A woman of many hats resides in the quiet area of Schuyler post-retirement in a home she helped design herself, decorated in family photos as well as items from her years of international travel and, of course, her many bed and art quilts.
C. Ann Robertson — a world traveler, mother of two and quilter — retired from the hustle and bustle of life in Northern Virginia and her whirlwind travels and moved to the Schuyler area with her husband in the early 2000s. Every day, Robertson spends anywhere from two to six hours working on different quilt projects and closes out her evenings with embroidery work.
Robertson began sewing at the age of 12, and with the influence of a cousin, transitioned to quilting after her daughter entered high school. Recently, Robertson was accepted as a contestant with her art quilt “Tapestry” at the American Quilter’s Society (AQS) QuiltWeek, an international contest which runs from Aug. 21 to 24 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“The high point of the show recognizes the artistry of today’s quiltmakers as hundreds of quilters in the AQS Quilt Contest compete for $54,000 in cash awards,” a news release from AQS said.
Despite this achievement, Robertson is quick to dispel the myth quilting is a unique pastime. Robertson said despite assumptions from the general public, quilting is not a lost art and she’s isn’t alone in getting accepted as a contestant in different shows such as AQS QuiltWeek.
“Lots of people really don’t know what a big industry and how popular quilting is,” Robertson said.
According to a 2017 Quilting in America survey, the quilting industry has seen positive growth since 1997. As of 2017, despite a slight dip in 2014, quilting is a $3.7 billion industry in the United States.
The survey results estimate the U.S. is home to between seven and 10 million quilters, six to eight million households have a quilter and an average of $442 is spent annually per quilting household. The survey also reported in 2017, of the seven to 10 million quilters, dedicated quilters account for 72.2% of the industry’s total sales.
That same year, dedicated quilters — those who work at the hobby every day, like Robertson — contributed an estimated $2.4 to $2.6 billion to their hobby.
Robertson is part of different quilt groups in Virginia, around the United States and abroad, including the AQS and a group in Charlottesville called “Tuesday Morning Quilters.” Her Charlottesville group meets every Tuesday to not only hone their craft but also to attend lectures and host speakers who cover the different aspects of the art. Robertson said a woman recently gave a lecture about needles, how they are made and even spoke about handmade needles from Japan.
“That’s just kind of the enthusiasm the quilters have,” Robertson said.
Robertson shipped “Tapestry” off to the AQS competition July 9. This art quilt — brown, orange and red in color — took her just a few weeks to make. The work includes pieces of fabric from Robertson’s travels around the world before retirement and detailed stitching in various patterns.
More than 450 pieces will be featured in the AQS QuiltWeek contest, coming from 41 states and 14 countries, according to the news release about the AQS QuiltWeek.
Bonnie Browning, executive show director for AQS, said the industry is healthy and attendance at the last three shows has been up from previous years. The organization has 70,000 members nationally and internationally.
“It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Quilting is taking place all over the world,” Browning said.
Browning said normally half of quilts entered into the competition are accepted. Browning said people enter their very best work because they know the competition can be keen, and yet there usually is a healthy mix of tenure quilters and people who are entering the first quilt they ever have finished.
“We will see everything from very traditionally made quilts with a modest amount of quilting and then some where people really played with the design and made an intricate art quilt and just quilted it to death,” Browning said.
Robertson said she found out she had been selected as a contestant in June and was excited to get the news. However, this isn’t the first contest she has been accepted into; to commemorate her hard work, a multitude of colorful placement ribbons have been hung behind the door to her quilt room, each from different competitions.
Her quilt room — decorated with photos of her family, a variety of pincushions, a rocking chair and TV and different quilting accessories — is where she can spend hours at a time working on different projects. Different quilt projects hang along the wall, and colorful pieces of fabric are laying in different bins, ready to be used for any project. Robertson said her favorite quilt is whichever one she is working on at the time. Robertson often uses fabrics from Japanese kimonos from her time living in Japan and fabrics from countries such as Thailand and other areas of her travels.
“The fabric,” Robertson said when asked her favorite part about quilting. “I like to look at the fabric and let it decide for me what to do with it.”
Robertson opened her closet in the quilt room to reveal shelves stacked with buckets and bins. The containers are full of fabric, thread and other quilting material.
“This is nothing compared to some people,” Robertson laughed.
Across the hallway from her quilt room is the guest bedroom, full of handmade quilts Robertson has worked on over the years. One art quilt, mostly green in color and including parts of a Japanese kimono, is called “Dreamscape” and won her first place at a past competition. Robertson remained modest while holding up various quilts illustrating different quilting styles, while stating it’s common for people she quilts with in her various groups to be accepted to different competitions.
It’s also common for groups to get together often to work together, grow interest in quilting and continue the craft they all love so much.
“[Quilting] encompasses a lot and is a great hobby to have,” Robertson said.
Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.