The Accidental Quilter
Early in our relationship my wife, Marie, and I both realized that we share an interest in fabrics. I am a textile engineer and love to ponder textures, weaves, unusual yarns and designs. Marie has been sewing clothes since she was a young girl on the farm in South Dakota. When we travel we both poke around for unique textiles … Hmong story cloths, silk saris and embroidered pieces from India, African mudcloth, Moroccan carpets, Oaxacan serapes, etc.
Somewhere about 2003 Marie started making quilts in earnest for various friends and family members, i.e. baby quilts for grandkids, denim lap quilts (renamed TV quilts) for graduates, friendship quilts, wedding quilts, etc. People loved getting something handmade and Marie loved making them. So it was a great win-win hobby.
Perhaps a year or so later she started making comments about how hard it was to quilt them on a regular machine. “Maybe ‘we’ should get a long-arm machine,” she said. Keep in mind that my only participation in quilting to that point was an occasional consult on color choices or block arrangements. The “we” rang a bit odd to my ear. But, being the dutiful husband that I am I said, “Yes dear!” And so our quest began.
For years our frequent trips from our home in Nebraska to visit grandkids on the East Coast included stash runs via cities that had interesting fabric shops and quilting shops located within some nebulous distance from the shortest route to our destination. Visiting our South Carolina grandchildren always included a mandatory stop at Hancock Fabrics in Paducah, KY. This was a freebie. It only added about 15 miles to our trip and they had an amazing selection of wonderful fabrics to spark the old creative juices.
But now “we” were looking for a long-arm machine, and so our horizons expanded. Trips to visit our New York City grandkids could now be routed via the Kansas City MQS show, up to Columbus, Ohio for the NQA show. And since we were so close to it we could drop in at that great fabric store in Cleveland, oh, and the one in Erie, PA just a bit further (true story). In fact, it was during the 2004 MQS show in Kansas City that we first saw the Handi Quilter. Inventor/owner, Laurel Barrus, was demoing it herself and we were impressed. Even other longarm vendors were impressed. It was the buzz of the show. But it was early in our quest so we felt we had to keep researching.
We really did our homework. We tried everything from little wooden frame thingies to clinky-clanky homemade machines to high-end computerized behemoths. A year later in May of 2005 we still stayed with our first choice and ordered the HQ16.
When it arrived Marie couldn’t wait for me to set it up so she could try it out. She practiced on a piece of muslin … hmmm, so-so results. She did a quilt … hmmm, so-so results. “Bill, why don’t you try it if you think it is so easy!” And thus began my long-arm career.
I lucked out though. The first quilt Marie wanted me to do was one with lots of plain borders and squares. I had just picked up a little booklet by Pam Clarke called “Designs with Lines” that included some gridline stencils. I used some Quilt Pounce to mark out little grids in each square, and then went to work. That poor quilt had a different figure in each square but it looked cute and the customer, Marie, liked it.
Next I did a series of quilts for my mother-in-law, Marj. At the time, Marj was 80 years old and had been a true South Dakota scrap quilter for more than thirty years. Her quilts had more different fabrics in them than a crazy quilt, and different sized squares to boot depending on how much fabric was available. Marj has a little mantra she intones for anyone who might be interested: “A day without quilting is a day without sunshine!”
In years past Marj was known for how well her points matched up. It was still important to her. So, if one of those ornery squares just wasn’t going to fit, well, a pleat here and tuck there just fixed things right up. Plus they were going to charity! I lucked out again … a steady supply of practice quilts that I didn’t have to freak out about possibly ruining.
By 2006 I had perhaps a dozen quilts under my belt, so I decided to try my hand at making one myself. The occasion was my mother’s 80th birthday. I was inspired by a painting of colorful sailboats she had in her bedroom. Mom loved it a lot. She had bought it a few years earlier even though money was tight. Now I was the one on a mission, looking for the perfect fabrics for the sails, water, sky. I even used satin for the reflections of the sails in the water.
In 2007 we moved to New York to be closer to our grandchildren. Who knew that a quilter who instructed at Manhattan’s The City Quilter lived in our apartment building? Who knew that City Quilter had an HQ Sixteen just like ours? The next thing that I knew, I had an interview with Dale and Cathy, the owners. Just like that, I became a “professional” long-armer.
Since then, we’ve settled in the Catskill Mountains region and built a large quilting /sewing studio in our 1885 post-and-beam farmhouse. We call it Idyll Acres. Today I still quilt for The City Quilter on their new HQ18 Avante’, which I covet. I also have a few private clients, and oh, my first two customers of course.
- Bill Magargal
I own the following HQ machines: HQ Sixteen, HQ18 Avante