Life Pieced and Stitched

By Julie A. Lyssy | Photos by Shad Ramsey

When you ask someone about their quilt, expect the answer to be in the form of a story. You may hear about a piece of family history, a life story in t-shirts quilted or the craft person they bought it from. Quilts have a special way of forming unspoken bonds between makers and owners.

For one Granbury quilter, Kathleen Little, quilting is the catalyst for this connection. She is not a quilter by heritage, but rather by friendship. While she readily admits she is not among the most awarded quilters in the area, quilting has allowed her to enhance the lives of others and herself.

Much of her early adult life was spent overseas following her husband Lee’s engineering career, in the military and then civilian. Saudi Arabia was a recurring destination.

It was there that her neighbor, Cam, introduced her to quilting. It only took one meeting with the ladies and she was ready to dive in. This led to Kathleen’s first quilt project, ironically, a pair of lap quilts in the ‘Trip Around the World’ pattern.

Upon her travels, she learned many tips, tricks and techniques. Abroad, they not only piece and quilt fabrics, but apply pieces of themselves into every project. The dearest of these being the signed quilt blocks each lady received from her friends when she was preparing to permanently leave camp. These were to be the foundational blocks for a quilt in her new home.

When the Littles finally decided to retire and move back the U.S., they settled in Pecan Plantation. After all, it was only an hour from the Little family home in Fort Worth. Well, that was the plan anyway, until six months later a great job opportunity arose in Sumatra, Indonesia.  They closed up the house and off they went.

It only took as long as her “Welcome to Sumatra” coffee social to find a quilt guild that met weekly. It was in this guild she met her quilting mentor, Susie Parker. She tackled new quilting challenges. “I made a white fabric with ecru stitching quilt to showcase the quilting. While the finished product is beautiful, I will never do one again. You go crossed eyed,” Little explained. “We used it as the alter cloth for my daughter’s wedding.”

While she was learning about the native batik fabrics and meeting wonderful Indonesian friends, she found out many had not yet learned about the joys of quilting. She and Parker invited a few local women to their quilt guild meeting. Surprised at the raised eyebrows, the following week, they brought many more. That began a course in cultural appreciation over many hours of piecing and stitching across the guild.  Additionally, it taught some of these women a marketable skill which they could use to earn money for their families. Little explained, “In Indonesia, education is not a right. It is a privilege for those who can pay for it.  This allowed some enough money to send their children to school. It is big deal when your children attend school.”

“To me, quilting is terribly personal as well as creative”

Photograph by Shad Ramsey

After three and a half years, the Littles returned to Granbury to begin their “real” retirement. Only nine short months into it, Lee passed on to his eternal rest. Kathleen was faced with building yet another life – this time one on her own. Quilting allowed her to meet people without being “the widow”. It provided support and gave her a way to work through the loss and face a life she was not relishing. At the time, she was working on her newly married daughter’s wedding quilt. It took two years of picking it up and putting it down, but she pushed through and finished it.

She joined the Granbury Quilters’ Guild and, a few years later, Trinity Valley Quilters’ Guild. She dove into both co-chairing, as well as, entering her work in the guild’s quilt shows.  After all, you cannot have a quilt show without quilts to show.

There is one quilt in her collection that seems to encapsulate her quilting journey — her Lone Star quilt. Her fascination with star patterns began in Saudi Arabia, but it was in Indonesia when she decided to make a version with one huge star on it. She made a pattern, fabricated a huge star and began to make her quilt only to realize the star was not large enough for the size quilt she planned to make. That day, a friend introduced her to another new technique, floating. It is similar to matte around a picture. This allowed her to add quilted blocks with patterns from her ecru on white quilt which made the border look intentional.

Photograph by Shad Ramsey

In 2001, she entered the quilt in Trinity Valley’s show and, much to her surprise, won the coveted Vivian Parker award. [To the non-quilting reader, this is akin to a “best of show” award.] In 2014, Little entered the quilt again for a featured exhibit spot at the Houston International Quilt Show, one of the largest and most prestigious quilt shows in the world, on a lark. More than 1,000 quilts were submitted for consideration to fill the 30 available spots. Little’s Lone Star was selected, again, much to her surprise.

While recognition for a job well done is always nice, quilting is not about accumulating accolades to Little. “To me, quilting is terribly personal as well as creative. I feel it is an art form and there are so many challenges in a quilt, that it is, I think, making the quilter, too, not only the beautiful finished product. I learn, grow and move on, dealing with the problems and challenges and how I solve them. I move on to yet another level of quilting.”

As she moves on, she enjoys helping others do the same by sharing some finished projects. For about four years, she made kid size quilts for the children at the Ada Carey Women and Children’s Center. She wanted each child to have something homemade that they could wrap themselves in to feel cared for, safe and loved, something that belonged just to them. Between her contributions, and those of a few friends, more than 400 quilts were given to children living at the Center.

Currently, she makes two special quilts each year to be given to someone participating in the “Starting a New Life” grief support program. During each session one participant is selected who stands out as needing just a little extra. Their quilt, made with loving stitches, can wrap the support and care of many around their shoulders.

A catalyst seeded and nurtured in Saudi Arabia, employed to educate in Indonesia and share support and joy in the United States. Now think about if Little put a pin in a world map for every quilt she has made, helped make, taught someone how to make or encouraged someone to make revealing thousands of bonds connecting distance, time and people. With each quilt, a story comprised of one part owner, one part external influence and one part maker, all because one person reached out to another and said, “You will love quilting. I will to teach you.”