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Theadra Fleming

Quiltmaker

  Ypsilanti, Michigan, United States    

Theadra Fleming's work was featured in the book, Quilts and Health, by Marsha MacDowell, Clare Luz, and Beth Donaldson.
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Soulful Renditions: A Quilter's Journey
I was born in Chicago, Illinois. Our family moved to Detroit in the late 1950’s. My siblings and I were educated in the Catholic school system, then the Detroit Public schools when we transitioned to high school.

At the age of 35 when I realized I need to choose a professional path that would guarantee employment, I chose nursing. I graduated from the JTPA School of Practical Nursing in Detroit, in 1985 then from Mercy College of Detroit with a BSN in nursing in 1989.

While working as a School Nurse in a school for parenting and pregnant adolescents in Detroit, I furthered my education by obtaining a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Michigan in 1994.

As a child, I made doll clothes out of socks and pieces of scrap cloth. I majored in clothing construction in high school and made the majority of my clothes most of my working life. The journey with quilt making began, without realizing it in the early 1990’s when I received a pattern from the Art teacher, Dorothy Ceasar at Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit. I was the nurse for her homeroom students, and we bonded over art, colors, and fabrics. My quilting journey began with a simple table runner for a family Christmas dinner in 1996. The pattern I used was the one given to me by Mrs. Ceasar. It was a class in quilt making that I taught to the young women at Catherine Ferguson that open my creative and spiritual being to the connection of working with the hands. I experienced a transformation as I felt these young women discover a sense of peace, calm, and relaxation as they worked on their projects.

My ancestors are from Louisiana, Kentucky and Missouri. We do not have a history of quilt making in the family, so I had no knowledge of the history or the process of making quilts. I remember thinking that the construction of the runner was so much like putting a puzzle together. I was fascinated by the precision involved and how the pieces came together to create the designs. I was hooked! The table runner became the most expensive quilted item I made because to make it, I purchased a new sewing machine, and vast array of tools and ‘how to’ books.

The first two years became a spiritual awakening for me. The first book I used to teach myself provided instruction on assembling a quilt sampler featuring 20 blocks. It took a while to complete the quilt because I made individual quilts featuring each of the 20 blocks. Along the way, I discovered that quilting became an outlet for my creativity with fabric and provided a spiritual connection to myself that I did not realize I possessed.

The first few quilts were made with fabric from the local store and I remember thinking that the choices available at the time were just not ‘talking to me’. It was after I viewed and experienced an exhibit of quilts made by African Americans at the African American Museum in Detroit in 1997 that I understood the importance of color and symbols in our African cultural history. My curiosity lead to research on quilt making in the African American community and the history of African textiles. The exhibit and resulting research influenced my work and both continue to have a profound impact on my quilt making.

“Keep it Simple” is the mantra with my quilts. My fabric preferences are for natural fibers. The majority of my pieces are constructed with cotton: fabric, thread, and batting. I made that choice to honor the Ancestors that labored in the fields harvesting the crop. The colors I choose speak for each piece. It is the unseen of the process that permeates: my Spiritual Essence of each piece which includes my emotional and spiritual state of being at the time I decide to make a quilt, the feel of the fabric, the energy of the colors I choose, the block or technique I choose, and finally, I let the quilt tell me what its name should be.

I enjoy both machine and hand quilting as well as hand and machine piecing. I quilt the final piece with simple lines or curves because I want the visual impact of each quilt to be its’ statement, not the stitching that holds the three layers together. The majority of my quilts made prior to 2004 were made to learn a specific technique in the construction of traditional patterns and embrace my creative spirit.

My journey continues as I promote the history, art and craft of quilt making. I feel compelled to pass on the skills I have learned so that our collective knowledge of our quilting and textile heritage will endure.
Peace

Was the maker a woman, man or a group?

Female

When was the quiltmaker born?

04/24/1951

Ethnic background/tribal affiliation:

African American

Educational background:

BSN: Bachelors of Science Nursing; MPH: Masters , Public Health Policy Administration, University of Michigan

Occupation (if retired, former occupation):

Retired Registered Nurse

Where was the quiltmaker born?

Chicago, Illinois (IL), United States

Where did the quiltmaker grow up?

Urban

Father's Name:

Theodore L. Fleming

Father's birthplace:

Lexington, Kentucky

Father's ethnic/tribal background:

African American

Mother's Name:

Georgia Estelle Nichols

Mother's birthplace:

Detroit, Michigan

Mother's ethnic/tribal background:

African American

Number of children:

1

How did the quiltmaker learn to quilt?

Self-Taught

When did the quiltmaker learn to quilt?

Age 40-49

Why does/did the quiltmaker quilt:

Pleasure, Therapy

Name of quilting group(s):

Great Lakes African American Quilters' Network

Location of group:

Livonia, Michigan

Specialized activities/events of the quilting group:

Biennial quilt show, quilting workshops, charity quilts

Estimate the number of quilts made by this maker:

more than 50

Does/did the quiltmaker sell quilts?

yes

What price was charged for the quilts and when were they sold?

On commission

Does/did the quiltmaker teach quilting?

only informally

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