When people think of art, they likely picture traditional media, like painting, sculpting and photography.
Jessica Alexandrakis would enthusiastically add quilting to that list.
A love of quilting, and precise needle and thread work, has led people like her to appreciate the time and dedication it takes to create magnificently intricate blankets and other types of bed coverings.
Starting this weekend, Bellmore residents and neighbors will have a chance to see some of Alexandrakis’s best work on display at the Bellmore Memorial Library.
Alexandrakis grew up near Chicago before making her way to Smith College in Massachusetts, where she was a foreign language major, graduating in 2001. She has lived on the East Coast ever since, moving to Long Island in 2008. She developed a passion for sewing when she was young, she said, thanks to her great-grandmother.
“I grew up playing with her scrap fabric, and that’s why my cousins and I decided to start quilting,” she said. “We would get together at family parties and go through the fabric and make squares and sew them together. I started because I come from crafty people. All sorts of crafts were just around, and we knew how to do them.”
Alexandrakis became fascinated by Japanese culture in high school, after meeting a foreign exchange student. Her undergraduate work focused on the country’s language and literature, and she traveled extensively in Japan, even living there for periods of time, while studying abroad and teaching English. During her time there, a mentor taught her Japanese-style quilting.
“She taught me, you know, Japanese rules with quilting, which are so different than how we do it in America,” Alexandrakis noted. “It was a really transformative experience, because there were no deadlines, and I could really go very slowly and do everything by hand. I had someone with me for full weekends, and I just intensely studied. It was phenomenal.”
After college, she worked as an English as a Second Language teacher at Hofstra and St. John’s. On the side, she ran a quilting blog.
“It was heaven,” she said of the blog. “There’s such a great community of people making and sharing stuff for free, teaching each other how to do things. I really fell into that group. It felt like the right place to share quilting.”
Her blog was so well received that she was approached by Potter Craft, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House publishing, to write a book. After writing her first one on a quilting technique called English paper piecing in 2013, she published a second book with the same company called “Get Started Quilting” in 2015. The books have been printed in eight languages and are available worldwide.
What really prompted Alexandrakis’s career change, she said, was the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. “I don’t think my story is unique in that I decided to start a business after lockdown,” she said. “I did find that my priorities shifted in the pandemic, as many people’s did.”
Throughout the summer of 2021, she made quilts in Nassau County parks, and taught sewing outside to anyone who wanted to join her. “I was really trying to get people back into being in the community, in person,” she explained. “And I suppose that was about when I decided to make it my life mission to teach everyone on Long Island how to sew.
“I do now have my business focused on teaching, and not so much making art quilts that I sell and put in galleries,” she added. “I definitely enjoy being in a room full of people who want to create things, and just watching their creativity open up — especially when they find that it’s really not that hard. It’s just a few steps, a few skills, and you can do it.”
Alexandrakis, who runs the site Life Under Quilts, which features her work, blog, books and more, has worked with libraries in the past, teaching groups how to sew. Starting on Saturday, her quilts will be on display at the Bellmore facility through the end of April, and it’s the first time she’ll headline her own solo show.
Chris Ham, the library’s adult program coordinator, said that local artists are typically featured for one to three months at a time. Exhibits and displays, he said, are selected for a few reasons, including to promote the library’s services, collections and programs; to highlight current issues and events; and to display arts, crafts, photographs and writing that complement the library’s mission.
The show will open with a reception on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Attendees are asked to register in advance at BellmoreLibrary.org, and are encouraged to bring sewing crafts with them.
“I would like to give a big shout-out to the library, because they’ve been such a pleasure ” Alexandrakis said. “Chris Ham is organized and easygoing, and it’s been a big help. I never thought I would ever have an opening reception for my own art show.”
While the prices of quilts and other items won’t be displayed at the library, anything that is on exhibit can be purchased. For more about Alexandrakis’s work, her business and items for sale, go to LifeUnderQuilts.net. The library is at 2288 Bedford Ave. in Bellmore.