Bursts of colors explode from Gyleen Fitzgerald’s quilts as she unfurls them one after the other, revealing splashes of vibrant reds, blues, greens, yellows and purples. Each quilt displays a different design, each as beautiful as the next. At twenty-three, Gyleen Fitzgerald took up quilting for one reason: she was bored. Having just moved to Joppatowne from Philadelphia with no local family or friends, she signed up for a quilting class. Thirty-three years and hundreds of quilts later, she no longer has time to be bored.
Her list of accomplishments is long: a self-publishing company; five quilt-related books published with three more in the works; copyrights for the graphics on four quilting tools, and lectures throughout the country on quilting.
Fitzgerald retired last year from a thirty-five-year career at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a chemical engineer. She says quilt-making and engineering have a lot in common: both involve analytical skills and creativity. Among other projects at APG, she worked on developing more durable fabric for soldiers’ uniforms.
Fitzgerald derives much joy from teaching her students the art of quilt-making. “Teach them to quilt and they can produce anything they dream of. I’m just the catalyst to make that happen. I see myself as their cheerleader,” she says.
She describes her online quilting community as a very supportive environment. When one woman shared her husband had passed away, there was an immediate outpouring of well wishes from her fellow classmates.
When Fitzgerald posted a message that she was making a wedding quilt for her marriage to Ray McGowan, nearly three hundred people sent in well-wishes on white fabric shapes which she then sewed into her wedding quilt. “To feel that kind of love from far reaches is very humbling,” she says.
The majority of quilts she makes are both hand-stitched and machine-sewn. She says quilting is not a profitable venture because of the time required to make a quilt. “You could watch somebody’s kid and make more money. You’re well under minimum wage,” she says.
Whether it’s fabric, words or photographs -or all three- Fitzgerald has a talent for combining elements into pleasing patterns. Two of her books have won international independent publishing awards.
One of the award-winning books, “Quilts: Unfinished Stories with New Endings,” showcases quilts she finished that were started long ago by unknown quilters. Based on her research of the time period during which the original pieces were made, Fitzgerald created personal letters to complement them. She also incorporated black-and-white photographs depicting universal scenes typical for any era: family portraits, military portraits; birthdays, and children with a favorite pet.
In another book, “Polygon Affair: So Easy You’ll Fall in Love,” wedding photos of happy couples are juxtaposed with quilt photos. She explains, “I wanted to translate how I felt about quilting to a non-quilter, so I included wedding pictures… When you look at a couple that’s newly married, that feeling is how I feel about quilting.”
Working on her newest quilt, her hands flutter over geometric shapes, forming them into a polygon of colors and forms as she prepares to sew them together. She says out of all the quilts her favorite one is, “Whatever I’m currently working on….”
For more information on quilter, Gyleen Fitzgerald, see her website www.colourfulstitches.com