The Ballerina Quilter
Tribute to Ballet Austin, 62” x 62” by Barbara Carson, 1992. From the collection of Becky Herrington.
The program cover that inspired Barbara Carson's design for Tribute to Ballet Austin.
Barbara Carson with some of the many awards she has won for her quilts.
The origins of many holiday traditions are hard to trace, but that is not the case with the popularity in the United States of The Nutcracker, the ballet featuring Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score.
It became a tradition practically overnight when, on Christmas Eve in 1958, famed Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine’s production of the New York City Ballet Company performing The Nutcracker was televised live and in color throughout the U.S.
It was wildly popular, and ballet companies across the nation soon began staging their own productions during the holidays. More than half a century later, The Nutcracker has become an icon of Christmas nostalgia and a cherished part of many families’ holiday season activities.
Ballet Austin, the ballet company of Austin, Texas, staged its first full-length performance of The Nutcracker in 1960. Barbara Carson, who had founded Ballet Austin in 1956, danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy that year.
Carson, who began seriously studying ballet at the age of 10 in her native Cleveland, Ohio, had trained with Balanchine and had been a soloist with the New York City Ballet when it was associated with the Metropolitan Opera. She moved to Austin when her husband, a fifth-generation Texan, returned to his home state to work.
It was in Austin that Carson began quilting. She learned from her mother-in-law, an accomplished painter and world traveler, who collected fabrics from around the globe and used them to make quilts.
“I knew how to sew, because I often made dance costumes and helped with set designs,” recalled Carson. “But I had never quilted before until my mother-in-law taught me. I just fell in love with it.”
Carson brought the same sort of artistic sensibilities to her quilting that she had perfected in her dancing—grace, precision, and a seemingly innate ability to interpret fluid movement. And she brought those skills beautifully to bear in 1992, when Ballet Austin asked her to donate a quilt that could be used to raise funds for the scholarship that had been started in her honor to help disadvantaged children take ballet classes.
The scholarship was dear to Carson’s heart, as she herself had been the beneficiary of assistance when she was growing up. Carson was one of three children raised by a widowed mother in Depression-era Cleveland. Her mother worked as a nurse and made many sacrifices to ensure that her talented children received the best possible training (Carson’s brother and sister sang with the New York Metropolitan Opera company and her sister also performed on Broadway). The Barbara Carson Scholarship was intended to provide similar possibilities for other young aspiring dancers.
The quilt that Carson designed and quilted by hand for the fundraiser was inspired by a Ballet Austin program cover featuring a ballerina en pointe. Carson created the design’s central star by repeating the image of the ballerina’s body, and the quilt pulses with movement. It raised a considerable amount of money for the scholarship, and is now proudly owned by the mother of one of Carson’s former ballet students.
When Ballet Austin celebrated the 50th anniversary of its staging of The Nutcracker, Barbara Carson was in the audience. She received special recognition as the person responsible not only for founding the company, but also for bringing the holiday tradition of The Nutcracker to the city. It was a fitting tribute to the gracious and graceful dancer—and the quilter whose quilts dance in fabric.
Click here to return to top.
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
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
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 Fly Pattern
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