Arts & Culture

Meet This Artist: Fiber Artist Tanja Lipinski Cole

by Rachel Flanagan, Chatham Arts Council

For some, knowing how to sew is a necessity when you’ve lost a button or hit a snag on your sleeve. But for Tanja Lipinski Cole, sewing and quilting has always been a therapeutic art form, although her artistry is not confined to the fiber arts.

CAC: Tell me about yourself. 

Most people know me for sewing things, but I also paint, draw, and I’m an illustrator by trade. My degree is actually a BFA in Medical Illustration. I was also a massage therapist, a birth doula, and health and wellness consultant for a few years while my children were very young. The two things I’ve always done at every stage in my life are fitness (and health-related things) and art. They both keep me balanced, but they don’t necessarily pay the bills during a pandemic, that is for sure.

I do everything from dress alterations to making strange but useful things that you wouldn’t really think of, like roll-up cases for makeup brushes. I started making colored pencil and crayon roll-up cases too, because I was tired of seeing my kids’ pencils and crayons roll around everywhere.

I also enjoy giving back to the community. Bonny, my friend and business partner, and I have helped make and collect quilts for the local hospice, showed people how to make pillowcases to go to the kids at UNC Children’s Hospital, as well as baby quilts for the NICU, and quilted kennel comforters for the pets at the local animal shelter. We’ve collected donated wedding dresses to be made into angel gowns for the babies who didn’t survive birth at local hospitals. I’ve also made and donated key wrist lanyards to Chatham Habitat for Humanity to give to new homeowners that are adorned with cute little house fabric. Around the holidays, I try to give anything left from my stash to kids in need in the county. We really do enjoy giving back. It’s part of my being.

CAC: How did you get into quilting? 

When I first learned how to sew, I learned how to follow a pattern and how to make little things. I was creative with my art, but I wasn’t necessarily creative with sewing because I felt like you had to follow the pattern to get the same results. I didn’t get creative with quilting until college. But when I was there, I hid sewing because it was considered an old-fashioned thing. If I didn’t go out at night, I was unveiling my sewing machine and doing little projects. But it wasn’t until I worked for Rodale that I really started quilting. In that environment it was a valued thing, and I enjoyed being open with my love of it.

I was one of two young people fresh out of college who knew how to lay out books and magazines on a computer. So while I was laying out the quilting books, I was reading what I was putting on the screen. Between the pictures and the words, I was learning the basics of quilting, by just doing my job. The company offered a free lunch-and-learn where you could go and learn how to quilt. There were all these very dignified editors carrying their little baskets with really high-end supplies. I just showed up one day, and they taught me how to quilt.

CAC: When you started making masks, had you ever made one before? 

No, but I saw that there was a need, and all these people were throwing all of these patterns out there. But instead of jumping in right away, I took some time to do research on the best masks, designs, material, and how many layers were needed. I came up with a few, but my favorite was the batik one. Batik is so beautiful; it looks like someone has done a painting on a fabric. It’s more expensive 

than other fabrics, but it’s a very tightly woven yet breathable fabric, so it’s great for masks. I’ve made close to a thousand masks since April.

CAC: How does your love for art and your love for fitness intersect? 

When it comes to these two hats, they need to be somewhat balanced. I find I need both fitness and art in my life to feel whole, healthy, and balanced. My family likes me the best when I have them both in my daily life.

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