Jamila Hammad


Jamila Hammad 1.jpg
Jamila Hammad 2.jpg


Jamila Hammad




Jamila Hammad


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

A Friend of the Quilt Alliance


St. Croix, Virgin Islands


Karen Musgrave


Karen Musgrave (KM): I'm conducting a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories interview with Jamila Hammad. Jamila lives in St. Croix so we are conducting our interview through e-mail and we are beginning on May 8, 2007. I certainly, wish there was money in the budget for me to do the interview in person. I would like to thank Jamila for doing this interview with me. Jamila, please tell me about the quilt that you selected for this interview

Jamila Hammad (JH): In early January 2007 I was working furiously at completing a number of art quilts that I would be exhibiting in February at the Good Hope School's 20th Annual Caribbean Fine Art Exhibit. This is the biggest art exhibit on St. Croix and it was to be my first time exhibiting anywhere. Living in the Virgin Islands I am lucky to be surrounded by the beautiful Caribbean Sea. The waters here are as turquoise as the ads you see in travel magazines, and there are stunning coral reefs to explore at nearby beaches. I don't have very far to look for inspiration and so my art quilts portray sea life as their unifying theme. I had already created a fish mosaic, a crazy log cabin with dancing star fish, a purple sea turtle, and even a pictorial of jelly fish made with airy organza fabric. But I was missing a quilt about corals. Every time I went snorkeling I studied the corals with the idea of creating a quilt. But coral reefs are a jumble of shapes, colors and textures, a veritable city teeming with activity: seaweed swaying with the currents, schools of fish darting this way and that. How to convey so much life in fabric? I began to do research online and I must have viewed hundreds of images of corals and entire reefs, looking for some insight to help me create my quilt. When my brain was full and couldn't take another bit of information, I left it all behind and went to my studio. I took a blank piece of paper and began to cut out simple shapes: brain coral, sponge coral, fan coral. I focused on one object at a time and without thinking too much about it, I pinned each object on my design wall. Then I stepped back and realized that I'd built my own coral reef out of paper! The joyful rush that I felt fueled the frenzy of activity that ensued. Fabrics came out of my stash; they were cut, fused, quilted and embellished to create the biggest quilt I've made to date. In order to finish "Poseidon's Garden" for the Good Hope Exhibit, I had to work 12-hour days straight for a couple of weeks, but I did finish it in time. It was a true labor of love: my love for quilting and my love for the living sea. The funny thing is that Good Hope was not the ultimate place for this quilt to shine. A couple of weeks after Good Hope, I participated in another art show at the St. George Botanical Gardens. There was a special exhibit called "Art in Bloom" in which artists and floral designers teamed up to create flower arrangements inspired by the selected works of art. "Poseidon's Garden" was portrayed in flowers by designer Beatrice Ramos, and in this way, the quilt lived up to its name.

KM: Are you from St. Croix?

JH: No. I was born in Colombia, South America. My father was Palestinian and my mother is Colombian. I moved to New Jersey with my family when I was 12 years old. I lived in New Jersey until 2005, when my husband and I moved to St. Croix.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quilt making. When did you start? From whom did you learn or are you self taught?

JH: I remember as far back as 1989 traveling to the Amish Country in Pennsylvania and falling in love with quilting. During that trip I bought a couple of books of traditional Amish patterns (which I still have), but I never made anything because I was intimidated by all of the math involved. Meanwhile, I was discovering myself as an artist. I took occasional drawing/painting/crafts classes, but nothing ever really clicked. Then in 2003 I saw an exhibit of art quilts in my town in New Jersey and I was in awe! I loved the innovative use of fabrics and threads, the texture and dimensionality of the pieces, and the overall freedom of expression this form of art could offer. I walked out of there knowing this was exactly what I wanted to do. I went home to create my own art quilt, and that's when I realized how very little I knew! I had no idea then that there is a vibrant community of quilters that I could have joined. So, I started buying books and teaching myself a variety of techniques. In 2005 when we moved to St. Croix, I carted with me my old Singer and my stash of fabrics. It was a good choice because there are only two fabrics stores on this island, and the selection of cottons is very limited. In 2006, when our tiny apartment became too small for my quilting projects, I rented a studio in town and gave myself permission to really spread out and get as messy as I wanted. That's when I spread my creative wings, and everything that I'd been absorbing for a couple of years finally coalesced. I selected a sea life theme as a focal point for my quilts and I'm working on developing my own style.

KM: Tell me more about your studio.

