Behind the Scenes of Quilt Expo: Award-Winning Artist Cindy Frese

September 10, 2015 Wisconsin Public Television Leave a Comment

“Everybody loves everybody at Quilt Expo. Strangers are like best friends. I usually go with a few other ladies from the quilt guild, and there are vendors who are like family to us.” — Cindy Frese, Kenosha, WI

When Cindy Frese, one of the first-prize winners from last year’s Quilt Expo, says she’s “quilted in some odd places,” it’s an understatement.

“I did 20 years in the Navy and met my husband there. He worked with the State Department when I retired, and I followed him around to different embassies,” Frese says. “We lived in Nigeria for a couple of years, and were there for their first democratic election. We were in Egypt on September 11. We lived in Mexico and Mali. The first day after I retired, we went into Kuwait. That was in 1991, and the oil fires were still burning. So I’m taking two toddlers in, the first family to go back in after the war.”

Frese started quilting after the birth of her first daughter, and despite distance or difficulty, Frese took her hobby wherever she went.

“Kuwait was great for quilting because you could go to the open markets – there were no stores open at the time,” Frese says. “The ambassador’s wife and I were the only ones there, as far as government families went, but we met some oil company wives. We had nothing to do, so I taught them to quilt.”

Throughout her travels, Frese has found a way to work sewing and quilting into her life.

“My husband knows I pack more fabric than clothing. I can always sew something if I need to,” Frese says. “One time I did turn quilting fabric into evening gowns. Barbara Bush came to visit in Kuwait, and suddenly everyone needed something to wear.”

As she became familiar with different cultures, Frese began to appreciate the unique aspects of each region’s fabrics.

Are you ready for Quilt Expo this morning? Here’s a very fast 15-second sneak peek at the quilt contest exhibit. We hope you’ll get to spend a bit more time with these beautiful quilts today through Saturday!

Posted by Quilt Expo on Thursday, September 10, 2015


“In Africa, the fabrics tend to be heavier, because of all the dyes that are used in batiking. There’s a lot of wax in it,” Frese says. “You can get real indigo in Africa, too. Egyptian cotton, always wonderful, right? Well, don’t try hand quilting through it! It’s so tightly woven! But if you’re flexible and find different ways to work, wherever you travel you can find fabric and incorporate it. It makes it interesting.”

After moving back to Kenosha about 10 years ago, Frese joined the Southport Quilters Guild and started attending Quilt Expo.

“The Quilt Expo has some of the best instructors in the world, and the judges give the best comments,” Frese says. “The first quilt I sent in was terrible, but they sent me such good comments. I took all of the information, and the next year I got an honorable mention. Now I just send them in, not to win anything but to get the judges comments. I send them in because I learn so much.”

Frese’s award-winning quilt from 2014, “Quezal,” was inspired by another medallion quilt, designed by Gai Perry, called “Tiffany.”

“I loved the way (Perry) put the pieces together, assembling the center,” Frese says. “I was fascinated by it. I decided to do it again, but I used a number of borders around it instead. I called it Quezal, a glass company that was a rival of Tiffany’s at the same time.”

Frese completes and enters one quilt each year, with each project taking between seven and twelve months to complete. Her entry this year is a more traditional quilt, called a double star, but sewn in batik fabrics.

“I saw this design in a magazine 30 years ago as a table runner,” Frese says. “Now I know why it was a table runner. It was the hardest thing I ever pieced! My new goal is a series of Amish quilts in silks.  Silks give a lot of character to the Amish design.”

Frese says she looks for color and design when finding inspiration, but most of her attention is dedicated to quality stitching.

“I think stitching in and of itself is a wonderful design element,” Frese says. “I don’t know why I keep quilting. It’s just something inside of me. I have so many quilts in my head.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *