For Montclair Local


Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants, and interesting people that catch her eye. She’s written memoirs and personal essays as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers.

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In this day of mass-produced art and home décor, it was refreshing for me to meet women who use their talents to beautify and enhance homes from the inside to the outside. I was invited by Robin Schlager to sit in with her quilting group in her home. Robin has served on the Township Council twice, representing the Second Ward from 2004 to 2008 and 2012 to the present.

Lori Beitler, Rochelle Sandler, Fern Seaman and Robin meet each Wednesday evening to work on their quilts in progress. The women have known each other for 25 years, since their children attended Nishuane School. They knitted together until their daughters went to college, and then switched to quiltmaking.





Robin doesn't own a sewing machine and hand sews her quits; she has created 60 quilts in the 38 years she's been working on them. The women never sell their quilts, but donate them to charity events, give them away as gifts or use them in their homes. Their textile creations have been displayed at the Montclair Farmers’ Market on Walnut Street. 

After choosing a quilt design, they buy patterns and pick out their favorite colors. They use quilting cotton, because they want their quilts to be used rather than just kept on display. The finished quilts are washable and durable. Quilting supplies include a cutting mat, a giant grid ruler and a rotary cutter. After sewing the fabric shapes into a pattern, the quilt top is created. It becomes a quilt when it’s sewn together with batting — the filler of quilts, fluff for the center — and a backing. 

“Ninety percent of the time, we bring our quilts to a 'longarmer' who has a giant machine to quilt the three layers together,” Robin said. 

Since there are no fabric or quilting supply stores in the area, the women travel to South Jersey, and Brooklyn, and attend the Lancaster Quilt Show in Pennsylvania and the Vermont Quilt Festival in Essex Junction, to get their fabric. As members of the Northern Jersey Modern Quilt Guild, they meet monthly in Cedar Grove with other quilters. They plan to travel to Texas in 2020 for the National Quilt Show.

Their finished quilts are beautiful works of art, with triangle, star, circle and square shapes. Robin has designed quilts such as Pumpkin & Apples in beautiful fall colors on both the quilt top and back, along with a Schoolhouse theme in red and white. Rochelle Sandler knits in the morning when she wakes up, and quilts in the evening. It’s clear that these four women are helping to keep this genre alive. After learning so much about quilting, I am thinking of joining them each week to sit, sew and chat. I am a so-so hand sewer, but so enthusiastic.

Kristine Lombardi and Robin Woods look at a homemade home portrait. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL


Your home is a comforting place to be, and illustrator Kristine Lombardi uses her whimsical picture-book style to make one-of-a-kind portraits. She wanted to be an illustrator when she was in high school and ended up working in print advertising. In a leap of faith, Kristine started her own business, Storied Houses, while continuing to illustrate and write children's books.

Her books, such as “The Grumpy Pets” and “Lovey Bunny,” are animal-oriented, and gently stress animal rights, inclusion and advocacy to young children. Kristine said that the idea for making house portraits was an offshoot of her taking long walks all around Montclair and taking photos of homes that caught her eye. 

“The portraits are not the usual architectural renderings, with storybook watercolor renderings. After I take photos or your house, or you send them to me, I include special touches such as garden gnomes, pets, trees, and flowers. The finished product is not just a painting of your house, it's a way to express how you feel about it,” she said.

Kristine invited me into her home studio, where I sat down with her and learned how her photos turn into commissioned works for her clients. I was like a kid in a candy shop, sitting at a large work table full of art supplies. Dozens of watercolor kits and brushes were there, along with pencils, pens, and rulers. Here's a pro watercolor tip for you from Kristine: Instead of dipping brushes into a mason jar full of clean water, take a simple spray bottle and moisten the color you want to use. It makes a difference and keeps the brush from getting too soaked and drippy. Works in progress hang on the walls of the studio, along with first-draft watercolor renderings for her clients. She especially likes to illustrate nature through the seasons, with changes in tree bark and reeds growing in the snow. I had fun sitting at the tiny child's desk near her work table, and made an equally childlike drawing of a home, using the large square topped by a triangle method, with rectangular windows and door. My house looked like it was smiling, but I'm no competition for Kristine. 

It takes two to three weeks to complete each framed-in-glass gouache and watercolor not-so-standard issue portrait. Local real estate agents have asked Kristine to create them as gifts for clients who purchase homes from them, and she's thinking about branching into home décor and design collections as well. After being self-employed for 20 years, Kristine promises that “I will always be creative until the day I die.” 

We have so many talented people here in town, making things of beauty that will be cherished for a long time to come. 


In this column:

• Kristine Lombardi
   Storied Houses