The Maker Series: Ben Millett

Here at Aurifil, we’re honored to have a strong and revered platform through which to share the work of artists creating both beautiful and impactful work across the world. From quilters to garment makers, embroiderers to textile illustrators, we find ourselves consistently in awe, eager to absorb as much as possible. There is something particularly magnificent about working within such a uniquely creative industry and we feel endlessly grateful to be here, each and every day.

Today, we have the distinct honor of sharing the words and images of Aurifil Artisan Ben Millett. Ben joined our Aurifil family earlier this month and while it’s a new partnership, we’ve been admirers of his work for a while. You may have seen one of his modern masterpieces at a QuiltCon, or perhaps you spotted him walking the exhibit floor, showcasing one of his signature quilted sweatshirts while taking in one of the show’s quilted beauties in quiet introspection.

Quilting is Ben’s creative outlet outside his work at an agriculture company in Des Moines, Iowa. He explores color and shape by applying contemporary color palettes to traditional quilt blocks, turning digital concepts into a physical reality with fabric and thread. He creates to play, to communicate ideas, to further the gay agenda, to make what he wants to see.

Huge thanks to Ben for humoring us with such a beautifully written article and for sharing his work!

When I started quilting, it was to make gifts for new nieces and nephews. Before long, I realized that the process of working with fabric hit the right parts of my brain, having to figure out how to use a finite set of materials to realize the idea in my head. And as I got more comfortable with the medium, I recognized how it could be used to communicate my intention for the designs I worked on.

I want to believe that if this quilt existed thirty years ago, I could have accepted myself sooner than I ultimately did (nine years ago). I’d have looked at this quilt, wondered at the words that are hard to read, learned that was by design, that the words weren’t supposed to jump out at you immediately. I’d have taken to heart that my attractions were not something I needed to fix or deny, that I could take the time to just sit with my identity by myself. That that was enough. Maybe I’d even think of it as an impetus to make changes in my life.

My current mantra in my quilting practice is “make what you want to see”. That includes “make what you wish you had seen”. Indeed, “Not Everyone Wears a Rainbow” is dedicated to those who aren’t at liberty to wear a rainbow. It could be that they are wrestling with what authenticity looks like for themselves, including even acknowledging that a rainbow is in the cards for them. There are a myriad reasons, even in the United States, why someone might refrain from living authentically: it will cost them their job, or their housing, or their family, or their current relationships, or their safety.

With the number of bills that were signed into law in Iowa this year that restrict the lives of trans individuals and impact other people who identify as LGBTQ+, I wanted to create a quilt that called to the people who are especially going to be impacted, those who are not wearing a rainbow or are now questioning if they can wear a rainbow. Because I want to pay forward help to the LGBTQ+ individuals here in Iowa, this quilt is my donation to this year’s annual gala auction of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group One Iowa. This organization formed originally in 2005 to advocate for marriage equality and later shifted to advance, empower, and improve the lives of LGBTQ Iowans statewide. I’ve benefited from their work with corporations through workplace culture summits and employee trainings. Their training on gender-inclusive terminology was particularly well-received at my day-job.

I’ve made quilts as donations in previous years when the mood was more celebratory. For example, Protea was created in 2020 when the theme was “Floral”. I chose to recreate a flower that represents diversity and strength. In hindsight, I feel like I may have unintentionally chosen the gay, white, cis male version of a protea flower, the version that’s used to represent all of protea despite there being so many other variations out there. I will do better next time.

Certainly not every quilt I make is intended to reflect the LGBTQ experience, or even my experience as a gay, white, cis male. Yet we put something of ourselves into everything we make. I’m no exception to this. “Gay” isn’t my sole-defining aspect, and so some quilts have my love of order, some examine my simultaneous desire for symmetry and asymmetry, others incorporate other aspects of who I am. What I love about quilting is that I don’t have to put all of myself into every piece. I can play and see what works well together in one quilt, try different combinations in another, thereby learning more about myself with each piece.

Be sure to follow along with Ben Millett — visit his website or Instagram via the buttons below:

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