Quilting: It’s “Sew” Much More than Bedspreads

An Interview with Emily Bellinger from Mmmily Handmade

Words by Marley DeRosia
Photos by Gianluca D’Elia

My mom gifted me my first quilt around the age of eight. The soft white blanket was stitched with ornate pink and green flowers: the kind of fabric you’d wrap around yourself as you fell asleep in the eye of a flower or in the fog of a meadow. This quilt—which I still own to this day—became the standard by which I judged the quality of other quilts. If the sight of a new blanket didn’t transport me to the realm of the fae, I wanted none of it. 

I held onto that notion for much longer than I should have. It wasn’t until I saw a production of Quilters at Nazareth College in 2014 that I realized the rich history that quilting held. It highlighted the struggles and joys of pioneer living through the gorgeous quilts in a series of stories and musical numbers. 

At the time of my visit, the cast also created their own handmade quilt, which they then sold at auction to raise funds for the Bethany House, which helps homeless women and their families in Rochester. It was one of the first times I saw what a gorgeous hodgepodge a quilt can become. A mash of old t-shirts, bits from old blankets, an unused tote. I realized that the job of a quilt wasn’t just to look pretty and keep you warm; it was also meant to repurpose old items, to commemorate events, to craft a visual timeline. Quilts are history in the making. And one artist is breathing new life into the oft-overlooked craft. 

Sew What? 

“I like making quilts the most, but my second favorite thing to make is the cat toys!” Emily laughs. 

Emily Bellinger (she/her) runs Mmmily Handmade, a Rochester-based business selling hand-sewn art in a variety of forms. As soon as I saw her handmade vulva-shaped cat toys at a local market, I knew this was a creator I resonated with. 

“I started my business back in 2008 as a young college student,” Emily explains. “It wasn’t until I discovered the world of modern fabrics that I became obsessed! I started making little zipper pouches and selling them to my friends to have a little spending cash. Funnily enough, the zipper pouches are one of the most popular items I sell to this day.”

As someone whose first purchase from Emily was, indeed, a zipper pouch, I can attest that they’re amazing. Emily has always had an eye for unique fabrics and custom creations, two factors which are apparent in her evolving quilt work. 

Her hanging quilts are designed as wall art, specifically. Each one ranges in size with the largest being about the size of your torso. Emily’s expert fingers weave delicate silhouettes of feminine figures between splashes of unique patterns and spiraling imagery. Much of her quilted wall hangings are recursive in nature, repeating gorgeous patterns in new ways. It’s a visual cacophony of striking imagery and cozy whimsy. 

There’s truly something for every taste when you browse her ever-expanding stock. 

“One of my favorite things about my business is the process of hunting for and sourcing really unique fabrics,” Emily continues. “I’ve come to find that if I am really drawn to a specific fabric pattern, that other people will feel the same. Sure enough, my favorite fabrics always get the most attention at my shows!”

On Emily’s shop, you can find a variety of items ranging from cat toys to zipper pouches to lunch bags. Many of the fabric options are quirky, fun, and feminist in nature. But it’s only been in the last couple of years or so that Emily has started adding quilting to the storefront. 

“My love of quilting started right around the same time I started the business back in 2008,” Emily begins. “Both journeys have been pretty parallel since then. My quilting is my art form, so that was what I focused on during my undergraduate and graduate studies, and really developed a visual language for expressing my conceptual ideas.”

All it took was adding a few pieces to the shop to get the sewing machine humming. 

“One day I made a few smaller quilted wall hangings to see if people liked them, and they have been incredibly successful so I plan on keeping it up!” Emily says. “I love trying out new product designs. This method of trial and error has resulted in what I consider a pretty fabulous collection of goodies!”

The Quilting Scene in Rochester

Emily is a staple at Rochester thrifting events and local art markets, a habit which she plans to continue. 

“I absolutely love doing shows and markets!” she explains. “Not only is it a great way to make a living, but I love getting to connect with my audience and meet new people. It warms my heart when people introduce themselves and tell me they have been following my work and love what I do.”

It helps that Rochester is an artsier-than-most city, a characteristic which helps creators like Emily thrive. We host a number of creative events throughout the year, which include (but aren’t limited to): THEMATA, The Lucky Flea, the artist corners of festivals like the Lilac Festival and Pride, the Clothesline Festival, and the Corn Hill Arts Festival. 

“The art scene in Rochester is one of my favorite parts about this city,” Emily says. “From fine art galleries and museums, to underground makers markets, this city has it all! I feel really honored to be a part of the scene here.”

The thriving arts community and emphasis on supporting small businesses here means that Emily doesn’t want to live anywhere else.

Stitching it Together

Whether you’ve adored your own quilt for years or are just starting to learn about quilting, these blankets are rich with history. Emily is taking an old medium and breathing new life into it with the wall art she creates. 

While she hopes to slowly expand each year, her time is divided amongst her other hobbies as well. She’s an avid cook, loves to garden, and puts on a vocal performance for her cats when inspiration strikes. 

“As long as I’m busy enough, but not too busy to enjoy the process, that is the pocket I want to stay in,” she explains. 

New idea: quilts with pockets? I’ll pitch it next time I investigate her booth for my favorite cat toys. In the meantime, Emily’s quilts will continue to push the bounds of tradition and bring unique quilting into more Rochester homes. 



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