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The Obsessive Quilter posted: 5/27/2004
by Bonnie Ouellette Printable Page
Category: General Method: All
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Did you know that quilting is an obsessive behavior? I bet you thought those behaviors included hand washing, checking for keys, arranging, collecting and repeating, but never thought quilting would be right on up there on the list. Well, I have the disorder and it can quickly take over your life. Here is a little of the background behind the progress of the disorder in my life.

I think I must have been born with a needle in my hand instead of a silver spoon. Both my mother and grandmother were needle artists both in crewel embroidery and needlepoint. My mother was also a hooker (rug that is) and met weekly with the neighborhood “girls” for as many as 40 years taking lesson from the same woman. Mom’s life project was a hooked stair runner with hooking on both the step and each runner for the 20 steps in our family home. She did manage to finish the project and it resides in my brother’s home in California. Mom also gave me an early appreciation for antiques. As a child she would drag me along to auctions in up-state NY (my Dad was a camp director) and have me go up to the auctioneer and ask him to put particular items up. Of course, nobody ever big against the cute little girl who had expressed interest in the item.

As I reached High School age knitting those huge letter sweaters was all the rage and I still knit to this day, although sporadically. I didn’t tackle too much in the way of needle arts in college as there were far too many more important things to do. I did, however, take up the needle again when I married and within the first year had my first child. I made all my maternity clothes and most all of the children’s clothes until they went to school and wanted Levi’s like everyone else. I then took up crewel embroidery, needlepoint and cross-stitch. I have always had an appreciation for quilting and thought I would take it up when I retired. After the children left the home next after they completed college and married themselves I found that I might have time to quilt as I was only working a part-time job.

In 1995 I took two sessions of a beginning quilting class at a neighboring high school evening class. Everything was done by hand, both the piecing and the quilting. I found that I was quite challenged with the mathematics in making our own templates from cereal boxes. I did manage to finish two quilts from sampler blocks, but felt I needed something a little more streamlined that hand piecing and all that math. I was delighted when a quilt shop moved into our small town in Massachusetts and I quickly became a fixture there. I was hooked. I signed up for the class pass which allowed me to take as many classes as I wanted for one fee, and also attended two sessions a week of “drop in quilting time”. This shop also had a Quilt of the Month (not block of the month, but quilt of the month) and I would dash home after receiving the instructions and try to get it all cut out that same night. There were many months when I made more than one of the quilt for the month. I was often mocked and called the over achiever and I guess I sure was. I could not stop!!

Shortly after I learned the basis and bought every book that came out I discovered I liked the competitive nature of quilting. I won second place in the shop’s first contest with an entry in their contest “What I Did Last Summer” with my quilt of the Atlanta Olympics that I made for our daughter living in Georgia. My husband retired from a 40-year career as an engineer with GTE in 1996 and we found ourselves transplanted to South Carolina. Long before the move I had checked out to be sure there was a quilt shop in the area and that there was a quilt guild. I became a member of the guild long before we moved south.

In an effort to have a small income to continue to support my little summer cottage in Newbury, MA I decided to see if I could combine my love of antiques and fabric and make some money selling vintage textiles. I was not novice at auctions or flea markets and estate sales, and soon began building an inventory of quilts, quilt tops, quilt blocks, early fabric, buttons, trims, patterns and embroidered linens. At first I sold directly only to a few national vintage textile dealers, as I thought I would not care to deal with selling directly to the public. Once we moved to the South, I decided to give a try at vending at some local quilt shows. That has gone very well for me now for about 5 years and I have started doing some lectures on “Collecting, Restoring and Preserving of Vintage Textiles.”

As my obsession grew, I became more and more unsatisfied in making traditional patterns and began to explore more innovative direction to my quilting. A class in fabric dyeing changed my quilting forever. I love to combine commercial textiles, vintage fabrics and my own hand dyed or over dyed commercial fabrics in my quilts. I am enjoying using many varied forms of surface design in my latest quilts and see no end to the possibilities. I also, continue to explore my competitive side and attempt to make an occasional quilt for a competition.

The quilting community is one of the most marvelous groups of people on earth. I am in my second year as the president of a local guild of 125 wonderful people who also suffer from this all consuming disorder. I am terribly proud of our group and the wonderful charitable work they do all year here in our community. Take heart all of you who think they may also be suffering from this disorder – there is only one cure – quilt, quilt, quilt.

©2004 Bonnie Ouellette

Editors Note: This article is in no way meant to trivialize those who suffer from OCD. The views in this article are those of the author, who meant no disprespect for those living with this illness. For more information about OCD, please visit

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