Doing it yourself, together
A Tulsa couple catches the DIY wave and encourages other local crafters to jump on board.
(page 3 of 5)
On the block
Tulsa is home to more than 3,000 active quilters and several quilting stores. -- by Bob Haring
Quilting is an old craft with new life.
Women once made quilts to turn scraps of fabric into warm coverings for beds when the only heat came from a fireplace or wood stove.
Quiltmaking declined with the spread of central heating.
But what was almost a lost art has now become creative outlet.
Tulsa has more than 3,000 active quilters and several stores catering to them, according to Sue Swanner, manager at the Quilt Sampler.
“All ages are involved (in quilting), from young children to grandmothers,” adds Nancy Mullman, owner of the Cotton Patch. “We have male quilters, too … Not many, but the ones we have are very good.”
She says quilting in recent years has grown “exponentially.” Her shop has operated for 40 years; she has owned it for 25.
“There is a lot of quilting talent in Tulsa,” Mullman says, noting at least five women with national reputations.
Swanner sees “hundreds of regular customers” since the opening of the Quilt Sampler five years ago. The store Swanner had been working at closed and she “saw an ad for a quilt shop and applied because I grew up with grandma quilting,” she says.
A third shop, Sew Flakes, is in Broken Arrow. All three stores offer quilting classes, which usually are full.
Quilting is an ancient technique, dating back as far as the Egyptian pharaohs. After pieces of cloth are stitched together to create a patterned top, it is then fastened to a solid cloth backing with an insulating layer, typically thin cotton batting, in between. Sewing those pieces together is the actual process of quilting.
In the 19th century Midwest, women gathered in homes and churches at “quilting bees” for socialization and quiltmaking. They stretched pieces of fabric on a large wooden quilting frame.
Once, all work was done by hand with needle and thread. Quilters were judged by the regularity and evenness of their stitching, plus the design of the top. Today quilting is sometimes done with machines — regular sewing machines for tops and “long-arm quilters” for the quilting, says Lisa DeSpain, who enjoys the hobby.
A long-arm quilter “is about the size of a car and costs about the same,” says DeSpain, who owns one. She uses it to make 30-40 quilts a year for herself and others.
Like most quilters, she got started at age 16 because of a relative. She has been quilting for 23 years.
“My mom and I started at the same time,” DeSpain says. “She just wanted to start a quilt with my old baby clothes, and I started a baby quilt for a friend of mine. I have Mom’s first quilt, and my daughter has my first quilt.”
Vesta VanTrease, past president of the Green Country Quilting Guild, began quilting in 1979. She read in a newspaper about a quilting meeting and told a neighbor, “Let’s go see what it’s about … it might be fun.”
Now the guild has approximately 200 members who meet regularly to make quilts for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Madonna House and “whoever needs quilts for children,” she says.
Though some still do their own quilting, many of today’s quilters like VanTrease make the tops and have someone with a machine do the actual quilting.
The tops are the artistic challenge. There are many traditional patterns and many quilters follow them, but the most creative quilters innovate. Today many create “memory” quilts, made of T-shirts, special garments or fabrics that recollect family memories.
“Scrappy” quilts also are popular, made from pieces of leftover material from other sewing projects or recovered from old clothes.
However, today’s clothing often is made of polyester or other non-cotton fabric. Cotton “is much nicer to work with,” says Mullman, who didn’t begin quilting until she bought her shop.
“I got into quilting because I bought the Cotton Patch,” she explains. “I sewed and did crafts, but when I bought the shop I had to learn to quilt really fast.”