John Lamb, Published January 27 2013
Moorhead man finds pleasure in female-dominated quilting craft
It’s not that the 63-year-old causes a disturbance – he’s as quiet and mild-mannered as he looks.
But he does stand out, if only because there aren’t a lot of men scouring fabric shops for material. And there are even fewer male quilters in the area.
Majors says people are usually surprised to find out he quilts, though he’s been doing it since the 1980s.
“I was looking for something to express myself,” he says in his dining room, which doubles as his sewing room. “I just like to create. It’s fun.”
There aren’t hard and fast numbers for how many male quilters there are in the area. Judith Eide, president of the Quilters Guild of North Dakota, which hosts the annual Indian Summer Quilt Show, says their group has only one male member. Jace Hennagir of Strongarm Quilting in Perham, Minn., says there are “a few” male quilters he knows of.
None of which matters to Majors, whose beaming smile speaks to how much he enjoys the process. So does a pile of quilts on the table, a bounty of his work.
He says he can sew a queen-size quilt top in as little time as 30 hours, and once he has a design, he’ll do as many as four of a similar pattern in a week if he has the energy.
“It takes two to three days to figure out how things go together efficiently,” Majors explains. “It’s time consuming but wonderful. … It’s a good project for the German in you.”
Four to five times a year, when Majors has a number of quilt tops pieced together, he drives them down to Strongarm Quilting in Perham. There, Hennagir machine stitches the top piece through a fluffy batting, or insulation, and into the fabric backing to complete the quilt.
Hennagir has worked with Majors for about four years, and the two chat a bit when the Moorhead man explains what he’s looking for with the different assemblages.
“He’s gotten a little more elaborate while maintaining that traditional style,” Hennagir says of his customer’s progress. “John always has more of an Amish style. It’s a little more simplistic, down home. Not as sophisticated as some others.”
“My designs are basically Amish-inspired,” Majors says. “The Amish don’t use colors like I do. I love the graphic aspect. The color aspect. It’s loads of fun. A joy.”
Amish quilts reflect the simple, austere elements of the lifestyle. Black is often a dominant hue, particularly as a backdrop, but bold, solid colors form the geometric designs.
Majors views the styles as “rather masculine.”
“I feel the color and design offers an alternative to the flowery crap you see on (some) quilts.”
His early quilts were less about design and more representational, like one of a moon overlooking a dock on Otter Tail Lake, Minn., where he spends the summers sailing.
“Like a picture, it has to create movement of the eye,” he says.
He wants to get back to working with images more. He pulls out a postcard of James Dean and talks about plans to transfer photos of pop culture idols such as Dean and Marilyn Monroe to fabric for quilting.
Still, he’s already gotten some good reviews on his work and won a couple of ribbons at Red River Valley Fair shows. While one judge was critical of how his corners met, he took the observation to heart and is working on that part of his quilts.
Still, he’s not ready for the biggest area fabric art event, the annual Indian Summer Quilt Show held every September in Fargo.
“Those are some really fine pieces,” he says humbly, adding that his dream would be to win an award at the Minnesota State Fair.
“A ribbon from them would be wonderful,” he says.
He got close – at least geographically. This fall he had a display at the hip St. Paul eatery Pizza Lucé, with his quilts in long shadow boxes. He sold one piece from that show and has sold about 20 over the years, ranging from $250 - $350, under the name Pelican Bay Designs, which “connotes a peaceful, rural Minnesota feeling.”
But he’ll be the first to say he’s a ways away from a bigger show.
“I don’t have an education in art. This is all just by guess and by golly,” he says. “I have an artistic bent,” he says.
“This was something I never admitted to myself. I thought you had to paint or sculpt, but people call me an artist, so I’ll take it.”
He’ll take the title, but he likes the work, which keeps him busy during the long winter, and the fabric offers splashes of color on cold, dark days.
“It’s something I can do for the rest of my life,” he says. “Life is a hoot. It’s a joy.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter
John Lamb at (701) 241-5533