Georgia Bonesteel has been at the center of the quilting world since the quilting revival of the 1970s. Her innovative lap quilting technique made quilting more accessible without the need for large frames, and her PBS television series brought it to the eager and growing quilting audience.
Why textiles? Why quilting? How did you get started?
Why textiles? Because textiles have always been first and foremost. Was this my Mother’s doing? Perhaps, because I was fascinated watching her sew and make our garments. She always blamed it on the depression as we learned early on to “make do” with what we had. What I wore to school was primary. It’s taken a lifetime to not feel the need to buy a new outfit for an event. So, naturally I would be a Clothing & Textiles major at Iowa State College. Before that, I was on the College Board for the Charles A Stevens store in Hubbard Woods, IL, where I helped young ladies select their college wardrobes.
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Why Quilting? Marriage and raising a family of three led us to New Orleans, LA, where I had an opportunity to use my sewing skills at a department store. There I featured a pattern with the company’s fabric, and then I modeled it on the store floor. Then that led to a television audition for a seamstress on a “Sewing Is Fun” series for Kenmore sewing machines and Sears Roebuck stores.
After making my husband’s neckties, an opportunity came for me to feature what I did with leftover fabrics – everything from pillows to vests. Then that led to exposure to a major necktie company where I was given boxes of luxurious silk fabric. After trial and error I finally made small evening bags with batting inside and before I realized it, I was quilting. It was all really being there at the right time and place. So good fortune for me.
Do you feel that you chose your “passion,” or did it choose you?
I certainly chose my passion but quilting was a natural progression from sewing.
What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?
Creativity has always sprung from leftovers – from scraps. However, buying special fabric to go with all those scraps is another passion. Some of my earliest creative memories stem from a need to celebrate a cause. When we moved to NC I started volunteering at Connemara, the Carl Sandburg home.
At the same time I began teaching at our Community College, so it was natural to make a quilt involving both ideas. Over the years, I have speculated that creativity can evolve from a charitable need. Presently I am making a Quilt of Valor quilt for a local chapter.
The blocks are from the Splashes quilt on page 47. I inserted the USA letters into the crazy patch. So now I will gently coerce a few of my groupies to help me make some of the 12 blocks.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe one has to work at being creative, and it comes from having an open mind and accepting that mistakes are the growing pains toward perfection. So I developed a 10 point program that I feature in lectures to help one on the path to creativity. New ideas can come from something as simple as a walk in your hometown. So always keep a camera/iphone at hand to document that “bright idea”.
What is “lap quilting” and how did it come about?
Lap quilting is quilting in sections that are then connected. These can be separate units, or a whole quilt can be quilted in one’s lap with or without a hoop. It came after I attempted to teach 12 students how to quilt on a standing, wobbly frame. Regretfully, I imagined we could toil away in an eleven week class and finish a quilt for everyone, but no way would that work. People wanted more instant gratification. Then it occurred to me that working in sections would be the answer. I just happened to call it “lap quilting” and made that the title of my first PBS television series.
Your new book, Scrap Happy Quilts, is more than a quilting instruction book. It is also a memoir. What inspired that format?
My newest book, Scrap Happy Quilts, came from my desire to share more quilt patterns and prompt people to search and realize how they have gotten to this point in their creative life.
Is there a recurrent theme in your books? What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain?
I explore the geometric opportunities in patchwork – all shapes and sizes. Making the Real Trip Around the World is quite an accomplishment. I call it the 4 bobbin quilt so that tells you how much stitching is required. But it is well worth the completion! My memoir section of the book tells the joy that quilting has brought my way. It can be the same for anyone with gumption and desire.
More Lap Quilting introduced me to quilting when my husband bought it for me on a lark, and there was no turning back! How often do you encounter quilters who say they learned to quilt from one of your books or television shows?
I often have students who praise how my books or TV show led them into quilting and it is always rewarding. One time a man stopped me in flight and said I was to blame for his lack of regular meals.
How did you get involved with quilting on television? What role do you think your programs and others played in the quilting revival of the 1970s?
My Mother made the suggestion to suggest to our state PBS station. She had watched a knitting show on TV and knew I was really into quilting. Once the feedback began after my shows were aired I realized it awakened and “jump started” many who thought “I can do that myself”.
How do you make time to create? Do you create daily?
I make time every day for some form of quilting. Even if it’s just designing. Most of my projects start with my gridded freezer paper called Grid Grip. Also, I am a list maker and plan ahead. In the case of a fall deadline to finish a quilt, I have monthly goals pinned to long rows to complete.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
I am fan of Alexa for my music—mostly James Blunt. (I have been to two of his concerts and even have promised him a quilt if he will only come back to the USA.)
Sometimes I switch on Netflix for a good movie. I just discovered Monty Don and will watch them twice. He is a great tour guide and teacher of gardens.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process? Can you share some organizing tips with us?
First of all I enjoy my wooden floors for easy sweeping and pick up. My two BERNINA’S face outward towards our trees. Then with a center large cutting table and my stacked fabrics on one inside wall I am ready to roll.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
For my hand quilting I require good light over my shoulders; a comfy chair and my hoop. I do have a design wall that features a current project; a big ironing board and my Grid Grip.
When you travel to teach workshops, do you stitch on planes, trains and automobiles and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
Today in cramped airline seats I just bring a book. But I do save motel rooms for quilting.
How many projects do you have going at once? Or do you focus on one creative project at a time?
I keep several projects going at one time. I relish going from one to another and find that stimulating. We kid in our family since we are related to Claude Monet I do as he did when he kept several canvases going for the London Bridge to catch the light during the day.
When you’re not making quilts, what other interests do you have?
Our acre and a half keeps me very busy outside. I became a Master Gardener several years ago and now do volunteer work at our local Flat Rock Playhouse Theater property. Last year I installed a rock maze in our yard.
Tell us about your website and blog. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
When my book came out around January I updated my web site. I tried to keep it simple but I have offered some of my past quilts for sale. I finally catalogued them according to my books starting at the first Lap Quilting book. Many have gone to family and others I have given away for charity. I try and add to my blog weekly or when inspired to share. Soon I will post some video instructions. Our son Paul is a video producer and has become my PR agent, so he will aid me in this goal.
What do you hope the next year will bring?
I trust and hope the next year will bring good health to our family. Secondly, I trust the good teaching “vibes” will be with me on the road. I enjoy planning ahead and the quilts that go with each new venture.
Interview posted March 2019
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