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How Today’s Crafters are Breathing New Life into the Ancient Art of Quilting


How Today’s Crafters are Breathing New Life into the Ancient Art of Quilting

For Corinne Arnold and Haley Bouffard, quilting is about family.

To know Corinne Arnold is to know that family is her priority. And that if you’re family, she’s made or is in the process of making you a quilt.

But the fourth generation South Dakotan never planned to take up quilting. It’s almost as if the craft picked her.

It came to her rather late in life, just months after her husband, Ron, was killed in a farming accident. Ron was a cowboy in the truest sense of the word. He literally corralled cattle on horseback through the Dakota plains. Along with four children, he and Corinne raised 5,000 acres of corn, soybeans and sunflowers. And a buffalo that challenged him to a standoff ended up hanging above his fireplace. Keeping up with a husband like that, plus kids, and an active farm left little time for tedious hobbies like quilting. But, just months after Ron died, Corinne noticed a sign in a local shop that read “free quilting lessons.”

“I was looking for things to keep my mind busy, so I signed my mom and me up for the class,” she said.

Corinne Arnold quilting in her South Dakota home
Corinne Arnold quilting in her South Dakota home. [Courtesy of Corinne Arnold]

Just one class in and Corinne was hooked. She loved that quilting blended art and logic. “It was like putting a beautiful puzzle together,” she said.

By the fifth class, she leaned over to her mom, who was busy pressing her quilt block, and said, “I am loving this so much I can hardly stand it. When I’m done with this one, I’m going to make another one, aren’t you?”

Her mother replied without hesitation, “Hell no!”

“I laughed so hard,” Corinne recalls. “I thought it was this mother-daughter bonding experience that she was loving, but apparently she was not. She was just there to support me.”

Her newfound hobby became a way to show love to friends and family. She painstakingly made quilts for families with new babies, friends celebrating milestone birthdays, and eventually, her grandchildren.

One year, she set out to make a quilt for every one of her 14 grandchildren for Christmas. It seemed like an impossible task when the idea came to her in March of that year. But, with the help of a friend, she scoured the shelves at fabric stores throughout the state and dedicated as many hours as she could each day to the quilts. One for her then-18-year-old granddaughter, down to her 2-year-old granddaughter. She finished the 14th quilt about two weeks before Christmas.

Quilting gifts
Corinne Arnold is surrounded by her grandchildren, each holding the quilt she made for them. [Courtesy of Corinne Arnold]

Since then, she’s made three more quilts for grandchildren who were added to the crew. A floral pattern for Rosy, adopted from Haiti. Blues and greens for Tian, adopted from China. And, just this month, Corinne gifted her latest quilt—complete with Detroit Lions fabric—to her newest grandson, Sam, on his 16th birthday.

Sam had been in foster care, and specifically a group home in Washington, since he was 4 years old. His adoption to the Arnold family became official on May 17.

“Well as soon as I heard they wanted to adopt him, I thought I’ve got to make him a quilt. He’s our boy now. You’re family, you get a quilt.”

Oh, and those blocks her mother sewed in that quilting class 25 years ago? Corinne found them neatly stacked in a drawer after her mother died in 2005. “I couldn’t believe it. She’d made every one of the blocks from that class.”

Corinne turned the blocks into a finished quilt and gave it to her brother that year for his birthday, to keep it as a lasting memory of his mother.

“It meant a lot to him,” she said. “There’s something special about a gift that has been in someone’s hands for so many hours.”

A modern quilter looks back at those who came before her.

Haley Bouffard is one of those people who’s naturally crafty. She makes bows and dresses for her daughter, pants for her boys, ties for her husband, makeup bags for her friends. She’s a talented photographer, singer, and homecook. And she’s quick about all of it. She can churn out a stack of stylish burp clothes or pacifier clips in minutes—just in time for an 11th hour baby shower gift.

But when it comes to quilting, she takes a different mindset. She slows down. She’s intentional about everything from the selection of fabric to the final stitch. Something about quilting is different, she says. Maybe it’s the quilt’s literal weight or the hours she spends working the materials with her two capable hands.

“I’ll sell some of my other little projects, but never quilts,” she said. “Selling it would suck the creativity out of it for me. I do it because it’s fun. It’s lifegiving.”

Haley Bouffard Animal Quilt
This quilt Haley Bouffard made for her son harnesses the ancient art of quilting to produce a fun, fashionable baby blanket.
Haley Bouffard Pattern Quilt
Haley Bouffard’s quilts pay homage to the type of quilting her great-grandmother did, while still using trendy fabrics and patterns. [Photo by Haley Bouffard]

Her love of quilts came from her mother. Her mother never quilted herself, but she was a collector of quilts. She’d pick them up from flea markets and antique stores. And a few passed down through the family over generations—including one her grandmother made for her high school graduation gift almost 50 years ago.

“Growing up, I remember my mom always had a huge stack of quilts on an armoire in our home in Alabama. Like 20 or more quilts,” Haley recalls. “Now when I go back home, I think, wow, someone made these by hand. That’s incredible.”

Neither Corinne Arnold or Haley Bouffard have made a quilt for themselves.

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sewing machine in window

“I just like to make quilts for other people, mostly families with new babies,” Haley says. “I want it to be something they’ll treasure for a long time.”

She became interested in learning the age-old craft after her husband bought her a Bernina sewing machine for their fifth wedding anniversary. The 29-year-old mother of three said she loves that she can carry on the legacy of those who quilted generations before her, but create something that’s fun and fashionable.

When funky sewing studio, called Finch Knitting + Sewing Studio, opened just a few blocks from her home in Virginia, Haley discovered trendy fabrics and patterns that opened up new possibilities of what she thought a quilt could look like. She started following the work of fabric designers like Alison Glass, Jeni Baker, Aneela Hoey, and Melody Miller.

“They’re becoming known for their style of fabrics. It’s almost like if you went to an art gallery, you can look at a Monet and know it’s a Monet.”

She sees shops like Finch and out-of-the-box pattern and fabric designers as the modern-day evangelists for the crafts typically thought of as “your grandmother’s hobby.”

“There are so many pattern and fabric designers that are cutting-edge and fashionable. What those designers, and shops like Finch, try to show that this isn’t an old lady thing,” Haley said. “Anybody can do it and it will be fun and you’ll make something that you like and will actually use.”

Tanna Schreiner, with Finch Knitting + Sewing Studio, said the shop’s fresh inventory and class offerings—including Quilting 101 and a kids’ quilting camp—cater to 20- and 30-somethings, teens, and even kids.

“We absolutely see our priority as passing quilting on to the younger generation,” she says. “If we don’t focus on them, then we’re not going to have a continued quilting community.”

At home, Haley does her part to pass on the ancient art of quilting to her children. She designed her sewing room to double as a playroom for her kids, and there’s almost always a tot underfoot when she’s working. “I want them to be a part of it now, and maybe one day they’ll pick it up.”

Related: We Call it a Family Meal

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