ABINGDON, Va. — A local artisan shared the fabric of her life last Saturday during a quilting demonstration at Holston Mountain Artisans in Abingdon.
Mary Warner, a quilter for more than 20 years, brought samples of her fabric art along with a patchwork of stories about her journey as a member of the artist cooperative.
Warner will help organize the 2019 Holston Mountain Artisans Quilt Show held July 27 through Aug. 4 during the Virginia Highlands Festival. The show held in the Annex behind the shop at 214 Park St. is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
During the show, Warner will be available to answer questions from people who bring their quilting projects.
Her passion for quilting has led her to help many people with the craft, including those in impoverished countries where a lack of income and productive resources prevent sustainable livelihoods.
The artist had the opportunity to share her craft throughout the world as she traveled for 25 years with her husband John Warner, a diplomat with the U.S. State Department, originally from Bristol, Tennessee. They resided in Dominican Republic, Panama, Namibia, Australia, Malawi, Botswana and South Africa.
While living in the Dominican Republic, Warner was introduced to the art of quilting by a friend to help pass the time while on bed rest during her second pregnancy.
“She taught me basic hand stitches she had learned from her grandmother. It was a good way to learn.”
With no internet or quilting classes available, Warner resorted to using her imagination to gain quilting knowledge. By the time the couple moved to Australia in 2003, the self-taught quilter had access to quilting classes and shops. She learned new ways to quilt and purchased her first sewing machine while there.
“Before moving to Australia, I was doing things on my own. I drew my own quilt patterns and used manila envelopes to cut templates. Now they have plastic ones that last much longer.”
“Quilting gave back to me very quickly,” said Warner, who later moved to Malawi, a country in southeast Africa that is one of the least developed and most impoverished countries in the world.
“I was able to teach quilting to the ladies who needed it as a means of survival.
“It was an amazing feeling to have helped these women who were so appreciative to learn the skills. I saw them go from having little or no skills to buying their own fabrics and supplies and being able to sell their quilted items,” said Warner.
“That was the most fulfilling three years for me because the need was so great there.
“Sharing these skills brought these women together. Even though I didn’t speak their language, it was a wonderful way to connect with people.”
During her time overseas, Warner remained an active member of Holston Mountain Artisans.
“The cooperative sent me fabric, and local churches in the area sent eyeglasses for me to provide to the ladies so they could better see their work as they progressed in their skills,” she said.
“The reading glasses were not available to people in places like Africa. Frequently, there was no electricity so it was dark, especially if it was raining. I received a box of 100 readers one time, and I can’t tell you what a difference it made for people who were struggling to see.”
Warner continued to make quilts while she was overseas. Her hand-stitched quilts were mailed to her mother-in-law in Bristol, who would deliver them to the cooperative for consignment.
“I love all fabrics, colors and patterns,” she said. “I guess one of my favorite patterns is Log Cabin, which begins as a center shape, usually a square. The traditional design is made by sewing strips in sequence around the sides of the square, varying the values between light and dark.
“For people in pioneer days, the center of the quilt represented the hearth in a house. I would tell that story to the ladies in Africa, and that helped them to open up about their lives. I learned about their families. I like the simple pattern and how it initiated conversation among the group of women I taught.”
Though the couple retired last year, her hands continue to stay busy creating the hand-stitched artwork. They returned to Bristol, where her husband was raised, and where Warner, a native of New York, graduated from Virginia Intermont in 1985 with business and horsemanship degrees.
Warner estimated she’s made as many as 50 full-size quilts and numerous baby quilts, table runners and wall hangings.
“I tell my husband that I don’t need a therapist because I have quilting. I like to stay busy so my hands never stop. It relaxes me. I’ve made friends all over the world through quilting.”
Modern technology allows Warner to communicate with her quilting friends overseas.
“We send photos of our quilts we’ve made and share ideas with each other,” she said.
“It’s a joy to remain in touch with good friends in faraway places through our common love for quilting.
“I’m very blessed to have this hobby.”
Warner’s quilts can be viewed at Holston Mountain Artisans, 214 Park Street in Abingdon. The shop is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.