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Karen Attaway is wearing a quilt she made and stands in front of a collage quilt.

Piecing together the fabric of life: Karen Attaway

Lynn Kaiser Conrad

Contributing Writer

Life is comprised of patterns, textures, and myriad fabrics quilted together. Some lives are like crazy quilts, others are patchwork, but all lives are pieced together with various fabrics to create our collages and stories. We are the summation of all the parts and pieces connected by the threads we sew and the knots we tie.

Karen Attaway of Pickens County has been sewing since she was young, even before she started school. Her grandmother was a tailor in New Orleans and her mother was a seamstress, and these influential women impacted Karen’s interests.

Karen has been involved in the fiber arts her entire life yet was only introduced to quilting in 2020. She is proficient in spinning, tatting, and crocheting as well. To celebrate a friend’s birthday in 2020, Karen and her quilting friend went on a “shop hop,” where Karen found herself in various quilting shops. With her friend’s encouragement, and because Karen was expecting her first grandchild, she ventured into quilting.

“I have taught in one shape or form since my early teens, including in the school system, and now I teach quilting classes regularly,” Karen said.

For three years, she has taught hundreds of people different fiber arts, primarily quilting at the Pickens County Mercantile and Quilt Shop.

“I love to see the fiber arts passed along. I enjoy seeing people’s interests whetted and then see them take off on a project. Watching other people’s faces react to their accomplishment is inspiring,” Karen said.

There are three parts to a quilt. The top, with the pieces that form the pattern, the middle batting for fluffiness, and the backing. The three parts are sewn together via the topstitching. As the world turns and technology evolves, the process and techniques of quilting have evolved dramatically. While some traditional quilters still top stitch by hand or use the knotting technique, many of today’s quilters use the long arm computerized top stitching machines for finishing.

“The process of making a quilt makes me happy and joyful, and when the quilt is complete, you want that quilt to go to someone who will love it,” Karen stated.

As an individual and part of quilting guilds, a group of quilters who share interests and a mission, Karen has donated numerous quilts to several organizations. Karen also has a personal mission to pass along the skill. She believes that quilts provide comfort to others.

“There will never be a time when people will not need some kind of comfort and receiving a quilt helps others mend,” she said.

Sometimes the fibers of our lives can get frayed or unravel a bit and for those who quilt together, not only are they bonding over binding, but they help others, too, often people they have never met.

Karen and the people she quilts with have donated baby quilts to the pregnancy center; they have made carry-all bags for walkers and wheelchairs for individuals living in extended care facilities, and they have made quilts for foster homes.

“Quilts always represent a story. By using different fabrics, the look of the quilt will change even though the quilters use the same pattern,” Karen reflected.

Karen also participates in the Quilts of Valor program which is an initiative to honor U.S. Veterans who have served our country.

“The Quilts of Valor have required specifications that quilters must accommodate. You are making a quilt for a purpose, beyond yourself,” Karen explained.

Listening to Karen, you believe that making one of these quilts is a spiritual experience because she says as you make the quilt, your thoughts of gratitude and appreciation for the veteran’s sacrifices and service transcends the mere piecing and sewing. It is connecting the fibers of our lives. The presentation of a Quilt of Valor to the veteran is a ceremony.

Each quilter labels their finished quilt like an artist signs their painting. Because making a quilt is an expression of love and passion for Karen, each of her labels is handwritten. Karen believes that our handwriting is part of our personal history, part of the fibers and textures of our personal stories.

“Only your creativity is what limits you when it comes to quilting,” Karen mused. That sounds like a philosophy for life.

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