Nellie Giddens

By Susan Fisher

When Nellie Giddens retired in 1977, she wanted to make furniture, but as she says, “No one told me I’d have to lift it!” She knew she wanted to do something with her hands, so she turned to quilting. Even though there were no quilters in her family, she liked quilts, and after all, how hard could it be?

Nellie had learned how to sew in 1947 on her mother-in-law’s treadle machine and quickly moved to an electric machine. Her first quilts were hand pieced. It might have been difficult at first, but this was in the late 70s with limited resources and 35” wide cotton fabric from the Gingersnap Station. Just ten years later, Nellie made her first trip to the International Quilt Festival in Houston, taking classes every day. That same year her spectacular Commemorative Quilt won the Mixed Technique category at the North Georgia Quilt Council Quilt Show. It is a large quilt comprised of thirty cross-stitched blocks illustrating family homes, members and history. Nellie designed the blocks and traded another quilt for a woman to do the actual stitchery.

One of the classes she took during that first trip to Houston in 1987 was a Crazy Quilt class from Judith Baker Montano. She took these techniques and designed and made a Commemorative Crazy Victorian Wall quilt that was displayed in the Governor’s office for several months and then at the Atlanta History Center for a year. It now has pride of place in her home. She used the baby gowns, shawls and ribbons from her eight grand children and nine great grandchildren (“Cry and cut”) and designed the frame so she could take the quilt out and add something with every new “grand or great” that came along.
Her family’s favorite quilt is the red and block Churn Dash known as the UGA Quilt. Each University of Georgia graduate in the family gets to keep it for five years and then must pass it on. Nellie says, ”It’s been washed a million times and yet they still fight over it.” Currently her son has it and has yet to relinquish it to his niece, even though she’s now in graduate school.

Nellie’s pride and joy is the Baltimore Album quilt she finished in 2002 after a decade of designing and sewing. She says, “I should have started it earlier!” It won First Place at the East Cobb Quilt Show, seven ribbons at the Macon show and then was exhibited at the Houston Quilt Festival. Nellie was thrilled to travel there and see it. She considers the Baltimore Album style the ultimate in quiltmaking.

Nellie estimates that she has hand quilted 70 quilts and machine quilted an additional 75 in the 28 years she has been a quiltmaker. Quiltmaking is addictive and she’s glad of it. “I don’t think it will go away.” Her advice to other quiltmakers comes from the time she spent traveling the state and documenting quilts for the Georgia Quilt Project: Label your quilts!

February 2005