Be creative, be precise, and be patient.
It’s not bad advice for anyone to heed, but if you quilt, it’s crucial.
“Quilting is one form of art that shows mistakes if the piecing is not perfect,” says Patricia Bennett, a textile artist who created her first project — a full gathered skirt — on a treadle sewing machine 58 years ago. Falling in love with sewing from the first moment her feet hit the pedals of the treadle, Bennett has been sewing since fabric cost $.49 a yard, and she has taught herself, step by step, every inch and yard of the way.
“I was determined to learn to sew,” the Bayview, ID, artist says. “When I was putting myself through college — majoring in elementary education — I didn’t have money to purchase store-bought clothes. So I rented a sewing machine, started with simple patterns, and the rest is history.”
Sewing, Quilting, and Creating with Love
After her husband bought her her first sewing machine 50 years ago, Bennett created matching outfits for him, her, and the couple’s two daughters. She later made bridesmaid dresses for each of her daughters’ weddings (“but not the wedding gowns — that would have been too much pressure!”), as well as numerous quilts for family wedding and baby shower gifts. Upon retirement from a teaching career that spanned pre-school to sixth grade, Bennett immersed herself full time in sewing, marketing her work as Cotton Creations: Handmade with Love, which, in addition to quilts, focuses on home decor items like table runners, pot holders, place mat sets, coasters, and tote bags.
Participating in craft fairs throughout the Northwest, Bennett enjoys chatting with customers about her products and sewing in general, and finds that many people want to learn how to quilt, but don’t know the next step.
“I always suggest that they start with a small project such as a pot holder, because something like a large bed quilt would cost a great deal of money for the materials, and might discourage someone as it takes a lot of time and patience to finish a quilt. I also suggest that they take a class.”
Through the years, Bennett herself has taught many sewing classes, both formal and informal, and wherever she goes, she finds her teaching skills in as much demand as her stitchery. And she is most happy to oblige.
Teaching Quilting Wherever She Goes
“I taught my preschoolers to embroider their initials using yarn on burlap.
“I taught sewing when we lived in Virginia to a group of ‘student wives,’ whose husbands were in graduate school at Virginia Tech.
“Teaching 4-H sewing was a challenge, and it was such fun to see the finished outfits in the fashion show at the county fair in Moscow, ID.
“And when we were in Santiago, Chile, for six months while my husband David taught on a sabbatical from the University of Idaho, I taught quilting to eight Chilean women in the neighborhood: ‘kilting,’ as they pronounced it. Several of these women now have small shops where they sell their creations.
“The day we made table runners, they told me they called them ‘table roads.’ The challenge of teaching with my limited Spanish and hand motions was a great deal of fun.”
Working from a glass-walled studio facing Lake Pend Oreille, Bennett confesses to being unable to throw away fabric, even the smallest scraps, but because she likes to work within a color theme when she makes a set of items, she is unable to use up those scraps in crazy quilts. Helping to solve this problem are her 13 grandchildren, many of whom have learned (or will learn) to hand sew with leftover pieces. Like Bennett herself, all beginners start somewhere: the more they practice, the more perfect they get, and the more perfect they get, the better the finished result.
Quilting Consists of Three Steps
“Quilting really consists of three separate steps, when you’re making a finished wall hanging or quilt,” Bennett explains.
“First is the cutting, which must be accurate, then the piecing is putting the top together (again, carefully and accurately), and finally the quilting is actually putting the front, batting, and backing together by either hand quilting, tying, or machine quilting. The sewing on a quilt is using a 1/4-inch seam allowance!”
Creativity, precision and patience: these, plus time, have resulted in a lifetime of developing a skill that gives to every person with whom Bennett shares. She’s come a long way since that first gathered skirt, but she hasn’t forgotten her beginnings. To remind her of those days and that project, Bennett purchased a treadle machine at a New Hampshire auction.
“I don’t sew with it, but it is a nice piece of furniture in my sewing studio, reminding me of my first sewing project.”
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.