Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Meet my Guest Blogger - Dena Dale Crain

Today I am pleased to introduce Dena Dale Crain as my Guest Blogger. 

American, long time resident of Kenya, Dena lives on the shore of Lake Baringo, 200 miles north of Nairobi, in an area inhabited by some of the world's most wonderful birds, venomous snakes, monitor lizards, crocodiles, lungfish and hippos. Life there is never boring! 

Dena holds advanced degrees in design and textiles. She taught seven online quilt classes for Quilt University from 2004 to 2013 and more recently opened QuiltEd.com, her own online quilt class site offering the same courses and more. From her home in rural Africa, Dena teaches design through symmetry, innovative quilting from built-up layers of improvisation, and art quilting from sketching through quilt completion. She also travels the world sharing her considerable knowledge and skills, encouraging everyone to gain new found discipline and creativity as they experience and learn from her wisdom. 

She has exhibited her work as a solo and commissioned quilt artist many times in Nairobi. Dena cofounded the Kenya Quilt Guild (KQG) and presented many lectures and demonstrations for the organization, as well as serving as its newsletter editor and public relations officer. She has written articles about quilting for the KQG Snippets, Studio Art Quilt Associates' Journal, American Quilter Magazine, The Quilt Show and QuiltPosium online magazines. 

On a more personal side, Dena is an amateur genealogist researching surnames Crain, Ingram, Brannon and Samples. She is an avid lawn bowler, and she loves going on safari, good books and close friends.

Please welcome Dena as I interview her.

1. Tell us about your life in Africa and what led you there?

When I was 19, I read Robert Ruark’s Uhuru, a fictionalized account of “The Emergency,” the dreaded Mau Mau uprising prior to Kenya’s independence from Great Britain. From that time on I knew that living in Africa was my destiny. It took me twenty years to do it, but I came to Kenya in 1990 to teach clothing construction and design at Egerton University, upcountry near Njoro. I never looked back. 

My life here has been rich and full, and with never a dull moment. I spent only one year at Egerton, during which time I met Jonathan Leakey, moved to Kampi ya Samaki by Lake Baringo and gave up teaching at the university (it was a two-hour commute). Read more about this on my blog at http://denacrain.com/blog/background.

 2. When did you start quilting?

Living in a rural area with no other suitable employment available, I soon took up patchwork quilting. It fit my background and seemed well suited to employ local women - hand work, minimal equipment, minimal expense to get them started, profits to share as wages. That worked for a couple of years, until a change in the foreign exchange rate hit my business so hard I had to close it down. While contemplating a way forward, I learned of art quilting and decided to make quilts for myself, not for sale to others. Find photos of my work at http://denacrain.com/blog/gallery/. Again, I never looked back!

3. How did you get into teaching?

The South African National Quilt Guild held its biennial festival in Johannesburg in 2000. I went to that as a participant. Having dinner with several of the teachers, I remarked that I was not getting much out of the classes. One of the teachers commented, “Then, you shouldn’t be taking these classes, you should be teaching them!” I heard that with crystal clarity, like a voice from on high! 

Next day, I sought the organizers for the next festival, to be held in 2002 in Cape Town. I offered to teach. Lucky, I was back in South Africa the next year, armed with my digitized portfolio, invited the organizers to tea and shared my photos - I got the job! Overnight, I became an international quilt teacher!

Teaching in Cape Town, I met Helen Marshall, who was at that time teaching online for Quilt University. Hearing my story, Helen threw an arm around my shoulders and whispered in my ear, “Honey, you oughtta be teaching online for Quilt University!” I heard that remark with incredible clarity, too!

I contacted Quilt University, was accepted and taught from from 2003 until it closed in 2013.

4. Tell us about the SAQA and your role in the organization.

Studio Art Quilt Associates is now a large professional organization for productive art quilters, those who make patchwork quilts as works of art for the wall. I joined SAQA when it was still quite small, and have helped and watched it grow over the last 25 years to nearly 4,000 members! 

I’ve written articles for The Journal and served as SAQA’s Africa Zone Representative recruiting members from Africa. I participated in a committee to review and recommend membership benefits. I established SAQArtique, SAQA’s online critique group set up to serve international members but now including all members who wish to join it. I regularly attend SAQA conferences whenever I’m in the US. SAQA is our voice, and I am SAQA!

5. You have recently started QuiltEd Online - can you tell us about that?

Quilt University closed in late 2013, leaving me unemployed as an online teacher. I et up my own site so QuiltEd Online was born. The online patchwork quilt design classes on QuiltEd Online make learning about quilt design easy. With continuous enrollment, the classrooms never close. Help is at hand at all times, given a 24-hour possible time delay due to different geographic locations around the world. Study in your pajamas at 3 a.m., or on a digital tablet while waiting for a medical appointment. The ease and convenience of online quilting instruction simply cannot bested.

QuiltEd Online presently offers six, almost seven, of my most popular online patchwork quilt design classes:
Structured Fabrics: Check, Plaids and Strips
Designer Pinwheels
Crystal Quilts
Math for Quilters


  6. Tell us about your pets.

When I moved to Kenya, I brought my sixteen-year-old cat, Chester with me. I picked up another kitten at Egerton. Those two accompanied me to Baringo, where they joined Jonny’s fifteen other cats! Presently, we’re down to six, one of whom cannot get along with the others, so we must shepherd them carefully. 

We have three Dalmatians and have injected seventeen pedigreed “Double Trouble” Dalmatian puppies into the population of Kenya. We have a troop of about sixty Vervet monkeys who live on our roof, and a herd of gecko lizards on the walls if the cats don’t get them. 

Jonny has raised five orphaned hippos, the last two with my help. The hippo, Cleo, now at Haller Park Nature Center outside Mombasa, lived with us for the first three years of her life - until she got too big to keep around. She’s now paired with Owen of “Owen and Mzee” (hippo bonded to tortoise) fame. We have a pair of hornbills and a flock of weaver birds we feed daily. There are a couple of noisy crocs lurking just off the edge of the garden. You see - the idea of pets gets rather extended here . . .

7.Where do you see quilting taking you in future?

For the sake of all these wonderful animals, and for the sake of humanity and our planet in general, I take a serious interest in “green” quilting. I’m doing some volunteer work to help clean up solid wastes in Kampi ya Samaki, working with local businesses and political leaders to do that. I encourage all quilters to THINK before they buy - to look for really eco-friendly materials and tools, not just those who make green claims without substantiation. I urge everyone to avoid unnecessary plastics (especially plastic shopping bags and drinking water bottles). I expect quilters to maximize their materials and electrical energy when quilting. These themes are becoming increasingly important in my work as both artist and teacher. As we make quilts as objects of beauty, so must we leave our earthly surroundings clean and beautiful!
Thank you so much for being a Guest Blogger. I know our readers will really enjoy reading about you and QuiltEd.online. Here is a list of links for Dena and you can sign up for QuiltEd Online News.
Until next time...

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