I came to quilting in 1978 through an interest in women's history and collecting American primitives...basically women's tools: cooking tools, sewing tools, household tools, etc. From the age of 14, I have been collecting artifacts and writing my family history. While I had spent numerous years studying letters, diaries, and needlework, I had not attempted any type of sewing myself. All during the 1970's and into the 80's I attended a folk art painting class with several women who were destined to become lifelong friends. Any place that women gather for a period of time, becomes more than what ever it started out to be. This class was no exception. We raised husbands and children, settled the cares of the world, and basically opened our hearts to one another. Two dear friends, Sidra Cowan and Bette Braaten, saw a passion and a need in me and invited me to join them. They would teach me how to hold a needle in my hand. For more than 7 years we met around Bette's kitchen table every Wednesday morning. In the spring of 1978 we saw an advertisement for a quilting class from Parks and Recreation in the newspaper. These same friends shoved me kicking and screaming, "I know I can't, I know I can't" into that class! From that day to this I am forever grateful. My life changed in a thousand ways.
My first exposure to the Baltimore Album quilt came in 1980, with a catalog from the Baltimore Museum of Art. This was the first ever Baltimore Album quilt show. It was love at first sight for me. As other historians began to write and teach about this fascinating genre of quilts, I have been able to study, now for twenty years. Not only quilts, but the mid-19th-century woman and all that she was about. Baltimore Album quilts came into my life with perfect timing. I had two years to learn the basics and I knew the rudiments of piecing and appliqué and was ready for an adventure. What an exciting adventure it has been! Mid-19th-century Baltimore Maryland was a bustling place. Women in that seaport town had access to fabrics that were not readily available elsewhere. Their husbands were political. They were involved in the industry and in fraternal organization as were some of the women. This was 25 years prior to the Civil War, but the great slave debate was swirling around their churches, and, surely, in their homes as well. Every aspect of life found its way into these album quilts. They were fresh and contemporary to their time.
The lesson for me has been that anything I wish to say can be said through my quilting. I have a voice. Long after my actual voice has faded away, my viewpoint will still be heard by anyone who cares enough to look beyond the surface. Almost everything that I design, whether for myself or for the public has personal meaning for me. All the parts of my life have come together. One passion enhances another. I've found a way to pull all my interests together; my love of our country's history, women's history, and family history. All those things that are most important to me can be "painted" with cloth and thread. I am also able to leave a legacy behind me. I feel like a "whole" person!
---Jeannie Austin, Graham, Washington, USA --Written September 15, 1999