By Tricia Lynn Maloney
Quilting has been bringing people together for a very long time. Consider the popularity of friendship quilts through the years. And quilting bees? A lot more went on than just quilting the layers of a quilt together.
Today, we quilters have a lot more options for the social side of quilting than our grandmothers did. Books, magazines, radio and television gave quilters access to information and inspiration, but the Internet has made sharing ideas and reaching out to other quilters so easy. The Internet has influenced an entire new generation of quilters who are involved in blogging, challenges and guilds online.
As fun and exciting as the Internet is, though, there is something to say for a good old-fashioned friendship formed face-to-face.
After admiring quilts and textiles for many years and even collecting a few along the way, I decided to finally teach myself to quilt in 1996, after graduating from college. My first quilt, although not the loveliest piece – I fondly call it “Big Ugly” – was finally completed and I found myself eager to begin another project, and another, until I was well and truly hooked on quilting.
In my early quilting days, I quilted in isolation. I read a lot of books. I tried a lot of different techniques. I made a lot of mistakes. Then I began visiting a few local quilt shops, and I began talking to people about quilting. Before long, I had worked up enough courage to inquire about working at one of the local shops, and I was hired. There was a different person for each day of the week, and I became the “Saturday Girl.”
When I worked at the quilt shop, I learned so much about quilting. I happily immersed myself in “quilt culture” by taking a few quilt classes, going to local quilt shows and teaching myself new skills, such as free-motion quilting. It wasn’t very long before I found myself learning to use Electric Quilt computer software, and I began designing quilts.
Then I finally went on my very first shop hop. On that bus trip to many area shops, some of which I had never been to, I met two other quilters, Cathey Laird and Leslie Lattner, who were new to quilting and also on their first shop hop. We hit it off.
A few months later, we found ourselves on another bus trip, to Quilting Around Chautauqua at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. After this trip, we began calling each other and making plans to go to quilt shows, visit quilt shops and take many other fun excursions. We became the Three Musketeers.
It’s amazing how having a couple of close quilting friends made my quilting experience richer and even more rewarding because I now had someone – make that two someones — to share it with. Sure, before Cathey and Leslie, I talked about quilting to my family and other friends, but they just didn’t get it like my quilting friends did.
But our friendship wasn’t just about quilting. We supported and helped each other, too. Quilting was at the heart of our friendship, though, and made everything else more meaningful. Cathey ended up getting a job at the children’s center where I worked. Leslie’s daughter visited my classroom when she was crowned Harvest Queen. We went on a quilting bus trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and even began renting a cottage at Quilting Around Chautauqua. We added a fourth friend to the group, Mary Lee Minnis, who was my teaching partner at a monthly quilt class. Mary Lee became D’Artagnan to our Three Musketeers.
When I wrote my first quilt book, Orphan Block Quilts: Making a Home for Antique, Vintage, Collectible, and Leftover Quilt Blocks, Cathey, Leslie and Mary Lee were there every step of the way. They helped with projects, read instructions and provided a lot of moral support. They did the same thing when I wrote my second book, A Russian Journey in Quilts: The Story of Nicholas and Nina Filatoff. I like to tell people when I lecture that it takes many friends to write a quilt book, not just the person whose name is on the cover.
As I began to get more involved in professional quilting opportunities, so did my friends. I still find it really fascinating how we all found our own niches in the quilt world. Leslie eventually began helping out at one the local quilt shops, started teaching classes and did a little quilt designing. Cathey began working at another local shop, taught classes, and began designing and marketing her line of patterns. Cathey then encouraged Leslie and me to teach more quilt classes at the shop she was working at. Mary Lee and I still teach our monthly class, and Mary Lee has added a few other classes to her repertoire. As for me, I teach, lecture, write, design for magazines and continue to work on new ideas for quilting books.
Sadly, I’ve noticed that life has been getting in the way of our friendship lately, and we’ve begun to drift apart a bit because of jobs, family and everyday stresses. But underneath it all, I know it’s quilting that still holds us together. The seams of our friendship might strain a bit at times, but quilting is a strong thread.