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QUILTER PROFILE: Judy Smith

Judy SmithIf you're an online quilter, it seems that everywhere you look you see the name of Judy Smith. On GEnie, on the Microsoft Network, on the Web, on the QuiltArt list, Judy is a constant presence working to bring good things to quilters on the net.

She is the founder of one of the most interesting and articulate of the quilting maillists, QuiltArt, though she professes not to be a particularly "arty" quilter. She began, as many do, with a very traditional approach: "My first quilts were machine-made one-patches constructed from kits I bought on one of our summer vacations to Nantucket. I followed that with a 'Trip Around the World' made from an early Blanche Young book and a HUGE 1000 Pyramid that I think attracted me mostly because I decided that every triangle had to be a different fabric... (and we KNOW how much fabric shopping that takes!)"

There was no known tradition of quilting in Judy's family, though needlework of other kinds was everywhere: "I came to quilting in a round-about way. All the women in my family have always done needlework, although none, that I know of, have quilted. My grandmother was an accomplished knitter who had a knitting shop in Nashville, Tennessee. She taught me to knit when I was around eight years old and by the time I was in junior high school, I was knitting all of my own sweaters (with the prerequisite dyed-to match skirts made by my mother's dressmaker!)

"In addition to knitting, I learned to sew in junior high school home ec, I learned embroidery at an early age, and when my mother got hooked on needlepoint in the early 70s, I followed suit. Around this time, I took a course in needlepoint design at a local college, and the instructor, who liked my style, hooked me up with a local shop, "The Elegant Needle", where I began painting needlepoint canvases in 1974. Three owners, two locations and 22+ years later, I am still doing custom needlepoint canvases for the SAME shop.)

"Always looking for new design ideas, sometime in the late 70s I came across a book of quilting patterns, and realized how easily they translated to needlepoint canvas. I also discovered QNM around this time. . . and being the compulsive person I am, started reading everything I could about quilting.

"Around 1982, one of the mothers at my son's school, Laurie Sieminski, asked me if I would be interested in joining a quilting group. The two of us were the only ones in a group of 10 who knew anything about quilting and compared to Laurie, I didn't know much! She would give quilting lessons and we would make a raffle quilt for the scholarship fund of the school. That began a 10-year association with the Beauvoir Quilters. Our little group ended up making masterpiece quality quilts. . . STRICTLY traditional. . . which we raffled every year and, at the same time, I was churning out my own quilts at home. All were of traditional patterns, were hand pieced and hand quilted."

Eventually, as children grew up and members of this group dispersed, online quilting entered Judy's life, and changed it considerably: "In 1991, trying to find something to interest my adolescent son, I bought a modem for our PC. He wasn't in the least bit interested in it but I saw an ad in a magazine for GEnie. . . $4.95 a month. . . all sorts of hobbies!

"Being on a real knitting binge at that time, I went cruising for knitters. There weren't very many knitters on GEnie, but there were LOTS of quilters!

"The enthusiasm of the Online Quilters on GEnie was contagious and I was quickly hooked! Around the same time, we were going through adolescent turbulence in our household, and the Online Quilters offered me support and refuge that I really needed at that time!

"In early 1992, the quilters on GEnie finished up a challenge that had been started before I joined, a group of Desert Storm Quilts, called 'I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends,' and a bunch of us proposed a show of the quilts in Washington, D.C. [where Judy lives] over July 4th that year. I didn't have a quilt in the challenge, but I was involved in organizing the show, which ended up being shown at Decatur House on Lafayette Square, right across the street from The White House.

"When we put on the Decatur House Show, there was much more involved than the show. Along with a few other local Onliners, we arranged an entire weekend. Over 50 Online Quilters and their families came to Washington, DC, for July 4th Weekend, 1992. Most of us had never met before in person -- only online -- and it was truly a magical weekend! We all bonded like we had known each other forever. . . such a cohesive group we were! Over the course of the weekend, we arranged for the out-of-towners to see D.C. and all it had to offer and had a private tour of G Street Fabrics! They had a tour of White House, enjoyed a July 4th feast complete with fireworks, and the weekend finished up with everyone coming to my house (which I note was under complete renovation at the time) for dinner and the first public demo of The Electric Quilt!"

