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Quilter Profile: Jackie Robinson
 

When you talk to Jackie Robinson, even in the relatively "removed" medium of e-mail or an online chat, what strikes you about her is her energy and enthusiasm for quilting. In her nearly 30-year career, she has been involved in almost every conceivable aspect of quilting -- as a quilter, a teacher, a designer, an author (and publisher!) and a quilt shop owner. While only one or two of these commitments would be enough to wear out most of us, Jackie draws energy from all aspects of quilting and returns that energy many fold through her design work, books and teaching.

As for many quilters, there was a vestigial tradition in her family that she built upon: "My very FIRST quilt was actually a completion in 1972 of a quilt started by my mother-in-law, her Mom, and her sisters sometime in the '30s. I found it in her cedar chest, and finished it. Trust me - it is NOT well done; in fact it's downright awful! But, hey <g> everyone starts somewhere! That quilt is presently possessed by my 'former' (and terrific!) sister-in-law, and she has promised that it will end up with one of my children some day.

"My paternal grandmother was a great quilter, and I have her Dresden Plate. She passed away when I was 7, so I have only a small memory of her, and no memory of ever seeing her quilt. I also have a doll quilt she made for me when I was 4 or 5. It's a simple one-patch with no batting, and very special for the obvious reasons."

Jackie describes herself as "primarily a traditional piecer, though I often put a new 'spin' or 'twist' on an older idea, either in the way it's assembled, the color choices, or by adding or subtracting a corner or side, or something which makes it slightly different . . . . I never really change directions <g> though often take side trips." Her "side trips" have taken her in a number of creative directions which have led to major books and classes she has taught.

"In 1984, I became interested in the art glass Frank Lloyd Wright designed for his Prairie Style homes of 1900-1910. I developed several quilts based on that art glass, and 18 of them are in my book, Quilts in the Tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright. The leading of the 'glass' is pieced in - not appliqued, and the technique is one which applies to many other areas of patchwork. Therefore, it's a popular class which I teach.

"Additionally, my Wright lecture is quite well known, and numerous of my teaching jobs are based around it. I literally 'put him on' as I tell his life story, show a sampling of his work, and show and talk about the 18 quilts in the book.

 

"Following the Wright quilts, I dabbled for a while in Art Deco style, applying the narrow strips - though this time to curves. I still make an occasional Art Deco piece and Wright pieces, though those are for my OWN pleasure or for show pieces."

More recently, Jackie has become known for her development of a style of three-dimensional piecing. "The Three-Dimensional patchwork started a little over 4 years ago when a customer came into my shop carrying a 3-D Bow Tie she had made that morning at a guild meeting. I admired it, and she asked me how she'd made it! Of course, I didn't have a 'clue' so we unstitched enough to figure it out. I found that piece incredibly exciting, and within a few days I'd devised lots of ways to handle folded fabric in the seams. I quickly made some quilts using this technique - just couldn't stop. It was like Popcorn - and I kept wanting more. Quilter's Newsletter Mag selected one, Quiltmaker took another, and I printed 3 others as patterns right away. Then started working on the Sampler idea, realizing it was the most flexible way of playing with 3-D. It became a workshop on my travel schedule, and within a month or two I noticed I was teaching it ALWAYS when I traveled, and the book was bo rn. I very seldom teach somewhere without 3-D being included.

"As other 3-D designs came into being, I also started playing with the rectangles that would produce the long skinny diamonds in Storm At Sea. They are definitely different than the patches in the Sampler, and a bit 'floppier' which also makes them 'curvier' and works great to show the rollicking sea in Storm At Sea quilts.

"I still play in 3-D regularly. Recently added a wonderful 3-D waving Flag, and brand new is a 3-D Turkey with incredible tail feathers! It's just SUCH FUN that ideas pop up routinely! (Some aren't worth developing <g> but I think the Turkey will be popular, and the Flag certainly is!)"

As for where all these ideas come from, Jackie has developed a few techniques of her own to keep them flowing: "I've never been able to 'force' a design. That may be because I have no training in art or design, but mainly I think that 'forced' things tend to look or feel contrived. (My degree is in merchandising - I was a buyer for dept stores when younger) I've had only one art class, and that was in advertising art - doing ad layouts, etc.

 

"Some days ideas just 'POP' and they come faster than I can even get them onto paper (or in the computer!) Other days I can't make something work for the life of me. Though, I've learned that getting OUT of my sewing room and into the fresh air is the best way to get rid of cobwebs in my head. We live in the country (in Durango, Colorado) - on purpose! It took a long time to move through the accumulated real estate values until we could afford acreage and big vistas. Jery designed and built our home 5 years ago. It took him a year to build it, and for that year we were totally on my income - talk about incentive to produce! <gg> I can lace up the hiking boots and take off across country.

"We also take long drives around here. That makes for a really relaxing day, and by the end of any of those, I've always had at least one new idea - either for design or marketing or something which helps my business. So, taking a total 'day off' - getting away - works well for me. I'm certain it's the relaxing that does the trick - just letting go, and that makes room for new ideas. . . . Basically, all the design in this world boils down to coming from one source - Nature. So, embrace it - see where it'll lead you!"

