Friday, November 13, 2015

Brother & Sister: Both Quilters & Beaders

My brother, Thom Atkins, is a very talented quilt and bead artist!

Thom Atkins, quilter, beader, artist gives a lecture about beaded quilts

He's written a popular book about how to make beaded quilts.

Beading Artistry for Quilts by Thom Atkins

Recently he sent me a wonderful birthday present - a box of his scraps to use for making hexie flowers for my in-progress, hand-pieced, hexie quilt. Forty-nine different fabrics makes quite a stack of flowers.

Robin Atkins, hexie quilt, stack of 49 stitched hexie flowers made with Thom Atkins fabric scraps

Here they are again, this time arranged on a flat surface (click photo to enlarge for details). It's way fun to play with the flowers, re-arranging them in different ways, re-stacking them, and then spreading them out again.

Robin Atkins, hexie quilt, 49 stitched hexie flowers made with Thom Atkins fabric scraps

All the while I was cutting, basting, and stitching these flowers I was thinking about Thom, about our history and our mutual love of stitching. I recognized most of the fabrics. One was in a quilt we made 19 years ago for our mom's 80th birthday. Some were from blouses, dresses, shirts he made for himself and his wife. Some were from pillows and other home decor he made for their home. Some were from his early quilts. Most of them brought up a ton of memories for me!

I always like (and sometimes love) things that Thom makes, and yet I've also noticed when we are in a fabric store together, we do not gravitate toward the same fabrics. I wouldn't have guessed that I would use almost every one of the fabric scraps he sent. There were a few that were too glitzy, had a stronger metallic look than I like. But 90% or more could have come from my own stash. That's how much I like them.... leaving me to conclude that we are more alike than I thought.

Robin Atkins and Thom Atkins, sister and brother, circa 1947

Here we are as kids... book ends.  Me 16 months older than him.

What's it like when brother and sister, close in age, are both quilters and beaders, both of us entering our quilts in shows, both of us teaching workshops and writing books?

Are we competitive?

A little, but not very much in my opinion. I admit to being a little "nervous" when he took up bead embroidery a few years after I make it the focus of both my art and my career. In artistic matters, he has a quicker learning curve than I do, rapidly achieving excellence in any medium he tries.

The fact that he likes bling and representational, while I like matte and symbolic, makes our work look different, which helps. We're also very different in our approach to quilt designing. While I am heavily influenced by traditional quilts, his quilts are all "art quilts." Most of his are heavily beaded, while mine are mostly not. Right from the start, he usually has a complete "picture" in his mind of what his quilt will look like when finished; whereas I rarely have a clue what mine will be like until I'm nearly finished with it.

Nor have we had issues with our teaching. I mostly teach beaders, emphasizing bead embroidery techniques rather than projects. He mostly teaches quilters, concentrating on methods for sewing beads onto quilts. There are enough teaching opportunities for both of us to accept as many gigs as we can handle.

What's the best thing about our mutual passions for beading and quilting?

Well, we talk on the phone for hours at a time about our current projects. Our conversations would bore everybody else in our families to death, but for us it's exciting to share our ideas, challenges, and victories. We do it often! It seems each of us has always respected the artistic sensibility and skills of the other. It's great to have somebody you can count on to say, "That's really wonderful," when you show them your latest work.

We also share information about photography, opportunities for showing our quilts, inspirations, promotion of our books, and countless other related things. We help each other to solve problems and to grow artistically.

It seems pretty ideal; was it always like that?

If you've read my first book, One Bead at a Time, available here as a free download, you know that Thom grew up favored to be the artist in the family, showing his talents at a very early age. My bend was more academic, although I had no clear pathway. After majoring in art in college, Thom rapidly became established as an artist. After majoring in English and psychology, I muddled around in a couple of careers for many years. I didn't discover my passion for beading or start to think of myself as an artist until I was 46 years old. Until then I always admired Thom's art, but didn't relate directly to him about it. I'm glad it is different now; glad we are both talented and creative... together!


  1. I have Thom's book and enjoy looking at it from time to does give me inspiration (I have two of your little books too!!! :) )

  2. I found your blog after I took a workshop with your brother! He did a very good job at teaching the basics of beading on quilts--I actually retained most of what he taught!

    I am totally enjoying your hexie process, and in fact, last night I dreamed all night about making a hexie quilt after reading your blog :)

  3. What an adorable photo of you two!

    I enjoyed reading about you and Thom, and how you relate now. I know from experience how precious it is to find that special someone that "gets" you, that you feel really sees you, hears your heart, and you can connect on a special level. How lovely for both of you.

  4. I love Thom's book. What he does is very different from what I usually do, and I'm inspired by his work.

  5. What a fun post, Robin. Story and pictures are equally enjoyable.


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