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QUILTER PROFILE: Carol Doak

This is a picture of Carol Doak. Carol Doak has been a quilter for 17 years, and a teacher of quilting for nearly as long. She has authored eight books on quilting, and has gained a national reputation as an effective and entertaining teacher. She has of late become something of a guru in the very popular paper foundation piecing technique.

"I became involved in paper piecing by virtue of several coincidental events," Carol says. "I had just visited a quilt guild on Cape Cod to present workshops and they were having several small pineapple block rubber stamps made for foundation piecing on muslin. I placed an order for one. When my stamp arrived in the mail, I stamped my muslin square and made my first foundation block. When I completed the block, I was pleased with the precision. But as a hand quilter, I felt I had just made a pot holder because I would never quilt through that extra layer.

"At about the same time, I was searching for a topic for my next, 'Tricks of the Trade' column in 'Quick & Easy Quilting' magazine. I drew a few simple trees, a house and a boat using straight seam sequenced design lines on graph paper and explained foundation piecing on paper so that it could be removed. I experimented with sewing machine needle size and stitch length so the paper could be removed easily. The focus of the article was 'Traveling Down a New Path.' I wrote that if you approached patchwork in a different way you might discover new avenues that you would not have discovered using your routine method." One of the results of this curiosity about the technique is Carol's four books from That Patchwork Place,"Easy Machine Paper Piecing," "Easy Paper-Pieced Keepsake Quilts," "Easy Mix & Match Paper Piecing", and "Show Me How to Paper Piece."

Asked to comment on the current craze among quilters for foundation piecing, Carol observed "I think the popularity of paper-pieced designs comes from two avenues. Many of the designs are different from traditional block designs offering exciting new opportunities; it is also a vehicle to create intricate or small designs that you would not attempt using traditional piecing methods. The second reason is that paper piecing is a method rather than an acquired skill. Both a beginner quilter and a veteran quilter can produce accurate patchwork blocks right from the start. As a teacher, it is such a fun technique to teach because the end result for the student, no matter what their quilt experience level, is super."

Although she is an experimenter and innovator, Carol's foundation is in traditional quilts. She has a particular affinity for medallion style quilts. "I love medallion style quilts because of the impact of the central focus and the variety and opportunities offered in the borders. Although I have made applique quilts, I guess I prefer to piece quilts and often add just a touch of applique.

"Except for an occasional small project, I hand quilt all my quilts and consider the hand quilting designs to be just as important as the patchwork aspect. I believe the texture and design opportunities of quilting are an important part of a quilt and they are often considered during the design process. My primary quilting style is founded in traditional quilts but I enjoy making variations or new twists on these designs. I really enjoy secondary designs, unexpected surprises and a bit of non-conformity. I guess that means there is a bit of the rebel in me. I love it when a quilt makes me smile because it looks complex but is really simple, because it says something of value, because it expresses how I felt at that time, or just because it pleases me."

Asked about the origins of her interest in quilting, Carol says it rather took her by surprise. "My introduction to patchwork began when our family moved from Connecticut to Worthington, Ohio in 1979. I was invited to sign up for an Adult Education Basic Quilting class by a new friend and neighbor. At first I resisted (I really didn't like to sew!), but I finally gave in and went because I thought it might be a good opportunity to meet some new friends."

There is a quilting tradition in Carol's family, but you have to go back a few generations to find it. "My mom has never quilted. She once asked me how come I waited until I left home to become so talented and accomplish so much. But, her grandmother made patchwork quilts. My mom inherited a few quilt tops from her and I quilted them for her right after I began quilting. It was almost eerie as I worked on those patched scrap quilts. I noticed bits of fabric that were patched carefully so the stripes matched in order to make a piece large enough for a small 2" square. Although I never had the opportunity to know my great grandmother, I felt a sense of kinship and understanding as I worked on her tops."

Carol's teaching career began at almost the same time as her interest in quilting. "Believe it or not, I was asked to teach the class I took the following year. I fell in love with patchwork designs immediately and couldn't get enough of it.

"Fortunately for me, the class I took gave me a good foundation in patchwork design and empowered me to do anything I wanted. I wanted to share my excitement with others and empower them to express themselves. I had never been a 'stand up in front of others and talk' type of person, so they only way I felt comfortable was to do my homework and be prepared for class.

"I was always searching for an easier way to approach some aspect of quilting or teach it to others. I loved coming up with 'Tricks of the Trade." I'm sure that my investment in being prepared to teach others provided me with quite a bit more knowledge and experience more quickly than if I had been quilting for my own satisfaction. I soon discovered that I loved teaching others and watching them grow in their quilting."

Carol's career as a writer came along a little later, but also had its origins in her early quilting experiences. "My writing began with a request by a quilt magazine editor to write a few articles about quilting. To me, that was just another way to share my enthusiasm and teach others.

