During the month of May, Quilting Daily celebrates makers and shares the stories of how the torch gets passed to the next generation. The photos below show the incredible women who taught our editors how to sew by inspiring us with their love of needle and thread. Without them, we would not be where we are today.
In the May/June ’21 issue of Quiltmaker, we highlighted the stories of several designers and how they learned to quilt and how they pass the love of quilting on to others. We’d like to share their stories with you.
Penny Barnes & Julia Dunlavey
Mentor & Mentee
Penny: Teaching someone to quilt is more than just sewing skills for me…it’s all about love. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to mentor Julia and to be a part of her journey. Sharing my love of quilting with Julia has allowed me to watch her build confidence in herself and her sewing skills as well as watch her creativity blossom.
Julia: Penny taught me how to quilt in the summer of 2018 and ever since then it has been a way to share my love and appreciation for the people in my life as well as a way to stay close to Penny! It’s something we share and both love and I think it’s such a great way to bond. Also—without Penny teaching me how to quilt, I would probably never have applied for the Fashion Design program at Iowa State University!
I would say Penny is a second mother to me and I wouldn’t call her anything less. She has taught me so much, and not just about quilting. She is another woman in my life (other than my birth mom Wendy) to love and learn from. I’m so glad to have her in my life and I hope that never changes.
Find Your Path
I wasn’t raised by a maker. I didn’t have someone in my childhood that took that kind of time with me. Courtney, one of my besties, her mom, Janeane, taught me how to embroider in my early 20’s. When I finished those stitcheries, I wanted to sew them together. My grandmother-in-law gave me her old Riccar sewing machine in a desk. She had gotten it for her wedding several decades before and had just upgraded after sewing on it for 40+ years and passed it on to me. I sewed on that machine for several years and still have it. It’s so special to me.
This experience taught me that we will always find our way. Whatever our passion, gift, talent, or skill is, we will find our way to it if we open ourselves up to the experiences in front of us. They will present themselves. It also taught me that when we love something, we always want to share that gift with others. If these ladies hadn’t loved their craft, they wouldn’t have shared it. It has impacted my life in a major way. A way they could have never known.
Part of taking the different path set before us is being open to opportunities. I always wanted to be an artist. I just didn’t realize what type of artist that I would become. Courtney and I met as teens. We have been friends for decades now and if it had not been for meeting her, I wouldn’t be a quilt artist today. Her mom taught me how to hand embroider which set me on a path to creating art through quilting. I forged a new path and did it my own way.
Quilting isn’t just a skill or craft. It is love. When I think about how taking a few moments to teach a young woman a skill that she can then take with her for the rest of her life and use to impact her family and friends, build a career, use it for therapy, and create a beautiful world full of love and beauty—that is just love. It is love of life, art, craft, time, and everything surrounding us.
A Family Legacy
When I reflect on the women in my family, I come from a long line of makers. My mother and aunt have told me stories of how my great-grandmother always had a needle and thread in her hand. She owned a dairy farm and often would sew in the evenings. My aunt said that she would say, “Karen Jean, can you thread this needle for me?”
My mother taught me to sew on her 1974 olive green Singer sewing machine. Growing up the oldest of four girls, money was not exactly budgeted for the latest in middle school fashion, such as the infamous Jamz in the 1980’s. I remember my mom taking me to a fabric store, where I picked out some cotton fabric in outrageous neon to make a pair of “fancy boxer shorts,” as my mom called them. Fast forward a few years, and I’m teaching my daughter Ava to experiment with needle and thread. We have experimented with making doll clothes, stuffies, and embroidery. She is currently intrigued with my computer-based quilt pattern designs. She has a natural gift for color palettes that I wouldn’t normally choose. I’m hopeful that one day, she’ll want to sit side-by-side with me at my sewing machine and make a quilt.
When sharing your sewing skills with others, it’s so important to really pay attention to what is intriguing about quilting with your “student” and follow their lead. For example, the summer that I taught a small group of Ava’s friends to sew, I had all the plans. As an elementary teacher, I created detailed lesson plans and gathered all the materials. When we got started, I realized very quickly that some girls liked to hand-sew and some really wanted to sew on a machine. When I adjusted to fit their interests, the learning and fun really took off!
Stay tuned for more stories in part two later this month.
Who inspired your love of quilting? How are you passing the quilting torch? Tell us in the comments below.