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QUILTER PROFILE: Dawn Duperault

Dawn Duperault says she wishes she knew more about her family's quilting traditions, but she actually knows quite a bit, and it was clearly instrumental in her becoming a quilter. "I learned to sew from my mother about the time I stopped putting things in my mouth and could safely hold a needle," she says. "She made a very few quilts as I was growing up, and I really learned about the craft from my maternal grandmother. It was the '70s, you see, and quilting wasn't a hobby that modern women indulged in. :) My grandmother had all this wonderful cut out fabric, templates, and the big old-fashioned frame set up in the livingroom. I learned later that she would make quilts to sell in the area to supplement the farming income. She's had to give that up because of failing eyesight, but one of my aunts has taken up the job now. I'm told my great-grandmother also quilted, and beautifully, but that all her quilts were burned in the stove when they became too old and worn out to be used.

"My grandmother made me two quilts when I was growing up, and I still have them. One is the worse for wear and washings. I made a few attempts at doll quilts when I was much younger, but was more interested in making doll clothes and stuffed animals. I made a baby quilt when I was in high school, from all the wonderful dressmaking scraps from my mother's sewing projects. It's made from red, orange, pink, brown and grey doubleknit polyester squares. It was supposed to be a checkerboard pattern, but the squares stretched so much when they were sewn into strips that it's pretty badly skewed. It's got a light blue backing, and the binding is finished in red embroidery floss in a herringbone stich. I tied it with flourescent blue floss. The scary part was that I didn't finish it until a few years ago, and I was able to match the blue floss to colors still in the stores. Needless to say, there's no picture of THAT one on my web site!"

As she grew up, Dawn's impetus for quilting was similar to her foremothers' in another way -- she was poor. "I got interested in larger projects when I was in college. Like most students I was broke. Really, really, broke, not just lacking in beer and pizza money. I couldn't afford a warm blanket for our New England winters, but I could buy small pieces of fabric as they went on sale in the department store I was working in. After a few months I had collected enough 1/8 yards to start a queen-sized 9-patch in pink and blue bunny prints. I worked on that periodically, on the flea-market sewing machine my boyfriend brought home one weekend. It's still not finished, by the way. I'm hand quilting that one, and it's the one that turned me off the whole idea of hand quilting."

Dawn's quilts are in a traditional style, influenced by her family, but she has added a modern twist. "I learned to imitate the style I saw in my grandmother's house. That side of the family is one of the many German immigrant families who settled in Pennsylvania, and while not Amish, that influence is (or was) prevalent in the area. So I picked up on the wide borders and the traditional designs, but using calico scraps instead of solids.

"I'm still partial to the traditional patterns. I see so much potential with the new fabrics, where the colors and designs could be really stunning. I think too many people give up on the traditional patterns because they can only imagine them in drab calico. Most of the designs can be rotary cut and strip-pieced, and I really like that convenience."

Dawn has recently moved from Dallas, Texas to Kansas City, but she retains ties to her quilt guild in Dallas. "I joined the Dallas guild fairly recently, less than two years ago, because they have wonderful speakers every month who come and talk and show slides. I like to see what other people do, and hear why they do it. This is my first and only involvement with a group like that. I used to join the guild 'friendship group' in my neighborhood for weekly sewing and socializing, but had to give that up when I went to work full-time. Most of my quilting has been done in 'solitary,' away from the presence of other quilters."

Dawn has written sometimes lengthy reviews of these monthly speakers' presentations at her website, which you can find at http://ares.redsword.com/dduperault/qsource.htm . She also manages the website for the Dallas quilt guild. Dawn has had a long, abiding interest in the web since its earliest days, and has over the years built her site into one of the most interesting and information-packed quilting sites anywhere. "I got interested in computers way back in the dark ages of technology when there was only one Phone Company and computers were big room-filling things owned by governments and cold-war scientists. I fiddled around with some Basic programming in high school, and learned enough in college to be able to use the engineering lab to do my English homework, though I didn't actually take any computer courses until grad school. Computers have always just sort of been there in my life. I'm a librarian by training, but currently working as a business analyst and web applications developer. We make business applications that work over the internet, specifically the WWW, as compared to static web pages.

