Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Beginners Class

(This is another chapter from "MY STORY," Diana Carpenter White's personal and family history. A work in progress.)

By Diana Carpenter White

     (Introduction:     When we were kids, Cathy and I had a couple of handmade quilts from Grandmother Carpenter.  One set of two quilts was old velvets and silks and sateens, in crazy-quilt blocks, with all sorts of embroidery stitches at the block edges, feather stitch and lazy daisy and blanket stitch.  Another set was made of velveteen rectangles, deep greens and blues and reds, laid in rows like offset bricks, with a flannel backing in a kind of grayed blue, tied rather than quilted.  Flannel back and velveteen front, nothing is cozier than a soft quilt to snuggle under on a cold night.  Or a quilt to put across your lap when you put your feet up and read.  Or later something to tuck over a napping child who got suddenly tired the way little ones will, and dropped deep into sleep where he sat.  I always knew the kind of sewing I intended to do someday for the joy of it would be quilts.  Someday. )

The Beginners Class

          And in 1991 I saw an ad in Quilters Newsletter Magazine, the classic first major quilt magazine to which I had subscribed for a few years.  It was about a new quilt shop opening on Main Street in Tucker, a shop called Dream Quilters.  I was still teaching special ed at that point, with a self-contained BD classroom in a regular school – and my school was Henderson Mill and it was in Tucker!  This was maybe the September issue of QNM, arriving in August; and so sometime in September, as school was settling into a rhythm, I left Henderson Mill one afternoon and drove the few blocks into downtown Tucker and found the store, and parked and went in.

          I can remember walking away from the parking lot between two buildings, with car parking spaces painted up against the old brick walls on one side and against the painted-over brick and plaster on the other side, and one double row of paint-denoted parking places in the middle.  I walked up toward Tucker High School, past an insurance office, to find the quilt shop, hoping it was going to be a good place.  It had somehow become quietly urgent that I get on with making Someday happen.  The shop windows had been painted cheerfully by some wonderful wizard of a friend of the shopkeepers, with the name Dream Quilters in painted calligraphy, twined with grape vines, maybe, with blue-violet ribbons and great purple clusters of grapes hanging down, and curling green tendrils and leaves.  In the window there were sample quilts draped to be seen to best advantage from the street.  There was a bell over the door that tinkled when I went in.  The two owners, Pam and Libby, looked up and greeted me, and made me free of the place.  I remember fabrics on bolts, notions, samples, a round card table and folding chairs where they were working as I came in, their books of fabric samples spread about with their yellow legal pads, and pens and tape measures.  Oh, and cans of Tab!  Tab drinkers can bond over that alone, even if nothing else offers; we told each other where one could still buy Tab, for starters.  We chatted, I looked, they showed me things.  I liked them, and I liked the feel of the place.  I introduced myself, told them I’d always known I was going to be a quilter, and I was ready to start.  

          The owners of the store Dream Quilters were Libby D. Carter and Pam D. Cardone, two of five sisters (maiden name Deaton, I think, or Deason).  Their husbands Walter and Bob had agreed to back them and support them in their dream of owning a quilt shop.  It was a great partnership and a great shop.  It lasted until the late 90s, maybe 1997, when family changes meant that Pam and Bob were moving to Arizona, and Libby and Walt were thinking about his retirement.  They sold the shop to a quilter named Jan Huff, who kept it going for awhile but eventually closed it.  The magic had been the two sisters, and those of us they gathered around them, and how much we all loved the whole context and community of quilting. 

          Libby was the machine quilter; her philosophy was, she could hand piece and hand quilt a few heirloom quilts in her lifetime, a very few, or do machine piecing and quilting and make all the quilts she wanted.  Pam was the hand quilter, as much for the sheer physical pleasure and contentment of the task, as from a reverence for the original methods and their celebration, and however many or few quilts she got done, it was fine with her, it was a joy to be doing handwork (she machine-quilted too, of course).   They were always hunting out a new technique or finding a great quilter to come in and teach classes.  That first fall they had a beginners’ class scheduled for a series of evening lessons at a time I could make it to a class after the school day was over.  They told me about it on that first visit, and I signed up right then and there. 

          The teacher was Barbara Woolard, whose hair was soft and fly-around and mostly white, and whose face lighted up when she talked quilts.  She was not tall, neat but not exactly tidy somehow, slim, light and quick in her movements.   She wore a quilter's chatelaine around her neck on a black silk rat-tail cord.  She sewed on an old portable Pfaff.  It had the first walking foot I ever saw, a real dream machine.  She loved making things, loved quilting, loved having us newbies all together to teach.  Loved it!  I remembered having seen her in the shops I haunted before Dream Quilters, knowing she was connected with Marti Michell’s Yours Truly, a small brick-and-mortar quilt shop fronting a mail-order quilt supplies business, on Broad Street near the Post Office in Chamblee.  We'd bought a house and moved to Chamblee in 1976, and in the late 70s and early 80s I loved to go into old town Chamblee and into Yours Truly, and look, and touch, and plan.  I remember posters there for a big quilt show in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.  What a great name for a town, I thought.  Someday I'll go to a quilt show, I promised myself.  Someday I'll be a quilter.  And now in my first quilt class, I was making Someday happen.

          In the beginners’ class at Dream Quilters there were six or eight of us.  I can remember some of the other beginners, or rather, the fabric array they'd brought.  Their fabric arrays are clear, their faces more vague, in memory.  Our supply list had told us how many fabrics and the yardage, and suggested we balance values and scale.  I worked hard at doing that, and I was pleased with the variety and unity of color and pattern and scale, okay for a newbie, I thought.  I remember one pair (mother and daughter, maybe) who had everything in primary colors, very saturated, all the same scale prints, not much contrast.  Barbara rather gently nudged them toward one more print, one with the primary colors in tiny figures on a white background I think.  I can't remember whether they got it but I thought they needed to.  Another beginner had chosen a group of several reds and whites, a monochromatic scheme that looked great.  I really liked one array that depended on black for a background and had flowers of different scales and some wonderful colors, made more dramatic by the black surround.  Every quilt class was an education on how many viewpoints there are, and ways of approaching the project, and how very individual is a sense of color.  My sense of color is one of my great pleasures.  The world is full of colors.  I like putting them together.

          We made a tote bag in that beginners' class, with main panels of flying geese blocks, separated by side panels in coordinating prints.  It was a lined bag that had pockets and padded handles;  mine was greens and rosy pinks and white, one major print with all the color notes, six different fabrics, and I loved it dearly.  I struggled with learning a scant 1/4 inch, and I truncated what should have been sharp points at many seams and intersections, but I got better.  Straight seams are still not ruler-straight when I do them, but they're okay, and I can get sharp points on triangles anytime, and I'm pretty good with the quarter-inch seam, and really good with the color and design process.  Only occasionally have I put a zipper in a quilt project, and only when it was really needed, like in a tote bag, but so far I've gotten them in right.  In no quilt project have I ever matched that four-times-wrong record of that one zipper in that one skirt – I got it upside down, then inside out, and set in too high, and set in too low, and (finally) just right.  I can't remember whether that skirt made it past the first laundering.  I did at least finish it, but I just never liked that skirt for some reason.

          That first quilt project, the pink and green tote bag, is one I’ve never given away. Mama refused to let me give it to her and insisted I keep it, so I will have it forever.  I don't regret any of the giveaways, some made on purpose to give, and I rejoice in each of them, but I am glad I kept that first piece.