As a defiant teenager I hated being dependant on my parents for money when I wanted (or needed) new clothes. So learning to make my own, in my early-teens, allowed me the independence I craved. For some reason the money they withheld for clothes was freely given to buy fabric. Trips to the fabric store to pour over the flat-fold stacks soon became a weekly occurrence for me and nurtured a love for the feel and colors of fabric.
Later, while I was in college in Connecticut studying violin, it seemed inevitable that I would take a part-time job at a local general purpose fabric shop. I soon started making custom curtains and doing bridal gown alterations. Little did I know how my life would be changed one day when a co-worker, Judy, and I were looking through the craft section in the back of a McCall’s pattern book. There appeared a new quilt pattern for a Giant Dahlia quilt – this was in the very early 80s. Our customers were not really quilters, but we did carry the available assortment of cottons from VIP and Concord House and Jeffrey Gutcheon (his periwinkle is still my favorite color!).
On a whim, Judy and I challenged each other to make the quilt, having no idea what we were in for. Neither of us had any quilting experience, nor did we know any quilters. There were basically two color palettes available in the early 80s – slate blue, which she chose, and dusty pinks, which I chose. I selected a range of fabrics from small pink calicos to a dark burgundy solid for the background.
And like I am with all things — it’s all or nothing — I went at that quilt full steam ahead. Two months later I had a queen-sized quilt, machine pieced and hand quilted. Of course I didn’t know curved seams were supposed to be harder than straight-edged seam, so they just didn’t give me a problem. And no one told me that the smaller the hand quilting stitch the better, so my quilting looked like long running stitches (about 4 to the inch). I did design all of my own quilt designs, inelegant though they were, and unfortunately I didn’t know that you were supposed to quilt evenly throughout the quilt.
I did know to put on a separate binding, but it wasn’t double-fold and not bias. So the first thing to go after I had used the quilt for a while was the binding. It frayed due to the lesser quality of fabrics back then.
Even though I had pre-washed all of the fabrics, after I washed the quilt for the first time, the dark burgundy had bled onto the back, in the quilting lines, which echoed the petals of the dahlia, giving it a unique shadow look on the back (hard to see in the photo but it’s there!).
If you remember, there weren’t too many choices of batting back then: Cotton Classic for that old-fashioned look, fat batts for the poofy look, and Traditional from Fairfield, for that moderate blankety look. The latter was my choice and I later learned that polyester batting should really be bonded or there would be massive pilling!
Thankfully, as they say, ignorance is bliss. If I had known all of the difficulties and expectations of accuracy that could arise, I may not have taken on the challenge of making that first quilt. Instead, I went about the process confident that whatever I did would be just fine. And that first quilt has lead me to work in no fewer than 6 fabric/quilt shops over the years (including managing In The Beginning in Seattle), writing three quilt books, starting my pattern company, and traveling around the country sharing my enthusiasm and designs. And just for comparison, this is one of my latest designs – Sunset Over Sedona.
Oh – and my friend Judy – she never finished hers!