Long Beach woman creates traveling art quilt

<I>AMANDA FRINK photo</I><BR>Randi O'Phelan shows off one of her quilts.

LONG BEACH - As an active member of the Long Beach Lions Club, Randi O'Phelan has shown her passion for hard work and helping others. But now the Ilwaco resident has another passion that occupies her free time - quilting.

Once a woman who worked as a private pilot and an aircraft mechanic, O'Phelan says she took up quilting shortly after moving from her home of 20 years in Ridgefield to a home on the Peninsula in 1999.

"When I first became interested in quilting, a friend of mine convinced me to get in on a quilting class she was attending," she grins. "I ended up taking the class and not only did I learn the basics of quilting, but the other quilters infected me." It was then that O'Phelan had found her niche that blended her previous jobs and her new hobby.

"Being a mechanic, I liked to take apart things, put them back together and logically solve problems. Quilting gives you a way to logically put together the illogical, it allows me to get an idea, stretch it, pull it and twist it around to make it my own."

Since she has started, O'Phelan says she has made five queen-sized quilts and about 10 smaller quilts, many of them baby quilts that serve as donations for fundraisers and raffles.

In March she decided to take part in the 18th Annual Hoffman Challenge, a contest sponsored by Hoffman California Fabrics that encourages quilters to create a quilted masterpiece using a chosen Hoffman fabric print, with the perimeters being no smaller than 72 inches and no bigger than 160 inches. As an international contest the entries are narrowed down to 100 and those chosen will be placed or have their quilts tour the country for a full year.

O'Phelan started with her original drawings back in March with a little of her inspiration coming from animated Internet sites about space and much of it coming from her mind.

"It's the first time I have entered," explained O'Phelan. "This was the first time that I felt confident enough in my quilting to enter. One morning I woke up with the design in my head and I immediately got up, sketched it out on a regular sheet of paper. I've always be interested in stars, but it really was a gift."

After her design was completed, she began work on her 26- by 46-inch space-inspired quilt. Using machine-quilting techniques to piece together purples, blues, oranges and yellows and piping on the edges and borders, O'Phelan's "Flying Through the Orion Nebula" was finished hours before it was due to be sent for judging in Colorado.

"It had to be in by July 28, and I worked for hours to fix and correct things, until I finished it on the 26th," she laughs. "I overnight express-mailed it. In fact, I finished it less than half an hour before UPS picked it up!"

For more than two months she sat on pins and needles, waiting to hear what the Hoffman Challenge judges had to say. Then two weeks ago she received a letter that said her quilt had been chosen to tour across America.

"Until then, I was really worried," says O'Phelan. "Mostly because I went to a Portland quilt show and saw many of this year's Hoffman quilts that had not been chosen. I thought I'd be getting mine back pretty soon."

Her quilt, along with 99 others, will be packed up in 12 trunks and be sent to shows all over the country. Though the quilts have already been in New York and Pennsylvania, O'Phelan says her quilt will be shown in Yakima next July and will be back in her possession around the first of October in 2007.

When it comes to seeing her quilt at the Yakima show, O'Phelan isn't sure if she will make the trip to see it. "It is just too hot there! I keep hoping that maybe it will make it to Seattle or somewhere in Oregon."

In the meantime she has been showing one of her "fabric paintings" of the historic Astoria train depot. In August she entered her 1925-inspired "A Place in Time" into the pre-juried 2006 Northwest Quilting Expo. The piece, a machine-quilted 27- by 44-inch wall hanging featuring the waterfront train depot with a Baldwin steam engine and two flapper ladies in a parking lot of colorful classic cars, was chosen and shown at the Portland Expo Center in September.

"It's my favorite building in Astoria. I spent three days taking photos of just the building from different angles," she said as she laid out the detailed quilt on the table. "I also had help from the Astoria Railroad Preservation Association. They provided me with some photos to work off of, as well as fueled my imagination."

After spending approximately 200 hours on "A Place in Time," she says she has been thinking about donating it to the railroad and depot's cause, but fears that she may have one barricade in her way.

"My husband, John, really likes it. He really enjoys the cars and he loves steam engines, so I'm not sure if he's willing to give it up," she laughs.

As for her next quilting project, O'Phelan says she doesn't want to unveil much just yet, but says that it will have an Asian theme to memorialize her dog, Hoshi, a Japanese word that translates to, what else, but star.

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