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How an Upstart Quilter is Transforming the Medium

Justin Yong quilt

Stitch by stitch, Justin Yong’s intuitive, artful approach deconstructs an time-honoured craft

By Stephanie Calvet
Photography by Arash Moallemi

“It’s an additive process, organic, imperfect,” says photographer Justin Ming Yong of his newfound love, quilting. Even before the pandemic hit, Yong had been itching to explore a new creative medium. In early 2020, the 32-year-old was flipping through a book on quilting at an antiques market when “something clicked,” he recalls. Although Yong had been exposed to the craft his entire life – his mother is an avid quilter – he didn’t take a liking to it until recently. Using Instagram to showcase his patchwork experiments, Yong now turns out vibrant, modern compositions that are attracting a growing following, and for good reason. Their deconstructed patterns and warm palettes allude to something familiar but are wholly contemporary.

Justin Yong quilt

After his interest was piqued at the market that day, Yong turned to his mother for a crash course in stitching, then bravely dove in, developing new techniques that frequently depart from the traditional. Typically, his designs start with a hand sketch, but he rarely adheres to a set plan; instead, he assembles a random grouping of fabrics, then cuts and combines as he goes. “It’s a very loose process, which is what I really like, as it can turn in any direction,” he says, citing Mark Rothko and Josef Albers among his inspirations. He also admires the improvisational nature of rural Alabama’s Gee’s Bend quilts, known for their use of found fabrics and untraditional colour schemes. Clients frequently encourage him to “just go crazy.”

Justin Yong quilt

The results, whether used as bedding or hung on a wall, lean toward the bold and geometric; solid colours, micro florals and blocks of negative space are among Yong’s calling cards. Cotton is his go-to textile, but Yong is experimenting with others (such as denim and fleece) and salvaging factory offcuts destined for the dump. And while engaging in crafts can be a popular community-building activity these days, it’s unlikely that Yong will be joining a quilting guild anytime soon. For him, it’s a solitary pursuit that he labours at in his home studio, much like he used to pore over photo details in front of a computer screen. Unlike digital editing, however, quilting is immersive body and soul, and considerably more tactile than his work with cameras and software. It’s something that Yong can really put his hands on. JUSTINMYONG.COM

Categories: Arts & Culture

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