My Quilting Story

Legacy Journal Quilt

Back in March of this year, the Missouri Quilt Co. ran a contest: ”Quilting touches so many of our hearts on a much deeper level than just pretty fabrics pieced together. For some, quilting is an artistic outlet. It is a medium to allow your creative talents to really shine. For others, quilting can be a sort of therapy. I know that as I measure, cut, and stitch, I feel a great sense of release and relaxation. It is very satisfying to create my own little piece of order and beauty even though the rest of the world may be spinning out of control!
We want to hear your story. Why do you quilt? How has quilting made your life better? How has quilting changed you?”

This got me thinking… How could I sum up what quilting means to me in 500 words or less?

Grandmother Lesta Quilt
Portion of “big girl” quilt made for me by my grandmother, Lesta B. K., at the same time she made a baby quilt for my younger sister.

Many of my earliest memories revolve around quilts – happily making doll quilts with my grandmother, snuggling up in my grandmother’s quilts to keep warm on windy winter nights, playing with the red ties that held the layers together on her feed or flour sack quilts (sometimes untying them, I’m now ashamed to admit), or carefully examining each square of fabric in her scrap quilts, trying to find the rare “magic” occurrence of the same fabric appearing diagonally next to itself like a fabric version of tic-tac-toe.

Great-Aunt's quilt
Quilt made by one of my great-aunts for my grand father. This is the quilt I took to college.

My family moved 20 times by the time I was 20 years old – within the United States, Europe and even Africa. Through all of it, our family quilts, made by my grandmother, aunt, and other family friends, represented warmth, love and connection.

Wrapping up in a quilt made by someone who loved me was almost like being wrapped up in their arms.

Crazy Quilt
Crazy Quilt, (C) Beth Ann Williams

Years later, when my oldest daughter was 3 and my youngest only months old, quiltmaking became a lifeline to me in a different way.

I had been diagnosed with a series of very serious health conditions and my long-term prognosis was deeply uncertain. Basic functions like speech, vision, and mobility, were all compromised. Communication became difficult. A close family friend, grandma of the heart if not by blood, took me under wing and although I hadn’t sewn in years, helped me start quilting as a form of physical and emotional therapy.

At the time, one of my deepest fears was that I would die while my children were too young to remember me and know how very much I loved them. My very first projects included a snuggle quilt for each of my daughters, the colors and design of each quilt matched to the personality of each child. I wanted them to know that even though they were so young, I saw each of them as unique individuals and loved them with all my heart.

What I could not have foreseen was that my journey with quiltmaking would change the whole course of my life, eventually becoming my profession as well as my passion.

While I started with simple quilts that would be loved and used ’til threadbare, I soon realized that quiltmaking could also provide a satisfying avenue to explore personal communication and self expression. I began showing and selling my work in galleries while my children were still small. Quilt shows, book deals, and teaching opportunities came soon after. Now over 20 years later, quilting continues to be an important and cherished part of both my personal and professional life.

Legacy Journal Quilt
Journal Quilt: Legacy, (C) Beth Ann Williams
Made in honor of my grandmother, Lesta B. K., who taught me to sew some 40 years ago.

I still love to make both snuggle quilts and art quilts, and find assisting others along their own creative paths to be deeply rewarding.

And I’m still comforted when I wrap up in one of my grandmother’s quilts.

Note: the folks at the Missouri Star Co. touched a chord with readers; they were apparently deluged with entries. I wasn’t one of the contest winners, but I’ve really enjoyed reading the stories they have shared so far.

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Beth Ann

When health challenges made hand-sewing (and hand appliqué and hand-quilting) no longer physically viable for her, Beth Ann’s first instinct was dismay and discouragement. But Grandma Baldwin gave her a loving (but stern!) “No pity parties – just figure out a different way.” So Beth Ann turned to her trusty sewing machine and began devising ways to achieve the fine quality appliqué look she craved faster and easier than she ever thought possible. And a career was born! Now Beth Ann enjoys sharing her accessible “invisible” machine appliqué and creative machine quilting techniques with other quilters and fiber artists around the world.

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