More Than Just a Hobby: Quilting

By Teal Garth

Growing up, Linda McSwain’s family never had blankets on their beds — they were always quilts. She grew up in Kansas, where her grandmother made quilts out of whatever she could find. They weren’t always pretty, but they kept her warm at night.

“I think what it all comes down to is that a quilt is love,” she said. “It’s just a way of passing down love. I don’t know any child that doesn’t like the quilt that grandma made them.”

A quilt-making grandmother might seem like a typical stereotype, but the technique is practiced by people of all ages.

A perfect example comes in the form of McSwain’s 12-year-old granddaughter, Emma McSwain, who started helping her grandmother sew quilts about two years ago. Before she learned to use the sewing machine, she would help pick out the patterns, artwork and colors for her more experienced co-quilter to sew.

“I don’t think it’s a hard thing,” said Emma. “Because even if you mess up something, it’s just something that you made and it’s art that you made and you can make it into what you like, so it’ll still look cool.”

Another quilter that started at a young age is 18-year-old Fiona Schneider. She first began sewing at the age of 4 or 5, she said, mostly because she couldn’t reach the pedals before then.

“My favorite part is the design aspect,” she said. “I’m really big on color and matching colors and creating patterns, so that’s definitely my favorite part. Just the composition and creating a pretty quilt.”

Fiona and her mother, Cheryl Schneider, estimate that they have each made over 100 quilted objects. Schneider runs an Etsy shop and sells all sorts of things, from pillow covers to teapot cozies.

Schneider and McSwain are both part of the Tree City Quilters Guild, a Gainesville organization started in 1993 of around 100 members who come together each month to share their creations and participate in community service events. They donate quilted amenities, such as blankets, pillowcases and even placemats to multiple Gainesville programs, including Ronald McDonald House, Haven Hospice and Malcom Randall VA Medical Center.

Although each of the four women got started at different ages and for different reasons (taking a college class or watching her husband’s grandmother create a beautiful blanket) they now all agree that quilting is much more than a hobby — it is a form of expression and a valuable life skill.

“All four of my children, including the two boys, sew and quilt, for the same reason that the girls also know how to change the oil in their cars,” said Schneider.

Whether it is finishing a simple quilt in just a few hours, or spending years perfecting a work of art they are not ready to give up, there’s no doubt of the lessons learned in the production process.

History is a big part of quilting, said Schneider, whether it is recording your own life history through quilts or learning about historical events, like the Civil War through quilts made in that time period. “A lot of people don’t think about it,” she said, “but the American flag was a quilt.”

McSwain added that math skills also come into play when deciding what size quilt you want to make and calculating how much fabric and how many squares you need. A quarter-inch seam is also crucial for making sure your quilt fits together, she added.

Both Fiona and Emma agreed that the tradition of quilting is something they would someday like to pass on to their children.

“For some of us, [quilting] becomes a lifelong love,” said Schneider.