Interview with Zak Foster, Quilt Artist and Met Gala Quilt Creator

Few quilts have burst into public consciousness as boldly and dramatically as the one recently worn by A$AP Rocky at the 2021 Met Gala (do an internet search for Met Gala Quilt if you missed it). The quilt artist who brought it to life, Zak Foster, agreed to speak with Gigi Levsen, Editor of McCall’s Quilting magazine and answer a few questions about the famous quilt, his process, and his work in general.

Zac Foster

-How did this project come about?

The designer, Eli Russell Linnetz, reached out to me on Instagram a couple weeks before the Gala, asking if I had time to collaborate on a quilt for the red carpet. Needless to say, as soon as I heard Met Gala, I suddenly had some free time on my project calendar!

-What was the scope of the work you did and how long did it take to finish?

The designer from ELR provided the vintage puff quilt, which was backed with a modest gray fabric. So my job was to design a red quilt-top that would add some drama to the quilt on the red carpet. They sent me all the red fabrics to use, and they were right up my alley: all repurposed clothing items and scraps of vintage calico. I made a mock-up on my design wall, and in collaboration with Eli, kept adding more and more articles of clothing, “layers” and “chaos” (Eli’s words) to get to the final composition. It often felt like I was trying to recreate my bedroom floor as a teenager.

-Did you have to invent any new techniques to complete the quilt? If so, can you describe them?

Yes! This was my first bed-size quilt that I got to use a technique I call flat-press fabric, where I applique whole pieces of fabric down in a formation that feels natural and organic, the idea being to capture something of the body in the arrangement. Another first for me in this project was treating a quilt-top like a giant appliqued patch. The red side is essentially one big needle-turn applique, tacked down every 12” or so with hand-tied homemade yarn naturally-dyed from Hill and Hollow Farm in Kentucky.

-What’s next for this quilt?

The Met Gala was just the beginning for this quilt. I don’t know how much I can say but I do know that getting into a permanent museum collection has been mentioned.

-How did this project differ from your normal quilting style and commissions?

The high-profileness of it all lol! I’ve worked with designers before to create quilts, but knowing that this quilt was going to act more as a fashion/performance piece, there were considerations of wearability and movement to take into account.

-Where can we see more of your work?

The @zakfoster.quilts gallery is open 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Stop by and say hi!

-Do you have any other projects coming up that you’re excited about?

Always! Right now (tomorrow actually, at the time of writing this) I’m ending my 18-year-career as a public high-school teacher and dedicating my energy to full-time quilting and creative cheerleading. I started a Patreon community over the summer, and the response has been so powerfully positive that this community is making it possible for me to transition from teaching Spanish into a career as a full-time quilter and creative cheerleader. If you’re a patron and reading this, I THANK YOU, I THANK YOU, I THANK YOU! Our Patreon community is a place where quilters and makers who are interested in thinking outside the box can explore the creative unknown together. For more information, folks can check out my Patreon page.

On the quilty level, I’m really excited about burial quilts and memory quilts. Memory quilts are fairly common these days, but I get a lot of blank stares when I say burial quilt. Years ago, I remember hearing a story on the radio about a woman who passed away and, in accordance to her last wishes, her friends wrapped her body up in her favorite quilt, put her in the back of a pick-up truck, drove out to the middle of the woods and buried her there. And I remember thinking at the time: that’s how I want to go. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that. So it’s my vision to create quilts that are cherished in life, and then when the day comes, this same well-loved quilt can be used in lieu of a casket, just roll the body in a soft and colorful quilt, and return it to the earth. I’ve been talking with a lot of people in the end-of-life community recently, and they’re very excited about this option for death care: it’s personal, expressive, affordable, natural, and most importantly, death positive. If it’s ONE thing we know is going to happen to us, let’s be proactive and plan what we can. I have my own burial quilt already designed, and just seeing it sitting folded up in the corner of my bedroom everyday not only gives me a peace of mind knowing that it’s ready, but it also grounds me in the awareness that our days are so fleeting, so each day is opportunity to create the world we all want to live in while we can.

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