JH: When I set out to look for my own studio, I was thinking small. At that point I was happy to share a corner of someone else's studio, so that's what I got. I shared studio space with a textile artist who specializes in painting and dyeing. It was a good experience in that I got to watch a professional artist at work. But very quickly I realized that I really needed my own space. My best friend advised me, 'Think big, don't settle for less than what you deserve.' I followed this advice and made a wish list: close to home, quiet, ample room, lots of light, big windows and a view of the ocean. That's what I got. I have an upstairs suite with two rooms, a bathroom and a kitchenette. My work room has two large windows, plenty of natural light, a view of the water, easterly breezes, an 8' x 4' worktable, a 6' sewing table and a 12' wide design wall. The other room acts as my own gallery. It has a writing desk, shelves for fabrics and books, 2 wicker chairs and lots of wall space to hang my finished quilts. It is indeed exactly what I wanted and then some. Working in this space I can truly understand how important "a room of one's own" really is. It allows for the right mindset in which to create at your best.

KM: What advice would you give someone starting out?

JH: Art quilting is such a versatile art form that it could be overwhelming at first. So many techniques, so many colors, so many subjects, so many choices! If you're starting out and you're impatient, like me, and you're trying to learn as much as you can in as little time as possible, then I recommend that you embrace journal quilting. Because of their notebook size, these quilts can be made quickly, allowing you to experiment to your heart's content without making a huge commitment in time, effort or material. In terms of choosing a subject to quilt about, my advice is to go with your heart. Go on a visual tour and identify those quilts that move you and those images that inspire you. Those are the cues that will take you in the right direction.

KM: How many hours a week do you quilt?

JH: I quilt about 30 hours per week.

KM: Do you think of yourself more as an artist or a quiltmaker or do you even make a distinction?

JH: I think of myself as an artist who employs quilting techniques and uses fabric as her medium. I do call myself an art quilter so that people understand that I'm not a painter or watercolorist, etc. I create my own designs and I aim to convey in fabric the joy and the beauty of the living sea. I'm not hung up on the strict rules of traditional quilting and I care mostly about having freedom of expression. This question brings to mind questions about my own identity in terms of nationality. I was born in Colombia of a Colombian mother and a Palestinian father. I grew up in the US and married a man who was born in Canada, of a Canadian mother and Greek father, and who also grew up in the US. Because I live in the US, I feel more attuned to the American culture, but I don't feel a need to label myself. I like navigating through the different cultures and I enjoy what each has to offer, and my own identity has a little bit of everything mixed in.

KM: How do you feel living on an island has influenced your work?

JH: Living on an island has greatly influenced my work. Overt commercialization hasn't come here yet. There are no big shopping centers, no Barnes & Nobles or Starbucks, no Joann Fabrics or Michaels. Everything here is closer to the island's natural beauty. Most people's free time revolves around the water (swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing, kayaking), so it's hard not to be influenced by the ocean. I am lucky. I can see the ocean from my window. If I feel like taking a break and heading for the water, I could be snorkeling within minutes, and so I feel a constant connection with the ocean. For me, the living sea is a place of infinite beauty, and I have found in it a focal point for my creativity.

KM: Do you belong to any art or quilt groups?

JH: I haven't been a member of any groups. I'm still in the process of establishing myself as an artist, and I find that I need a great deal of alone time to experiment on my own. Although I like the idea of community that a group offers, the group projects that usually ensue demand more time/energy than I'm willing to give. I feel that at this point in my life, I value more the creative discoveries that I make on my own. However, the internet now offers another option that is more suitable to my style. I've recently joined Quiltart, a mailing list of art quilters from all over the world. This forum allows for conversation, camaraderie, advice, and the general transfer of information related to quilting that is everything good a community has to offer. As a new member of this forum, I feel a sense of connection and the freedom to come in and out of the conversation whenever it is convenient for me. There is still something powerful about people coming together in person, and I'm foregoing that aspect of it, but for now, the Quiltart forum is working for me.

KM: Let's return to your quilt. Is this typical of your style? How about size?

JH: Poseidon's Garden is typical of my style. It captures the essence of sea life that is my chosen subject matter to date. In terms of size, it is the biggest quilt that I've created. It was a challenge working in this size, but I know it won't be my last large quilt.

KM: What are your favorite techniques and materials? Have advances in technology influenced your work?

JH: I enjoy working with raw-edge appliqué. It supports whimsical improvisation in the creative process and brings a dynamic energy to my pieces that help to convey the vitality of the living sea. Fusible webbing is the most fabulous material I've encountered so far. But I must mention the Internet, again, because of the staggering wealth of information that we can now access.

KM: I couldn't agree more with you on the Internet. Couldn't live without it. You mentioned that there are two fabric stores on the island. Do you purchase from them?

JH: I do purchase from the two fabric stores on island. Their selections are very limited, but in a pinch I can find basic supplies: some cottons, threads and embellishments (basic beads, sequins and ribbons). There is no fusible webbing or cotton batting to be found here.

KM: Do you use the Internet for shopping?

