CSU faculty member takes unique approach in ‘Buddhist guerilla quilting’

Jeff Miller, standing in front of one of the his quilts in the Gustafson Gallery.Quilting tends to be somewhat precise and accurate, but Jeff Miller, associate professor and program coordinator of Hospitality Management in the Colorado State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, strives to be a guerilla quilter with Buddhist instincts. Miller’s quilts are featured in CSU’s Gustafson Gallery until Nov. 1.

While Miller forms a plan for his quilts, he doesn’t go out and buy books or other people’s designs. He sketches the ideas that come to him, then he sits down to sew. If he doesn’t like the proportions or the colors next to each other, that’s just the fabric telling him the idea wasn’t quite ready.

A foot in the door to quilting

An orange and blue quilt made from the Miller family tent.

At the beginning of the summer in 2010, Miller shattered the bones in his foot and thought he was going to be out for six weeks. It ended up taking a lot longer.

“I was just going to watch TV and read and lay on the couch and take care of myself. That lasted until about 3:00 in the afternoon, and I was bored out of my mind,” said Miller. “Fortunately it was my left foot, and I could operate the sewing machine pedal with my right foot. So I hobbled down to my wife’s sewing machine, taught myself how to sew, and made my first quilt.”

It was the tent quilt, hanging in the Gustafson Gallery, and Miller didn’t realize how difficult the fabric was to work with until later on. That tent had been purchased by Miller’s family in Europe during 1961 and they used it for a couple decades for family vacations. Miller says that it’s been more places than most people.

After finishing that quilt, Miller got the bug and has been hooked ever since.

Fabric memories

Jeff Millers crazy quilt that adds together nurmerous fabrics from other projects.“I like the pieces that tell stories. The original idea of quilting was to give new life to fabric that could no longer be useful in its original form,” said Miller. “I can’t throw away fabric that could be useful in a quilt, and I have this giant box of odds and ends.”

The crazy quilt at the exhibition is particularly important to Miller. He describes it as a library, fueled by his frugalness and the fabric he saves from other projects, and it developed into a meaningful piece that he can look at to remember many of the quilts he’s made over the years.

Including the small personal quilts he’s made for colleagues and friends, Miller has made somewhere close to twenty quilts. There’s always something going on down in the basement.

“I usually have a few projects going on at the same time, because I’m crazy,” said Miller. “Right now, I have one that is going to be a big quilt with bright red, bright yellow, and black; just big and splashy.”

Gustafson Gallery

Miller worked with several members of the Design and Merchandising faculty over the years who had seen his quilts. Some of the staff members approached Diane Sparks, professor and faculty member in charge of the Gustafson Gallery, and said that she had to see the quilts coming out of the department downstairs. She put together an exhibit after contacting Miller, and he says it’s been very humbling and honoring.

“We don’t hang the quilts in the house, so it’s really impactful for me to see them all on display here,” Miller said during the opening of the Gustafson Gallery exhibit.

The Gustafson Gallery is located in room 318 of the Gifford Building at 502 West Lake Street. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. Admission is free.

The Gustafson Gallery is under the umbrella of the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising in the Department of Design and Merchandising, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.