Friday, February 05, 2016

Let's Talk About Quilting and Someday

By Diana Carpenter White

For some years now I've been thinking that if anybody ought to know she has the resources
to tell some stories or even to tell a life story, I guess it's me, one of a long line of Capps
story-tellers.  It's just the getting ready to do it that's been the problem, not what to do it
with.  Uncle Bob is my pattern for that too, since he wrote it a bit at a time, as it came.  No
rush, do the job in front of you.  Show up, pay attention, do the next right thing; that's my
Life How-To Advice.

It'll be hardest blending it all together, and making the seams come out to be invisible.
Wonder if Cousin Sue could be talked into being my editor, since she has experience in the
job.  Or maybe she can consult with my children, to whom the task will otherwise fall.  I can
hear them groaning now!

It’s Like Quilting

  For years, I thought about quilting.  I read about quilting.  My friends
and family pointed me to articles, saved me news clippings, and recorded quilt stories on TV,
because they knew I was into quilting. I subscribed to a quilting magazine.  I often bought
other quilting magazines.  I tucked away ideas for patterns.  I had files of ideas.  I didn't quilt
yet, you understand.  I was preparing.

I collected quilting items.  When I'd visit in Charlotte, I managed always to stop in and
look around in a little quilt shop on East Boulevard near where Kenilworth intersected it.  One
summer while I was visiting my folks, that shop had some basic quilter's items offered as a
set for about $20 – a self-healing mat, a rotary cutter, and a clear plastic ruler by Olfa/Olipfa
with yellow markings every eighth inch and a special edge.  Rotary cutters were still fairly
new, having appeared sometime in the late 1970s. I fell in love with the tools.  Wonderful
tools! I've always been a sucker for good tools, a heritage from my Daddy, the handyman.

During the 1970s, to my great delight, there had been a renaissance of quilting, thanks
to Jonathan Holstein and some other writers, researchers, and quilt historians.  There was a
major celebration of old quilts at a curated exhibition, and a few artists and writers and
quilters got further energized, igniting this quilting revival, all within the same time frame.

So many of the world's great quiet revolutions are begun with a group of folks in a relatively
small geographic area experiencing a relatively simultaneous reawakening, who get excited
about exploring something they passionately care about – and it catches.  I think of the red
barn gang in Dayton in the late 19th century, and the rise of what became DELCO (Dayton
Electric Light COmpany) and then there was NCR and business, and spark-gap starters and
automobiles and flying machines – the Wright Brothers started with a bicycle shop in Dayton,
you remember.

So in the late 70s, during this quilting efflorescence, Michael James was turning color
theory on its head.  Dorothy and Jeffrey Gutcheon were developing ways to cut diamond
shapes, minding the bias, and taught techniques for stitching bias edges.  Nancy Crow was
doing glowing geometrics that were like nothing anyone else had ever done.  I collected
every picture of Nancy Crow quilts I found, and read every article.  She was the first artist I
knew whose medium was quilts, as compared to a quilt artist or an art quilter.  It opened
quilting up as an art form, for me, a serious endeavor with joyous possibilities.   I tore out
and saved every article about Nancy Crow that I found. Later she came out with a book or
two, which of course I had to have.

I had the James book and the Gutcheon book, and a book Kay gave me one Christmas, A People and Their Quilts by John Rice Irwin.   Reid and Alex discovered the same
book later, in Malaprop's in Asheville, and knew I'd love it; I gave this second copy to Cousin
Sue, with their blessing.  The study of the History of Quilting has become another sideline of
mine.  And to my great joy both cousin Sue (Sue Capps Leet) and cousin Mattie's daughter
Patsy (Patsy Capps Brandon) are now quilters.  We three mean that quilting is now officially
part of the ongoing Capps heritage!

I spoke of loving good tools.  In 1979 Olfa came out with the rotary cutter, easing the way for
cutting quilt pieces.  Olfa's rotary cutters were yellow and black.  They were superb tools.
I've always been a sucker for a good tool.  So to return to this small quilt shop in the Dilworth
section of Charlotte, they had this three-piece set of quilter's basics, for taking brand new
cloth and cutting it up into small pieces and combining the pieces into bigger pieces, a bizarre
behavior modern quilters display.  Oh, I had scissors, several pairs, some just for sewing.  My
children as adults still know to look for the tassel, when something needs cutting – to check
whether it's scissors for fabric or are they all right to cut paper with; you dassn't get it wrong.

I had yardsticks.  I had pins.  I had a measuring tape.  But no real quilting tools.  I didn't
have a rotary cutter or a self-healing mat or a ruler with an edge you could use to keep the
rotary cutter straight (try it with a yardstick and you'll have splinters, not to mention that
yardsticks generally don't have grids which include eighth inch markings).  And then at that
little quilt shop in Dilworth, suddenly here they were in a set!

I had the James book and the Gutcheon book, and a book Kay gave me one
So I bought the set, when $20 was a major outlay, over against someday, The
Day when I would start being a quilter.  In our extra bedroom in Eastwyck, which was my
sewing room and the kids' playroom and the family TV room, I had long kept a basket in the
closet where I stashed scraps of good cotton cloth that I would have on hand Someday when
I was ready to begin to piece quilts.  Maybe when the children are older, I'd think.  Maybe
when I have a little more time of my own.   I always knew I was going to be a quilter.  But
that was for Someday.  I blithely ignored the fact that someday was a bit nebulous as a date,
being the name of no day of the week, belonging to no month, and therefore hard to pin

Next – I Learned to Sew...

(This is the second in a series of excerpts from CHS54's Diana Carpenter White's personal and family history. A work in progress.  -Ed)