The home of Rosalie Adams is dotted with wall hangings, table runners, chair pads, pillows, book covers and other decorative accents that are quilted and/or appliqued in shades of purple, plum and rose. Large quilts she has made are draped on her bed and stacked in her closets. All are evidence of Adams' passion for fabric art.
While Adams was director of Seneca County Museum, she said she helped a woman who was making a new version of an antique crazy quilt handed down in her family. Years later, the woman returned and donated the quilt to the museum. Adams said crazy quilts often become heirlooms because they are made from pieces of garments worn or made by relatives.
Since retiring in 1999, Adams has devoted much of her time to quilting.
Actually, she started a few years before retirement.
"I started a quilt club at the museum, and a girl came and gave us lessons. That was in 1995," Adams recalled.
Her interest in sewing and quilting goes back even farther. At 15, Adams said she made her first apron in seventh-grade home economics class on a treadle sewing machine. She said her mother and grandmother also did their share of sewing. Once she had learned, she said she was expected to make her own clothing. After she graduated and got married, Adams wanted more to do while her two children were in school in the 1960s. The Singer company hired her as a sewing teacher.
"They sent me out to the schools to teach them how to use their new electric sewing machines, because they didn't have electric up until then. ... When I got there, it was the same teacher, only she had gotten married and her name had changed ... so I went back to teach her," Adams said.
As a professional seamstress, Adams has made dresses for brides and bridal attendants and "hundreds and hundreds" of other garments for customers, in addition to school clothes for her children. She also started designing and making hand-stitched quilts. She turned 37 pairs of jeans into denim quilts with frayed seams for her four great-grandsons. Often, she made wedding gifts and items such as baby quilts, appliqued garments, wall hangings and framed fabric art.
"All my grandchildren, great-grandchildren, sisters, brothers - everybody has quilts, at least one or two. This one I made for my daughter out of her dad's neckties," Adams said.
About three years ago, Adams also constructed a crazy quilt for her daughter. The pieces are of random sizes, shapes and colors from fabric saved over 35 years, including scraps from attire for proms, weddings and other special occasions. She added bits of lace, ribbon and other trims and finished it with decorative stitching.
Some antique crazy quilts include political patches or names, and all feature an American flag.
Adams explained the origin of the crazy quilt.
"It's material from the Victorian period. The women all had brocades and satins and such. Material was valuable then, so they saved every scrap, sat down and made them into quilts all by hand. They didn't have sewing machines. That's what the ladies did ... and they did all their fancy embroidery to show all the stitches, using all the material," Adams said.
At the museum, patrons often brought in partially finished quilts or a quantity of squares an ancestor had made. Adams said some women would keep making squares but they would die or become disabled before they could stitch them together into a finished product.
For her own projects, Adams said she obtains ideas from a variety of sources. She has purchased patterns, duplicated vintage designs from old books, adapted something she saw at a quilt show or in a photo, or drew up her own design. She also has located patterns online, but she does not use the computer for designing.
"Before I was director of the museum, I was director of the library in Bloomville. I learned to use the computer clear back in the early 1980s, but the library didn't have computers, and neither did the museum. So after I retired, I got myself one," Adams said. "I think the first year I retired, I saw a pattern I wanted in a book, and you could get it on the computer for free."
When she needs to purchase fabric, she said she has a favorite shop in Mansfield that sells all-cotton quilt fabric. She also orders material online and from catalogs because she no longer can drive herself to the store.
Leftover fabric and scraps from one quilt also can inspire designs for other projects.
Adams said she has a basement work room where all her fabrics are sorted and stored in milk crates and boxes.
Her creations begin with practice pieces tacked onto a styrofoam board to see how the colors coordinate and how the shapes fit together.
Next, she cuts the pieces with a cutting wheel, which is faster than scissors and easier on Adams' arthritic hands. She said she uses rulers to measure and cut pieces accurately, to keep the seams straight and to even the seam allowances.
The designs start in the center of the quilt and grow outward.
"When you piece or quilt, you start in the middle. If you get the middle straight and square, you're pretty good on the rest of it. Otherwise, you're going to have a big mess," Adams said.
Over the years, Adams has signed and dated each project, photographed each and the person receiving it, and filed everything in a scrapbook. The quilts she still has are stored in a closet to keep them from fading. Adams occasionally re-folds them to avoid the formation of permanent creases. In nice weather, she launders a few and hangs them on a line in her yard. She said passers-by often stop to admire her handiwork.
Quilting also helps Adams pass time indoors over the winter.
"This winter was a good one because I was snowed in most of the time. I had plenty of time to work," Adams said.
During one spell of arthritis, when walking was difficult, Adams used her down time to hand-stitch a "Grandmother's Flowers" quilt from 800 hexagonal pieces. When she felt better, she quilted it on the machine.
More recently, arthritis has made hand sewing very difficult, so Adams pieces the quilts by hand and does the actual stitching by machine, spending about two hours a day working on her quilts.
Once the decorative top is finished, Adams uses a machine quilter to guide her sewing machine and bind it to the batting and backing. Because the device is cumbersome to set up, Adams waits until she has four or five projects ready for quilting. She has "stopped counting" the more than 100 full-size quilts she has constructed. Most have been given away or donated for raffle prizes.
The latest project is a quilt for her grandson, Beau, who lives in California. The quilt Adams made for him several years ago has become tattered from use. At an art show in Japan, he saw the design and adapted it on the computer. It has a border of random-sized triangles on a gray background.
"He told me what he wanted and the colors. ... He designed it. He's a graphic artist on computer and a photographer," Adams said.
He didn't believe his grandmother could duplicate the abstract design, much less make it into a bed cover. She took the image he sent and enlarged it to make the pattern. Next, she had to find material in an array of colors to match his design. She ended up hand-dying some of the triangles. For the large expanse of gray fabric, she added quilting in triangle patterns.
Dec. 29, she started sewing Beau's quilt. Working three or four hours a day, she finished Feb. 28.
In her log, she listed 2,400 yards of thread, 18 yards of fabric at a cost of $180, and 190 hours of work in the finished quilt. Natural bamboo batting was used between the quilt top and the backing. She took photos of the various stages of the process that she plans to send to Beau.
"One thing about quilting, if you don't like it, you can tear it apart and do it over. If you make a mistake, you tear it out and make a new one. I surprised myself with the one for my grandson. I hardly did any ripping at all only a couple times when I changed my mind on the color or something," Adams said.
A quilt with a pinwheel pattern in each square was made with a process called paper piecing.
Adams said she ordered the kit that included material to avoid shopping for the many colored fabrics the design requires. The paper pattern must be copied for every square. Then the design is needle punched into the paper, the pattern is placed on the fabric, and stitching is done with the paper still attached.
Finally, the paper is torn away from each finished square.
Although Adams has entered her work in competitions at the county fair and in various quilt shows, she said she no longer has a desire to compete. She said viewers at shows tend to be critical of the construction and composition, and curious hands can soil the quilts.
She said she is content to stay busy making clothing for herself (without a pattern) and quilted goods to give away.
Summer adds gardening to her agenda, too.
"I have to do something. I can't not do anything. I've been working since I was 15 years old. I can't just sit down and do nothing. ... I don't like television and I can only be on the computer so long," Adams said.