by Suzanne Labry
What has three hearts, blue blood, no skeleton, a wicked sense of humor, eight arms (each of which can think and feel on its own), and the ability to regenerate lost body parts?
What can change color, pattern, and texture at will, reassemble itself (up to 100 lbs or more) to pass through any opening the size of its eyeball, solve complex problems, use tools, lift things that are many times its own bodyweight, create gardens, make daring escapes, squirt ink, remember faces, and mimic other creatures?
Of course, the eight-arm bit is the main giveaway that this extraordinary collection
of characteristics describes the octopus, and these are but a sampling of the octopus’s many remarkably strange features. In his book, Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution
of Intelligent Life, Australian scientist Peter Godfrey-Smith states, “Their intelligence is like ours, and utterly unlike ours. They are probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.”
Song of the Sea
Made by Kathy McNeil. In the private collection of Janet Watts. Photo courtesy of the artist.Many quilters, being the diverse lot that they are, find octopuses (not octopi, since the word comes from Greek and therefore uses the –es plural ending) just as fascinating as scientists do. And that fascination has led to the creation of some wonderful quilts. The quilters profiled here all share a trait of living near an ocean, although that certainly is not a prerequisite
for octopus love!
Quilt artist, teacher, author, and judge Kathy McNeil lives in the Seattle, Washington, area
on the Pacific coast, where she has access to
a special event that inspired her to create a delightful 36”x 49” octopus quilt called Song
of the Sea.
“On Valentine’s Day, the Seattle Aquarium puts a female and male octopus together in a tank and hope that ‘love’ happens,” Kathy explains. “Then we all get to watch on a video feed as they place the female back into Puget Sound in hopes of a future generation. I think they are the most remarkable creatures!”
Octopus Garden Made by Kathy McNeil. Photo courtesy of the artist.
In creating her quilt, which is now in a private collection, Kathy used hand appliqué,
thread embellishments, and 321 silk organza yo-yos to create the octopus’s suckers. Her original design is copyrighted and has won many awards, but in response to requests for
a pattern, she created a simpler version that she calls Octopus Garden, which is available in her online store.
Spotted OctopusMade by Kirsten Chursinoff. Photo courtesy
of the artist.Kirsten Chursinoff, quilter and fiber artist from Vancouver, British Columbia, also is attracted to the octopus as a subject for her work, which often features marine ecosystems. Kirsten is drawn to what she calls “the mystery of the shoreline” and she feels a special empathy with the creatures found within the intertidal zone, including octopuses. She, too, is a frequent visitor to the aquarium in her city, which sponsors an “octopus watching and wine” event. Her quilt, Spotted Octopus is but one of several of her works that spotlight octopuses.
Navy veteran and quilt artist Eileen Williams, who retired with her husband to the Crystal Coast of North Carolina on the Atlantic Ocean, has been able to be up close and personal, so to speak, with octopuses. Williams lives near The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knolls, and is able to visit often.
She describes the experience this way: “Fascinated by the silent beauty of our under-the-sea world, my husband and I enjoyed recreational scuba diving for many years. Once, we were very lucky to actually see an octopus. I say lucky because octopuses are masters of disguise and with their soft bodies can squeeze into the smallest places to hide. They are so unique and with their eight, long arms filled with suckers, they can look a little creepy, which is probably why they were seen as mysterious and sinister sea monsters in mythology, movies, and fictional books.”
“They can also look lazy, but can move incredibly fast. They are intelligent creatures. I spend a lot of time at the octopus display and have watched the octopus find an opening in little plastic Easter eggs to access the treat the aquarium staff has hidden inside. With its strange visual appearance and intriguing life, it's no wonder that the octopus makes a fun subject to portray and frequently finds its way into my art quilts.”
One of those is the beautiful 40”x36” Mussels for Dinner. Featured in Machine Quilting Unlimited magazine, the quilt has been sold to a private collector.
Mussels for DinnerMade by Eileen Williams. Photo courtesy of the artist.
If you’ve never seen an octopus in action, check out this link to several videos that will
show you what all the fascination is about. You may be inspired to make an octopus quilt
of your own!
Click HERE to be inspired by several unbelievable octopus videos!