Not everyone has a neighbor with a 14-foot-long arm Gammill sewing machine in her house. I do.
It’s the sort of unusual sight that shocks you at first. It’s large, long, with lights along the top, handles to crank on the side. My neighbor Kim DeJong, the machine’s owner and user, admits that at first she found it “very intimidating.”
“I kind of stood and looked at it for about two months,” she said. Then she talks of the point in which you must “dive in.”
On Sunday afternoon, as we talked and she laughingly dealt with some of my crazier questions about the machine, she explained how to use it and discussed what she uses it for: making quilts.
Kim and her quilts are the sort of story I enjoy most: local resident celebrating local in a unique way. It’s also a story of recycling, repurposing, of creativity. Yes, she makes quilts similar to ones you’ve seen, but her specialty mix is big on nostalgia, takes memories from a drawer or closet and puts them on display. She takes those T-shirts you may never wear again but can’t bring yourself to part with and makes them something functional, useful, beautiful. She told me of one recent customer who started to cry when she first saw the quilt Kim had made for her of her son’s T-shirts.
About three years ago, as one of Kim’s daughters, Caitlin, was finishing college, she decided she wanted to take the T-shirts she’d acquired during those years and make a single quilt featuring them. She’d seen “cookie cutter” T-shirt quilts that didn’t click for her. Each one Kim makes is as much an individual as the people for whom she constructs them. It’s now her favorite project to undertake and all she’s made have come about purely via word of mouth — friends telling friends.
“I’d stopped sewing clothes for the girls and then needed something to do,” she responds when asked how she started. “It was after — I had a cross-stitching shop with my mom, The Spinning Wheel — and then I don’t know, I just picked it up. I don’t even remember really how I got started. But I’ve always had a needle, a craft, something in my hands since the girls were little.”
“Most of the ones I’ve done are they’re graduating from college and their moms — usually — have said ‘You’re moving on, give me all your T-shirts and I’m going to have a quilt made for you.’ Or, high school, they’re graduating from high school.
“The whole quilt tells a story. I like to separate (them), high school or college, not combine both, not college T-shirts with high school T-shirts.” She talks of knowing so much about the T-shirts’ owner, “about knowing the kid … ah, this was his freshman year, on the basketball team.” Time can’t be captured in a bottle, but perhaps, in a way, on a quilt.
Behind the long-arm machine hangs a quilt of running T-shirts she found at local thrift stores. “I went to the Salvation Army and picked up all these T-shirts because I was making T-shirt quilts but people would come in and want to see one.” It’s a colorful backdrop here, and I think of how wonderful it would be in a bedroom, a game room, on the foot of a bed.
“There’s no method. Each block is divisible by four,” she says of planning her quilts, says they typically take an hour to pin. “So it’s got to be a four-by-four, or an eight-by-eight or a four-by-eight, or a four-by-12 or 16-by-16 because it’s then mathematical as to how — this woman whose book I bought — there’s a whole formula and everything fits together. You have to do it on the computer or graph paper. But as long as it’s divisible by four — each block — then it’s going to work out. And sometimes you’ve got to put a blank one in because you don’t have enough T-shirts.” She added, “If you can draw it, you can quilt it.”
Numbers tend to make my head hurt, so I ask if you have to be a math major. She says no, but then goes on with more numbers, fractions even, admits she likes math. She confesses to be “controlling,” has a “short fuse.” Projects of this nature, hobbies, things in which you engross yourself tend to teach you a lot about yourself. She admits she was flustered earlier and was “ripping” — undoing — some of a quilt she’s been putting together.
It’s that control over the process, seeing it from beginning to end, that led her to the long-arm machine. “This is the reason I bought this, well, take a potter for instance, she doesn’t have a kiln so she has to take it somewhere. So she’s not really — that person is really — not completing the project from start to finish. I wanted to be able to complete it from start to finish.”
Clyde Moore operates local sites ILUVWinterPark.com, ILUVParkAve.com and LUVMyRate.com, and aims to help local businesses promote themselves for free and help save them money, having some fun along the way. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to ILuv Winter Park on Facebook or Twitter.