Chico’s Award-Winning Quilter, Cindy Needham
By Melissa Gulden
Story by Melissa Gulden
Photos by Sunshine Rush
SOMEONE once said, “A quilt will warm your body and comfort your soul.” The talent and ingenuity shown by creative quilters is astonishing. They sew and assemble beautiful art, by hand or machine, and as a result, warm bodies and hearts all over the world.
Meet Cindy Needham. She is an amazingly gifted quilter, teacher, designer and author, whose passion for quilting led her to live her most meaningful life.
A self-taught quilter, Needham was barely a teenager when she visited Moses Cone Manor near the Blue Ridge Mountains. She was mesmerized by the display of artistic quilts – it was love at first sight, one might say. Inspired by what she had seen, she took some basic six-inch fabric blocks, put a blanket between them and tied them with ribbon. A quilter was born.
“I never thought it would become my life passion, my purpose.” Needham says. “It’s crazy.”
Her hobby took off, and soon Needham couldn’t keep up with hand stitching her quilt tops, so she went “kicking and screaming” into machine sewing. After many months of practice, she finally found her rhythm, and fell in love with the art of machine sewing, as well. Eventually she became bored with “regular quilt tops” and ventured out, experimenting on a piece of tattered linen from her nightstand. She ended up designing a beautiful linen wholecloth quilt, a technique for which she is now famous. “Wholecloth quilting defines you as a quilter. It’s all about your design choices and the threads and fabric you choose for your quilt,” Needham says. “That linen quilt changed my life forever.”
The story goes like this. Needham had been doing demonstration quilting for quilt shows, and the owner of Superior Threads, Bob Purcell, asked her many times if she would start lecturing on a national level, as he couldn’t keep up with the quilt guild requests. However, Needham’s husband, Kent, is a self-employed cabinet maker and Needham’s job in the medical field at the time provided the health insurance, retirement and steady paycheck. Needham turned Purcell down four times. And then he asked a final time. Needham spoke with her husband, and Kent agreed that she was meant to do that job. She took that leap of faith and followed her dream.
Now, Needham teaches not only in her own studio in Chico, but all over the world, as well as at local retreats in McCloud and Auburn.
“I was meant to teach,” Needham says. “It’s inside me.” She says her two favorite places are in front of a classroom and in front of her sewing machine. But, Needham warns, she is not your average international teacher. “I tell my students, come to have fun and loosen up! I’m sort of a black sheep.”
Needham’s journey has taken her all around the world, from Dubai to Australia and many places in between, meeting fabulous quilters and experiencing things she would never have otherwise imagined. Quilting conventions have become a huge attraction, gathering people from all over the world in places like Texas and Japan.
“It is huge and it’s just getting bigger and more and more artsy,” Needham says.
Needham says she feels like an “old soul” – she can’t imagine doing anything else. Luckily, it appears she doesn’t have to. Her retreats are booked through 2019, and she has recently been busy helping provide quilts and sewing supplies to Camp Fire survivors. Annie’s Star Quilt Guild reached out to quilt makers all across the country, who then responded by making thousands of quilts for survivors of the California wildfires. Needham, a former resident of Paradise, said she wasn’t prepared for the emotional roller coaster that her involvement with the guild would bring. “These people walk through the door with tears in their eyes, and leave with a smile.” Or, Needham adds, “They leave with tears in their eyes because they are happy. They have a sewing machine or new things to create with.”
It’s no wonder, then, why so many quilters around the country approach Needham. She has won numerous awards and recognitions within the quilting community, and continues to book national teaching engagements. She gives a voice to quilters everywhere, allowing them to find themselves through their art.
“I love doing it,” Needham says. “I’m very blessed to make a living doing what I love.” •
www.cindyneedham.com • Find her on Facebook