Sharon Yenter co-authored an article titled Blended Quilts with Marsha McCloskey. That article, along with Coventry Gardens, a quilt pattern inspired by the blended quilt technique, appears in the March/April 2004 (#96) issue of Quiltmaker magazine. Sharon and Marsha also worked together to create Blended Quilts from In The Beginning, a book with a wealth of information on this wonderful technique.
How did you decide to make the quilting business a career? What led you in that direction?
During the 1970's I was at home with my children, Jason and Ben. As a sewer and artist, I looked around for something creative to do. It was very early in the quiltmaking revival and street fairs were also becoming a popular event. I combined the two and sold wallhangings, pillows, and quilts at local craft events in Seattle. As I said in my first book, one day I was sitting in the refreshing Seattle winds and rain, listening to the umpteenth customer say to a friend, "Twenty-five dollars! Gosh, Mabel, my grandmother makes dozens just like these for nothing. How does she have the nerve to charge this much?" Suddenly a gust of wind came around the corner and capsized my entire booth. My handwork flew up like kites in the sloppy spring air, making a colorful procession in the sky. It was then I began to think seriously of another line of work and In The Beginning, the quilt shop was born.
My mother and sister had started a store to sell gifts, cards, and dollhouse miniatures, and they called it "In The Beginning." They had an extra 240 square feet of pie-shaped balcony and offered it to me. I knew the frustration I had in finding fabrics and the feeling of accomplishment I received from my sewing, so I called some fabric distributors and jumped right in. Needless to say, vendors were unimpressed with my operation, wanted cash only, and assumed I would last maybe six months. That was 27 years ago!
How did you come to develop the Blended Quilts concept? What has been the response?
I have collected quilts for 30 years. Quilts are one tangible evidence of a person's (mostly women's) existence and I value them for that importance. The quilts that survive were a joy and accomplishment. (The heavy utility quilts that were a household necessity were a chore and well used until they were scraps.) Because I live in Washington, which was settled in the late 1800's, I had rarely seen the spectacular quilts from the early 1800's except at shows and museums on the East Coast and in Europe. The quilts from that era are the prizes in my collection, and to me they are more precious than jewels. I love the mixture of scales--large floral chintzes mixed with toile, small patterns, and plaids. The prints and colors are what was available, and the combinations were unpredictable. The emphasis is on design rather than quilting, so the richness and fabric use make spectacular combinations. The response to the Blended Quilt concept has been very positive and freeing when quilters "get it." It takes a bit of practice to "let yourself go," and mix many patterns and scales and work with contrast in unconventional ways. But people love it! The quilts are really interesting and are wonderful hung on a wall, like a tapestry or painting, where they can be studied. Rather than looking "early American" they retain a French or English look which gives them an elegance which blends with traditional furnishings.