by Suzanne Labry
A Quilter’s Story
When Chuck Threat was a little boy growing up in Chicago, his grandmother, Leola Simmons, cared for him while his mother went to work. Money was tight and the utility quilts Leola made were essential for keeping the family warm.
She gave her grandson the job of threading needles for her, a time-honored strategy of busy women needing to get things done while keeping a child occupied. As long as Leola lived, she continued to provide Chuck with love and support, even scraping up enough from her tight household budget to send him a dollar a month when he went off to college.
Currently enamored with Civil War quilts, Chuck has completed two tops made from reproduction fabrics. Photo by Alex Labry.
Although Leola died long ago, to this day—Chuck is 78 years old—she remains a powerful influence in his life. About five years ago, Chuck took up quilting himself, and although Leola never specifically taught him how to quilt, his memory of her plays a role in his new passion. “I always think about her when I’m making a quilt,” he says.
Interestingly enough, it was another man who (re)ignited Chuck’s interest in quilting. While on a vacation visiting National Parks throughout the United States, Chuck and his wife stopped in the tiny town of La Veta, Colorado, where they saw some beautiful quilts on display. Completely by chance, they had happened upon the art quilt studio of none other than one of the quilt world’s true ambassadors, Ricky Tims. Chuck was captivated not only by Tims’ quilts, but also by his generosity in spending time talking about them with a complete stranger.
That serendipitous meeting whetted Chuck’s imagination and he left La Veta determined to learn more about quilting. He bought how-to quilting books and read as much as he could, but quickly realized that he didn’t possess even the most rudimentary sewing skills.
To remedy that, Chuck, who had a long career working all over the world for IBM as a product manager before retiring, took a minimum-wage job as a clerk at his local Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store. He worked there for a year, learning all about fabric, sewing machines, and quilting tools. Obviously, this is a man who, once he sets his mind to something, doesn’t give up!
Chuck now owns three Berninas, a Janome, and his mother’s old Singer. He has made some 15 quilts, mostly king-sized, and has plenty of UFOs as well. Currently enamored with Civil War quilts, he has completed two tops made from reproduction fabrics.
His next project is a complex Judy Niemeyer design for his wife, and he has plans to make special quilts for each of his children and grandchildren. Chuck regularly attends the International Quilt Festival in Houston for inspiration. He has a studio with a design wall and is getting ready to break away from doing traditional patterns and start designing his own.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a hobby of some sort,” Chuck offers. “I’ve done photography, gotten involved with remote control planes, and spent many years as a woodworker. Although quilting reminds me of woodworking because the design and construction processes are similar, quilting is a lot more personal than furniture—and fabric is a lot more forgiving than wood!”
One has to wonder when this busy man finds time to do all that he does. Around the same time he started quilting, Chuck also took up cycling. He now rides 15 or 20 miles several times a week and attended the Tour de France this summer with several European friends to view various stages of the race. Somehow he managed to fit in French lessons prior to the trip.
Were she still alive, Chuck’s grandmother would be amazed by what her grandson has accomplished. Leola no doubt would have been most proud of that little boy who threaded needles for her so that she could get her quilting done.