Judy's online connections eventually led to her being asked to join the NeedleArts Forum staff at GEnie. Besides how to be an assistant Sysop, she learned from the quilters there how to move beyond some of her traditional quilting techniques: "Up until this time, (at least since I started quilting with the Beauvoir Quilters), I had done everything in a strictly traditional way. I cut out all pieces -- one by one -- with a template. I pieced and quilted by hand. I really didn't know much about machine quilting at all (except to seam up a backing or make a bias binding!)

"It wasn't long after I was online, and thoroughly enmeshed in swaps, that I realized that I couldn't do all these blocks by hand anymore. From the quilters on GEnie, I learned all about rotary cutting, machine piecing and quilting. In the years since then, I have had to reassess my time, and I now send out all my large quilts to be quilted by others, while I do the small ones by machine.

"I thoroughly enjoy the study of quilt and fabric history, and love antiques, but have, in the past few years, veered off to watercolor and more painterly types of quilts. My strong suit is the use of color and I felt that I had finally found my niche when I began doing watercolor bargello (after a series of classes with Donna Radner). I go back and forth between turn-of-the-century repro fabrics (the colors of which do have a certain contemporary flair to them, IMHO!) and more contemporary florals. I don't have ONE style. . . and I'm certainly not as artistic as many of the quilters on our list. I love color! You'll never seen a muted or dusty colored quilt on my design wall! I don't like country, but I do like pretty. . . and I love pansies, as everyone who visits my home page knows."

Like many quilters who began their online journey from within an online service, Judy eventually began to venture into the world outside the walls: "Always trying to explore and learn new things, I was soon cruising the Internet, and found myself on QuiltNet (before it was QuiltNet) and several other listservs related to quilting and textiles. It seemed to me that most of the lists were geared to beginners, were too chatty or were geared to people who took themselves very seriously as art quilters. After an unfortunate experience on a list, where I felt that everyone was trying too hard to be too serious about what they were doing, I figured I'd start my own list.

"While I had no desire to start another chat-type list, I still felt that our everyday experience does fit into our quilting lives to a great degree, so I thought there must be a way to strike a happy medium. Besides, starting a list was something I didn't know how to do, and I'm always up for a new challenge! So off I went to find a place to do a list!"

After an unsatisfactory experience with one list provider, Judy eventually discovered her current server at quilt.net through an online connection. QuiltArt is now the happy home of some 900 online quilters who, despite taking their art seriously, have some fun along the way.

"I have never wanted to turn QuiltArt into a commercial venture," Judy says. "I strongly feel that the beauty of the Internet is the sharing of knowledge with others and that it be available to everyone. One of the beauties of QuiltArt is that all levels of quilters can come together and interact with each other. We have beginners on our list, as well as some of the most well-known names in the quilting world, and every level in between.

"Just about the only limits I put on the list are that we not discuss politics or religion and that we treat each other with respect. Occasionally, the chat aspect gets out of hand and I have to remind folks to get back on topic, but that hasn't happened often. With the number of people we have on the list, there are always going to be times when someone doesn't like the current topic of conversation. Some of our most controversial topic threads have turned into challenge quilts that will soon be appearing in our gallery! The first of these will be a Baby Boomer Challenge, which Maxine Farkas has led, called 'Boomerang!'"

The QuiltArt list has expanded into a web presence as well, and due to Judy's talents it is one of the nicest on the web. (See review in TVQ #11). It can be found at: http://www.quiltart.com

When not at her computer or her sewing machine, Judy works part-time for the Washington Post in the Obituary Department. She lives with her lawyer-lobbyist husband, Russell, in a 1905 rowhouse in downtown D.C. They've been married 25 years and their son, Harris, is a film student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

"Russell and I enjoy antiquing on the weekends," Judy says, "and are currently obsessed with Depression-era kitchen glass . . . most notably, juicers and reamers. You can see photos of these on my home page, too! We also collect Nantucket lightship baskets.

"I'm certainly busy these days, but I am enjoying all my activities immensely! All of my online/Internet activities have been great avenues of growth for me. My online quilting activities have been educational in both the worlds of quilting and computing and have brought me great friendships, which I will always treasure.

"Someone wrote to me last week to thank me for 'hanging' her quilt in our gallery and asked me what I could possibly be getting out of all this!

"The knowledge that I am giving a quilter the ability to learn something new, to commune with others who are just as passionate about quilting, and to show a quilt when she (or he) may not have had the opportunity to do so before, offers great satisfaction to me. QuiltArt is truly a labor of love and I'm having a great time with it!"

Judy can be reached by e-mail at: judy@quilt.net

 

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