Spotlight: Natalia Bonner, Quilter and Author
At the age of 8, Natalia Whiting Bonner entered her first tied quilt, made from drapery and upholstery scraps, in her local fair. She won $1, and that pumped her up to keep quilting! Later, she learned how to quilt on her conventional home machine. She felt good about it, but decided that if she really wanted to take her quilting to the next level, she needed to invest in a longarm machine. Now she has added successful author to her talents.
In 2007, when she was pregnant with her daughter, she got the crazy idea to quit her job as a dental assistant and become a longarm quilter. Without really knowing what a longarm machine was, she spent a day at a longarm dealer’s shop and walked out after purchasing a Gammill machine. Natalia’s passion for quilting and being creative has grown each day since.
What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?
I was raised in a creative home. My mom owned a custom home decor and drapery store, so I spent much of my childhood at her store watching the ladies sew, stealing their scraps and making my own quilts. I really don’t remember the first time, because I feel like it was in the womb. 🙂
Tell us about your first quilt. Are there pictures???
My first quilt was one that I made with scraps from my moms drapery and home dec store, so you can imagine that the fabrics that I used were not regular quilting cottons – they were drapery and tapestry fabrics. I cut all of the squares out with a cardboard template and then sewed them on an industrial machine. I think I was about 8 years old. Then I tied the quilt with cording and bound it with a giant binding. It’s really awful, but I was really proud of it. I was so proud that I entered it in my local fair. It accidentally got entered into the adult category and got awful comments, but everyone that enters a quilt in the fair gets $1. I didn’t care about the bad comments, I got $1 and could buy myself some candy. I’ve been addicted to quilting ever since.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Visual Guide to Free-Motion Quilting Feathers?
I want quilters to come away with confidence. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, especially feathers. There is a time and place for perfect quilts and quilting, but most of us are making more functional type quilts, so have fun with it!
What is it like to partner with your mother on some of your endeavors?
It’s been a fun thing to collaborate on! A few years ago I moved quite distance away from my family so we’re not able to collaborate as much now, but when we can it’s a lot of fun!
How long had you been quilting on a home sewing machine before making the leap to a longarm? What are some of the challenges in making that transition?
I did very minimal quilting on a domestic machine before buying my longarm machine. I knew that if I was serious about this “hobby” that turned into a career I needed to invest in a longarm machine, and honestly it’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
What advice do you have for someone interested in longarm quilting? What questions should they ask themselves before selecting and investing in a machine?
For me having a dealer, a good reliable dealer, was really important to me. I chose to go with a Gammill because they have such a fabulous reputation and I knew that I didn’t want to have to deal with the stress of a machine breaking if I was going to spend a lot of money.
Tell us about your studio. Where does the magic happen?
My studio is actually the spare bedroom in my home, it’s a small space but it’s perfect for me. For several years I worked in a larger studio outside my home, but after some reevaluating, I realized that the reason that I started quilting was so that I could be home with my kids, so I gave up the large beautiful space to be home with my family.
What are the tools every quilter should have, and why are they important?
Great thread, great needles. I love ruler work, so I think my 4-N-1 machine quilting ruler is a great tool. I’m really pretty minimalistic when it comes to notions.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
I have a pegboard in my studio where I store most of my notions. Like I mentioned, I’m really a minimalist when it comes to notions so I don’t have notions unless I actually use them.
What inspires your designs?
Quilts really inspire my quilting. I love looking at quilts and trying to look beyond what you see with just a pieced top. I love bringing secondary designs to life with my machine quilting.
Do you plan your work out all ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
It all really depends on the quilt. Some quilts I plan out every detail and do a lot of marking before I load the quilt on the longarm machine, but then there are some quilts that I load on the machine and have no idea what I’m going to do. Sometimes I take pictures of the quilts and that really helps me to plan out my designs.
Tell us about your most challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
I really can’t think of a super challenging quilt off the top of my head. Probably the most difficult quilts to quilt are paper pieced quilts with crazy bulk. They can be more difficult to work around and quilt the way I wish they could be quilted.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
Balance, balancing family and quilting – some days I want to just hide in my studio and quilt all day and forget to feed my family. 🙂 Luckily I have an amazing husband who really plays a huge part in our household, like doing all of the laundry.
With your longarm quilting business, teaching, writing and family, how do you find time to create what you love?
I try really hard to treat quilting as a job; I try not to work at night or on the weekends. In the beginning I would wake up in the middle of the night and quilt. I’ve really had to train myself to work during “normal” working hours.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I do! Emailing me is the best way to schedule an event.
What’s next for you?
I’m having a lot of fun teaching online classes and am currently in the process of writing my 6th book. I’m really excited about both of those and can’t wait to share more about them in the future. 🙂
Learn more about Natalia on her website: