photo of a kimono embellished by naoko hirano

A Visit with Naoko Hirano, International CQA/ACC Member

Janet Harper
Winter 2018

I first saw a quilt made by Naoko Hirano when I attended Quilt Canada in 2015. I had been to previous National Juried Shows and been mightily impressed by the inspiration, design and workmanship of the quilts. But this time, I came around a corner and saw a joyous display of circles which, together, were an image of a woman leaping (or dancing?) forward. I believe quilts enable us to share our love and passion around the world. When I looked closer, I saw that each circle was a yo-yo made of kimono silk. The artist called the piece Leap Forward at Age 60!! 60 (six zero) Anniversary!! and I thought, based on the energy and creativity of this piece, I would love to meet Naoko.

A few months later, I found out Naoko is a member of the Vancouver Quilters’ Guild, which is also my guild! I never met her at meetings because she lives in Japan, regularly visiting Vancouver in the summer when we don’t have any meetings. Since 2016, I have met Naoko, and recently, I sat down with her to ask about her quilting journey. She was wearing a stylish suit made of a variety of red and black materials and a necklace featuring bobbins of brightly coloured thread.

photo of a dragon quilt appliquéd by naoko hirano

How and when did you learn to quilt? What attracted you to quilting?

I was one of the first female firefighters in Japan when I was in my early twenties, but I always had a dream of opening my own fabric shop. I retired from being a firefighter when I was 24 and opened my fabric shop in a small town. I was surrounded by many fabrics and began making quilts in my shop. This led me to be more interested to pursue my quilting career. In the beginning, I learned sewing on my own, as a child, and have been quilting on my own.

In 1978, the first quilt school in Japan opened in Nagoya city. I attended school there. I was 27 years old. My daughter was still a baby at the time. Managing to attend school and care for my daughter was not easy. I received a certificate to be a quilting instructor after graduation. I also took some courses in Tokyo.

Now, my fabric shop is my quilt studio and called Cat Patch Club. I teach quilting to some students and I make my favourite quilts there every day.

photo of a dragon quilt made by naoko hirano

Do you continue to learn new techniques? What are your favourite techniques?

To learn new techniques, I have taken workshops in Houston, US, at Quilt Canada, and also in Tokyo, Japan. My favorite technique is appliqué, using traditional Japanese shibori, kimono and obi fabrics. I find I can express my passion and emotions on my quilts best by using an appliqué technique.

I believe quilts enable us to share our love and passion around the world, without the boundaries of words. It is one of the reasons I love quilting the most. My motto is to make quilts which make people happy and give empowerment. I feel empowered and happy by my own quilts.

photo of naoko hirano leap forward at age 60 quilt quilt made with fabric yoyos

Which of your quilts are you most proud of? Can you tell us why?

I made Leap Forward at Age 60!! 60 years old (six zero) anniversary!! when I turned 60. I used fabrics I collected for the last 35 years. Some are given by my mother and my friends. Some I bought overseas when I traveled.

I have good memories and love associated with fabrics used in this quilt. I made 665 fabric yoyos. Then, I made flowers with yoyos on the quilt, which represent blossoms of life toward my senior years. This quilt has received an award from Open European Quilt Championships and has been travelling to shows in Holland, Italy, France, Belgium and Russia.

Are there quilters you particularly admire? Why?

I admire Japanese quilter Eiko Okano (for a notion of her work, take a look at a recent exhibition ). She makes quilts with themes in Japanese tradition and culture and mixes them with modern flavour. She is a one-of-a-kind quilter and I love the colour she uses. She is also introducing Japan to the world through her quilts.

photo of a stylized portrait of a woman made by naoko hirano

Do you belong to guilds or groups in Japan?

There are no quilt guilds in Japan. Japanese quilters get connected with each other by belonging to instructors’ workshops. Usually, the instructor has their own studio and has workshops constantly. Quilters join and become members of the instructor’s workshop and become students. They get together regularly and learn from the instructor and exchange ideas and show their quilts. There are many instructors in Japan.

There is a quilt group called Japan Contemporary Quilt Association (JCQA). Members are the pioneers of Japanese quilters. They hold a big quilt show in Tokyo once a year. I attend the show once every two years.

photo of quilter naoko hirano

It was really interesting to get together with Naoko and talk about her passion for quilting. The Vancouver Quilters’ Guild was excited to have Naoko as their feature quilter at their quilt show in mid-October, 2018 and it was wonderful to see and have a chance to sit and chat with her once more.

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