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Hustles + Hobbies: Quilting & Natural Dying With Tenille

by in Culture on 19th July, 2022

We’ve spoken to Esra Alhamal about the art of Islamic illumination, Azeezat Adeola about mindfulness in knitting and how to get started and knitting for social issues, Neda about pole fitness, body confidence and online trolls, Chaimaa Creates about baking and cake design, Katie Haseeb about illustrating and fine arts, Brooke Benoit about jewellery design, Firdaws Clotaire about ceramics and pottery-making, and Zainab Alema about her journey to becoming a professional rugby player and encouraging more Muslim women to get involved in sports.

Last month we spoke to Enduro cyclist and Mountain Biker Iman.

If you would like to interview a Muslim woman about her hobby/hustle, get in touch:

What do you call yourself in relation to your hobby?

I call myself a quilter and natural dyer, but I’m also a forager, gardener and anti-capitalist hippie who loves for her sisters what she loves for herself.

How did you get into this hobby?

I was first introduced to quilting via my late aunt Jeanette Johnson, who used to make all sorts of amazing things with her sewing machine, including quilts for my three oldest children, one of which I still have. And my first introduction to dyeing with plants came about via a homeschool science experiment I did with my kids back in 2018. I kept at it long after they lost interest.

Dye experiment with prickly pear cactus fruit. Photo: Tenille Fati

What is your favourite thing about quilting and natural dyeing ? 

My favorite thing about quilting and natural dyeing is the story and heritage that comes with practicing both of these art forms; the Black diaspora has a very rich botanical and fiber heritage that I feel called to remember and imagine, mashaAllah. I also really love when I’m able to bring my designs to life! There’s such an enriching education that happens, which keeps me coming back to it over and over again.

What is the most challenging thing about quilting and natural dyeing?

I think the most challenging thing about quilting or dyeing comes when I’m learning a new skill, like piecing together curves or figuring out the math to make a design a reality.

How do you stay motivated?

Staying motivated can be challenging, but I’ve found that staying disciplined is where my focus should be. This is meaningful, purposeful, beautiful, creative work for me, alhamdulillah. It brings together so many of my interests but also allows me to call into the present my specific cultural heritage, but also the legacy Muslims have carried historically as artisans, gardeners, foragers & stewards who love to share beauty with the world through what they make & create with their hands. When you feel honored to be doing the work you’re doing, staying disciplined is much more important than how motivated one feels on a given day. So I believe that giving a specific amount of time each day to your craft will help you to remain steady on the course.

Natural food items used for dying fabric. Photo credit: Tenille Fati

What is the work that you are most proud of, and why?

I’m most proud of the small quilt I made for a US-based organization called Welcome Blanket, which tasks makers of different kinds to craft a blanket for a newly-settled immigrant or refugee arriving in the US for the first time. My husband and I collaborated on it (my quilt, his words). It was such an inspiring labor of love and welcome, and one of the requirements was that it should hurt a little to give it away. It definitely did, and it’s my favorite quilt to date, mashaAllah. I pray it’s serving the recipient family well, inshaAllah.

Between your hobby and work, family, personal errands etc. how do you organise your time and make sure that you’re staying on top of everything?

I don’t believe that in order for my work to be successful I have to give ALL of my time and attention to it. For me, it’s not an issue of quantity, but of quality. For example, if we pray all of our fard & nawafil prayers each day, but they are all prayed in a distracted state, what have we earned from that huge volume of rakats? If we choose instead to be present in the actions we’re performing, even if it’s for a small amount of time, then we’ve done something beautiful inshaAllah. So, for myself, I strive to organize everything around the prayer times as much as I can, then my family & household comes next, and my work comes last, even if it means I only get to sit at my sewing machine or plan my dye tests for 10 minutes that day. Sometimes, there are variations in the day, of course, but this is what the bones of my day look like, mashaAllah.

Fabric samples dyed with turmeric, bougainvillea, rosemary, and dried roses. Photo credit: Tenille Fati

Who are your biggest inspirations/who are the people making waves in this field?

My biggest inspiration in the quilting world is Faith Ringgold, Bisa Butler, and my friend Jess Bailey of Public Library Quilts. They all show me how expansive, yet grounding quilting can be. My biggest dye inspiration is my mentor Lucille Junkere (the Jamaican queen of indigo–my words 💙), Aboubakar Fofana, and Liz Spencer aka The Dogwood Dyer. I learn the most from them.

What would be your advice for someone that wants to get into x ?

My first piece of advice would be to begin. There will never be the perfect time or perfect conditions or perfect tools all the time, so it’s okay to just say Bismillah and let your curiosity and sense of wonder take the lead inshaAllah. Like Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” My second piece of advice would be to never underestimate the power, knowledge and expertise of a good teacher. Find one that speaks your values (because your creativity is driven by your values and beliefs) and ask them questions, and for Allah’s Sake, pay them for their time and their knowledge inshaAllah. Third, find out what the craft and artisanal heritage of your people are. Their stories are a treasure trove and a blessing, alhamdulillah. This kind of research in tandem with your duas is a great way to honor those who came before you inshaAllah. Lastly, make dua for yourself, that Allah increases you in knowledge and discernment. Every master was once a novice until they were guided.

You can find me sharing quilts and natural dye processes and results on Instagram @tenillefati and on my sister account @quilted_salah, my small business page where I sell quilted prayer rugs. I’ll soon be transitioning to the Telegram app though!

Selina Bakkar

Selina Bakkar

I'm a simply striving to be better and improve in different areas of my life through more self awareness, experiences and learning more about the deen. You'll find me talking about community, connection, planting & growing, seeking the truth in an age of propaganda and misinformation. This year I want to document more to do with food heritage and history so watch this space or reach out. Have a listen to the Amaliah Voices podcast where I talk passionately about Islam, nature, motherhooding and back home. Link in bio peeps. To join the Amaliah Writer Community email me at IG: SelinaBakkar