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Column #52

True Confessions: First Quilt

Doll Quilts
Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi

Those of us lucky enough to grow up in quilting families or in a community of quilters had the benefit of someone showing us the ropes, so to speak, of making a quilt.

We watched and learned (often indirectly) as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, neighbors, church ladies, and/or other friends and relatives skilled in the art selected and drafted patterns, cut fabrics, stitched tops, added backing and batting, and quilted the whole.

They taught us all sorts of “insider” knowledge, such as pattern names, quilting terminology, what sort of thread and needles to use, how to tie off a stitch, and the like. Oh sure, we might mess up, and our first efforts might not have been much to brag about, but we nevertheless had someone to guide us and help us avoid outright disaster.

Noted quilt artist, historian, curator, author, and founder of the Women of Color Quilter’s Network, Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, had no such guidance. Although there was an artistic vein running through her family, no one quilted.

When she was growing up, Dr. Mazloomi’s interests centered around airplanes, which eventually led her to earn a Ph.D in aerospace engineering (the first African American woman to do so). It was not until while at a work conference in Dallas, Texas that—on a whim—she decided to attend a quilt show. It was a revelation to her and it was there that her creative urges and engineering training were piqued and fused to turn her in a new direction. Put another way, she got bit hard by the quilting bug.

Dr. Mazloomi was living in California at the time and she went home determined to make a quilt of her own. She knew that she wanted her quilt to have a cotton batt, but all the batts she found were polyester. She decided to make her own batt using the only source of flat cotton she was aware of: wound dressing.

Since she was making a full-sized quilt, a package of wound dressing didn’t go far, and she made so many trips to her local pharmacy to buy more cotton that finally the pharmacist came out to see who was buying up the store’s inventory. No doubt harboring images of severe blood loss, he walked out from behind the counter and very seriously urged Dr. Mazloomi to take the injured person she was caring for to the hospital.

With the batt finally in place and the quilting finished, Dr. Mazloomi decided that she needed to launder her quilt. No one had told her that she needed to wash her fabrics before cutting them to make her quilt blocks, however. She threw the quilt in the washing machine and then popped it into the dryer (no one had told her how to wash a quilt, either).

When she took the quilt out of the dryer, some of the fabrics had shrunk and the middle portion of quilt “stood up about a foot higher than the rest of it,” Dr. Mazloomi laughingly recalled. “It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen!”

Carolyn Mazloomi did not, of course, let that disastrous first effort deter her. According to her biography, her quilts have been included in five exhibitions at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery.  Her artwork can be found in numerous important museums and corporate collections, such as the Wadsworth Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the American Museum of Design, Bell Telephone, the Cleveland Clinic, and Exxon. 

She has appeared on television on “The CBS Morning Show,” “Reading Rainbow,” “The Today Show,” CNN, and has been the subject of several film documentaries. Dr. Mazloomi is one of six artist commissioned to create artwork for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Museum.

She has authored many books on quilting and curated numerous quilt exhibitions all over the world. In 2003, she was awarded the first Ohio Heritage Fellowship Award not only for her artistic achievements, but also for her community service related to the arts.

Her organization, Women of Color Quilter’s Network—which has almost 1000 members—has been recognized by the International Labor Department in Geneva and the United Nations for its developmental programs to help advance women. She serves on the board of directors of The Alliance for American Quilts.

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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
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

See other archived columns here

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