Saturday, July 13, 2019

Quilters Through The Generations - Susan Nixon

It has been a while since I have had a new story for the Quilters Through The Generations series. Partly because I have been busy sewing and quilting and didn't take much time to recruit quilters to be featured... Partly because I hadn't put much time into searching... Partly because we have been having a good time with camping and exploring the places on our bucket list for the summer. (It has been really fun, btw.  But we have planned a full week at home to be able to get caught up and back into a "normal" routine.)

But alas, I coerced Susan, one of my regular readers, into participating.  She didn't think that she really fit into the category of a generational quilter because she had started quilting well after her Mother and grand-mother had passed away and learned only after they were gone, that both of them had quilted.

I have long believed that the love for quilting, sewing or textiles (or any other art form such as painting or making music or even athleticism) is part of one's DNA makeup.  For this reason, I introduce to you Susan Nixon.  You will discover, as I did, she has a great sense of humor!

Tell me a little about yourself, and life beyond quilting.

There is no life beyond quilting!  You didn't know that???  😊  

Like anyone, I'm a lot of different parts.  I'm active in my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and that probably defines who I am the best.  I'm a retired elementary teacher, but teachers are like Marines - there are no retired or former ones!  I'm the mother of two sons, sometimes still a full-time job.  My much-loved husband died in March, 2010, so I'm a widow, also.  To make all the ends meet wherever they are supposed to, I work part-time for an educational company, mostly proof-reading, and sometimes proof-read for others, too.  

If I'm not involved in a church activity, or working, and I'm not quilting, a rare day indeed, then I'm probably either reading a book (sci fi or mystery or techno-thriller!) or writing as one of my 18 characters in an online Star Trek sim.  That's short for simulation.  We have a starbase (SB109), and we play one main character who would be found in the Federation (mine is Jade Lantz, owner of a Jazz Club called Orchids & Jazz, located on deck 600 of the Promenade), and whatever other characters we would like to throw in from time to time.  Most people don't have 17 of those, but due to my split personality, I can be that many.  😊  I don't know how to be just ONE thing!

Or I might be napping or eating Lindt's Truffles.

Have you ever made a quilt?   Many!

Who got you started in quilting?  

I suppose you could say it was the woman who babysat for my older sister’s children.  I don’t think I ever told her, but she had a profound impact on my life because she introduced quilting into my body of knowledge, and she also introduced me to people who brought the answers to religious questions I had.  She was sitting on her sofa hand piecing basket blocks, and it took me all of five seconds to fall in love.  I was 17 then, and I’m 71 now, and in all the years in between, I’ve called myself a quilter.

Who taught you to sew?  

I learned in homemaking classes at school, because my aunt didn’t have the patience to teach me.  She did let me sew on her 1935 Singer 221 – the Featherweight.

Tell me a story about your first quilt.  

I started several between 17 and 24, but didn’t finish any of them because I didn’t know how, and there were no books except rare out of print ones, and no quilt stores, and no quilt teachers.  People learned at home, or they didn’t learn.  Teaching myself was tricky!

The first one I completed was started for my son.  I read half an article by Jean Ray Laury in Better Homes and Gardens, called my best friend, and we never did read the whole thing, which caused a lot of mistakes and self-teaching!  Jean’s article was about making a sampler quilt of blocks which were based on a multiple of a basic number – 2, 3, etc.  We missed the math of it and simply started making blocks of whatever size, mostly appliquéd, but some pieced, too.  

At the end, I had some odd shapes to fill in, so there’s a little train going around a corner between some mis-matched blocks, and many other oddities.  Another problem was that we backed each block with flannel and quilted it by hand, all the while saying we didn’t see why people said getting a small quilting stitch was so hard.  LOL!  It wasn’t until later that we realized we were supposed to put the whole top together, put the batting and backing on and THEN quilt it!  Both of us finished a quilt, but they were definitely not like anything Jean Ray Laury had envisioned! 

We did finally figure it out better when we bought some antique quilts from a place called America Hurrah! in Manhattan.  

At the time, America Hurrah was a seller of antique cameras, equipment and photographs, but sometimes when the owner bought such things in a lot, there were also antique quilts.  Eventually, he moved up from the basement in an area of rowhouses to 5th avenue and had an amazing quilt gallery and sold only antique quilts.  His prices went way out of my range then!  But the quilts we bought really helped us understand what quilting was about.  

My friend bought a grandmother's flower garden pieced in the 1920s of pink and white, not scraps, just pink and white solids.  The flowers were about the size of a dime, and it was a full-sized quilt!  I bought a late 19th century red, blue and white pattern that took me a long time to identify.  The closest I can come is Bachelor's Puzzle, but it isn't quite right still.  (Sadly, it is in storage and not available for pictures, but here are a couple other antique quilts that are in Susan's collection.)

Eventually, I got to take classes from some amazing people, (Laurene Sinema, Margaret Miller, Sharyn Craig, Kimiko Sudo, Eleanor Burns, and so many others whose names are only heard in quilt history now),  but I was well ingrained in a lot of bad habits by then, and I still am.  

What did you do with your first quilt?   

It was for my son, and included a robot drawing he had made and I traced and embroidered, as well as a bat with the word Batman embroidered on it – two of his favorites when he was 6 and 7.  He still has it, well over 40 years later.

Does/did your mother quilt?   

My mother died when I was nine, and she did quilt, but I never knew it until my grandmother died and my sister gave me a quilt she knew my mother had done.  It is a snowball in bright 30s colors and tied with embroidery floss.  Her name was Ada Adear Abner, later adopted as Dorothy Elizabeth Wilbanks.

