Sewing intrigued artist Sharon Schamber from childhood, even as undiagnosed dyslexia made school problematic.
The learning disorder she did not know she had never hindered her imagination.
Her quilts have won many national awards, most recently the $100,000 Quilting Challenge Magazine contest.
The love of quilting female relatives instilled in Schamber would see her through adverse times in an abundant life.
At age eight, Schamber ripped the seams from thrift-store clothing to determine how to make garments.
Later, the custom wedding gown business she began in her garage at age 19, grew to a full-time couture career.
She raised three children.
Eventually, as the designer and master pattern maker for DéjVu/Time and Eternity Fashions, she employed more than 100 workers.
However, as she dressed countless brides for their walk to the altar, always in the back of her mind was the desire to quilt.
"Quilts have value. Bridal gowns -- they just trash those when they are done with them, but a quilt is a piece of art," Schamber said.
Her bridal business ended in 1994 with her marriage. About four years later, she turned from that sea of white gowns to the comfort of quilting and its palette of color.
During this transitional time, Sharon's cousin introduced her to Gene Schamber and they fell in love.
The beloved aunt, who taught Schamber to quilt in her youth, did not live long enough to see her niece reshape quilts from warm bed coverings to art pieces replete with freeform butterflies and intricate whorls.
"My aunt and my two grandmothers are here with me all the time," Schamber said.
They would be proud of their girl with the beautiful smile.
On Jan. 10, Schamber got the call that her quilt, "Scarlet Serenade," won the $100,000 Quilting Challenge Magazine contest.
"Not in our wildest dreams did we think we would win something like this," Schamber said, glancing at Gene, who helps her confirm colors and names the quilts. He also handles the business end of their partnership.
"Scarlet Serenade" took Best of Show at the International Quilt Festival in 2005. It won the Gammill Longarm Quilting Award at the America Quilter's Society Quilt show in April 2006 and another of Schamber's masterpieces, "Sedona Rose," won Best of Show.
"Flower of Life," a representation of Sharon's life, won AQS's Best of Show in 2007.
Schamber is the only entrant to have ever won at AQS twice in a row.
"It's the quilts that win, I am just along for the ride," Schamber said.
"She is the No. 1 ranked machine quilter in the world. No one has come close to her winnings," Gene said.
From what wellspring does her patience flow that she can spend 700 hours on a quilt?
"I'm not patient, I'm just determined. Once I get an idea in my head, you'd better get out of my way," she said.
Gene attests to the fact that when Sharon's longarm machine is buzzing, his wife is in her own world.
"She can't even talk on the phone when she's way out there," he said.
‘Way out there' is a fantasy land where Schamber does meditations and creates "cities and all sorts of wonderful things" in her head.
Yet Schamber will tell you she is a teacher first and a quilter second.
Her inventive quilting techniques, such as Piec-liqué, have taken the art form to new heights.
"Everything I do is different, even down to the binding," she said.
Instead of pins, Schamber uses Elmer's Glue (a starch) to bind her edges before she stitches.
Introverted around town, as a teacher, she has a following that "kind of frightens" her and she feels a "little weird," although, like most teachers, Schamber loves seeing the light come on in her students' eyes.
"I get pushy when I teach. I think people want the facts (of how to implement a technique), they respond better to honesty," she said.
They must, because she is 100 percent booked through 2009 and 80 percent booked through 2010.
"Piece by Piece Machine Applique" is available with Schamber's other books and tips through her Web site: www.sharonschamber.
The new one
In between her teaching and show schedule, she found time to create her latest quilt, "The Spirit of Mother Earth."
Usually, once Schamber starts a quilt, she sees it through, but she felt so strong about the design of the black, red and brown quilt she could not wait to bring her vision into being.
"The new one is amazing. It is better than anything else I have ever done," she said.
She filled the background design of "The Spirit of Mother Earth" with 75 different kinds of stipple. Schamber stitched the patterns, animals, insects and flora with no markings on the fabric that she hand-dyed.
Sharon finished the quilt just in time for Gene to photograph it, in between gusts of Rim Country wind, for entry into the 2008 AQS show.
What is next for Schamber?
"My goal this summer is to earn the National Quilting Association's Certified Master Quilter Award," she said.
No prize money is on the table at the invitation-only show.
The prestige is the scholastic achievement -- there are maybe eight people in the U.S. who hold the title, she said.
After Schamber bows out of competition, she plans to stage a quilt show that tours museums.
She will focus her studio time on themed quilts. Photographs of Gene's favorite, "Sitting Bull" and Sharon's favorite, a gentle, elegant young woman in a red dress titled "Perfect Moment," can be viewed on her Web site.
The dynamic, quiet spoken woman with the merry smile has much to keep her busy, including grandchildren.
If, heaven forbid, she could not quilt, Schamber would probably paint with oils.
"Do I need to quilt? Well, If I couldn't, I think I'd be certified loony tunes and they'd probably have to lock me up," Schamber said.