All the way from Mississippi

Updated: 2013-04-05 07:46

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

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"I started with the very traditional, from patterns in a book, but I soon got a little frustrated. I wanted to express myself with my own designs as a fiber artist not finish someone else's," she recalls, likening her initial experience to "paint-by-number" kits that were popular in the 1960s.

"My first foray in expressing myself was completing a Baltimore Album, a milestone for every quilter. This is an 1850s style quilt, something like a picture album, in which each block has a special meaning. They can commemorate a birth, anniversary, marriage a battle for someone in the military; it's a story of a life."

There were patterns, like babies and hearts, available for certain events, but Ginn soon found herself making several of her own blocks from scratch.

"We have some good Chinese friends at home," she says, "and so I included the double-happiness symbol to commemorate that special friendship. And since I was working on this in 1992, the 500th anniversary of the landing of Christopher Columbus in America. I wanted to include a block for that, too. So I drew my own ship. And then I drew my church, to make a block commemorating my faith, and wrote a bit of scripture I like to sew into the design."

Then came family. "My dad was a Texas highway patrol officer, and I had always liked the star design of the buttons on his uniform," she says. "So I created a block that incorporated that button design, to represent my father on the quilt."

Since Ginn didn't have a drawing background, she took a sketching class from a friend at church, and found her own way.

Her finished Baltimore Album quilt had 20 blocks, including seven she had created on her own.

"Making a Baltimore Album quilt is a sort of paying-your-dues step, you go through the process to get to another level," she says. "Once I'd mastered the skills to create a Baltimore Album, I knew I could do anything." She started that quilt in 1990 and finished it five years later; it has hung at major quilt shows around the US.

Where does she get her material? "I can find a piece of fabric with any image in the world," she says, "but nowadays, as I make my own designs, I prefer tone-on-tone, not patterns with flowers and other prints.

"I've tried some dyeing of my own cloth, but I prefer spending my time making quilts, not fabrics, which are available in great variety.

"I use cotton, organza, silk, anything I can find," she says, holding up a pillow-sized quilt block she had used for demonstration in the workshop. "See here I've added this flossy fiber we call 'angel hair', and here some painted cellophane to represent water, which I've heated to make crinkly."

Designs come to her fairly quickly, she says, but with the cutting and sewing involved many of her quilts take more than a year to complete. "That's partly because like most quilters, I'm working on three or four at once," she says. "My Japanese Lanterns quilt, for example, was made entirely of one to one-and-a-half inch strips, in a complicated arrangement of colors. So I'd work on that for several days, but then need a break and I'd go do something less intense."

If this sounds like a lonely lady keeping herself busy, think again. For Ginn, a big part of her hobby's charm is the social circle it provides.

"The quilt guild in our town is a big and active one," she says of Hattiesburg, a community of 46,000 people. The Pine Belt Quilters guild draws on a 100-mile radius, and meets every week, though most members don't turn out every time. "We do a lot of quilts for children, and give them away for charity sales. They are simpler and fun, a nice diversion," she says.

There is also a quilt association for the entire state, which has three gatherings per year. And then there are the big shows in Paducah, Kentucky, home of the National Quilt Museum, and in Houston, where quilters take over the entire convention center in the Texas city for a week.

There can be $10,000 for the winning quilts in shows like that, she says. "At Paducah, that prize money is a 'purchase prize', meaning the museum pays to buy the quilt for the museum."

The jury process to get into those shows is very competitive "just getting in is a win", says Ginn, whose Rise and Shine quilt has been exhibited at both Houston and Paducah though it didn't carry away a prize.

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