We’re thrilled to have Heidi Parkes with us to talk all things mending, quilting and manifesting her creative dreams! Heidi is a teacher, an award-winning quilter, and an all-around inspiring person! We think you’re going to love this interview. Let’s get started!
Welcome to the Good Vibes Blog, Heidi! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a quilter, artist, and mender. I live in Milwaukee, and I’m from the Chicago area originally. I’m passionate about the handmade, and I piece and quilt most of my work by hand these days. I’m a member of the Chicago MQG and am very involved with The Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts. I was an assistant to a ceramic artist for 7 years, a high school art teacher for 9 years, and I’ve been making quilts since 2013. In 2005 I graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), and I use that art background to inform my quilts. I teach quilting and mending retreats and workshops. I’ve been featured in some really great books and exhibitions, and I’ve won some awards, too.
I’m on Instagram at @heidi.parkes, and my website is Heidiparkes.com. I write a monthly email newsletter with lots of tips, insights, and videos. I view it as a gift in exchange for a subscriber’s algorithm-free attention.
How did you first get introduced to sewing? Why do you think it made such an impact on your life?
My mom sewed a lot of clothes for me as a kid, and I think it taught me that sewing was a powerful form of independence. I was very sensitive to the way my clothes felt on my body, and my mom was able to make things that felt comfortable. It took a long time for this truth to sink in, but now when I mend clothing, it reminds me of this early lesson, that I am empowered to make/repair/sew the things that I want and need.
Can you tell us about your mending practice? How do you see it in relation to sustainability?
I appreciate deeply that the sustainability movement has helped to make it safer for me to wear mended clothing. It isn’t seen as ugly, or less-than as much anymore. My main aim, however, is in the ‘Highly Sensitive Person,’ (HSP) movement, as written about in many books by Elaine Aron. I mend clothes because it makes my life better, and helps me to feel better. As an HSP, I’m part of about 15% of the population with an extra-sensitive nervous system, and for me, it manifests in feeling my clothes more than other people. Mending allows me to wear the precious clothes that feel good on me for longer. I also feel proud of my ability to teach mending in a way that maintains comfort, fit, drape, etc in the best possible way. Without that, it doesn’t matter how good mending is for the environment, people won’t want to wear mended clothes that are ill-fitting or uncomfortable.
That said, mending is undoubtedly one of the most powerful things that individuals can do for the environment, and I’m really proud to be a part of that. I just feel strongly that ‘because it’s a good deed,’ isn’t enough to create change or action. I got into mending for purely selfish reasons, and I think other people will be best-inspired for those same reasons, which directly affect their daily lives.
Where do you find the fabrics that you use to make your quilts?
I find them everywhere. I’m frequently gifted fabric: sometimes folks who like my work on Instagram mail me fabrics; sometimes my mom finds interesting stuff while thrifting; quilting peers have given me small packets of fabrics that they think I’ll like; and I’ve been the last stop before a goodwill drop, too. I also use fabric from clothing, tablecloths, and other items that have lost their function. When I occasionally use a coupon at JoAnn Fabrics, I buy bolts of the 120″ unbleached cotton muslin, which I use as backing and background fabric- it takes dye well too. I also enjoy buying linen solids there, as they have a weight and luster that I find especially interesting.
I love finding unique fabrics, so I like to look for things when I’m traveling- this June I’ll be teaching a retreat in France, and I think a market there would be a wonderful spot to shop. Last summer, a student of mine went to Japan and purchased some secondhand fabrics for me. I was recently in India, and I bought some natural block printing remnants in a very special store and also bought fabrics in a huge space with loads of tiny booths. I love visiting the Textile Discount Outlet in Chicago, because it’s a true outlet, offering discontinued fabrics that need a home.
I don’t often buy ‘quilting fabrics,’ trendy prints, or fancy quilting solids. I aim to hunt down something more unique than that and more reasonably priced. I am interested in looking up organic fabric options, as I hope they’ll be more widely available in the future. I also think that Feel Good Fibers could help meet my desires for unique secondhand prints, and as a newbie to online fabric shopping, your interface seems especially accessible to me.
What do you like to do for self-care?
Sometimes I like to spend a whole day quilting, without attending to emails, contracts, photography, and all the other ‘shoulds’ that accompany my career. Letting myself have a day of pleasure like that keeps me in touch with my love for sewing, and the positive side of my ‘work.’ I also like to schedule video chats with other quilters, and we can talk and sew together for an hour. Connecting with my peers, who I so rarely get to see in person, is another element of self-care.
Yoga used to be a form of self-care, but then I made a job out of that too! Lol, all of my favorite things have become my work, for better or worse… But still, I love attending a yoga class or going for a walk. I’ve also discovered that I know I’m not working when I spend an hour plus reading a book on paper. I recently read my friend Marlee’s book, How to Not Always be Working while on vacation with my mom in Santa Fe, NM, and that was all about self-care.
I see a naturopath who helps me stay on top of my health, and thanks to her suggestion to take 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily, this is the healthiest year I’ve had in a long time. (Knock on wood). In general, probably because of yoga, I’m very good at noticing health issues early and doing everything to feel better, and that literal care for my body is essential for helping me to feel good.
