Quilting Teacher Is Award-Winning Fabric Artist

PAYSON PEOPLE

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Sharon Schamber said she is, first of all, a teacher, then an artist.

Quilts just happen to be the medium she chooses to use.

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Sharon Schamber

"I love teaching. I'm a natural teacher and I have unusual techniques. A lot of my techniques come from mass production."

Within a few months of her first shows, people started asking her to teach.

The Piec-liqué technique she created gives her the advantages of speed and accuracy

"It makes both straight and curved piecing much faster and more precise than other methods in use today."

"Piec-liqué: Curves the New Way" was published in 2005 by American Quilter's Society.

Schamber is no stranger to making intricate designs with a machine. She started her own company, designing bridal and pageant wear, when she was 19.

"It was after retiring from the business and meeting my husband Gene, and getting married on Valentine's Day in 1998, that I started quilting almost full time."

Her first competition quilt, "Victorian Flame," won the Jinny Beyer Borders on Brilliance Best in Show in Nov. 1998.

It was the last quilt she would make by hand.

"I have genetic tremors," she said. "I used to hand quilt, but now I can't because I shake, so the next best thing was machine work."

Currently her sewing machine of choice is a Prodigy long-arm because it gives her "better visibility and control of the quilting." Gene modified a "foot" to ride high enough to accept thicker fabrics.

Yet quilters today don't make thick, puffy quilts to spread over a bed.

Puffiness is more of a decorator/upholstery style, she explained, then added, quilters do thick things, but only in specific areas.

For instance, the lines quilted in Sitting Bull's face add dimension.

The various curly-cue and puzzle stitches hold a portion of another quilt flat, allowing the flower it surrounds to "lift" (puff up) just enough after it is washed.

Her husband estimated Sharon has 780 hours of quilting time over a period of four years in Scarlet Serenade, the quilt that won That Patchwork Place Best of Show in the Innovative Appliqué Large category in the 2005 International Quilt Association annual judged show.

Those 780 do not include designing, then making the quilt top.

For Schamber, quilting is a solitary activity, although competitions can be entered as one person, two people or a group.

She said, "The majority of the quilts made are technically two people. One will make the top and another person will quilt it. That's really the heartbeat of the quilting world -- not the competitions so much.

"There's a group of women who just like to sew tops and buy fabric, then there's another group of women that finish those quilts for them.

"Basically, they are working together and they pay these other women, so they are buying a service."

Machines did not take over from hand-quilting so much as lend a helping hand to people who would get a quilt top made and go no further, opined Schamber.

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Sharon Schamber's advice to anyone starting out as a quilter is: Practice. Practice. Practice. "You must love what you do," she said.

"Both my grandmothers and my aunt quilted, so it's been in the family for generations. It was always my dream to quilt."

Her designs are all original. Much of her fabric is hand-dyed. Some quilt tops are hand-painted with imported inks. A few have Swarovski crystals on them.

Schamber believes that women who quilted 100 years ago would have loved the machines of today.

"I think they would be amazed at the evolution, how (quilting) has become such an art form," she said.

"The thing that is really interesting to me is that quilting is the only art form that is women-run. In oils, or painting or any of those things, art is dominated by men. Even in ceramics, it's mostly men. Quilting is the only industry that's art that is dominated and run by women.

"It really, literally is the only field of art that women can make a living at.

"It's not just me -- there are hundreds of women who are making a living doing it."

Scarlet Serenade shared the winner's circle with the work of five other quilters, two from the U.S., two from Japan and one from France.

An estimated 55,000 people attended the international show and the host city estimated it took in $20 million at that convention.

Sharon's prize was $10,000, but she defers to Gene once she finishes a quilt.

"He takes such good care of me, and I could care less about the money and the ribbons. Once (the quilts) start competing, they are his quilts. Although I made them, he manages the quilts," she said, smiling at her husband.

Schamber will teach hand painting and Piec-liqué in January at Quilting in the Desert in Phoenix.

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