Outside, steel grey skies darken into evening as ice-laden winds twist through the trees and moan softly, “slip some brandy in your tea and make something weird.” I love fabric. My Lithuanian grandaunt and grandmother worked in the textile mills in New Hampshire, so it’s probably in my blood. I love monsters. I grew up in the seventies and I’m still one of those monster-kids who thinks that Dracula is my friend and that the Wolf Man deserves some extra treats. What better way to combine my passion for liquor, fabric, and monsters than to make Monster Quilts?
One of my inspirations for this project was the work of Jeff Carlson, a graphic designer from Chicago. Carlson creates vintage-looking monster iron-on transfers based on the Mani-Yack designs from the 1960s. The long-defunct Mani-Yack company specialized in sports teams and weird creatures a-la Big Daddy Roth. They only produced six Universal Monster designs, which are now collector’s items. Carlson has expanded the range to over fifty. You can check out his work here.
As soon as I saw Carlson’s rendition of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) from the 1979 cult classic Phantasm—I was all in. I found some pale grey fabric and used it as the background for the transfer. Light colors work best for these; also, once you remove the paper you can NOT expose the transfer to a hot iron, or it will melt. (Do this part before you’ve had too much party liquor.) Next, I watched Phantasm for inspiration as I culled through my fabric stash. I decided to frame the Tall Man with shapes reminiscent of mausoleum vaults and added a stained glass ceiling (harkening to Phantasm V).
After piecing together the central scene, I decided to create a simple border with creepy fabric and black strips, giving it the overall effect of celluloid film. Using fusible web, I added the sentinel spheres—silver orbs that fly through the mausoleum and drill through the skulls of the Tall Man’s enemies. Good times. Then I did some simple top quilting and…voila! A memorial to both Phantasm and Angus Scrimm, who died in 2016.
Once is never enough, especially when I saw Carlson’s tribute to Hammer Horror’s 1966 film, The Reptile. With a nod toward Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter, this gothic film tells the story of Anna Franklin, the daughter of a mad scientist. While conducting research in Malaysia, her father dabbled in the black arts of a snake cult and, as a result, Anna was cursed. When aroused or exposed to heat, the otherwise sweet and talented Anna transforms into a rapacious reptilian. Hissss, hissss. She ultimately gets revenge on her cruel father by penetrating him with her fangs.
For the quilt, I wanted to showcase the Reptile’s menacing beauty. I surrounded her with a wreath of flowers and fungi—flora that thrive in warm and wet environments like the Reptile’s subterranean cave—as well as moths and butterflies as symbols of transformation.
My last quilt was inspired by one of Carlson’s very first designs—Vincent Price as Dr. Phibes. Art film, dark comedy, kitsch, violence, romance, fashion— The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) has it all.
In designing this quilt, I wanted to keep the mid-century modern vibe while paying tribute to both Phibes and his assistant, Vulnavia. I used the film’s glowing organ-elevator (do what you want with that) as a background and added gold lamé bubbles reminiscent of Vulnavia’s garment and headdress.
Monsters are only one dark alley in the world of creepy crafting. The wicked possibilities are endless. Have fun and remember–subversive quilting is good for the darkling soul.