Somewhere along the line Jackie's merchandising background and interest drew her into the ownership of a quilt shop. She calls it "Eighteen & one/half years of Quilt Shop Heaven! I've owned and operated Two quilt shops, have now sold both, and both are alive and well.

"'In' Stitches is in Ballwin, Missouri - a suburb of St. Louis. It opened in March of 1982, and in 1988 we sold it to Pam & Garry Bryan. At that time, Jery and I had chosen to move to Durango.

Within a month after the move, Animas Quilts opened in the fall of 1988, and was eventually sold, in 1999, to Pat and John Nicholas, when Jackie's teaching and writing career became too demanding. Even though she is no longer doing it, Jackie remembers it fondly:

"Owning and operating a quilt shop is more than a full-time job. And, it's serious business <g>. Over the 18-1/2 years I spent in that business I watched many shops come and go. The survivors are the ones who view it as a business rather than a hobby.

"I loved absolutely every minute of it! Would still be a shop owner if I hadn't been so fortunate to have this teaching career, The marketing and merchandising of a quilt shop is a daily challenge, and that makes it a whirlwind of fun. The customers are absolute 'gems', and my staff was the 'best'.

"With a degree in merchandising, in total I've spent over 30 years in retail. GEE! Where has it gone! While it's a constant challenge, and I found it very stimulating, the demands of always having new samples, creative displays, etc. are numerous. And the bottom line in retail - well it's just slim, that's all there is to it. The only way a retailer gets rich is by sheer volume, so quilt shop owners work at a labor of love, and love it is. We get a reasonable living from it, and enjoy it so much we're willing to take home less than we would in another industry."

 

As if the challenges of retail weren't enough, Jackie has also been a successful self-publishing author for nearly 20 years. "It happened by accident, because I came up with Weaver Fever, and it was tiny and not a candidate for the big publishers. Once I learned how to draw in the graphics programs, how to format the book in that program, and then that the big distributors would buy from me - it just simply made sense.

"I'd bought a small Macintosh while in St. Louis, and have upgraded through the years to the powerful Mac I run now. Desktop Publishing has improved by leaps & bounds, and the programs I work in are fabulous.

"When I'm working on a new design, I draw it completely in the graphics program. Then math it out, and write simple instructions, including complete cutting details, etc. That all happens before I ever touch the fabric. Then, using my sketchy instructions, I cut and start stitching, bouncing back and forth between my sewing machine and computer so the instructions are expanded as I go. And, I get to proof the math on the actual piece. Pretty groovy! Also, while stitching, I'm creating the individual illustrations to show how to make it. Timing is perfect - I have all those small parts available to look at.

"Once it's completed, I place the text in the page layout program and start adding the illustrations where they go, and it's done! Then, it's time for proofing. I have two special people doing this. One is an avid quilter, and great at math, so she checks that and also lets me know if the instructions don't make sense. The other has a MFA in English. She has only made 1 or 2 quilts and so knows the lingo, but isn't fluent in it. She makes certain my words are correct (So I won't sound foolish!) and also lets me know if she understands what I'm describing. On top of that, they are two of my favorite people, and I genuinely trust their judgment."

In addition to her book publication, Jackie has also been published in all of the major quilting magazines in the U.S. and around the world. Her credits include Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, Patchwork Quilt Tsushin (Japan), Australian Patchwork and Quilting, and many others!

 

Jackie was also one of the earliest quilters to establish a website, back in the early nineties. First hosted by the World Wide Quilting Page, Jackie has since established her own domain at http://www.animas.com. Of the influence of the internet, she says that its primary contribution has been "ACCESS ! The quilting world gets information SO MUCH FASTER this way, and I reach quilters who are not necessarily shop customers. Also, there is so much product available these days, no shop can carry it all, so I have an opportunity to show my wares to quilters whose local shops don't carry my books or patterns.

"We do a printed brochure on an annual basis, but I can make changes on my website instantly, and cherish that opportunity."

For all of her enthusiastically pursued activities, Jackie gives a special measure of her devotion to her teaching. Of its impact on her quilting, she says, simply: "Gee. The teaching drives it. It's my contact with the real world of quilters. Through those sessions with them I see what they want, need, enjoy - and hopefully learn from those experiences.

"My newest book, Favorites!, came directly from the classroom experiences with lots of guilds. I've discovered that jillions of quilters are basically 'self-taught' and in many cases, they work way too hard at their passion. Because they haven't taken many classes, lots haven't learned the shortcuts which make our work not only more efficient, but also cleaner. So, I wrote a book designed to show them how to efficiently cut, piece, etc. It's only been available for a month and the reorder activity is astounding - especially since it's summer and quilting's slow season.

"Another way the teaching affects my quilting is simple DESIRE. <g> When I spend several days in a classroom, I'm chomping at the bit to get back to my sewing machine. It just always seems they are having sooo much fun, and there I am, telling and showing them how, but missing all the close encounters with my Bernina. So, when I get home, I can hardly wait to stitch something!"

Whether she is having close encounters with her Bernina, her Macintosh, or the Colorado mountain countryside, Jackie is a dynamo of creativity and enthusiasm, and quilting is the engine that has driven that passion for so many years.