QUILTER PROFILE: Debra Weiss
MSN Stitch Forum Pioneer Now Publishes Quilt Gallery on the Web
Debra Weiss began sewing in home
economics class, but she couldn't quite get it right: "I started sewing in junior
high home ec class. I liked it and kept at it. My mom bought me a used sewing machine, and
I made garments for many years. Unfortunately, I never could get them to fit quite right.
I didn't figure out that you could alter the pattern for a long, long time! My sewing sort
of went by the wayside until one afternoon in 1985 when I attended an outdoor craft
festival and stumbled upon Quilt in a Day. I looked at the quilts and the books,
and thought 'I could do that!' and marched on down to their shop. The ladies there helped
me pick fabrics and supplies, and I went home and made a queen sized Log Cabin that I gave
to my brother. He still has it, and I've been quilting ever since."
In the intervening years Debra has become an accomplished quilter and has developed a
personal style with the aid of her computer: "I began doing all the traditional
patterns until one day, I was doing a layout in Corel Draw! (tm) and was struck by the
idea that I could use it for quilt design. I spent hours drawing blocks so I could have a
library, and began mixing and matching different patterns, stretching, rotating, etc. I've
been doing my own designs for about ten years. I prefer geometrics, and I enjoy playing
with color and illusion. I'm dyeing my own fabric now as well. While I enjoy all aspects
of quiltmaking, I like design best."
Her acquaintance with the computer led, as it has for so many, to the online world.
"I first got online on GEnie in 1992 through my corporate job", Debra says.
"When I figured out how to search the service, I found a quilting area there, and was
amazed to see so many other people interested in quilting. In 1994, I heard through the
sysop grapevine that Microsoft was starting an online service, and I submitted a proposal
for a quilting area called Stitch. I was awarded that contract, and managed the area until
May of 1997. I so enjoyed building the community there and participating in various swaps
Later Debra started up the very elegant online magazine Quilt Gallery (http://www.quiltgallery.com). "The Quilt
Gallery Magazine came about through an inquiry in Stitch," she says. "Two
gentlemen from Ohio lived near a Toyota plant, and watched as workers from Japan came to
the USA and went crazy for American quilts. They figured that there were lots of people
around the world who would like to have a quilt of their own but didn't have access to
quiltmakers, and conversely, that many quiltmakers didn't have access to buyers. They
wanted a listing service on the web, and figured that some editorial content would be a
good draw. They hired me to do the editorial piece of the site, and I ended up doing the
site design as well. Unfortunately, they were unable to pay me the promised fees, and in
the end, signed over all rights and the domain name to me. The magazine had generated such
a positive response I figured I might as well keep on publishing it. I've done four
issues, and hope to publish it on a more regular basis.
"I've tried to put out a magazine that as a quilter, I would want to read. I like
meaty how-to information, with lots of diagrams. I also like to highlight the work of
professionals for inspiration. I want the magazine to appeal to quilters of all levels,
and particularly want to inspire quiltmakers to express their own ideas.
"Regarding my computing background, I've been at it since 1982. I'm completely
self-taught. I've made one hundred percent of my living off my laptop since 1995 -- I'm a
full-fledged cybergeek! I publish the magazine, do web design, run the Games Forum on MSN
and run a venture called The Content Company that generates trivia, word games, facts,
polling and research for various clients."
As a quilter and "cybergeek," Debra has been at the center of the computer
revolution that has swept quilting in the last few years: "I think the computer is a
phenomenal tool for quilt design. It takes the tedium out of the design process -- no more
graph paper, tracing paper, colored pencils! I'm a big fan of the Electric Quilt program .
. . while it's not perfect, I think it has the best feature set, and it's great for swaps.
"With the advent of online
services and the internet, quilters from all over the world can swap tips and experiences,
and I've been so enriched by being a part of the community. I've been amazed at how
helpful and friendly folks are, and have 'met' so many wonderful people. I'm also
constantly surprised when I see the visitor list for The Quilt Gallery Magazine. Just
about every country in the world is represented. I could never have access to this kind of
readership with a traditional print publication. I'm also delighted by the significant
number of web sites devoted to quiltmaking. So many people think quilting is just for
little old ladies sitting around a frame. . . the industry has exploded in the past 12
years since I've been involved.
"I moved into a new house recently, and walked out on my porch one day and spied a
big box sitting there. My online friends had made me a quilt and sent it as a surprise.
Dozens of people worked on it, and they did it all via e-mail. I was so moved by the
effort and the spirit behind the stitches -- I've never met any of these ladies in person.
It's exquisite, and it's something I'll treasure forever."
As for the future, Debra sees good things for both quilting and online communities:
"I think the industry as a whole will grow steadily. Quilts are special -- they are
useful and beautiful. No two are exactly alike. They ooze with emotion. People aren't
going to stop making them, buying them or using them any time soon. My hope is that
quiltmakers will be able to get a fair price for their work . . . that the quilt-buying
public will see them for the art form that they are, and appreciate and care for them
"Most of us are making quilts for people we love. It's an emotional process, and it's
hard to describe it to people who don't do it themselves . . . the recipients often don't
quite understand how much energy goes into the finished piece. So many of us make quilts
alone -- we don't belong to a guild or have quilting friends in our neighborhood. That's
why the online medium works so beautifully for us . . . you can always find someone to
share with, even if they are on the other side of the world. I try to do my small share to
facilitate this process."
Through her work at MSN, and now with Quilt Gallery, Debra has set the standard for
elegant design and high quality content for quilt sites. What also comes through clearly
in all she does is her love for this beautiful and useful craft, and for the worldwide
community that continues it.