Hello! I'm Betty Ford-Smith, author of Pinecone Quilts, and I have held workshops in some unexpected places.
Around the time I began the purple pine cone quilt, a woman asked me to teach her how to make this quilt. I made the same mistake the first time I taught someone in my antique store – Miss Ruby’s Den. I gave her a king-sized sheet and demonstrated step by step how to make it. She quit after one lesson because she said it was hard to get the needle through all that fabric and the technique was not for her. I was very disappointed because I wanted to teach someone and pass the tradition on. Eventually, I learned to give students a small block of fabric 24 x 24 inches or less and this was not so overwhelming. To this day, I do not know why I believed everyone had the patience to sit for long hours sewing triangles or prairie points, as some like to say, to a king size sheet by hand with a 3 ½ inch needle and crochet thread to complete a quilt.
My husband had a heart attack while I was preparing for a show in 2017 and I was unable to finish the 5th quilt piece to my satisfaction. Another friend had to deliver the quilts to the museum for me because I was at the hospital everyday checking on my husband, but I did not want to miss the show.
Each day at the hospital in December of 2016 and during the surgery, I worked on a pine cone block for my husband and while folding each square into a triangle I prayed over the block for his recovery, calling this block the healing quilt. The quilt block changes color according to the light in the room. Every nurse that passed by sat for a few minutes to see the technique and people in the waiting room watched me patiently folding each square and sewing it on a base sheet one triangle at a time during the 5 hour surgery. Visitors waiting for their loved ones would come over and sit next to me asking questions about my quilt and each of us would wind up discussing why we were at the hospital. Each person received a 10 to 15-minute mini-lesson right there in the waiting room or in my husband’s hospital room. Nurses would stop by when their shift was over to see how far I had gotten and to tell me they were going to go home relax and try a few stitches that evening. Later a few nurses joined some of my formal workshops. It was fun seeing their interest and the final pinecone block.
The Healing Quilt
The college asked me to teach Pine Cone Quilting in the Community Education classes. The first classes were five or more students, and now that I had decided to provide a 24-inch block or smaller for the students to work with, the outcomes were very successful. It is funny that two of my friends joined my workshop for the 2nd time and thought they could complete their blocks by working with others. This is where we need to discuss learning styles. Some people can watch and learn. Some have to repeat the task several times; some have to have hands-on experiences; some people listen and write down instructions step by step and then read the instructions; some learn by watching all the other students, and others just need more time... Sadly, my two friends quit again after three lessons and did not finish the block. I have now concluded that hand sewing is only for some. You must be patient, determined, and have relatively strong hands. You can always use a smaller needle or nose pliers to pull the needle and thread through the fabric to complete the task. One 90-year-old got so good at making the blocks that she called me to her home to show me her work and then asked how much she could sell the pinecone blocks for when she finished them.
A woman came in on the last day of an exhibit while things were being put away. She asked if she could have a private class because she was leaving for Michigan in a few days. She and I are still friends, and after she learned how to make a Pine Cone block, she had me come to her house and teach her neighborhood of friends how to make pine Cone blocks. It was a tremendous fun-filled sip-and-sew house party that lasted for 5 hours. We started with a trunk show and then got down to business. Each person had their own fabric that they selected from home while I provided the needle, thread, and base fabric. After fusing with the first four pieces, which seemed to take the longest, and then the first row, we were on our way. The laughter and degree of difficulty were different for each person. It was very nice to see when one person succeeded; they would help the person sitting next to them at the table. This behavior reminded me of students in elementary school. When they understand the task, they sometimes like to help someone else.
We took a break, ate a light lunch, and then returned to work. I learned that once you eat, the rhythm is broken, and it is hard to get back on track, especially after a bit of wine and good food. The group was given homework on how to complete the block. We met at a restaurant the following week to see the finished pieces and enjoyed each other’s company and funny stories again.
Holding these workshops has created many friendships and unforgettable memories.
Betty Ford-Smith began making Pine Cone Quilts in 2004 under the apprenticeship of Miss Sue (Arlene Dennis), a 92-year-old African American woman in Sebring, Florida. After Miss Sue's passing in 2010, Betty went on to share the art form through lectures, exhibits, classes, museums, and consumer shows. Visit her website for more pineconequilts.com.