I invest in relationships with other humans. Putting time and energy into romantic relationships, friendships, and family helps me to feel seen, supported, and important to others, and caring for those people does wonders for my heart and wellbeing.
I also go to art museums, attend dance and performance art, eat good food, listen to audiobooks, watch interesting shows, listen to podcasts…
Writing this, I guess I also have a very large view of what counts as ‘self-care;’ and therefore, I feel like I’m being cared for all the time.
Who were some of the biggest influences on why you sew today?
My mother and grandmother, who organized a quilt for me while I was in the womb.
Mary Parks, my elementary art teacher, who I’m still in touch with today, who helped me own the words, “I am an artist,” and who showed me how to appreciate and love art and artmaking.
My jr high home economics teacher, who taught me to use a sewing machine.
Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi, a ceramic artist who I worked for as an assistant from 1999-2005, who encouraged me to go to art school, and who helped me understand what it was to be a working artist.
My Great Aunt June, because her generosity allowed me to attend SAIC.
My college professors, especially Anne Wilson and Diana Guerrero Macia.
My friend Kat Gelder, who knew just enough about quilting in 2013 that I asked her lots of quilting questions, and she always said “sure- you can do it that way if you want.”
The career counselors at SAIC who I met with frequently, a decade after graduating, who helped me to navigate starting a new career, and to define the type of quilts I wanted to make.
The occupational therapist who helped me learn to better care for my hands to make handwork physically sustainable.
President Barack Obama who made it possible for me to have an occupational therapist, and because the presence of Obamacare allowed me to picture self-employment.
The quilters of Gee’s Bend, because their work allowed me to widen my definition of what a quilt could be.
Maura Grace Ambrose, Luke Haynes, Pauline Boyd, and Joe Cunningham because I saw their quilts and their lives in 2014, and they helped me think that I could devote that much of my life to quilts too.
My dad, who I used to make fun of for mending his clothes, and who was one of the biggest supporters of me sewing. Since his passing in 2018, it’s been amazing to still feel his influence and support from the other side.
As a fiber artist, what are some of the goals you are visualizing and manifesting for yourself in 2020?
I’ve been talking about manifesting a quilting retreat in France for the last 5 years, and in early 2020 I got an incredible email asking if I wanted to do just that! Through yoga and meditation, I’m very interested in the subject of manifestation, and the law of attraction. Sometimes I practice Surabhi Mudra as I contemplate the goals I’m trying to manifest.
Some additional goals that I’d like to manifest this year:
- To lead a quilt-along on Instagram in March.
- To continue to exhibit quilts and mending in the art world.
- To spend more time sewing.
- To write about mending clothing more.
- To grow my monthly email newsletter. (sign up at HeidiParkes.com)
- To upload more tutorials and zines for purchase on my website.
- To innovate ways to be more efficient on the computer.
How do you measure progress for yourself from year to year?
I try to look ahead at the coming year and notice the things that I hope will be different. A big way that I keep my career moving forward is by not doing the same things every year so that I can create time, space, and energy for the new work that I want to do. I also measure progress by doing my own taxes and updating my resume, bio, and website. Finally, I measure progress by checking in with my art and creativity- am I still curious and excited by the work that I’m doing? Have I innovated some new ways of working? Are my class descriptions evolving along with my quilts and interests? Do I love looking at my new quilts at least as much as my old ones?
What do you hope to give back to the world?
I hope to empower people to innovate in their quilting. I want my students to feel encouraged to create their own designs when sewing. I hope to instill a powerful sense of ownership in those quilts; so that they truly made their own quilt, instead of making their own Heidi Parkes quilt.
I hope to give permission for people to slow down when making so that they consume fewer materials, and instead put more love, emotion, effort, passion, and time into each quilt that they create. I hope to inspire people to spend less money on supplies, tools, and fabric, and to instead invest more in experience and education. For example, I’d rather use a hand-me-down sewing machine, or just sew by hand, and spend money on a quilting retreat, instead of buying a fancy machine. Similarly, I hope that through teaching mending, I encourage people to buy fewer clothes that are better quality and to repair the clothes that they already own and love. I hope that by encouraging people to mend for themselves, that we will powerfully curb the fast fashion and consumerism that currently engulf our culture. Clothing is widely thought to be the 2nd most polluting industry on the planet, and I would love to have a hand in changing that.
I hope to inspire quilters to own the title ‘artist,’ and to learn about the art world, and engage in and exhibit quilts within the art world. Simultaneously, I also want to remind people that ‘art’ isn’t better than ‘quilt.’ I think there’s so much beauty in artful living, and that making the objects we live with by hand, and mending them by hand is an incredible way of living. This value shows up in my life when I cook, sew my own clothes, ferment my own meade, build my own couch, make my own pottery, and when I garden and then make my own infused herbal body oils. Empowering people to do anything by hand, and giving them permission to see that as beautiful may be my biggest calling in life, and changing hearts and minds about that is the most important work of art that I’ve made in the last few years.
Five FeelGood Facts About You:
Favorite color: chartreuse
Favorite beverage: yellow chartreuse
Favorite music to listen to/show to watch/podcast when working: Bon Iver
Favorite shop: The Textile Discount Outlet in Chicago
Favorite thing you ever made: “But, What Was it Like?” in early 2018