down to see three quilts plus detail images.

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Several of the quilts will be included in a solo exhibit of my work at VISIONS MUSEUM OF TEXTILE ART in San Diego, CA. July 16-October 2, 2022

Right now, I’m immersed in the 45th quilt tentatively titled KALEIDOSCOPIC XLV: Omani Arches. Started in August 2021, the quilt references an unforgettable 2016 trip to Muscat, Oman on my way to a teaching gig in Dubai. It will premiere at my solo exhibit at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, NE, November 9, 2022 to April 9, 2023. I’m still not sure how the components will lay out.

I plan to sneak a preview of the quilt into my June 18th lecture for VIRTUAL QUILT FESTIVAL titled SYMMETRY & SURPRISE: The Kaleidoscope as Design Inspiration. You can register here.

KALEIDOSCOPIC XXXVIII: Millifiori

KALEIDOSCOPIC XXXVIII Millifiori

2013, Bronx, NY

82” x 82”

TEXTILES: All cotton fabric designed by Paula Nadelstern

TECHNIQUES: Machine pieced, long arm quilted.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Adi Talwar

There are two kinds of surprises: the meticulously planned kind and the happy coincidence. Making this quilt allowed me to synthesize elements of both, to merge control and spontaneity to spark something unexpected. It was a very satisfying process for a Patternista like me, using an abundance of different fabrics. Each individual little slice is its own entity, saturated with its own persona. It is composed of 32 blocks laid out in five rows.

KALEIDOSCOPIC XLI: The Prague Spanish Synagogue Ceiling

KALEIDOSCOPIC XLI The Prague Spanish Synagogue Ceiling

2018, Bronx, NY

Dimensions:64” W X 79” L

Textiles: Cotton fabrics all designed by the artist

Techniques: Machine pieced and long arm machine quilted

Photography:Adi Talwar

As soon as I looked up at the Prague Spanish Synagogue ceiling in 2014, I knew I’d found a quilt idea. I am a Patternista hardwired to see pattern everywhere. Here was a glut of architectural designs bumping into each other. Taking two years, this quilt contains over 80 fabrics designed by me in the past twenty years for Benartex. There are at least a thousand camouflaged seams. I think I could have worked on this one quilt for the rest of my career, editing, auditioning and refining as the nuances and possibilities of the concept evolved. 

KALEIDOSCOPIC XLIV: Continue to Continue

KALEIDOSCOPIC XLIV Continue to Continue

2021, Bronx, NY

46.5” x 56.5”

TEXTILES: : All cotton fabrics designed by the artist

TECHNIQUES: Machine pieced and quilted

Photography:Adi Talwar

This is my quarantine quilt. When the world shut down in mid-March 2020, I escaped into a barely begun quilt, relying on the design strategies that are the heartbeats of my quilts—symmetry and serendipity laced with abundant color and pattern—to lead me, however long it took, to a happy ending.

The image loosely references the mirror system of a Scalene triangle, meaning the triangle has no equal sides and no equal angles. This creates an image that is fragmented and not reflected perfectly.  

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Images provided by and published with the permission of Paula Nadelstern. Images may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the artist Paula Nadelstern.

Shop 2023 Kaleidoscope Quilts Wall Calendar