"I'd known about the WWW when it first became available, but didn't see much use for it. When browsers started supporting images and it got easy to use I saw the potential for creating a more interactive resource for textile fanatics. At the time, the summer of '94, there was no good source for quilting or costuming information. There were web pages, sure, but they were almost always lists of all the other web pages, and you could hop from list to list and never find any actual content. I initially wanted to do the costuming information, but had limitations on the graphics that would be required. The programs I needed to do the artwork were still expensive, and not many people had graphical browsers. So I started putting together a text-based FAQ site for quilting. I announced it in the usenet group and got a few responses along the lines of 'good idea,' but received zero content contributions. I kept plugging away at it over the years, and have received wonderful feedback from visitors.

"In fact, the traffic has been steadily increasing, to the point where it is causing problems with my host. Most of that is the costume section of my site. I put up about 6 pages of costume info last year, and in 4 months it accounted for half of the traffic through my site. That surprised me, since it took 150+ quilting pages to make up the other half. This year I was a featured site in Infoseek's halloween costume listing, and it really strained the server. The quilting was popular, but the response for the costuming has been incredible, and I'm trying to concentrate my efforts there at the moment."

Asked how her quilting and interest in costumes are related, Dawn says they are simply different creative avenues for her interest in textiles. "I look at quilting and costuming as offshoots of being able to sew. Both contain skill subsets of the latter. My interest switches between the two, and into fashion and home dec sewing as well. I did some theatre in high school and college, and played SCA for a while, too. I discovered after a while that I liked making the outfits more than the politicking that goes with the various rec-creation groups, so I've drifted away from active participation, but I still enjoy the creative part.

"Aside from the skills required, the connection between the two is the creativity involved. I like making things. I enjoy spending my time designing, creating, and having a tangible result of my effort to show when I'm done. I also craft miniature furniture and dollhouses. In many ways the web site is also an expression of creativity for me, from the articles I write to selecting the images that will be used for the look of the page."

In spite of her long experience with computers, Dawn doesn't use a computer quilt design program. "I looked at them when they became available and didn't see anything I could use them for," she says. "Since my sewing area is distinct from my computer work space, I'd have been going back and forth between the two, which is lousy for designing. I also tend to do a lot of scrap quilts, starting with a handful of fabrics and sort of faking it as I go along. The software doesn't (or didn't) support the use of multiple colors, and the fill patterns used for fabrics were terrible. There's one out now that uses 'real' fabric scans, but I'd be spending a lot of time making a computer quilt instead of the real one, so I skip it. There is also no current software for the Windows NT platform, which is what I use. I do my design either in my head, or on graph paper if it's complicated."

Likewise, Dawn's takes a pragmatic view of the internet. She isn't deeply involved in any online group and tends to use the net as a resource. "I think the internet has really become a valuable tool for new quilters or costumers to use when looking for information and others who share the interest. To someone who is willing to take the time to learn to use it there is a wide varity of information available. Unfortunately, in my experience most quilters are afraid of their computers and have the silly idea that they'll never be able to figure the thing out. These are the same people who can work magic with multi-stitch sewing machines, navigate the intricacies of bobbins and thread winding, and plan out the use of 50 different fabrics in an intricate graphical design. Yet they can't manipulate a web browser or use a search engine. It's time for women to get over that and give themselves credit for having a brain.

"I haven't seen much computer influence on quilting. The programs enable us to do the same design we've been doing for centuries, maybe faster, maybe with a new tool, but hasn't changed how we do the work or the output of that effort. Where it has helped is with the communication, though the same could be said of any hobby. We have more books, more clip art for our newsletters, and tons of internet related material. We can print text to iron on, scan images of our quilts, and keep records of the fabric we bought and how the antiques came to be in our possession, but we still have to cut the fabric out and sew it. Computers don't do that, we do."

Dawn has a clear idea of where her computing ends and her quilting begins. But she has been one of the early leaders in making quilting knowledge widely and freely available through the web. Obviously a labor of love, her website is a rich resource that computing quilters would be loath to do without. And you can also see her quilts there!


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