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Column #14

Quilting Johnnie

Kate Johnnie Wilson
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 pubs@quilts.com. Be sure to include your name, e-mail address, and phone number so that we may contact you..


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Archived blogs:

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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