Chris Marchini has been sewing since he was 8 years old. It wasn’t until 2018, however, that he began quilting in earnest. Soon he was designing his own, starting with a monstera leaf image for his husband. Then came the March 2020 shutdowns and a renaissance for home-based hobbies, including sewing. As he fell further into quilting, Marchini was sharing his work with a limited audience on Instagram for a few years before trying his hand at TikTok. That’s when things exploded. He posted his first video in March 2022; within a month, he had more than 14,000 followers, his videos on the quilting process sometimes raking in hundreds of thousands of views. Now he specializes in modern quilting, an approach that emphasizes negative space and nontraditional shapes, with his bold designs—a skull with a crown, a giant poison apple—garnering fans, who buy his patterns online. Along the way, he’s helped build Portland’s reputation as a hub for next-gen quilters. “The Portland Modern Quilt Guild, I believe, is the largest section of the Modern Quilt Guild nationwide,” says Marchini. “It definitely ties back to the area and the maker mentality that Portland carries.” —As told to Fiona McCann
I’ve had a lot of hobbies. I’ve done scrapbooking and cardmaking and vinyl signs and all sorts of stuff. And one thing that always frustrated me was how with paper crafting, you would glue things together, but then over the years they would just fall apart because the glue would give way, and it’s just not permanent. With sewing, you’ve stitched those two pieces together and they’re going to be together pretty much forever.... You’ve taken two different fabrics, two different colors or scraps or sizes or whatever, and you’ve made something new out of it.
When everyone started sewing face masks, there was a huge shortage of fabric. And I think a lot of people took their sewing machines out of storage, dusted them off, and started sewing and kind of relearned that love of the craft. So now they’ve taken it to the next level. Maybe they started quilting or picked up sewing garments again. There has been a resurgence in sewing in general, but I think definitely in quilting. More people are coming out with modern quilt patterns, like what I do. So it’s not seen as some boring, old-lady craft like it used to be.
I was a little reluctant [to join TikTok]. But since then, I’ve seen more and more folks my age or even older, getting on there and building a platform. So it’s not just the young. Both of my children have been on TikTok since it first came out. And they’re 15 and 11. They’re thoroughly embarrassed now whenever I come across their feed.
[Quilting] definitely takes patience. I have found that it’s not as difficult as a lot of people think it can be. Even some lifelong quilters tend to make it sound more difficult than it is. I don’t know if that’s them trying to gatekeep the hobby, keep it to themselves. But once you really start doing it and understand some of the very basic fundamentals of it, I find it becomes a lot easier for folks. And then also just not holding yourself to perfection—like, it’s OK that some of my points don’t match and that these pieces didn’t line up perfectly. It’s fine. When it’s all said and done, and you’ve got your finished piece—I don’t know if this is where the term came from, but it all comes out in the wash.
I want [my quilts] to be loved and used, whether it’s on your bed or your couch. I had a quilt growing up. And it was a crazy quilt, all random shapes and sizes, and not squares. And I loved it to shreds. Literally ... I remember laying it out and I would play match, finding two fabrics that were the same fabric. Those are my memories of that quilt. I don’t know who made it. I just remember it had a light green on the back. And there was one fabric that was red with little white anchors on it. That was my favorite to find all the pieces of. I want people to have memories like that of my quilts, like they remember something that really spoke to them about it, whether it was one of the fabrics, the shape, whatever. I’d rather that than give it to someone who thought it was so precious that they kept it in a chest or in a closet, because they didn’t want it to get ruined. Because then by the time they’ve moved on, they have no memory of this. They just knew it was sitting up on the shelf. And I don’t want that.