Darlene Christopherson could be considered an icon in this industry. She has oodles of experience not just as a master quilter, but also as a teacher, a mentor and an industry expert. She is Pellon®’s go-to gal for all things batting related and is one of the masterminds behind the Legacy™ line. The first time I ever saw one of Darlene’s quilts, my jaw nearly dropped to the ground. It had been hand-stitched and the precision was remarkable, resulting in a finish that could only be described as stunning. Darlene currently lives in Texas with her husband and though she doesn’t get to quilt as much now as she’d like, she’s still 100% dedicated to the craft (just take a peek at her fabric cabinets at the bottom of this post!) You can keep up with her over at her website and you might learn a thing or two by checking out the impressive collection of tutorials that she’s done for Pellon Projects™. I adored this interview and am so thrilled to share it with you here.
Pellon Projects: How did you first get started with sewing?
Darlene Christopherson: In Junior High School I had a great teacher who shared a high level of instruction. That provided me with advanced sewing capabilities that have stayed with me my entire life. Later, I was able to stay home with our daughter [only child] and found the time to take classes on quilt making while I was still young. We lived in Northern Virginia [near Washington, DC] at the time, where fundamentals were taught at an awesome level. Museums shared glorious quilts that inspired me. Local groups displayed newly made quilts alongside those from the 1800s. This is what formed my love of quilters, quilts and the art of making them.
PP: Was there an inspiring influence in your life that pushed you in a particular creative direction?
DC: I was fortunate to work on the staff of Jinny Beyer’s Hilton Head Seminars for 5 years prior to leaving the Washington area and was introduced to ‘group planning & sharing’ where people freely share opinions and input. Jinny is a talent that has led quilters to reach new heights and try new things for many years. Also, the traditional lessons shared by my good friend, Anna Holland and my first small group in Waterford, Virginia while I was absorbing everything that I could. I call those my ‘baby quilter’ days.
PP: Describe your process a bit… How do you come up with new patterns and how to you move through the steps from idea conception to project completion?
DC: I love to draw my own birds and trees and flowers for pictorial applique, then combine this with simple and traditional patchwork. The combination of this with the dimension that quilting brings to textile art is an evolution in your lap that begins on paper and grows each time you add stitches to it. The process itself is the most enjoyable to me. More so than finishing a project.
First I draw a rough draft, then retrace the pieces with actual sewing in mind. I have shared a complete set of companion blocks which are 8” and coordinate well with the blocks in my book. The first session has complete instructions for how I prepare for hand needle turn applique. There are 24 bird related patterns available for you to download for free. (ed. note: see also A Perfect Reunion Quilt-Along)
[L to R: A Perfect Union, Valiant - w/ Sue Nichols, Empty Nest - for Darlene's daughter when she left for college]
PP: Do you find yourself seeking out other sewers both in your area and in the online arena for inspiration and support?
DC: I have a very special group of quilting friends in Waco, Texas [where I live now]. We meet every Thursday – when we are able. We are a diverse and busy group. The group reminds me of the movie How to Make an American Quilt. We all have differing styles and interests and lives. When we gather there is a loud buzz that just warms my heart. I love each of them for welcoming me. Guilds are a great way to meet other sewers but a ‘bee’ or small group is where quilters gather and share and grow. My group surprised me with a quilt this year that they had been busy sewing in secrecy all year long. I cried for two days!
Quilts themselves are uniquely special things that evoke memories just by touching them or having them in your home.
PP: What inspired you to write A Perfect Union of Patchwork & Appliqué?
DC: I was teaching basic classes on needle-turn appliqué, hand quilting and patchwork in 8 part sessions and needed to provide patterns to follow. 8” blocks were perfect for this. The sessions covered everything from beginning to end, including sashing, fabric selection and planning. I taught these in Texas [where I lived] so that I could drive back to the students 8 times. I challenged the students to complete their quilts and the majority did. The classes turned into chapters and the quilts are on the pages of the book. C&T Publishing did a great job. I was honored to work with them and I greatly respect them in the industry. Going through the process also taught me a lot.
PP: I happen to know you’re a teacher as well! Is there anything you don’t do? (hee hee) Seriously though, what do you love about teaching and do you have any favorite topics?
DC: My ‘baby quilter’ years remain with me always and I share what I have learned any time that I can. I love to share the lessons that I have learned on hand needle-turn applique and hand quilting. I think that 2013 will be the year that I retire from teaching. My work with Pellon®/Legacy™ keeps me busy and I still get to be involved with quilters at the major quilt shows that we attend. I have the opportunity to share what I know about batting through the Pellon Projects™ website and to work with talented fiber artists via social media.
