Beginners learn timeless art of quilting at center

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 28, 2006

The names evoke colorful images – &#8220The Drunkard's Path,” &#8220Dresden Plate,” &#8220California Road,” and &#8220Mexican Cross.” &#8220Tumbling Blocks” practically jumps out at you with its 3-D effect, while &#8220Martha Washington” and &#8220Dolley Madison” recall days long past.

They are the names of quilting patterns, and some local ladies are busy creating their own versions of the appealing designs.

A stitch in time

Each Thursday afternoon at the Camellia Senior Center on Bolling Street, quilting class instructor Pat Lawrence and her students meet to cut and piece together intricate fabric patterns.

The table is scattered with scissors, pins and needles, thimbles and fabric in a vibrant assortment of colors and prints.

Finished quilt squares, pinned to a sheet, show off the fruits of the novice quilters' labors for the past two months.

Class members are pleased with what they have accomplished so far.

Fitting together just right

&#8220The first couple of times, we were thinking, boy, we might be in the wrong class…but we're doing pretty well now,” laughs student Cathy Brown, whose cheerful yellow, blue and fuchsia color choices are going into her Mexican cross quilt squares.

&#8220It's tougher than I thought it would be. It's not just cutting out pieces of fabric. I didn't realize how you have to make sure everything fits together just right,” novice quilter Janet Wilson adds.

Mary Braden, believing variety is the spice of life, is working on a series of different quilt square patterns for her project, using the same mauve and green prints to tie her creation together. &#8220It's challenging, but I am having fun with it,” Braden says with a smile.

While there are quilting groups at the senior nutrition centers in Greenville and Honoraville, this group differs from them in some important ways, Pat Lawrence says.

&#8220This is a true beginning quilting class. The ladies are learning the foundation of quilting – choosing a pattern and fabric, cutting, piecing,” Lawrence explains.

&#8220Everyone works at their own pace. Members have started at different times; we have another member about to join us.”

The old-fashioned approach

Lawrence emphasizes the importance of beginning quilters learning how to do it the traditional way, by hand.

&#8220When you begin quilting by hand, rather than using a sewing machine, you learn how things are constructed. Then, you can move on to a machine,” she says. &#8220When you start out quilting on a machine, it's very hard to make everything match just right.”

Braden notes many of the area's accomplished quilters are growing older and infirm. Many have passed away. She doesn't want to see a much-loved American tradition become &#8220a lost art.”

&#8220Sometimes people say, ‘I'll take up quilting when I retire'…why not learn now and enjoy it now and later on,” Braden says.

Janet Wilson, who is years away from senior status, is getting an early start on honing her quilting skills.

&#8220This hour just flies by,” she comments.

Volunteer instructor Lawrence, who has been quilting for more than two decades, says she &#8220likes to quilt and share it with other people.”

&#8220I don't really see myself as a ‘teacher.” I just try to guide them, and I learn as I go along and work with them.”

&#8220And Pat doesn't mind if you call her at home,” Brown laughs.

In addition to their work in class, the novice quilters say they have also put in time cutting and stitching while watching TV at night and on the weekends, or simply relaxing.

&#8220It's good to feel you are accomplishing something in your spare time. You have something to show for it,” Braden comments.

Brown is thinking of giving her quilt as a gift, though it might take her &#8220a couple of years” to finish it.

&#8220I'm planning to hand-stitch the whole thing,” Brown says.

Have thimble, will quilt

A thimble is a &#8220must” for anyone planning to do any serious quilting, Lawrence says.

&#8220You must learn how to use a thimble – once you do, it does all the work for you. That's what you need to learn when you first start out in quilting.”

It's a lesson Braden admits she is struggling with. &#8220If I can ever get the hang of using a thimble correctly, that will be great. That's my biggest problem,” Braden sighs, as she points out a sore spot where she inadvertently stabbed finger with her needle.

Making the right color choices, learning to use the thimble, making straight, even stitches (&#8220the size of the stitch is less important than getting it even”) and &#8220not jumping into the deep end of the pool in the beginning” are some of the secrets to being a successful quilter, Lawrence says.

&#8220You want to start simple and work your way up to the more difficult patterns, so you don't frustrate yourself so much at the start.”

Class members say Lawrence has proved &#8220a great teacher.”

&#8220We've enjoyed it so much, we'd just like to see more people join us,” Braden says.

The more, the merrier

The quilting class is free of charge, and open to all ages.

&#8220We want this to be an ongoing thing, with everyone working at their own pace,” Lawrence says.

Two boxes of fabric scraps are available at the center &#8220for anyone who needs fabric and doesn't have it on hand,” the instructor adds. An assortment of quilting books offer ideas for novices.

&#8220We are having a wonderful time. We have a volunteer teacher willing to share her abilities with us. We just want more folks to join us,” Braden said.

The class meets at 1:30 each Thursday afternoon, and anyone interested in joining the class is encouraged to call Mary Braden at the Camellia Senior Center.

Braden also invites anyone who has a talent or skill and would like to share it in classes at the Camellia Center to give her a call.

&#8220We are always looking to add activities to our schedule. Right now, we would really love to get an exercise class started that could meet a couple of days a week. We are trying to keep the community fit and active and enjoying life.”