Whether she’s traveling, gardening, cooking or spending time with her grandchildren, Beth Whitman of Freeland is always thinking about quilting.
“All year long, I take time to quilt,” said Whitman, who has been quilting since the 1970s.
Whitman finds patterns and designs in nature, from tumbling ocean rocks to tree trunks, in architecture and in places she visits. She always has a lot of quilting projects going at once, whether she’s looking for designs, collecting fabrics or as she said, “organizing a quilt in my head.”
A trip to Norway in June 2009 inspired her to make a series of quilted wall hangings and one large quilt based on the beauty she found in manhole covers.
In Norway, metal manhole covers are works of art, depicting historical scenes or coats of arms for the cities they serve. Whitman took photos of 12 different manhole covers she discovered in Bergen, Oslo and on a cruise up the coast of Norway. When she got home, she had them enlarged, researched the coats of arms and colors of each town’s architecture, and proceeded to create several wall hangings and one big quilt over the span of a year.
Whitman won a second place award for her large quilt depicting manhole cover designs, “Norge Portals to Deep Spaces” at the prestigious Association of Pacific West Quilters Show in Tacoma in August.
“Norge Portals” also juried into the La Conner Quilt Festival in October, under the umbrella of the La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum.
“Just jurying in to the La Conner Festival was the challenge for me, not the awards,” said Whitman.
Award-winning quilts judged as the “Best of the Festival” will stay on display in La Conner through December.
“Norge Portals to Deep Space” and the other manhole cover quilted wall hangings are appliquéd quilts. Whitman transfers patterns onto grid paper from tracings of her enlarged photographs. Then she traces her design onto fabric and fusible webbing to iron the appliqués to the background fabric.
Batting and backing fabric complete the quilt “sandwich,” and the actual quilting is done with a long-arm machine, giving the design depth and texture.
She does more wall hangings than bed-sized quilts, and enjoys changing her home’s décor with the seasons, always involving several of her handmade projects. Currently she has a fall theme going, with leaf-patterned quilts and pumpkin colors, and one whimsical quilt showing a cat in nine different Halloween costumes.
A trip to Hawaii inspired Whitman to try her hand at making intricate Hawaiian appliqued quilt designs. A voyage to Russia set her on the quest to create a quilt depicting nesting dolls (matryoshka), using fabrics with floral patterns woven with gold.
“I’ve spent a year just collecting fabrics for the Russian quilt,” said Whitman.
Like many quilting enthusiasts, Whitman has a vast stash of fabrics just waiting for the right project.
“Creating my own designs has helped me develop my own style,” said Whitman. “Quilting develops my right brain creativity and helps me to learn about myself — what I like and what I can do.”
Whitman teaches quilting at Island Fabric and Sewing Center, utilizing skills gained from 31 years of teaching middle school math in Snohomish. She’s also using her teaching skills to work with her four teenage granddaughters each summer on making quilts to give away to charity.
“As we’ve worked together over the past few years, I can see each one learning patience as they learn to quilt,” said Whitman.
Passing on quilting skills to another generation brings back memories of her own grandmother teaching her to sew when Whitman was 12.
Along with sewing skills, the girls are learning to take care of others in the community. Since starting the summer quilt-making project with their grandmother, the four girls have made 20 to 25 lap quilts to give away — to returning veterans, to cancer patients in Whidbey General Hospital’s Medical Ambulatory Clinic program, and to the neonatal ICU at the University of Washington Hospital.
Whitman has started a tradition of giving each grandchild a quilt to mark his or her high school graduation, letting the child pick the colors and design. With 13 grandchildren, she’s got a lot of family heirlooms to complete as well as her art project quilts.
“I’m very passionate about quilting,” said Whitman, with a smile. “It’s a very positive thing in my life.”