Just maybe she'll have $18,000 all wrapped up

Glenwood woman hopes her quilt is tops in competition

April 23, 2003|By Michelle Jabes | Michelle Jabes,SUN STAFF

If your idea of a quilter is a little old lady in a rocking chair, sewing the hours away, you've never met Claudia E. Pearce.

Pearce, a 51-year-old quilter from Glenwood, works as a computer scientist for a federal agency and plays the trumpet in a community band. She's been quilting for eight years.

Now, one of her quilts, Dressed to the Nines, is competing with 419 quilts from around the world in the 19th annual American Quilter's Society Quilt Show and Contest. The show, today through Saturday in Paducah, Ky., offers more than $100,000 in prizes. The quilt that wins the $18,000 Hancock's of Paducah Best of Show award earns a permanent place in the society's museum.

Pearce, a Washington native whose father was in the military, traces her interest in quilting to her grandmother, who taught her how to sew. Her first sewing endeavor, she remembers with a chuckle, was a skirt she made in sixth grade. "It was all by hand in the old, classic way," she says. " ... Pretty crude, but I actually wore it!"

But Pearce did not take up quilting as a hobby until after she finished her studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "I had just finished my doctoral dissertation in computer science in 1994, and I finally had some free time," she says. Using lots of books, time and a couple of classes, Pearce taught herself to quilt. Since then, her work has been slowly moving up in the ranks of quilting greatness.

In 2000, for example, Pearce's quilt The Sky is No Limit was shown in the International Quilting Association show in Texas.

But it's the brightly colored Dressed to the Nines, which measures 91 inches wide by 99 1/2 inches tall, that has gained the most attention. Dressed, the result of hundreds of hours of work, was first shown in the November 2002 IQA show in Houston.

A month later, it was part of the Quilts by Marylanders exhibit in the Maryland State House in Annapolis. While there, Dressed was spotted by noted quilter Jinny Beyer, who requested its presence at her annual workshop in Hilton Head, S.C. Now, Dressed resides in Paducah, awaiting its chance at fame.

Pearce describes Dressed to the Nines as a "world of colorful 3-D cubes, where superimposed onto the sides of the cube is a design called a nine-patch, which is where the quilt gets its name." Although both the cube and the nine-patch are traditional designs, the concept of superimposing one on another is a relatively new technique. It's that novelty that Pearce hopes will win the fancies of discriminating judges.

What will Pearce do with the money if she wins? "Buy a new car!" she says, laughing.

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