[L to R: Love Rings - made for Darlene's daughter's engagement, Jinny's Influence]
PP: When and where is your next solo teaching gig? What topic will you cover?
DC: I will be teaching three workshops for the Minnesota Quilters Guild in Rochester, MN in June and will offer Hand Quilting, Hand Needle-Turn Appliqué and Cutwork Appliqué. All three will provide a complete kit. I like my students to learn and enjoy class time with no worries about the correct fabric and needle. All of my students at this show will receive a free copy of my book, A Perfect Union of Patchwork & Appliqué.
PP: You’ll be leading a few classes at the International Quilt Market in Kansas City in May as well. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
DC: International Quilt Market is a unique event where shop owners, designers and major companies gather to exchange new products, ideas and designs to grow their businesses together. I will be presenting short lectures that will demonstrate how to use many Pellon® products in making small projects like bags. I will share tips and techniques on successful uses of some fun stabilizers and fusibles that many fiber artists use. We will share projects that are online and available to all merchants to use in their own classrooms. The idea is to grow together. We are here to support quilt shops and their classrooms.
PP: While we’re on the topic, what do you love most about Quilt Market?
DC: Personally, seeing old friends in the industry as well as meeting new folks with fresh ideas. This industry is supportive of creative people, period. What I love the most is that it is traditional, it is modern, it is new, it is old, it is wide open. All are welcome. That is why we continue to grow as an industry.
[L to R: Sunflowers, Nesting, Cutwork and Compass]
PP: You have quite a few projects up on pellonprojects.com including the stunning Love Rings Quilt and the currently in-progress A Perfect Reunion Quilt Along. Do you have a favorite project on the site? What is it and why?
DC: I am very proud of the quilt patterns that we have posted to the site. I think that our instructions are orderly and easy to follow. We keep the beginning sewer in mind while writing all of our instructions and make an effort to guide them through the process in a way that will lead them to success. The great thing for all visitors to the site who download and sew our projects is that we are available to answer questions that they may have. The Love Ring quilt pictured on the site is one that I made for my daughter upon her engagement.
PP: You’re not just a renowned quilter and sewer, you’re also heavily involved with the quilting industry as a Marketer for the Legacy Quilting Division of Pellon. Was there a moment in your life that you knew you wanted this to be your career and not just a hobby?
DC: Yes, I was drawn to marketing from an early age. My dad was an influence there, I am sure. Marketing can be exciting when you believe in the products. I was fortunate to bring my knowledge of batting and quilting to a job with a company that is a leader within the industry. Relationships are important and I have formed many, as has every member on the team at Pellon®.
PP: The staff at Pellon® refers to you as the batting expert, something that comes clearly comes from a passion for the craft, but also a dedication to our products. Any tips you could share with our readers about batting? Is there one from the Legacy line that you would refer above all others?
DC: I do have a favorite and that is Wool. I am a quilter and enjoy the loft and resilience that it provides. Our thermal bonded wool breathes – allows air to pass through a sleeping quilt and offers dimension to an art quilt. It does not retain a crease. Each fiber has its own virtues and issues. Everyone has their own personal reasons for selecting one batting over another. I try to share the information that it takes to make that decision for each individual. For any quilt that is machine quilted where the end use is ‘to use’, I would recommend our new Eco-Cotton Blend that is recycled cotton and polyester. It will wash extremely well and provides a durable and soft quilt.
[L to R: A Perfect Reunion, Untitled]
PP: You have a tremendous amount of experience in the quilting industry, any advice for new sewers and quilters out there?
DC: Well, visit our site, pellonprojects.com, of course, then go to YouTube.com and search under ‘how to.’ There are thousands of folks sharing tips and lessons on every topic imaginable. Sort through the ones that are well presented and enjoy free lessons. Then, sign up for classes at your local quilt shop and form relationships. Join your local guild and introduce yourself to a new person at each meeting. Enjoy the process.
We’d like to thank Darlene for taking the time to chat with us. I must say it was a pleasure to chat with her on a more personal level rather than the business that we’re used to;). I would highly encourage you to check out her tutorials. She truly is an inspiration!
Darlene’s projects for Pellon Projects™:
A Perfect Reunion Quilt Along (link to Part 1)
Dupioni Silk 9-Patch Table Topper
Dupioni Silk Mug Rug
Dupioni Silk Table Topper
Love Rings Quilt
Valentine Table Runner
Ricky’s Stars Quilt
[L to R: Floral Swag, Anniversary]
All quilts and images ©2012 and courtesy of Darlene Christopherson