An Evening with Darlene Christopherson

From notes taken during her presentation to the Quilter's Guild of Dallas, July 10, 1997.

Darlene came to Texas from South Dakota, where she lived until recently, before that having been a resident of the DC side of Virginia. Having started quilting in 1979, "When I was 12", she quipped, "Don't you think I should have a lot more to show?" Darlene became attached to the area where her quilting life began. First getting involved with quilts as an antique collector, Darlene now designs her own patterns and teaches classes.

Her current works in progress include a quilt titled "Nesting", which consists of four original block patterns of birds in wreaths. The applique is beautiful, and the main colors are reds and brown, giving the piece a very homey feel.

Trying to get away from having to mark pencil lines, Darlene said she prefers instead to use a ruler and a hera marker with a mat underneath. She cautioned us to not use the cheap one that comes free in the mail: "Go spend four dollars for the good one." For a ruler, she admits a preference for the one by Trudy Hughes, because it has length and angle markings.

The hera markers, Darlene used to say, would mark lines that stayed for about a year. Now, in a more humid climate, she finds she has to mark one block at a time. Her aditional advice is to use them with just enough light to cast a shadow, not too much that the lines can't be seen. She marks after everything is basted, and recommends using a green cutting mat or heavy cardboard underneath for a sharper crease.

When she had the opportunity to work with Jinny Beyer, Darlene was given the option to make a quilt for the show that Jinny gives each year. Each seminar has a theme, and Darlene's first one was "Mariner's Compass." Her quilt was done in shades of brown, with antique-looking fabrics. Darlene said she used "a lot of what I had on the shelf" for this one, noting that her shelves are in an old oak barrister bookcase that is 12 feet wide.

Another quilt, "Fragmented Lone Star", she did by hand, using shades of red. The fabric, she noted, does a lot of the work in this pattern, adding to the illusion of a forest fire. She made the quilt after moving from Virginia to North Dakota, dragging her young teenage child "kicking and screaming".

One of Darlene's quilts, "Relatively Speaking", was pictured in a Jinny Beyer book. It was Darlene's first quilt after joining the staff, and she claims she had never done anything so modern or colorful before. When she took it for show and tell to her old quilting group in Virginia, they looked at it and simply said she'd changed. Made before the availability of neon colors and bright fabrics, she was desperate to find something that would add a spark to the pattern. Many of the fabrics are from Alexander Henry, being children's prints with orange and pink, and were the brightest she could find at the time.

"I just needed to sit down and stitch those sixty-degree diamonds", Darlene said, displaying a softly colored quilt titled "Jinnys Influence". It is the only one that is a downright copy of something, she said, being one of Jinny Beyer's designs. "I was sad the day I put the binding on," she added, sorry to see the project finished.

Darlene's old quilting group in Virginia represented quilters from a traditional, historical community. Their quilting was conservative, as demonstrated by the star-in-star blocks in shades of blue, brown, and peach given to her when she left. The blocks sat for a couple of years, then Darlene saw an old quilt sashed with a strong red and black print. She added the sashing while working a part-time job, doing the seams by hand under the counter. She called the finished quilt "President's Block", and noted that it is the only quilt she had someone else quilt for her.

Feeling the need to do applique, Darlene took a class in miniature album-style applique. Of the teacher, Darlene remarked, "She was a killer." Fighting the uncomfortable feeling that she did not have control over applique like she had over her piecework, Darlene made her miniature album, "Never Say Never" without using foundation papers or glue sticks. She claims she wanted to get away from the crutches so many of us use to create perfect quilts.

With applique burning in her veins, Darlene then took an applique medallion class. Her quilt, with peacocks in a wreath, several borders in blue, and more floral applique, will be featured in an upcoming book "Great American Quilts 1998", with the pattern. The floral borders, by the way, took her 11 months to quilt.

She has learned not to get too fussy with marking patterns for applique. Using a paper "locator" template, Darlene only markes an X for rough placement of circles, and traces lines --with a silver pencil or mechanical pencil-- about 1/16 of an inch inside the template. "Why mark everything if it's already prepared?" she asks. The appliques cover the rough lines when they are stitched down.

Darlene made her "Empty Nest" quilt when her kid, the one she dragged to North Dakota, went off to college. She felt she had to have a hand project to fill her time, and that a patchwork wallhanging, with just a little applique, would be it. She timed her work to start when her daughter left, and to finish when she came home the following year. "An empty nest ain't all that bad," she realized when the binding went on. "Better start planning the 'Oh my god, she's coming home' quilt."

Currently Darlene is working on a series of applique patterns for framing. Each pattern is a different still-life of flowers in a vase, or bouquets and swags reminiscent of the album style. Some of the patterns were recently featured in Traditional Quilter.

Also in the works is a series of children's quilts, with simple, whimsical applique centers. Marketed as "Bankies", she developed the idea while working with her guild in Sioux Falls. They needed patterns for "giveaway" quilts, and Darlene sat down and drew out her own original center medallions to be framed in patchwork. "Let's do these," she suggested, adding that they thought she was crazy.

Some of her new patterns are out now, "Nesting" is expected in October.

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