Shirley Rathkopf

In her own words . . .

My first quilt is one my sister and I pieced when we were in high school, in about 1943, a checkerboard of white and pastel prints. It started out to be a nine-patch, but we alternated the white squares and ended up with the checkerboard effect. The fabric was 35 cents a yard, three yards for a dollar. I carried that top around with me for years and finally quilted it on my Featherweight on my kitchen table when my first baby was sitting in an infant seat watching me. (He is now 47.) I gave it to my sister for a wedding present and she is still using it.

The next one was made of scraps saved from my “sewing my own clothes” days, and I made and quilted it in quarters that I later joined together (a nasty job). It was also machine quilted. I didn’t start hand quilting for quite a while after that.

When we moved from Southern California to Florida in 1963, the sole fabric store in our area carried only poly-cotton blends, so that’s what I used. Barbara Johanna came out with her book on marking and sewing before cutting the patches apart, using a long ruler, and I thought it was a horrible technique. I was used to drawing around cardboard templates and preferred it that way.

I became a “real quilter” when a local branch of a chain store opened up (I can’t remember its name) and carried cotton fabrics. I started buying “on speculation” and haven’t stopped since.

My children gave me a rotary cutter one Christmas (no ruler, no mat), and I tried using it on a “mat” of a pile of newspapers with a metal yardstick. I didn’t like it a bit. When I found a quilt store and learned about the rest of the tools and the proper technique, I thought I was in heaven.

Quilting was becoming more popular all the time in south Florida, and Stuart finally formed a guild. We called it a quilt “club”, and the Palm Beach County Quilters Guild was an association of all the local clubs, like our quilt council is today.

When we moved to Atlanta in 1988, I looked up quilt shops in the yellow pages and found my way to two of them that had gone out of business. Then I got smart and called first, and found Calico Quilter in Roswell, who gave me directions to their shop (we were living in Dunwoody at Peachtree Road and 285). I hightailed it over there and asked if they knew of any quilt “club” in the area. They told me about Bulloch Hall and Chamblee Star, and I immediately contacted both guilds. It was like being in a foreign country and finding someone who speaks your language. Heaven!! I immediately joined both guilds.

We were building our house in Cumming, which took a year, but I made a connection with some of the Cumming quiltmakers at a show in Gainesville in the fall of 1988. When the house was finished and we moved in, I joined the Piecemakers and had a total of three guilds to enjoy. It finally became too much to drive to Atlanta for Chamblee Star, so I dropped out of that guild, but have managed to get my total membership back up to three by joining Hall County.

Five years ago I bought a Gammill longarm for personal use and have become the “queen of meandering.” Last year I finished 60 quilts and the year before that it was 50. Most of these, of course, are small lap size or baby quilts that are given to various charities.

A few years ago I set up a database on my computer to keep track of my quilts. I sorted the records by “date finished”, and of course the ones with no finished date floated to the top. There were 18. Five years later, after finishing many of them, there were even more unfinished. When I got a new computer, I lost the database – which was probably a good thing. Now I try at least to get a picture of everything that goes out the door (my husband keeps busy with his digital camera), but even that doesn’t always happen.

I call myself a “slap dash” quilter, as I’m not doing intricate patterns with many matching points. I love scraps, and my guild members know that I’ll take anything they give me. I strip-piece onto muslin or just stitch odd size scraps together until they are big enough to square up. Enough of those, and there’s another quilt. Or I start with a center four-sided (not square) piece and add dark and light strips at odd angles around it and have another log cabin square. I love art quilts, and one of these days I promise myself I'll make one. There just always seems to be something else that needs finishing first.

February 2005