Charleston quilter heads to international competition in Kentucky

CHARLESTON (AP) – Quilter Charli Fulton has won armloads of awards for her hand-stitched masterpieces, but she jumped up and down when she learned she would be competing in the 2014 American Quilter’s Society QuiltWeek in Paducah, Ky.

And with a $20,000 “Best of Show” award at stake, who wouldn’t jump for joy?

Her hand-stitched quilt “Vandalia Album” will hang alongside 405 others in the 30th annual contest, which will be held April 23 to 26. Quilters from 48 states and 10 countries are competing for $125,000 in cash prizes. The event is expected to draw 30,000 visitors to the town.

“It’s very competitive,” Fulton said.

She has participated in numerous shows and won plenty of awards, but Fulton said participating in QuiltWeek is a high honor.

Fulton, who will celebrate her 64th birthday on March 27, grew up in Maine and was a college freshman at Middlebury College in Vermont when she made her first quilt top.

“It laid in a closet for 15 years.”

She went on to law school at Northeastern University in Boston. Her love for quilting took a back seat as she pursued a law career.

“As a law student I worked in Fairmont and really liked West Virginia,” she said. “I’ve been here since 1980.”

After more than three decades in law, she decided to retire in 2012 and pursue other interests. Although she found practicing law was rewarding, she wanted time to hone her quilting skills and learn more about art and music.

Over the years she has taken a few quilting classes, joined quilting groups and honed her skills on her own.

She now lives in North Charleston with husband, Joe Miller, whose careers have ranged from lawyer to web designer. He has a good eye for art and offers helpful design suggestions for her quilting creations.

The couple have dedicated a whole room in their house to quilting, with piles of material sorted by color, assorted threads and a Bernina sewing machine.

Fulton keeps a journal with pictures and notes about her work and is always learning. She has been designing her own quilts and working without patterns since 2000.

She is part of several quilting organizations with members from all walks of life whose ages range from 20s to 80s.

“I’m a total addict,” she said. “It’s really satisfying to make something with your hands.”

She finds she is most productive early in the morning when she heads to her quilting studio. She enjoys being there throughout the morning designing or piecing and quilting by machine. A couple of hours in the evening are often spent doing hand applique or hand quilting.

“When I’m stuck and don’t know what to do next, I look at the quilt right before going to bed,” she said. “In the morning I go directly to my studio. Often, the solution will pop into my head then. Another thing I’ve learned to do is to stop work at a point where I know what’s coming next. That way, when I come back to work, I have an easy starting point.”

Fulton has lost track of the number of quilts she has made.

“I have 30 or 40 in the house and gave lots away,” she said. “My best one, I gave to my sister. It appraised for $5,000. I felt like a rock star.”

That quilt is based on Katsushika Hokusai’s “Great Wave off Kanagawa” print. She often takes inspiration from artists in other media, including a series of quilts based on the Shaker drawings of Hannah Cohoon and Polly Collins of trees of life.

The masterpiece she is taking to the upcoming show is in a traditional-looking quilt, but one of her own design. It contains 25 of her favorite flowers that burst into color in their individual blocks. The intricate stitches were all done by hand. There are a few tiny fabric ladybugs throughout the design…they cover the blood stains she endured while stitching.

Fulton doesn’t know how much this quilt is worth, because she has not had it appraised.

Although she is a nationally-recognized quilter, Fulton said she still wants to perfect her skills and learn more about art.

“I would like to learn to design things that look well balanced and have good use of color,” she said. “I want to learn to use sheer fabric and do more hand dyeing.”

She loves traveling to the various shows as a competitor as well as to see the beautiful quilts that are works of art.

She is looking forward to meeting her sister, Diane Fulton, of Wisconsin, at the upcoming show in Paducah where the population triples for the prestigious event. There will be special exhibits, artists who specialize in a variety of areas, and lots of churches offering special dinners as fundraisers.

“The town goes all out,” said Fulton who attended the show in 2009 and was part of it in 2002.

The American Quilter’s Society hosts seven shows annually, each with its own quilt contest. Shows are also held in Lancaster, Pa.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Charlotte, N.C.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Des Moines, Iowa.