Judy Bell ’71

Last October Judy was the featured artist at the 37th annual Quilt Show, sponsored by Washington State Quilters. Judy worked for two decades as a family practice physician in California. Her family’s roots trace back to the hills of West Virginia, where one of her grandmothers was a quilter. That fact and occasional visits to quilt museums in New England and Europe during a 40-year span kept her interested in quilting. When she retired in 2006 she started making quilts herself. She uses a long-arm quilting machine, “basically a sewing machine mounted on a big frame.” Judy has taken classes and taught herself the craft by watching videos and reading books. Since her retirement she’s made about 50 quilts. Asked in an interview about her thought process during the making of a quilt, Judy replied, “I think about classical music or Billy Joel or Elton John, because I like to have music on while I’m quilting. But I think about quilting and various patterns and what I’m going to do half the day, because it’s so fascinating to me. I spent my whole professional life being very technical, very scientific, very linear. And there’s a lot of that in quilting. You have to sew a seam and make one point come to another point. But what’s fun is that I can also ask myself, ’Can I try this? What if I do that?’ I couldn’t do that very much when I was in medicine.” Judy’s extensive post-retirement travel has influenced her work. She’s learned about fabric arts in countries such as Mozambique, Tanzania and Nepal. “Quilting has given me a way to connect to the women in those countries,” Judy said. “They may not quilt, but you can still immerse yourself in color and fabric.” Interestingly, Japan is a country where quilting is taking off. Explained Judy: “Japan already had a long tradition of handmade fabrics, but not patchwork quilts. Then the TV series “Little House on the Prairie” was syndicated in Japan about 15 years ago and became wildly popular. Because there were a lot of quilts in the show, reproducing this primitive American art form took over in Japan. Now, the Tokyo International Quilt Festival in January is the biggest quilt show in the world, with a whole section devoted to “Little House on the Prairie”-style quilts made by Japanese women.” Judy matriculated to K from Hillsdale, Michigan. At K, she majored in psychology and studied abroad in Erlangen, Germany.

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