JH: I haven't purchased anything quilt-related yet on the internet. I add to my fabric stash whenever I travel back to New Jersey to see my family. Also, my best friend John, who is my biggest supporter, goes out to his fabric shops in New Jersey and buys fabrics for me. He doesn't quilt, but he thoroughly enjoys the visual delight in shopping for fabrics. He's a big, burly guy and all the shops know him now because he tells them he's shopping for his quilter friend on St. Croix.

KM: What do you think is your biggest challenge?

JH: If I'm in the middle of a project, I can't run out to the store and pick up another fabric or the perfect embellishments for that piece. I pretty much have to work with what I have. But I really don't mind it. I enjoy resolving my design challenges with what's on hand.

KM: I live surrounded by quilt shops and other wonderful resources but I am finding that making do with what is on hand is really working for me. I think this comes from my work in countries that just don't have the supplies. We're so spoiled in the US. We have so much.

JH: I agree with you. Living here I've found it very refreshing to know that if I can't find whatever item I need in X shop, then I won't find it on island. I remember driving myself nuts sometimes, hopping from one store to another before making a purchase because I knew that I could always find the same item on sale somewhere and I wasn't going to pay full price if I didn't have to. But in the end, the time spent running around was probably not worth the discount.

KM: Let's move into aesthetics and design a little more. What do you think makes a quilt artistically powerful?

JH: The quilts with the greatest impact on me are those with striking color combinations. The use of strong colors and the pairing of complimentary colors bring a lot of energy to a quilt. I also find powerful, large motifs, close ups and bold statements in terms of lines, shapes and balance. Execution is usually secondary to me, in the sense that the most powerful quilts are not always the most labored.

KM: Whose works are you drawn to and why?

JH: Joan Colvin's tree quilts are fascinating to me because she's captured the essence of tree in a magnificent way. Her work intrigues me the most because I'm also in love with trees and I see myself making tree quilts in the future. I like Esterita Austin's work because of the strong juxtapositions of color in her quilts. And Susan Carlson's free style is exactly how I like to create.

KM: Since you brought up Susan Carlson's free style, tell me how you plan your quilts. Do you sketch anything out?

JH: Sometimes I sketch a rough idea of the quilt. Sometimes I sketch only certain elements. Then I go to my design wall and start playing with fabrics, cutting shapes, pinning things together until I complete the design. Each step of the quilt evolves in a flow that is spontaneous and improvisational. The initial idea for a quilt usually starts bouncing in my head some days before I begin work on the quilt. I see images in my mind that act like little clues for me to follow. For instance, I kept seeing a sea turtle in my mind and with the image came the desire to make a quilt of a sea turtle. I went online and Googled Sea turtles and I must have looked at hundreds of photos of sea turtles. I collected a number of these images and used them as a guide for the shape of the turtle, the coloring, the texture, etc. But when I made the actual turtle quilt I went whimsical and made it a purple turtle. Then I made another quilt with a red turtle and a green turtle, so the end result is usually unpredictable and different from the seed idea.

KM: What are you working on now?

JH: The past few months were creatively intense preparing for the various shows in which I participated here on St. Croix. For the past couple of weeks, I've taken a break from creating new pieces and have turned my focus on the business side of it. I'm working on developing a business plan and researching suitable venues in which to sell my work. I've been spending my time at the studio cleaning and reorganizing. I usually go into a cleaning spree when I'm getting ready to start new work. I need to begin with a clean slate, and so as the worktable shines free and the design wall stands empty and ready, a new creative energy is welling up. I'm heading to the studio in a few minutes and I'll begin something new. I don't know yet what will flow forth, but all I have to do is show up.

KM: What are your plans for the future?

JH: Creatively, I'm not finished yet with sea life, so this theme will continue. Trees will probably come next as a theme for my work, but that subject is still simmering. In the near future, I'd like to enter my work in juried shows and begin to gain some exposure that way. There are a great number of opportunities available, so I'm still sorting through all the research, and I'm very encouraged by what I've found. This is such a dynamic and powerful art form that deeply touches an ever-growing and diverse audience, and I'm thrilled to be a part of this phenomenon.

KM: Thanks so much for taking your time to do this interview with me. You have been a joy. Is there anything else you would like to add before we end our time together?

JH: Perhaps one more thing. More than just an art form, making art quilts for me is a form of spiritual expression. When I'm in that creative space listening to the still small voice that guides my every move, I feel a sense of peace and simple joy that nourishes my spirit as nothing else does. Thank you so much, Karen. I've never been interviewed like this before, and I've enjoyed it too. You're doing something very valuable. It'll be great to read many of these interviews ten, twenty years from now and see how the world of quilting has evolved.

KM: I agree with you that it should be interesting to see how the world of quilting will evolve. I think it will even be interesting to go back and interview people and see how they have changed. Thanks again. Our interview concluded on May 12, 2007.



“Jamila Hammad,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024, https://qsos.quiltalliance.org/items/show/2084.