Nina Grimes always quilted, ever since she was a little girl, sitting at her grandmother's knee in Milledgeville, Georgia. And six decades, hundreds of quilts and assorted accessories later, she's still at it in her cozy Avenues home.
Actually, what began as a pastime and hobby has developed into a career that becomes more successful and engrossing as the years go by. She has exhibited in innumerable shows and festivals, including six years with her own show at ZCMI. She's won many awards, including the 1983 Governor's Folk Arts Award, and has given workshops all over the West. She teaches quilting at Mormon Handicraft Mondays from 11 to 2 (no charge), and she has orders for quilts "up to my eyeballs," she said.She used to participate heavily in Christmas boutiques, but doesn't do so any more. And one thing she won't do is judge quilting shows. "I don't like the idea of pitting one quilt against another," she declared emphatically.
You may have a little trouble navigating the trail from the front door to the kitchen, past a dining room table laden with tools of the trade, a dozen works "in progress," ("never say unfinished," she laughed) and swatches of intriguing cloth.
"I'm a clothoholic," she declared cheerfully. "When I get ready to quilt, all this goes off the table, I spead out my quilt frame and go right at it." APHOTOGRAPHY/ PAUL BARKER
rapid worker, she can complete a complex appliqued block in a night, or quilt a full-sized quilt in about two weeks. She can work from eight to 10 hours a day, and frequently does, without aches or pains anywhere in her body. She does have an adjustable high chair for quilting.
Grimes remembers the days when her family raised their own cotton on a big farm across the river and six miles from Milledgeville. "When it was time to send it to the gin, my grandmother always sent along several clean bags and told the men to bring home some of the best cotton.
"Then I and my sister would card it, very thin and smooth, in sections about 4 inches by 10 inches, and lay them close together (never overlapping) on a quilt back. That was the way we made the bats, the first quilting chore I remember doing. But I prefer the nylon bats nowadays; they are so much smoother and lighter, and don't bunch up when you wash them."
Grimes made her first quilt completely on her own when she was in her early teens - a design of hexagonal blocks, as she recalls.
The first quilt she ever sold, a Pennsylvania Dutch design, brought her $250. Nowadays her quilts command top prices, up to $1,200. She displayed the beginnings of a collector's item of Amish design with the clear Amish colors, which must have nothing but hand stitching, for which she'll receive $2,500.
She didn't attempt to figure out her hourly rate on it - "probably somewhere around $1.25," she said with a laugh. But to a true folk artist, that's not important.
She ticked off some of her favorite patterns - Dresden Plate, Log Cabin, and scrapbag - putting together whatever you have on hand. She likes anything appliqued, especially florals, and has a fondness for Pennsylvania Dutch and other early American designs. Sometimes Grimes uses commercial patterns, sometimes she makes her own.
She's largely a self-taught quilter, and besides her technical craftsmanship, Grimes' big talent is her color sense and genius for combining fabrics of diverse designs into stunning combinations. Like all quilters, Nina has an infinite capacity for taking pains. And she's expert at placing patterns to best advantage on cloth, and cutting - an art in itself, with many techniques.
Grimes recently had cataracts removed from her eyes ("like raising a windowshade," she said), and celebrated by making a small quilt that she calls her "cataract quilt."
She's imparting her quilting skills to Kris Andreasen via a folk arts apprentice grant from the Utah Arts Council. Andreasen teaches fourth- through sixth-graders in the Chapter I learning lab at Bennion Elementary School in Salt Lake City, a demanding career, and she often unwinds with quilting. "After a tough day at school, it's soothing just to feel the fabric," she said.
"Nina is such an artist with the colors I use," said Andreasen. No mean artist herself, she unfolded several stunning Amish-style quilts with black backgrounds and brilliant colors, including a Christmas cactus design. She's been to Amish country two summers to study, and hopes to go again. ("And would you believe - on my bed I have an old thing from K mart!" she laughed.)
"The Amish use only plain colors because they think prints are frivolous, and they always leave a little mistake in their work, because only God can be perfect," she explained.
Both women agreed that quilting is a "true addiction" that may keep you from the dishes, the wash and other household chores.
Andreasen also learned from her grandmother, mother and aunts - another quilting family. She and Grimes have been working for two years together, and intend to continue, grants or no grants.
Besides quilts, Grimes counts among her major accomplishments a wedding dress of dacron satin, with lavish trapunto (a design raised with yarn insert) on the sleeves, skirt and train, which three granddaughters have used. She's also made innumerable articles of quilted clothing, jackets, table runners, pillows and wall hangings. If quilting temporarily palls, she makes Battenburg lace, Tenerife embroidery, or toy bears and dolls.
She said she "always knew" her husband, Charlie Grimes, who worked in water treatment and construction before retiring. They have five adult sons, all of whom have many examples of Grimes folk art in their homes. The Grimes moved from Milledgeville to Utah in 1959.
At Mormon Handicraft Nina Grimes is also a part of the Busy Bees, a quilting circle of five experts who meet Friday mornings to do special projects. Right now they are working on an appliqued quilt, "Windblown Tulips," for the LDS Hospital's quilt auction in November.
In 1977, Grimes helped to organize the Utah Quilt Guild, which now has 800 members around the state.