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Column #15

Quilting for the Public

KateThe 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 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 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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