<<< Mother and Grandmother with my oldest brother, about 1936

How about a grandmother?  Great-grandmother?  

My Paternal Grandmother, Carrie Belle O'Mary, also quilted, though I never saw her do that, either.  I do have a coverlet she crocheted from fine thread, but no quilts.  Beyond that, I don’t know, but it’s likely.  

I have a picture of a block which a pioneer ancestor, Caroline Little Luce, made for a 14th Ward Relief Society quilt given to an outgoing Relief Society president.  This was in Utah, in 1857, so I know that at least one side of the family quilted.  However, I never saw any of it in my growing up years.  My aunt taught me to crochet. Homemaking taught me to sew.  I remember watching my mother do fine intricate embroidery when I was little and from that and written directions, I figured out embroidery on my own.

Have you taught someone to quilt?  

Too numerous to name!  Almost every friend I’ve ever made had to become a quilter.  LOL!  There are also many classes I taught for either parks and rec or in my home.  Students include Fran Regos, Cheryl Congrove, and Stacey Trumble, as friends, over the years.  I don’t think I can say I taught my friend, Antonia Adamiak, because we learned together.  I led her into many dark holes we had to back out of!

How many quilts have you made?  

I can’t begin to count, but I know it is over 200.  My favorite blocks... Yes, Sister’s Choice is #1, Churn Dash #2, Log Cabin #3

Do you have a favorite quilt?  

Usually, the last one I finished for my own bed!  But here are several...
This is Desert Rose (Calico Rose pattern by Deanna at WeddingDressBlue; quilted by Sue Nebeker of American Hero Quilts)

Above is my only truly modern quilt designed by me.  
It was quilted by Bree Gilbert for a charity.

Do you participate in any quilt groups?  

I have belonged to guilds and bees over the years, but now it’s only an unofficial group of friends, The Thursday Quilters, who come to my house on Thursday mornings.  

Our work includes piecing, appliqué, embroidery and walking foot quilting.  We each bring our own projects and work on what we want.  We don't often make a group anything, though when our bishop moved to Salt Lake, we all took part in making blocks for a quilt and putting it together.  Each of us has our own causes we prefer - QOV, Project Linus, American Hero, Sunshine or whatever.  Sometimes we are working on one of those, sometimes on our own, but there's no group involvement in any one of them.  We just quilt together on Thursdays, talk about spiritual things (we are all from the same religion, though not the same congregation of that religion), talk about families.  Sometimes we do shop hops together, or those who can go will.

Marla's little helper holding a tin of pins is also shown below with her first quilt, made on her own at age 6, from FQs she collected from the time she was 3 and went "pop hopping" with us.

Have you entered any quilt competitions?  

No, I don’t do competitions.  That’s never been why I was interested in quilting Some of the quilts I did freehand on the longarm between 1995 and 2005 were entered in quilt shows in various places, and a few won ribbons, once I even got a ribbon because the show gave ribbons to the maker and to the quilter.
Have you sold any quilts?    

A few times, usually to men who wanted something special for their wives.  I think the most I ever charged was $450, including fabrics.

Where do you get your inspiration from?  

Everything around me in the world.

What is your favorite part of quilting?  

That’s a hard question, but I can tell you that my least favorite part is the binding – the machine part of the binding.  I don’t mind the hand sewing part.

Why do you quilt?  

It satisfies a deep artistic need I have.  I can’t draw a picture or paint a sunset.  Even my photographs with a great Nikon camera often come out blurry.  But I can design and put together a quilt.  It also connects me to the past, my family and women from other families, as well.  When I read about a quilter from long ago, I feel I know some part of her, because we’ve worked the same work and enjoyed the same process.  I also make quilts to give comfort to those who might need it.

What do you do with your quilts?  

Most of them have gone to other people somewhere along the way, but I do have a dozen or so that are mine, and I have invested in about the same number of antique ones, going back into the mid-1800s.  I love beautiful quilts, and I always want them around me.  There is nothing so wonderful as a chilly winter night under about 5 quilts I made myself.

Susan   is a self-taught quilter... 

Are you also a self-taught quilter and experienced "many dark holes" you have had to back out of?  

Leave a comment and tell me about some of your beginning quilting mistakes and how you learned from them.

Susan happens to be a fellow blogger as well and you can catch up with her and her various projects over at Desert Sky Quilts.

Keep calm and quilt on!



  1. I'm so glad you featured Susan here on your blog! It's great to learn more about her - Susan, I didn't know you were in an online Star Trek sim!! Very cool! xx

  2. Hi Melva! I'm so glad to learn more about Susan. She's a true gem and has inspired me in many different ways. Her strength and inner courage have gotten her through many challenges, and I am thankful to think of her as a friend. Alas, she has not led me down a dark hole that had to be backed out of . . . YET. I know we will meet one day and until then He will lead us along the correct path. And how fun to learn that Susan is an online Star Trek sim!!! For 18 characters, no less. How cool. ~smile~ Roseanne

  3. So glad you featured Susan whom I met IRL several times, the first time at an online quilt convention in 1998! Great article!

  4. Susan is a gem and a wonder. I am so glad to count her as a friend.

  5. Great to interview Susan! Great story! I did not come from a quilting family at all. I had wanted to make quilts since the 1976 revival of quilts but had to wait until retirement in 1999 - I have had many many quilts that I have made that the pattern had errors and either had to remake, start over, and only 2 times have I given up on them and gave them away! Have a great day!

  6. I loved reading all this about Susan and found several surprise things about her. I've followed her for years and knew a few of these things, but never knew she was into online Star Trek. She's an amazing quilter!