Seattle Sunday: The Hip Modernist Quilter: Jonathan Armstrong
As you can imagine, I get pretty excited when I make a new discovery. Whether it's a new retailer, a great deal or an unusual pairing, I can't wait to shout it from the rooftops.
Ever since I met Jonathan Armstrong, a local web developer, very stylish man, deep thinker and skilled maker, I've been sharing his story. And people love it. So, it's only fair that I share it with you, Dear Reader.
Jonathan sews quilts by hand. And they are unbelievable. Fortunately for me, he has one on display at Ludlow in Phinney Ridge. (That place is so incredible, it warrants an additional post of its own. Keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks.)
We recently caught up with Jonathan at Ludlow to hear his thoughts on style, quilting and the power of making things by hand. Enjoy!
Poplin: I know we are both eager to discuss your quilts, as you are so passionate about them. But, I'd love to start things off with a few questions about your personal style and the evolution of menswear as you see it.
You have a great sense of style. Tell me more about how that developed and how you keep it up.
Jonathan: When I was younger, I was very into punk rock. I wanted to make my own decisions about things and not just follow trends.
I was always scared that at 30 I'd stop trying and wear "dad" jeans. So there's always been an awareness about not getting too stuck in what I'm comfortable with. I read men's blogs to stay in touch with what is out there.
P: When choosing pieces, what are you drawn to?
J: Attention to detail, attention to quality, rejection of mass-produced goods. I've naturally gravitated toward well-made goods.
I was obsessed for a little while with no labels — to the extent that I would buy Levi's and cut the stitching off the back pocket so you couldn't tell they were Levi's.
P: You mentioned that your RSS feed includes several menswear blogs and you seem really connected to the maker community. Can you tell me more about that?
J: My RSS feed includes a combination of art blogs, web development blogs, menswear/style blogs and blogs written by friends.
[As for my interest in makers,] there's a whole community of people who are competitors but they support each other. For example, there are a few denim brands that compete with each other because there isn't a huge market for $250 jeans, but it's still a really supportive community.
P: As you know, when I work with a client, I ask him or her to come up with three words or phrases that they would like people to use to describe their style. What are yours?
J: Classic, well-made, and clothes that have a connection or a story behind them. I'm a brand loyalist.
P: I consider you a very stylish fella. Any tips for a man who is trying to cultivate his own style?
J: Up until a few weeks ago, I was a big fan of Svpply.com. I'd subscribe to other people's wish lists to get ideas for myself. Now that the site is defunct, keep your eye out for the launch of Very Goods, a successor started by the Svpply crew.
P: As you know, I'm a big fan of your quilts. Are people often surprised that you quilt?
J: Yeah, people will say things like, "I didn’t realize a dude was quilting." I think they think of a quilt as something their grandmother does.
P: As opposed to the strong modernist thing you’ve got going on.
J: It’s definitely a growing community. There are still not a lot of guys who do it, but there are some people with really interesting aesthetics, with new and modern ideas that they are applying to it as an art form.
P: How did you start?
J: More happenstance than anything else. I had the opportunity to see a traveling exhibition of African American quilts from the late 1800s. It was really well put together and it had a really modernist feel to it. I had thought of quilts as an old grandma-type thing with flowery fabric. But, seeing dynamic combinations of shapes and colors — unexpected things drew me to it aesthetically. And I'm drawn to making something that is really interesting and beautiful from what is lying around.
I came across a book of Amish quilts that were expressing very interesting ideas and aesthetics — bold colors, modernist ideas, interesting play between contrasting shapes. That’s something I liked. So, I thought I’ll just make one to make one.
I found that I really liked the process. You have to be very focused. Especially with my day job, juggling so many things at once, it helps me slow down, focus in on one thing and let the rest of my world fade away. It has become a therapy for me. It’s how I meditate. I can express creativity, I can be quiet for a while and at the end of it the resulting product is a useful, comfortable object. That was the start.
P: I know you've shown in Chicago and Seattle. What's next?
J: I think I’m getting to a place where I’m becoming less interested in the useful, comfortable side and wanting to maybe explore more of the art-piece side — what makes up a quilt, but trying different materials. That’s really intriguing to me, I’ve done quilted paper and I’d like to do more of that.