With bold, modern interpretations of a classic America craft, Vacilando Studios has its hands full.
Written by Jenn Thornton
In 2013, while crisscrossing the country in an Airstream, Laura Preston’s creative plans didn’t exactly pan out. “It turns out that oil painting in a 200-square-foot tube moving every three to four days really doesn’t work,” confesses Preston, painting an altogether different picture. “What was I going to do with the paintings once they were finished? Hanging paintings on the curved walls of a trailer is completely impractical.”
Impracticality can, however, prove a good place to start. Pre-road trip, Preston, who had studied art history and studio art at NYU, went searching for a creative outlet feasible in a small space. “It was a few frustrating months of trying to figure out a new medium, then I discovered modern quilting,” she says. Nothing in Preston’s past suggested she’d pick up stitching. Her grandma had a collection of vintage quilts, sure, but didn’t everyone’s? “I never thought much about them. It was just another thing we had in our house.” Yet there she was, in a JOANN’s in South Dakota, picking out blue and orange floral fabrics. “I read a couple blog posts, looked at some YouTube tutorials, hand-sewed everything together and randomly made my first quilt,” Preston remembers. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. But as soon as I finished, I knew I could do better.”
That’s an understatement. Today Preston presides over the Texas Hill Country-based Vacilando Studios, which hand-produces minimal quilts and textiles with bold hues and fresh modern motifs with a contemporary art feel. It started simply enough, with Preston making quilts for friends as wedding presents, mainly for practice. “I just kept going,” says Preston, who was unsure of how to turn her hobby into a business much less a brand. “I would have loved nothing more than to sit around, make quilts all day and also make a living, but I did not have an entrepreneurial bone in my body,” she confesses. Preston did, however, have Instagram, a photographer husband and a strong visual vocabulary. Their images, which featured quilts in artistic settings, were not only interesting, they boosted the visibility of the business too.
Preston is part of a new generation of America makers using current technologies to resurrect timeless craft traditions. In cutting out the middle man, Instagram is this generation’s equivalent of the handshake deal of John Wayne’s day. (Wayne would certainly appreciate Preston’s gutsy, grassroots, go get ‘em approach.) The technology also put Preston in contact with a “massive modern quilting community,” many members of which who are now in her employ. “Not just retired grandmas,” mind you, “but also people my age, in their 20s and 30s, inspired by this new wave of crafting and making with your hands,” she says. Vacilando quilts are Instagram-ideal, inspired by different cultures and travel, with each of Preston’s story-driven collection informed by a specific location, including the high desert of West Texas and California, and beyond to Belgium, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
Today Vacilando is beyond anything Preston envisioned while rolling along in her Airstream. “I wouldn’t ever have imagined it six years ago,” she says, “but it’s been so much fun. The best ride ever.”
Photographs courtesy of John Ellis