Lunchable: 'Where the Sun Shines' Quilts on Display at UC Davis Through April 29

Hawaiian Melody, a quilt designed by Debbie Nichols Poulos now on display at the Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center, UC Davis

Editor’s note: Lunchable is a regular feature of an exhibition or other attraction viewable during a lunch or similar break.

Quilting passion for School of Education grad started at quilt group

Quilters are somewhat famous for their voluminous stashes of fabric — and Debbie Nichols Poulos, a graduate of the University of California, Davis, is no different. It’s how the Davis resident masters this stash that makes her unique.

During the past five years, she has made 10 to 20 quilts a year, and has yet to purchase additional fabric. Now that’s a stash.

A collection of her quilts is on display now through April 29 at the UC Davis Walter A. Buehler Alumni Center. Where the Sun Shines, her solo exhibit, features 13 uniquely constructed quilts. They are also for sale, and part of the proceeds will go to the annual fund for the School of Education, from which she earned her teaching credential. She also has a bachelor’s degree from UC Davis in English. Her husband, John W. Poulos, is a UC Davis professor of law emeritus.

The initial inspiration for Nichols Poulos’ quilts comes from the wide pallet of colors and patterns she finds in her extensive fabric collection. “As I begin to gather fabrics for a specific quilt, I choose the focus fabric then draw from all over the stash to find coordinating lights and darks,” she explained. From that, she creates unique designs. While most quilts are composed of a selection of coordinating light and dark fabrics cut into shapes and made into designs, she turns this process a little on its head, designing much of it as she progresses through the quilt.

Nichols Poulos in front of one of her quilts

Creating a ‘quilt dance’

She describes her process this way.

First, she selects what she terms her “focus fabric” — a piece of fabric that will serve as a visual keystone for the entire quilt.

Poulos works initially from a "visual keystone" fabric and builds out. This is the focal point of "Hawaiin Melody" quilt.
The floral fabric here would be the focus fabric of this quilt. Nichols Poulos builds out the quilt from that focal point.

She then selects pairings of light and dark fabrics that are harmonious with the focus fabric. Her friend, JoAnn Diel, a teaching colleague who is also a UC Davis alum, helps with all preparations for the quilt blocks. Eventually Nichols Poulos has a collection of 9½-inch squares constructed of two right-angled triangles that are stitched on the diagonal. Then each triangle is composed of one of the pairing fabrics. This will produce four to nine unique sets of squares. The final step in the design process, and where the magic happens, Nichols Poulos calls “the quilt dance.”

Some of her quilts have a couple of large blocks of the focus fabric that she surrounds with coordinating half-square triangle blocks. Lately she has created her “maze” design that she believes is unique to her. For these quilts the first step in the dance was to create a “hook” in the center of the design featuring the focus fabric.

Once the hook has been established, Nichols Poulos selects from the stacks of dark and light triangle squares to create a maze of contrasting colors and patterns.

gallery view
Gallery view of some of the 13 quilts on display at the alumni center. Photo courtesy of UC Davis School of Education.

Notably, Nichols Poulos has not used predetermined designs for this series on display — the designs only become apparent during the quilt dance. After the dance is complete, the squares are masterfully collected, assembled and quilted. The process is completed (assembly and quilting) by Pat Fryer of Villa Rosa Designs in Smartsville, California.

Always a fabric fan

Nichols Poulos said she has always had an affinity for fabric.

After completing sixth grade, she took a Singer sewing class that summer and, thereafter, started making most of her own clothing. Her quilting career began in 1999, when a teaching colleague at Patwin Elementary School in Davis started a quilt group.

Her early quilts followed traditional patterns. More recently Nichols Poulos began to create her own designs that meet her need to create simpler quilts. Today, Nichols Poulos no longer has the ability to sew, having been diagnosed with ALS in 2006. She relies on friends to assist with the tasks she can no longer perform since she has lost her mobility.

But when viewing the quilts, people will likely find that their beauty is in their artful simplicity. And, she can still design quilts and give back to her alma mater. Why she gives: “The education I received at UC Davis was excellent, including what I received through the Internship Teaching Program,” she said.

As for her stash of fabric — she is currently categorizing and piling stacks of fabric into what will become more finished quilts. “I don’t know how long it will take to get rid of the stash.”

Primary Category