written and photographed by Gina Williams
For retired software engineer Michel McDowell, quilting as a creative outlet is common sense.
“Quilting is just geometry to me,” he said.
Work by McDowell and fellow male quilter Pat Wilson will be on display in “Men Who Quilt,” a special exhibition at the Sixteenth Annual Northwest Quilting Expo September 22-24 at the Portland Expo Center.
The pair will also lead a new class at the Expo, “Beginning Quilting and Beer Tasting for Men.”
The class is designed to be a fun, no-pressure course for men who want to learn the art of quilting but who may feel more comfortable surrounded by other men. True to Pacific Northwest form, a tasting of local craft brews will be offered to participants, along with the provided sewing machines.
The class will be held Saturday, September 24 from noon to 4:45 p.m. with a class fee of $25 and a quilting kit fee of $35.
McDowell said his interest in quilting really got rolling when he inquired about transferring one of his paintings onto fabric. His wife gifted him a four-week quilting class and, eventually, she bought him a sewing machine. Now, he is unstoppable—designing and piecing together his own bold, bright patterns, working part-time at a sewing shop in Portland and teaching classes. He is also an active member of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild, the largest of its kind in the United States.
“Men do tend to be more linear and quilting is geometry,” said Laura Dickson, an Expo founder and owner of A Common Thread fabric and sewing shop in Portland. She had taught quilting to her son’s math class as a way to explain geometry.
In addition to the quilting itself, McDowell said that community is a big part of his passion for the art.
“There is community all over the place,” he said. “When I started teaching a longarm (a large-format quilting machine) class, there were about six students. Now there are fifteen to twenty. I call them my groupies.”
Each year, the Northwest Quilting Expo expands a little more, Dickson said. She and Expo co-founders Geri Grasvik and Shellie O’Donnell work hard to bring nationally known sewing and quilting experts to the show, as well as highlight local artists. In fact, when it comes to expositions, Dickson said there are only two areas of interest that continue to grow: quilting and guns.
“The Pacific Northwest is such a mecca for quilting and fiber art,” Dickson said. “There are ebbs and flows, but sewing never goes away.”
In addition to special exhibits, a vendor mall and a full range of sewing machines, this year’s Expo will feature a large selection of classes, from creating a Brazilian embroidery pin cushion to quilt coloring techniques.
For more information, go to nwquiltingexpo.com