Taken from A Patchwork Life: The Hands-On Guide To Living by Louise Silk

Available as an ebook: A Patchwork Life: The Hands-On Guide To Living 

Yesod/Longing To Connect; 12”H X 12”W; 
Hand Stitched Silk; Old Quilt Backing; 2020

By definition, a quilt has three layers of material joined together by hand and/or machine stitching. The top layer is an intricate composition of different multiple threads, fibers, and knots. On the back, a gathering of hundreds upon hundreds of stitch indentations display a proud testament to the work of the quilter.

Louise Silk; The Quilting Path; page xi

In 1978, my husband and I moved back to Pittsburgh with a one-year-old in tow. It happened through a series of events: we lost our apartment, he had trouble finding a job, raising children seemed easier to do with family support. While we were winding our way back to our hometown by traversing the United States, my mom found us a house: a two-story red brick on a cul-de-sac. It’s a good solid house, she said. Make it yours.

Once we were home, locals suggested two activities for me: Mother’s Day Out and The Embroiderer’s Guild. I joined both. At Mother’s Day Out, children are cared for separately while mothers attend classes and talks. I taught a class following my Chicago experience using the Our Bodies Our Selves curriculum. Pittsburgh moms, although they were good sports about it, were not quite ready to examine their own cervixes.

I switched to teaching a quilting class, where I struck gold. That class extended into a weekly quilting circle and in time my role morphed from teacher into purveyor of quilting supplies. Eventually, that transformed into a retail storefront selling all things related to quilting. 

At the time, there were no quilt shops. Chain fabric shops sold mostly dress making fabric and absolutely none of the 100% cotton required for serious quiltmakers. There was no on-line shopping. Mail order was a complicated process, sending for swatches and hoarding purchases to get ahead of sellouts. 

One of the members of our circle was contacted by a quilting group in Greensburg struggling to find a local retailer. It was easy to be convinced, with the additional incentive of building our own stashes, we could be that supplier.

We pulled together eight hundred dollars and bought twenty-yard bolts of 100% cotton fabric, along with all the basic quilting supplies. We set up a makeshift shop in my basement and sold materials to the Mother’s Day Out students, members of the Greensburg Quilting Guild and the local Embroiderer’s Guild. Things developed. We reinvested all revenue to buy more bolts of 100% cotton fabric, plus innovations like the rotary cutter, the pvc quilting hoop and an ever-increasing selection of quilt publications. We became the Pittsburgh connection to a national quilt revival movement.

Finally, with an over-run basement of supplies and the investment of a third quilt-circle member, we opened our first retail establishment. Over the next four years, we grew and moved from one location to another, eventually ending at the local mall. At each juncture we added products, classes, and events that placed us, squarely, at the cutting edge of an exciting quilt movement. Unfortunately, we were never able to become profitable and closed the latest retail storefront in 1989. 

Motivated by a bank debt of thousands of dollars, I employed my knowledge and skills to explore the business of quilt marketing and production. I created products for wholesale, solicited commissions, and committed to teaching opportunities that paid down the debt and added to my status as a professional craftsperson.

The other significant influence on my quilting life was the Embroiderers Guild. I juried in as an active member with an original needlepoint and a graphic log cabin quilted hanging. During my tenure, I held many postions in the guild and was instrumental in the name change to Fiberarts. I learned innovative needlework techniques and met many national recognized fiber artists. I learned the business of entering shows, documenting and photographing finished work, and building a resume. 

I was empowered with knowledge and skills as the result of both experiences and that translated into highly innovative quality work. Within my quilting circle, I felt the continuation of value and success that began in Chicago.

Published by SilkQuilt

Pittsburgh-based fiber artist, Louise Silk, creates art that combines aesthetics and functionality with meaning and memories. From the influence of a 1972 MS Magazine article to the current SILKDENIM label, her quilt experiences culminate in a display of her particular capacity to use her patchwork skills to piece together just about anything into an aesthetic meaningful whole.

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