Spotlight: Cindy Needham, Quilting Instructor

Close up of two color quilt with amazing stitching

Spotlight: Cindy Needham, Quilting Instructor

Cindy Needham caught the quilting bug at a young age, inspired by traditional quilts she saw while growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. By incorporating vintage linens into her work, she honors past needlework artists and is passionate about sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm with today’s quilting students.

Cindy Needham portrait

How long have you been quilting?  How did you get started?

I have been quilting since I was 13 years old. I had been sewing prior to that so I already knew how run a machine. My dad was in the National Park Service, and we were stationed in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I became inspired after seeing beautiful hand made, hand-quilted quilts and knew that I had to learn. It has been an absolute passion for nearly 50 years. 

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What inspires you?  Are there recurring themes in your work?

Actually nearly everything inspires me but it’s my students’ work in the classroom that is my biggest source of inspiration and pride. I tend to lean towards vintage/heirloom work. I started quilting on vintage linens in the mid 90’s, and the quilting world knows me for turning these vintage linens into heirloom wholecloth quilts. 

Close up of quilting of a flower

When beginning a project do you pre-plan your entire endeavor or do you simply follow where your inspiration takes you?

With my love of structure, I try to pre-plan as much as I can BUT this is just my starting point. I realize that the project is going to evolve and take on its own life. I have to be a good listener and have learned to just go with it. It’s always fun to see how things change from my initial “plan” to the finished project!

Close up of feathers quilted

How many projects do you have going at once?  Or do you focus on one creative project at a time?

I always have LOTS of things going on and work on what I’m in the mood to do. I always have at least a couple things that need to be designed…a couple quilts that need to be quilted….at least one or two projects that are ready for piecing, in addition to at least 2-3 projects that are in the handwork/embellishment stage. 

I’ve learned that if I work on what I’m in the mood for then the process is much easier and more enjoyable and it turns out better in the end.

Beautiful quilt make with old linens

Are you a finisher?  How many UFO’s do you think you have?

I do tend to finish my projects, although some of them do sit for quite awhile before they’re completed. I love to start new things and love the energy that goes with that process. But I never count my UFO’s!!!! 

When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?

So much of what I do for myself tends to roll over into the classroom for teaching, special exhibits at shows or for my trunk shows. When I DO indulge in something for myself, I’m always thinking how I can use it to teach. Projects are usually vintage and heirloom in nature, and I keep them on the smaller side for packing in suitcases, etc.

Cindy's thread

What does your studio look like? Where does the magic happen?

I have a very small sewing room in our home and there’s just enough room for ME there. Everything in it is vintage-old bins for holding fabric, window shutters with pegs for my thread, an old dresser for my ironing table and storage and an old table for my cutting table. It’s filled with little mementos and gifts from friends and family, so it is truly my happy place. I have a studio about 15 minutes away where I teach and I rent the space out to private groups for sewing. Constantly filled and buzzing with quilters, it’s a very special place we call HOME. A lot of good things happen there.

Cindy's storage in baskets

What is your favorite storage tip for your fabric and creative supplies?

I tend to go to the antique store and look for vintage containers of any kind.  I have a thing for old containers, so I keep all my supplies, fabric, tools in these. 

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio?  How do they improve your work?

My sewing machine of course is the most important. I use a Juki TL98Q and a TL98E. It is a mechanical machine with no computers and is a workhorse.  My first machine is 20+ years old and still going strong although she is starting to show her age.  

My Daylight light is also a huge asset. Love my Karen Kay Buckley scissors…I own every pair in her line and I treasure them. Curved tip squeezie scissors are also essential and I have about 5 pairs of them. They are in every nook and cranny in my home and travel bag. Good thread is a HUGE asset and all of mine come from Superior Threads…I love their silk threads.  Music is also very important in my sewing room…it’s nearly always on.

Close up of Cindy's beautiful quilting

Do you use a sketchbook or a journal?

No I don’t…I tried it for a number of years, but it’s never worked for me. I would rather put a clear piece of vinyl over a quilt top and sketch on that.

Two tone quilt

When you travel do you stitch on planes and in waiting areas?  What is in your creative travel kit?


With the stress of traveling, sewing keeps my mind in a better place. I do a lot of beadwork because it’s small enough to work in tight areas.  So I take a wide piece of masking tape and roll it around my hand sticky side out. Then I sprinkle the beads I’m going to work on to the tape, put a piece of Kleenex on the other side of it and then pin them to a longer piece of fabric.  I roll this up and put it in my carry on bag. When I’m ready to start beading I simply unpin the taped beads from the fabric, pin it to my quilt, and then pick the beads off with a needle. No more spilled beads! 

I always have prewound bobbins, needles, squeezie scissors, beads and my iPod with earbuds to drown out any screaming babies on the plane.

Whole cloth quilt, purple with pink, green and orange quilting

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I used to be a perfectionist and I was never happy with any of my quilts because there were always problems and issues with them and quilting that wasn’t perfect.   

I was told once that I needed to let that go…my quilts were never going to be perfect and I needed to enjoy the process. I was told I would learn from every single quilt I do…just enjoy the process, use each quilt as a lesson…and learn what to do and what NOT to do on the next quilt. 

Now I love my quilts…all of them…and so I can pass forward what I’ve learned to others.

Close up of two color quilt with amazing stitching

What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?

My biggest challenge is not having enough time to do all the things I want to do. Commitments pull me in many, many directions all at the same time. I juggle lots of balls, so I long for uninterrupted time from my obligations to be able to create. 

Do you think creativity comes naturally to people or do you think it is a skill that people can learn?

I think every single person is creative. 

There are some people that it just oozes out of them, so creativity comes very naturally to them. 

My creativity comes very easily to me and I have learned to be a good listener to the ideas that are floating around in my head. 

I’ve had so many students in my classrooms state they are NOT creative and they will never be good at quilting. Once they divide a skill that they’re trying to learn into smaller bits, they can conquer it one small bite at a time. I love watching this process…it’s why I teach! 

Cindy Needham Quote

Tell us about your blog and website.

I don’t keep up on my blog as much as I should… so I need to get better at that. I do more posting on my Facebook page because I can read the comments and respond to my readers. So it’s like being in a classroom. My website focuses more on my retreats, workshops and stencils. I do have an extensive Pinterest presence and post photos of samples and my work, as well as some of my students’ work, to inspire. 

Do you lecture or teach workshops?

YES!  I have been traveling nationally and internationally for 15+ years speaking, teaching and lecturing. I also have my studio in Chico where I am doing smaller workshops for groups of 10 and under. In addition, I do 8 retreats per year in Auburn and McCloud, CA.  Email me or contact me directly off of my website for more information.

Interview posted March 2020

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