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Meet This Maker: Laura Preston of Vacilando Quilting Co.


The Spanish term “vacilando” roughly translates to the act of wandering, though a perfect English translation may not exist. In 1962 John Steinbeck wrote: “In Spanish there is a word … it is the verb ‘vacilar,’ present participle ‘vacilando.’ It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is ‘vacilando,’ he is going somewhere, but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.”

The word likely describes a lot of nomads living on the road who find that the experience of wandering is more important than having a specific destination in mind. For Laura Preston, the artist behind Vacilando Quilting Co., the word spoke to her, inspiring not only her lifestyle but also her art.

 

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Preston operates out of her tiny home on wheels—an Airstream she and her husband remodeled that operates as her mobile sewing studio. She didn’t set out to be a mobile maker. In fact, before embarking on the cross-country road trip that changed everything, Preston was in New York City, earning her degree in art history and painting.

It wasn’t until a year-long road trip around the U.S. that she tried her hand at textiles. On any given day she can be found working form her Airstream designing and making quilts, or just taking in her environment for inspiration, be it the freedom of the road or the awe of nature.

She recently took a moment out of what is a busy production and travel schedule to answer some questions about her life on the road and the story behind her craft.

 

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How did you get started on the path to making textiles and quilts?

“I taught myself how to quilt in 2013 after my first couple months traveling around the country in our Airstream. My medium at the time was painting and I brought all my supplies with me, but I don’t think I took my brush out once. It just wasn’t conducive with moving around every couple of days and it didn’t feel practical for a minimalist lifestyle. So I started searching for a new creative outlet that would satisfy my drive to make, but would also result in something useful and practical.” 

“I discovered a handful of modern quilters on Instagram and was intrigued, so I bought some fabric from Joann’s, Googled ‘How to make a quilt’ and gave it a try. That first quilt was a bit of a mess, but I fell hard for designing and making quilts and haven’t stopped since. “

Why did you choose to travel in an Airstream?

“The Airstream, initially, was less of a choice and more of a convenience. John’s mother had an Airstream trailer sitting in storage down in Florida with no plans to make use of it. So we asked if we could borrow it for a year and she agreed.”

“It wasn’t until after a few months on the road that we realized the amazing community of people that comes along with traveling in an Airstream.We quickly became friends with a handful of fellow full time Airstreamers after crossing paths a couple times and have found that anyone traveling in one is usually good people. And, of course, the aesthetics and iconic beauty of an Airstream is the cherry on top.”

 

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When did you know textiles/quilting was the medium for you?

“It’s the medium for me right now, but I don’t feel limited to textiles or quilting as an artist and a maker. I love quilting because it’s a useful object people use every day that combines art, craft, history, and emotion—it’s the whole package. It’s something special enough to get passed down to future generations, giving it such a strong sense of family, home and comfort. There aren’t many objects in the home with such powerful sentiment.”

“Textiles are incredibly fascinating and tactile, which as a person who always wants to touch all the things, I love. And the fact that textiles are so universal and strike that balance between utility and beauty makes them so powerful. Through quilting, I’ve learned so much about textiles and have just started diving deeper into that world, especially in regards to garments.”

 

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When and why did you decide to take your craft mobile?

“My craft started out mobile, so I don’t really know any other way. I started quilting about eight months into our Airstream travels and launched my business about 18 months later. I think it would have been much harder to downsize a larger quilting operation into the Airstream—it’s a craft better suited to spreading out. But starting out in a small mobile space forced me to be scrappy, resourceful and creative in order to make it work.”

Do you craft from any specific, set locations if you’re not traveling?

“We’re always traveling these days! There’s no home base. My husband and I live, work, and travel full time, so everything is done in the Airstream. We did have an 18-month stint in the San Francisco Bay Area and then spent a little over a year in Texas while we custom built our second Airstream, but we still lived and worked in the Airstream.”

 

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What does a typical day look like in your business?

“I’m usually up around 7:30 a.m. to walk the dogs and wake up my body a bit, whether that’s yoga or a little exercise. After that, I have coffee and breakfast while responding to emails, doing design work, and working on whatever administrative things needs to be done until 10 or 11 a.m.”

“The rest of my day after that is typically production—cutting fabric, piecing quilt tops, ironing and basting quilts, quilting, binding, or packaging. I usually end my work day around 6 p.m. to cook dinner and spend the rest of the evening relaxing, watching Netflix, working on other personal projects (I’ve been making a lot of garments lately), or exploring wherever we happen to be that week.”

What about mobile life/road life inspires your work?

“Everything! Being in and exploring new places is incredibly inspiring to me, so it’s a constant stream of inspiration. We tend to stay in or nearby places with lots of natural beauty and definitely seek it out. I love just wandering around wherever we are, taking in the environment and seeing what stands out to me as inspiration.”

 

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How has your craft changed over time as a result of your travels?

“Experiencing new places directly inspires the visual aspect of my work, so that’s always changing depending on where we are in the country, but traveling full time has actually somewhat limited the kind of work I can make. In a good way though. During the two and a half years my business was stationary in California and Texas, I had the space and the reliability of shipping and material sourcing to expand my product line to canvas totes and pillows.”

“But since we’ve been back on the road and traveling full time, I’ve decided to streamline and pare down to just quilts. Having less raw materials on hand and fewer product categories has allowed me to focus on what I really want to be doing at this moment in time: making quilts and enjoying life on the road.”

 

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Where do you see your craft and your travels in the future?

“I’m in the process of growing and evolving my business, which I’ve come to find is much more feasible to do when you’re standing still. So while travel will always be a part of my life and my work, we’re looking for a home base where we can put down some roots and use as a jumping off point for part time, more focused travels.”

“Craft-wise, I’m excited to build a team, get more quilts in front of more people and experiment with new mediums and products. Travel-wise, I look forward to exploring the world outside of North America and appreciating travel more, which can get lost when you’re doing it constantly. “

 

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What words of advice do you have for artists looking to take their work on wheels?

“Stay organized, focus on one thing and do it really well, and take full advantage of every experience you have in your travels.”

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