If there is such a thing as a rebel in the world of quilting, Pat Campbell is it. Or at least she was, before even quilting purists had to admit her quilts were a sight to behold.
Campbell, who has lived in our neighborhood for 17 years, didn’t start quilting until relatively late in life. She visited her first quilt shop in Florida in 1984 and, looking for a new hobby, decided to take a class.
“When I first started out, the shop owner called me a maverick, because I didn’t follow the rules, and I did things a little differently than others,” she says.
That independent streak manifested itself in the form of non-traditional quilts. Campbell had always had an affinity for Jacobean designs, a style based on a type of embroidery popular in England between 1610-1640 that embraced Persian wool yarns. So she chose classes that focused on this method – called Jacobean applique in the quilting world – and eventually adopted it when it came to designing her own quilts, something she never thought would happen.
“It was funny: The first class I took, the shop owner came to me and said, ‘You’ll be designing your own quilts within a year,’” she says. “I said, ‘Phooey, I can’t even draw stick figures.’”
“But she kind of woke that up in me.”
In Campbell’s work, the Jacobean technique translates into brilliantly colorful designs of “fantasy” flowers, birds, trees and other items, hand-stitched onto a quilted background piece.
Today, Campbell has co-written seven quilting books, travels 35-plus weeks out of every year to teach and lecture on the Jacobean style, and her quilts have been featured in more than 25 magazines. She’s even designed her own line of fabrics and licensed her own brand of fabric-marking pencils.
Not surprisingly, she doesn’t resemble what most of us imagine when we picture someone who quilts. We visualize our grandmothers, or at least someone who looks like one. But if Campbell were your grandmother, you’d be blessed with one awfully hip-looking grandma. Bold, vibrant colors are literally splashed onto every aspect of her life, from her makeup and clothing to her quilts and her home. And she dresses “flamboyantly,” as she calls it, often in cowboy boots and hats.
Her vibrant sense of style is reflected in all her work, particularly her most well-known piece, Jacobean Arbor. It’s an 80-by-80 inch quilt, featuring nine blocks of different “fantasy” trees encased in a swirled botanical border. Like a lot of her work, its trees and flowers are reminiscent of something out of a Dr. Seuss book’s whimsical natural world.
After it appeared on the cover of American Quilter in 1990, it cemented her rank among the quilting world’s most creative artisans.
A piece of that size and detail takes her about a year to complete, and it’s a process she likens to “birthing a baby.”
“It really is,” she says with a laugh. “It’s so much fun to sit back and look at it when it’s done. It’s just like ‘Wow!’ It’s pretty incredible.”
Because she doesn’t use a machine for most of her quilting work, she often stitches between 60 and 80 hours a week, often in front of the television at night after a day of designing. Of the process, she says: “There’s a satisfaction in it. I don’t think of it as a chore, and I never dread the process. Even if I make a mistake and have to unstitch something, I just tend to move right along.”
And if the process is like giving birth, the quilts themselves are like children in that they are reflections of Campbell herself.
“They are my personality,” she says. “I like very bright colors, and all of my quilts are floral. I’m big on gardening, I love trees and I love flowers, and that comes out in my quilts.”
And though what started as a hobby has turned into a full-time job that requires that she almost literally “live out of a suitcase,” there’s not a thing she would change.
“I would have never dreamed it,” she says of her success. “Not in a million years. I would like to say it’s luck, but you know, sometimes we make our own luck. I’ve had very good fortune in the quilt world.”