I've written a lot about accomplished women and I must confess that these posts flummox me. In this short space, I never know whether to draw your attention to the woman, her work, the story of her past, or the possibilities in her future.
To illustrate this quandary, let me introduce Cathy Fussell, a lifelong quilter who learned to handle a needle before she memorized her math tables. She remembers being four and pranking her father by sewing buttons onto his handkerchiefs when he wasn't looking. She has spent her entire life on the Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola watershed in Georgia, and its terrain figures heavily in her topographic quilts. Her husband's paintings inspire her patterns. So do the words of William Faulkner. Cathy lectures on quilting, blogs about quilting, and leads quilting workshops. Two years ago, she was commissioned to create a quilt for First Lady Michelle Obama. She traveled to Washington D.C. to present the quilt to Mrs. Obama, who, by the way, was the fifth first lady that Cathy had the pleasure of meeting.
I ask you, which of those interesting facts deserves its own paragraph?
And then there's this anecdote Cathy shared about her days teaching high school English. She would come home bone tired, turn on Court TV, and labor over her quilts while listening to the live coverage of courtroom prosecutions. In her mind, she referred to those pieces as The Menendez Brothers Quilt and The OJ Quilt.
I bring my own baggage as an unpaid writer to this post, so I wanted to know how Cathy went from quilt hobbyist to professional artist who supplements her retirement income with quilt sales. Cathy said that a few years ago, she was invited to join other artists -- real artists she called them -- in an open studio art sale. To her complete surprise, Cathy sold several thousand dollars worth of quilts that day. "It got me off and running," she said.
Finally, I must contend with images -- in this case, photos of the former cotton mill, which is now Cathy and Fred's studio space and home. The two of them live in a geometric rectangle subdivided into squares, like one of the quilts piled on Cathy and Fred's sofa. Cathy's family once raised cotton, so "because the loft is a cotton mill, it is important to us."
Here we are now at the end of today’s post. On the subject of what makes Cathy Fussell tick, I think I can offer one last paragraph: she is curious; she is dogged; she experiments; she makes do; she is not afraid of wrinkles – in time, on her face, or under her machine’s needle. She keeps pushing the fabric forward, pressing down on the pedal, turning the bulky mass this and that way, until finally, something utilitarian and beautiful is before her.
And on those beautiful quilts that Cathy makes, she said it best:
Quilts are about history and art and politics and stories and patience and beauty and community and economics and place and expression and freedom and transition and family and warmth – and love. And they’re feminized and devalued. All that is why I’m so into quilts and quiltmaking.