Mix & Match book "My first book, 'Quiltmaker's Guide: Basics & Beyond,' was really the result of students repeatedly suggesting that I should write a book. I heard that comment so frequently, that I finally decided that there was value in at least writing down this information I had been teaching in my classes. I don't believe I sincerely thought it would ever be published as a book as I never considered myself an author. The book proposal was accepted and published by The American Quilter's Society. What I wasn't prepared for when the book was published and I returned to teach my next Basic Quilting Class, was the repeated question, 'Is that in the book?' My book gave students a sense of confidence to know that this information they had just been presented was written down with illustrations in a book they would have as a reference."

Carol has now published multiple books through That Patchwork Place, and I asked her to talk a little about the process of putting together a quilting book. "Well, first you have to have an idea or concept that you are really excited about and committed to," she said. "It is sort of akin to selecting that wonderful fabric that you are going to cut up into thousands of little pieces and spend the next few years sewing back together again in a wonderful patchwork design. You are going to be working with, dissecting and handling it a lot, so you better be committed to it.

"Once you have a concept, it needs to be developed through examples, a book outline, sample writing style and directions and proposed to a publisher. I usually begin with the quilt designs and write the directions. I make the quilts from the directions to proof them and to make sure they are clear. I am a visual learner so I rely on lots of illustrations. For me, writing the text for books is easy. I just sit down with an outline so my concepts are organized and let my fingers do the talking on the keyboard. I tend to write just like I talk. My friends and workshop students have told me often, "I can just hear you say that". Next I work on drawing the illustrations and [extensive proofreading] getting the manuscript ready to send to the publisher.

"The time this all takes varies from book to book and from publisher to publisher. My first book took me two years to write and about a year and a half to publish. Some of my subsequent books were written in 6 months and published in 9 months.

"Once the manuscript, illustrations, directions and projects are completed, it is sent off to the publisher. You will receive page proofs back, (usually several times), so you can proofread again. Once the text, illustrations and photos have been integrated and proofed, it goes off to the printer for the birth of your book.

"Just like with any project, there are frustrations and joys. The frustrations come when you are sure you have proofread something accurately and on the next reading you find an error that you need to correct. (I'm convinced sometimes they are invisible seeds and then they just sprout!) Again, kind of like birth . . . you don't quite remember these labor pains once the book is published.

"The joys come when you receive personable thank you letters, pictures of quilts and e-mail from readers who are enjoying your designs and books or you watch a student take what you have presented and make it their own with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment."

Speaking of e-mail, Carol is an active participant in the Sewing and Quilting Forum on CompuServe and has a website at http://quilt.com/Artists/CarolDoak/CarolDoak.html. She became acquainted with the online world as so many others have, through a free software disk from America Online. "In traveling around the country, I had been hearing more and more about 'on-line quilt guilds.' My husband's new computer came equipped with a modem and the ability to sign on AOL. Being the curious type, I asked him to find the Quilt Forum for me so I could explore this high tech quilt world.

"My initial impression was that this was just like a quilt guild but comprised of quilters from all over the U.S. There was lots of sharing going on. I enjoyed reading what was going on across the country and the ability to receive and respond to e-mail from friends and new friends was fun. Since that time, the explosion of quilt-related pages on the World Wide Web and other avenues has been just amazing and wonderful. Personally, I think today's quilters are adapting and using these high tech tools to do what they did during the quilting bees . . . communicate, inspire, share and provide fellowship. I use my computer to communicate with quilters all over the world." Carol also uses quilt design software (primarily Electric Quilt) to assist her in all of her quilt-related activities.

Like so many traveling, teaching, writing quilters, Carol credits her family for indispensable support. "My children have grown up with their mom being a quilter. That means you don't walk around in your bare feet in our house! Today quilting is a full time (and then some) job for me, but when my two sons were younger, I taught locally during the winter months and sort of took the summers off. As they grew and became more independent, I became more involved and began to travel more.

"I can remember when I was knee-deep in my first book, my youngest son would call to me upstairs where I was working on the manuscript and ask, 'Is this a make-your-own-dinner night?' My frequent affirmative replies resulted in his being a very good cook. Now, when he returns home from college, I ask him, 'What's for dinner honey? Actually, I do get quite a bit of support and understanding from the three men in my life. My husband has a good grasp of computers and has been extremely supportive. Last Christmas he surprised me with a scanner. My thank you went something like this: 'I know I'm going to love it when I figure out how it works!'

Figuring out how it works has been the hallmark of Carol Doak's career as a quilter as she has not only taught herself to be a quilter, teacher, and writer, but has taken the art of quilting beyond the old techniques and approaches into new territory.

Carol Doak's books on foundation paper piecing are available at a discount from Planet Patchwork in association with Amazon.com. Click here for more information on Carol's popular books!

 

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