Pat Johnson, a resident of Venice since 1947 and a quilter since 1952 — when her mother-in-law helped her do her first quilt for a soon-to-be-born daughter — is knowledgeable about the history of quilting in America.
Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, really knew what he was talking about when he coined the phrase, “The true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.”
Quilting has been around for centuries, assumed by historians to have originated in China and Egypt simultaneously.
In the 11th Century, the Crusaders brought a form of quilting to Europe from the Middle East. Knights used quilted garments under their armor for added comfort, warmth and protection.
In the 15th Century, due to harsh winters, Europeans developed the quilt-making technique out of necessity. The very first quilts were layers of cloth sewn together with a few strong running stitches.
Quilts evolved into a quilting art form, with finer stitching and more decorative designs.
“In the early days we were not allowed to weave in this country,” Pat says. “When quilting came to us the colonists had to get all of their fabrics from England.
“Fabric was very precious. You made all your clothes at home and when there were scraps left over you used them for quilts. You didn’t waste anything.
“What they patched and made do with out of necessity turned into what we now call patchwork quilting.”
Quilting is not a dying art.
“In every art or craft, whatever you want to call it, there is a hard core of people who love it and will pass it along in their families,” says Pat.
Mar Vista resident Regina Donaldson’s mother and grandmothers were quilters and she carries on the tradition.
“I grew up in Oklahoma and they made quilts just to keep warm,” she says. She keeps busy quilting for 13 grandchildren.
Joanne Beierle, also a Mar Vista resident, belongs to a guild that has quilt shows. It has dues and officers and is a more formal group than the Westside Quilters Workshop, a group that meets in the Venice-Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library.
“I’m more interested in artistic quilts,” Joanne says.
Regina, on the other hand prefers the unstructured ambiance of the Westside Quilters Workshop.
“You come when you want and do what you want,” she says.
The group, which now includes ladies in their 60s, 70s and 80s, originally started at the Mar Vista library because a school was near the library and mothers would take their children to school and then come to the library to do some work.
When that library was torn down, the members moved to the Venice library five years ago and decided to stay.
“We have a nice room,” says West Hollywood resident Ann Crowell. “The librarian, everyone who works here, has been very nice.”
The newest member, Tomoko Maeda, is in her 30s and lives in Santa Monica. She arrived from Japan in September with her husband, who will be working here for two years, so she, technically, can’t get a job.
“I like hand-sewing and I think quilting is a good place to start,” she says. “It’s a very American thing.”
“We will welcome younger women and they don’t have to quilt,” says Ann.
“They can crochet, embroider, knit, anything. “You don’t need artistic ability,” Pat adds. “You need to sew a straight seam and follow instructions.”
Pat is currently working on a hand-pieced and hand-quilted “Double Wedding Ring” with 1,400 small pieces and other larger pieces in honor of her 60th wedding anniversary later this year.
“As a craftsperson, not a designer or an artist, I have found great satisfaction in my quilting — and I cannot draw worth a darn,” Pat says.
Ann enjoys the “Show and Tell” sessions. “We help one another,” she says. “That’s how I learned how to quilt. We get inspired by other people. We seek advice and give advice.”
Classes are planned where members can participate within their area of expertise.
“Each of the quilters can teach something,” she says. “I’m not very good at rotary cutting, but I trace well.”
The ladies make quilts for their own enjoyment and also for charity projects.
In 2004, they made 200 stuffed animals that were distributed to Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital and Good Shepherd Shelter for abused women with children.
“We’ve always done baby quilts,” says Ann, “and we will donate flannel receiving blankets to Katrina babies.”
Ann was inspired by book bags that were carried by some of the children at the library. She inquired and was told that one of the mothers put them together.
So that has become one of their projects in addition to making cushions for story time when they sit on the floor.
Another member, Margaret Christiansen, makes 53-by-53-inch lap quilts, otherwise known as “quilt in a day,” for cancer patients.
The Westside Quilters Workshop meets at 10 a.m. on the first and third Tuesdays at the Venice-Abbot Kinney Memorial Library, 501 S. Venice Blvd., Venice.
Ann calls members the Monday before each meeting as a reminder.
They are looking for new members and you don’t have to be an expert. Learning is part of the fun.
If you’re interested in joining the group, call Ann Crowell at (310) 659-0158.