Photo by Alex Labry.
Eighty-five-year-old Johnnie Wilson learned to quilt almost eight decades ago from her mother and grandmother, and when she was ten, pieced her first top. “Mother turned me loose with fabric scraps and the old treadle sewing machine,” Johnnie remembers. “I made a string quilt, sewing scraps onto newspaper. The blocks weren’t very big—maybe six inches. We set the blocks together with bright orange fabric that cost ten-cents a yard. It was colorful, for sure!” These efforts set the stage for a lifetime of involvement with quilts
“When I married, I made mostly utility quilts in those early days, just cover to keep us warm,” says Johnnie. Johnnie met her husband, Stanley, at the scene of a car accident. She was on a date with another man when their vehicle was involved in a fender-bender. Stanley was among the people who stopped to help, never expecting his Good Samaritan effort to lead to his own wedding
Johnnie and Stanley corresponded throughout WWII, while he was serving overseas as a Marine, and were married six weeks after the war ended. The couple eventually had two children and lived in Corpus Christi on the Texas Gulf Coast
After her children were in high school, Johnnie took a job as the Activities Director at a nursing home. Although she no longer had time to make her own quilts, she started a regular quilting activity for the residents of the home, many of whom had enjoyed making quilts earlier in their lives
When Johnnie and Stanley retired and returned to Naruna, Texas—to the ranch where Stanley was born and raised—Johnnie returned to quilting “fulltime.” Her mother had died, leaving a large store of tops, and Johnnie began quilting them to give to her own children and grandchildren
She also joined a quilting bee in the nearby community of Nix. The bee members would meet at one another’s homes and work on their own quilts or quilt a top together. “Camaraderie with other quilters is an important thing to me,” she says. A few years ago, Johnnie was instrumental in starting the Patchwork Pals, a quilting group at the Lampasas Senior Citizens Center, which meets on Mondays and Thursdays each week
As word of her quilting skills spread throughout the area, people began asking Johnnie if she would quilt tops for them. It was at this point that Johnnie began her second career, of quilting for the public. One of Johnnie’s loyal customers, Carol Wright, had this to say: "Johnnie Wilson loves everything about quilting—the fabrics, patterns, and color combinations—she is excellent at every step in the process of creating a quilt and the best part is that she loves— genuinely loves—quilting."
To date, Johnnie has quilted dozens of tops for others. She quilts by hand, using frames suspended from the ceiling, just like the ones on which she learned as a child. “I’ve always enjoyed quilting more than piecing,” she says
When asked whether she quilted that first top she pieced when she was ten, Johnnie replies with a story:
“I did quilt it, but not until many, many years later. After we had moved back to the ranch, my daughter was visiting one day. We were looking through an old cedar chest and we came across that top. ‘I want that!’ my daughter said. I never thought anyone would want it, but I said I’d quilt it for her. I was really artistic with the quilting on that orange fabric and was proud of it after I’d finished.”
“When I’m sitting and quilting, wonderful memories come to me. I think about how I learned and the people who taught me. I think about all of the beautiful quilts I’ve seen. I think of going to fabric shops—I just stand there and drool at all the beauty! Cloth is so much nicer today than it was when I was young—we used mostly feed sacks or old clothes then, but today there are so many colors and designs. Quilting is a major part of my life and always has been. I’d probably go crazy if I couldn’t do it!”
If you know of a traditional quilting activity in which others might be interested or a quilter who merits profiling, please send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name, e-mail address, and phone number so that we may contact you.
Click here to return to top.
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
See other archived columns here