My name is Sabine Heinlein. I am a self-taught textile artist. Before I became a quilter in early 2018, I was an award-winning journalist and author. (I wrote about art, culture, mental illness and criminal justice for the New York Times, the Guardian, Psychology Today, the Observer and many more publications.) Over the past year, my quilts have been exhibited at the Annmarie Sculpture Center and Arts Center in a show curated by the Smithsonian Institution, at Limner Gallery and at Neven and Neven Moderne.  

I am so obsessed with animals that I, quite literally, want to cover myself with them. My quilts allow me to reflect on each animal’s perilous existence, its beauty, shape and vulnerability.

I often use an extra-long running stitch in a style reminiscent of Japanese sashiko, sometimes with more elaborate feather or chain-link stitching. Because they are fully improvised—I design very little before starting—my quilts have a folksy and free-spirited air. I am more interested in the animal’s spirit than in its exact form. To me, animals elicit a powerful sense of wonder, incomparable to anything else in the world. 

In the quilts’ backgrounds, proportions are wonky; dreamlike landscapes evolve. Here is the Garden of Eden, a lush jungle without predators; there is the deep of the ocean, the desert, the tropical sunset. My animals might fight, nap or get an erection; they aren’t cute exactly, but are lovable nevertheless.

I love the idea that, functional and long-lasting, each quilt may be handed down from one generation to the next, providing for continuity and becoming part of a large family of animal lovers. It is my hope that they also serve as an example of how to defy our environment-destroying tendency to constantly consume and discard.

My quilts are hand-made with Finca Perlé thread by Presencia, a 100 percent Egyptian cotton thread mercerized for strength and is color- and shrink-proof. My most recent quilts are made from recycled fabric from Goodwill, most commonly men’s cotton shirts. My earlier quilts are made from Robert Kaufman’s Kona Cotton, which, with its OEKO-TEX® seal, has been tested for harmful substances. Batting is either 100 percent cotton or 100 percent wool. The quilts can be machine-washed and -dried.

To address the injustices animals suffer at the hand of humans, 5 percent of the proceeds from my quilts will go to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Photo: Giovanni Garcia-Fenech

Photo: Giovanni Garcia-Fenech