Designing woman

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Seneca artist wins quilting award, aims higher

WASHINGTON - When Faye Lone entered a few of her quilting designs in the annual Eiteljorg Museum Indian Market and Festival, she was cautiously optimistic. That optimism turned to gratification when her unique freestyle approach to quilt-making received top honors.

Lone, a member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians, was awarded a prestigious prize from the organization in June: the Purchase Award for a piece she named ;'Grand Entry.'' The award is given to only one entry in the juried art show, and the artwork was purchased for $5,000 for the museum's permanent collection.

The breathtaking masterpiece, as her friends and family have come to call it, depicts a complete pow wow scene on a 104 inches x 98 inches broken star king-size quilt in blues on a white background. It features nearly 100 stitched figures as dancers, drummers, staff and spectators, and even showcases a mainstay of pow wows: the Indian taco booth. She said it took her about 18 total hours to complete the project.

''I knew this piece was a spectacular and groundbreaking piece,'' said Lone, who also has a strong interest in fashion and interior design. ''I didn't know whether people would recognize it.''

The designer competed against more than 150 Native artists from across the country at the Indianapolis-based festival. The competition is among the nation's top destinations for collectors and artists alike and features an array of activities and traditional performances, including the Eagle Wings Pageant Dancers and several others this year.

Lone created her winning entry via a complicated approach known as free-motion, which means she hand-guided the quilt's thousands of intricate stitches. There was no design laid out for her, nor did she draw it out beforehand. She simply started sewing and ''drawing with thread,'' as she describes the process.

''I have this knack for being able to look at something, and I see a completed vision. I almost can't draw them out - I just have to start going and going, like an obsession.''

When fellow quilters have seen Lone's free-motion technique they've been somewhat awed, as previous work in this area has tended to be rather broad and much less intricate.

Many are amazed, too, that she's garnered such success on the professional quilting scene, given that the arena is often limited to people who have the wealth and resources to own factory-sized machinery. In many cases, her quilts have been compiled through a quilt-work of sorts of renting machines and renting studio time to complete her work, while also raising six kids as a single parent.

Having danced in pow wows for more than 30 years, Lone certainly knew plenty about her ''Grand Entry'' subject matter. But being a dancer didn't necessarily mean that she'd be good at design.

Yet, early on in her life, through creating pow wow clothes and other fashions, she found that she had an innate eye for detail. She began creating customized apparel for Natives almost 30 years ago with ribbon shirts that had distinctive woven ribbonwork, shawls and other dance regalia items; she began quilting in 1999 with basic applique work.

While Lone used a regular Bernina sewing machine to produce ''Grand Entry,'' she now has her sights set on a greater tool for future creations: the Statler Stitcher, an expensive machine that would allow her to computerize her ideas and then press a button to have the machine create her intricate designs. The quilts could then be mass-produced, and she sees a bright future in creating a business around such an endeavor.

Whether or not she is able to purchase a Statler in the short term, becoming a stronger businesswoman seems to be the next logical step in her progression. Over the last several years, she has steadily grown her business, Faye Lone Creative Native Designs, based in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

''My ultimate goal is to bring a design-based economic venture back to the rez,'' Lone said. ''I'm currently working on a business plan to make that work.''

Thus far, she's sold her designs to plenty of individuals; and the National Museum of the American Indian has even bought one of her quilts, a king-size rendering of the Haudenosaunee creation story called ''Sky Woman's Gift,'' which it is holding for future display.

Not one to sit still, she's now also creating a line of formal evening gowns based on traditional Native regalia, and at least one of her pieces will likely be featured at the 2008 presidential inaugural ball. She said she'd love to be a designer on the ''Project Runway'' design show in the future, and would consider applying as a contestant.

Lone also has a few more tricks up her sleeves in terms of quilting.

''I keep playing with the medium, and I'm going to morph into something even more unique going forward.''

While she wouldn't share details beyond the fact that one of her next projects will be a reversible design, she said it will be unveiled for the world to see at an upcoming quilt show.

Two of her daughters have helped her over the years, growing into the business and growing the business in scope. She said they keep prodding her to push her design aesthetic, and she's more than happy to oblige.

Lone said her ultimate joy would be to become a motivational speaker with the message: ''Dare to dream, then wake up and live the life you dream of.''

For more information, visit www.fayelone.com.