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Flavin’s Quilting Heritage

As a child growing up in North Alabama, Flavin remembers being introduced to the rudiments of quiltmaking in the mid-50’s while playing under the quilt frame at Dowling School  in rural Cullman County.  Her mother, Nonnie Hudson Williams and neighbors were quilting to raise funds for the local school’s PTA.  Nonnie prided herself in the small stitches she quilted into her many functional, utilitarian, patchwork quilts.  Growing up on a farm, Flavin was the ninth of nine children to sleep under Nonnie’s handmade quilts. 

Years later and with her Mom’s watchful eye, Flavin made her first quilting stitches.  After graduating from college and while teaching arts and crafts therapy classes, Flavin desired to learn patchwork quilting techniques to include in her therapeutic classes.  In 1973, with Christmas coming, Flavin returned to the farm to find Nonnie very much needing to get the quilt frame out of the dining room before the family arrived.  Nonnie said, “Flavin, I have a quilt in the frame I don’t care much about.  I’m going to let you help me quilt it out.”  Flavin replied, “Gee thanks, Mom – for all the encouragement!”  With permission to stick a needle into the quilt’s layers, Flavin sat down at the quilt frame, began quilting and has never stopped! 

In 1974 and 1975, Flavin and Nonnie worked on joint quilting projects.  Nonnie had set a goal to make a patchwork quilt for each of her 18 grandchildren.  Flavin and her sister, Londa, help Nonnie achieve that mission.  A neighbor on an adjacent farm, Vonda Lee Waldrep, showed them a beautiful Log Cabin she had hand-pieced and quilted.  With that introduction, Flavin machine-pieced similar Log Cabin blocks.  First, she made a few pillows.  Then, needing two tablecloths, she stitched them Log Cabin-style and quilted the blocks into straight furrows without batting between the layers.  They worked like a charm.

Continuing to quilt Log Cabin patchwork in the style Mrs. Waldrep had taught her, Flavin eventually showed her quilts at the Southern Quilt Symposium in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  There she saw the work of other quilters, including Bets Ramsey and Mildred Locke.  Studying their work helped Flavin see that Log Cabin could be approached in a variety of ways.  Flavin realized Log Cabin patchwork could become a design foundation that offered versatile pattern options, depth, movement and opportunities for color play.

Her first important departure from traditional design produced a pictorial Log Cabin landscape quilt titled "Mountains and Meadows”.  It was based on a sketch her husband, Glenn, had drawn.  The little drawing was inspired from a slide taken while on a vacation in the West.  It opened the door for Flavin to push Log Cabin patchwork in new directions.  

In 1979, two of Flavin’s Log Cabin landscape quilts were shown at the National Quilt Association Show in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  From that exposure, an opportunity came to teach at the Tropical Florida Quilt Conference in Miami, Florida in 1980.  Since that time, teaching workshops and giving presentations all over the country has enabled Flavin to show others how to create their own quilt designs.  At home, a juggling act began among a full time job in arts and crafts therapy, periodically teaching at national quilt conferences, home life, and a compelling need to quilt.  Working with manipulated Log Cabin blocks and grids, Flavin began adapting square, rectangular, diamond and rectangular blocks to problem-solve design needs.  An early example of designing within a rectangular courthouse steps grid is “Geese in Flight.”   Positive feedback and inquiry soon followed as pictorial Log Cabin quilts were new and different.

Flavin began teaching workshops in Log Cabin, Patchwork Clothing, Color and Design and Creative Geometric Patchwork in 1980.  The joys of teaching in Flavin’s view are in sharing ideas, helping students expand their knowledge, and in motivating others to create quilts from within themselves.  She feels her best work has come from creative problem-solving, yet she frequently relies on her quilting heritage to keep a scrappy, spontaneous look.  She has an appreciation for her past as she continues to design, quilt and teach the art she began to love as a child.

To read an essay about Flavin's mother, Nonnie Williams, CLICK HERE.