Ann has been sewing together little pieces of fabric for over forty years! Her Grandmother made quilts and taught her to hand sew and crochet. She made CornStalk doll clothes and potholders with every scrap of thread and fabric she was given. Once Grandmother told Ann that she could have all the scrap fabric she liked if she would walk down to the old home place and search through an old box. Ann said, “I was very scared to go alone, but braved the adventure for the prize! I still remember how that fabric looked, felt, and smelled!”
Ann’s mother used to tell her that she bothered her continually as a preschooler when she was sewing. Ann can remember sneaking into her room to try and play with her featherweight Singer— she couldn’t reach the pedal! But she also remembers gathering cotton from the farm field next to the parsonage where she lived. “The pods cut your fingers, but the smell and feel of cotton was a comforting experience.”
At the age of 8, Ann was given her first sewing machine for Christmas. It was a hand-cranked beige Singer and it still works today! “Barbie and Ken could have everything they wanted on this machine.” says Ann. At age 16, her first job was in the local fabric store, and she had already been making her own clothes for several years. “Mother made all my clothes until we had serious fashion differences!”
Years of tailoring and dressmaking, both at home and in department store, helped Ann learn about construction. Her formal education was in Early Childhood Education in the early 70’s, and she enjoyed teaching Preschool with all the wonderful geometric manipulatives: tanagrams, pattern blocks, geoboards, and insect kaleidoscopes. Visions of wonderful quilts begin to dance in her mind!
Ann’s first quilt was for her first son; a Vogue pattern circa 1977 that depicted a clothesline filled with little clothes against a blue sky little sunshine pillow. Her son loved it so much that it became his lovey — he loved it to almost to smithereens! Ann started with baby quilts for her three sons and then graduated to bed quilts for the family beds with the ubiquitous matching curtains. She read books by Georgia Bonesteel and learned the “lap quilting” method. “The Quilter’s Album of Blocks and Borders” by Jinny Beyer was an exciting resource for her to make block patterns in the early eighties. It was using this book and her “Patchwork Portfolio” that first inspired Ann to make a quilt that could express a beautiful concept. Ann’s family had moved from Raleigh, NC out into the country near a town called Knightdale. She was mesmerized by the clear night sky, which was frequently full of stars with a ring of Pines that clung to the remnants of a dark pink and burgundy sunset. She made Starry Starry Knightdale to help describe this experience. The quilts that she made through most of the eighties and early nineties were given as gifts to Ann’s church, friends and family. The recipients of these gifts persuaded her to pursue a professional art career. In 1997 she decided to retire from preschool teaching and focus on making quilts that make fabric stories and write word pictures to accompany them. From 1999 until 2012, Ann made her quilts at Artspace in an open studio in Raleigh’s historic City Market. Currently, she has her own home studio in Wendell, NC.
STATEMENT BY ANN HARWELL:
“My quilts are to communicate ideas, express feelings and tell stories. I especially want to unite and enhance diverse fabric designs and colors with intricate, precision piecing and exorbitant quilting. I start with an original rough drawing, draft a straight-line design, and then transfer the design to pattern material. Each piece of cotton fabric (hand-dyed, batik, commercial cottons) is selected, individually precision cut, and sewn together with my 1945 Singer Featherweight machine. My quilts are constructed like fine garments, with great attention to detail: seams are strong and straight, corners are sharp and points are precise. After the pieced top is constructed, I layer the top, cotton batting and a whole cloth cotton backing. Finally, I add a surface design with a straight stitch sewing machine, quilting free hand through all the layers and adding hand-made bias binding. In order to hang the quilts, I hand apply a sleeve for the aluminum bar made especially for the quilt.”