Part of an occasional series in which a MPQG member, chosen at random, is interviewed about her quilting journey. You can find all of the series interviews on our Member Interviews page.
One in an occasional series in which a MPQG member, chosen at random, is interviewed about her quilting journey.
It’s a good bet that if everyone had a sister-in-law like Joan, the world would be crowded with quilters. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But it certainly holds true for quilter Patricia Cornelius.
“In 2002, I had surgery and my sister-in-law, who’d been a quilter for many years, gave me a quilt—a heart motif quilt. It was beautiful, and I said, ‘Oh, I could never do this.’ Well, you don’t say that to my sister-in-law and get away with it.”
So began a quilting odyssey that Pat has enjoyed for 15 years and, while Joan has been her guide and travel companion, Pat has forged her very own path of creativity and skill.
“I started sewing when I was ten. I used my grandmother’s treadle machine and made little things, simple clothing. And I liked it. I took a sewing class in high school, and I just continued. When I had my kids I used to make a lot of their clothes, and I’d make things for the house—curtains and different things.”
Joan was working at the shop Fabric and Fun in Milpitas when she challenged Pat to enter the world of quilting. “’The next beginners’ class,’ Joan ordered, ‘you’re taking it.’”
“So,” Pat says, “I took a class on how to rotary cut. That first time, it was like I was a child again, learning to write. How do you hold it, how to make it go straight? Once I mastered that, I took the beginners' class. It was a sampler quilt, and it had I think eight blocks. Each block used a different technique. So I learned.”
Pat’s not sure if it was the beginners’ classes themselves, or their setting, that hooked her. “The classes were in the quilt store, and all heck broke loose. I was like, ‘oh, what’s this fabric, what’s that fabric? Oh, I love that pattern.’ I just went nuts. That was a challenge for me in the beginning: picking fabrics and colors. I liked this one and that one.” It took some time, she notes, to settle down and learn to choose with care. “I wasn’t looking for matchy-matchy but for colors and fabrics that would blend and appeal to the person I was making [the quilt] for.”
Finding the right fabric has long inspired Pat. “When I was making quilts for the grandkids, it was the fabrics. I’d find out what they liked. My granddaughter liked horses, and I made her a horse quilt. One liked cars, another liked Batman, another liked dinosaurs.” She laughs, and adds, “The one who liked dinosaurs, he’s 22 now. So more recently I made him a flannel quilt, with deer and bear and outdoor motifs.
“So, it was finding the fabric. Every quilt shop that I went to -- I lived in San Jose, and Joan and I used to take road trips to the different quilt shops looking for horse fabric, dinosaur fabric…You know, it takes a while to collect it, but that’s part of the pleasure.
“Then I’d go find a pattern to showcase the fabrics. For my granddaughter’s horse quilt, for example, I did the BQ pattern. It’s very simple: you have your center block and build strips around it. It turned out great. So, the pattern was determined by the fabric that I bought, whether horses, or large-scale flowers, or my mermaid quilts.
“So fabric is often my starting point. Unless,” she smiles, confessing to the quilter’s dilemma in a world of inspiration, “I see a pattern when we’re out in one of the shops. Then I start with the pattern and look for the fabric.”
When asked about her quilting style, Pat ponders. “Everyone has their different taste. Mine, I think, is more traditional. I don’t particularly care for scrappy quilts; I seem to need everything in order. And I do love sampler quilts.” She unfolds a stunning example. “This is Eleanor Burns’ Victory Quilt. It was a block-of-the-month that I bought from the shop Always Quilting in San Mateo. This was fun, because for each block [Burns] told a story about her father in WWII. Each block means something.” She points out a plane, a several stars, and even Franklin Roosevelt’s Scottie dog, Fala.
“Now, my favorite technique is paper-piecing,” she continues. “It takes a lot of concentration, but the precision is so satisfying.” Pat indicates a mini-quilt on the wall, a multi-layered star pattern featuring more than 150 unique colors. “I did this Jinny Beyer wall hanging in 2010. The pieces were precut and they were so tiny, all in a stack that you had to keep in order. Don’t open the window so they blow around! And kids, don’t touch! It took me probably a year to make, it was so intense.
“People would see my paper piecing and ask how I did it,” Pat recalls, speaking specifically of the quilting retreats she took with members of the Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association. “’I’ll show you,’ I would say, ‘but I can’t do it for you. It has to click up here,’” she points to her temple. “Oh, and I have made mistakes. I’ve made so many holes in the paper that I’ve had to reprint whole pages. But to me, that’s part of the challenge. And once I focus, it works.”
Those quilting retreats, twice-yearly to the Marin Headlands, offered opportunity to focus, but even more so did the cabin get-aways with Joan. “My sister-in-law and I, we used to go to her cousin’s cabin up in Sonora. We’d bring our sewing machines, and all our projects, and stay there for a week.”
The quilting retreats and cabin interludes gave way to new horizons when Pat moved south to Monterey, and Joan moved north to Washington State, both to be nearer children and grandchildren. Pat joined the Monterey Peninsula Quilters Guild in 2013, and has shown quilts (and won ribbons) in most of the county fairs and guild shows since 2014.
Pat now lives with family in a rambling house high above Monterey Bay; she occupies a delightful, private apartment that gives onto a sunny patio and the woods beyond. Her ‘multi-purpose’ room houses her sitting area, computer corner and a sewing zone where her machine, supplies, and cutting table are ready whenever inspiration strikes. Tasha, the ragdoll cat is always ready to test the quilts as Pat finishes them.
“I’ve probably made pushing 100 quilts,” she reflects, “but I don’t have most of them because I’ve given them to grandkids, to friends, to people who have serious illnesses. Sometimes I haven’t even finished a quilt and my granddaughter says, ‘I want that,’ and then my daughter says, ‘I want that.’ My answer to them is always, ‘you two fight it out.’
Pat has honed her skills over those 100 quilts, and today is an exceedingly accomplished quilter. But she still relies on some advice she got in her earliest days at the craft. “At first, if it wasn’t totally perfect, I would tear it out and start again. One of the teachers I had would say, ‘You’re making more work for yourself. Nothing in this world is perfect, and your quilts aren’t going to be perfect.’ She told me to always use the five-and-ten rule. ‘Hang up your quilt and stand five feet away,’ she said. ‘If you see that it’s a little bit off, well, go back to ten feet.’”
“Plus,” Pat concludes, “When somebody else is looking at it, they’re not going to see your mistakes. Every quilt I give to people, I say, ‘Use it. Don’t abuse it, but use it.’ They aren’t meant to be perfect. Quilts should be used and loved.” BQ is short for ‘Big Quilt,’ a series of patterns that Debbie Bowles designed to highlight large motifs on fabrics. See https://mapleislandquilts.com/miq-patterns/bq-nation/
Cat, Communications Team