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Judge Lesley Allan’s creative quilting is a break from the bench

By on August 29, 2017 in Arts with 0 Comments

Lesley Allan is happy to pose in front of her “office” — the Chelan County Courthouse. She’s a full-time judge who uses her creativity in part-time artistic pursuits — especially quilting.

By Susan Lagsdin

Superior Court Judge Lesley Allan is imbedded every working day in the human drama of crime and punishment.

For 20 years she has focused on Chelan County’s felonies (sometimes 150 contacts a week) and domestic violence, rotating with two other judges to preside over hearings, adjudications and longer court trials.

That whole time she’s also been an active member of the North Central Washington Quilt Guild.

Quilting allows her satisfying self-expression. She said, “I draw most of my ideas from my life experiences.”

But they are positive images from her own life outside of work — like her brother’s jazz music, the view from Saddlerock, the first marathon race of a young friend.

The reward for her is seeing the pleasure people find in the very personalized gift of a finished quilt. The close-up focus on placing myriad blocks, puzzle-piecing colors and textures, also helps her to leave stressful work behind at the courthouse. “Quilting is my therapeutic outlet,” she said.

She Just Felt Like Running, a gift quilt that honors a friend’s first Boston Marathon, came from a group exercise and features the bright primary colors Lesley especially enjoys.

As a teen and before her law career, Lesley did a considerable amount of sewing, including wedding dresses and baby quilts. Then, she said, “I was busy with other life commitments — but I really started quilting regularly when I joined the North Central Washington Quilt Guild.”

That was in the early ’90s, soon after her move to Wenatchee.

The Guild itself has almost 200 members, many of whom find creative satisfaction in their round robin groups — much smaller, informal cadres of like-minded fabric artists who inspire and challenge one another.

Lesley directly credits her own artistic growth to the group to which she was invited, The Wenatchee Art Quilt Organization, calling themselves “the WAQO’s.”

“They are such amazing artists. Sometimes I feel like a fraud, trying to be that good,” she said. “But I enjoy connecting with like-minded people and seeing the incredible things they create.” (She’s speaking of Linda Reisteter, Jill Theriault, Donald Larson, Lynn Pittsinger and Geraldine Warner.)

The WAQO meets monthly at members’ homes to compare notes, share new information and show work in progress, and sometimes they hold a longer session like a fabric shopping spree or a recent silk-dying day.

But the most compelling activity, Lesley said, is the prompts: a very focused group challenge about four times a year.

Leslie’s older brother is a jazz musician, so last year she created, Freddy James Rocks 60 (with her sister Holly’s help) as a birthday quilt for him. It was an early experiment in using applique.

“That’s where you are really pushed to stretch yourself.”

Some extraordinary quilts have come from imposed ideas. Single key words are often the basis: “currency,” “time,” “heritage” were a few concepts; “portrait,” “collage,” “lettering” were a few styles. The interactive challenges are also fun and yield surprising results.

Creating a design using 12 pieces of other’s favorite fabrics was one; another was using your own least favorite color.

Lesley has grown not only at the imaginative level but in her technique. Learning to applique let her add images beyond traditional quilt designs, and buying a long-arm quilting machine (so the designed top can be attached to a batten-filled bottom) gave her more control over the look of the finished product.

And, like any avid quilter, Lesley has an ever-growing stash of fabric. Most she buys in one-third-yard pieces; sometimes she succumbs to the temptation of multiple yardage. “But there’s no fabric guilt. I know I’ll use it sometime.”

When she gets an idea for a new quilt, she just goes shopping in her own cupboards.

More time to quilt is in the future. “I look forward to when my schedule is not so full, when my free time is not so limited,” she said. For now, work dominates her days, with some refreshing sidetracks, like keeping fit with outdoor activity and Scottish country dancing.

In this fun quilt challenge that her quilting group devised a few years ago, notice the 10 objects in Lady of the Lake that start with “L” (Lesley’s first name initial) They are: lady, locks, locket, lake, letters, lips, lids, lobster, life ring and leaves.

Lesley also handily blends profession with pleasure when she co-coaches and advises local high school students. She took nine teens to Chicago in early August to the National YMCA Mock Trial Competition and came home with a national champion team, comprised possibly of Wenatchee’s future attorneys and judges.

Will that exhilarating experience make it all the way into a quilt? Because Lesley is an artist who uses the joys of her own life and others to fuel her creativity, it’s certainly a possibility.

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