Quilting for the Public
The Patchwork Pals, a group of quilters who quilt for the public, operate out of the Lampasas Texas Senior Citizens Center. They meet twice a week and their quilt frames are suspended from the ceiling in the rear section of the senior citizens building.
Try as I might, I can’t find any history about the origins of quilting for hire or— as this practice is commonly called—quilting for the public. My guess is that people have been paying others to quilt for them for about as long as people have been quilting, although I don’t have any documentation to support that theory.
The reasons for paying someone else to quilt are many and varied. A lot of people simply have none of the prerequisites—know-how, time, equipment, and space—to do their own quilting. Some quiltmakers prefer piecing or appliquéing a top to quilting it. Some feel that their quilting skills are not on par with their ability to create tops. Others may have made so many tops that they don’t have the time or energy to quilt them all!
Still others, who may have inherited or been given tops and would like to have them made into quilts, don’t know the first thing about quilting and have absolutely no desire to learn.
The reasons for taking money for quilting a top made by someone else also vary. For individual quilters, the main impetus is to earn personal income. For group quilters, such as those often found at senior citizens centers, women’s auxiliaries, church groups, community clubs, and other organizations, the main drive is to raise funds for charitable purposes, to assist with organizational activities, or to fund some specific goal. This could be a new community fire truck, a church elevator, a missionary trip, or the like.
For both individual and group quilters, however, money is not the only incentive for contracting out their services. It would be hard to imagine someone quilting for the public who didn’t love to quilt. There is virtually always an artistic component at play, as well as satisfaction in mastering a difficult skill to the point of performing it professionally. For those who quilt in a group, there is also the companionship of other like-minded individuals that enriches the experience.
Regardless of the motivations on either side of the equation, quilting for the public has been a viable cottage industry for many, many years and remains so today—whether it is done by hand or machine.
Hand quilting is labor-intensive and time-consuming and requires frames or a hoop. A quilt in a frame takes up a fair amount of space, which is why in earlier times, it was most common to have the frames suspended from the ceiling so that the whole operation could be rolled up to make room for other activities. This method is still used in many situations.
Quilting by machine is much faster, and people have been machine quilting almost since sewing machines went into mass production in the 1850s. Traditional machine quilting still takes quite a bit of time, however, and requires special skill to do competently. Because relatively few quilters achieve that proficiency, traditional machine quilting for hire is not common.
Longarm quilting, on the other hand, is a different matter. It’s no exaggeration to say that the longarm quilting machine has brought about a sea change in the way that quilting for the public has evolved in recent years.
Early versions of the longarm quilting machine have been around since the late 19th century, but during the past couple of decades—with the advent of lasers and computer-guided machine heads—longarm machines have become mainstream. Experienced longarm quilters can produce beautiful results in a fraction of the time required by other quilting methods and at a very reasonable price.
The longarm machine and longarm quilters have taken quilting for the public to a new level. In the next Suzy’s Fancy, we’ll meet one of this new wave of professionals. See you then!
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..
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Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
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Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
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Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
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Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
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Column 59: Thread Wit
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