By Jessica Dortch
What makes Catherine Wooten so incredible isn’t the accolades and head nods from fashion and textile industry professionals; it is the fact that every quilt she creates is a special piece of herself. “When I give someone a quilt, I feel like I have given them a piece of my soul,” Wooten explained to an engaged audience of her fellow quilters during her presentation at the Village Quilters of Catonsville’s last workshop.
Wooten shared an oral history of her upbringing before displaying some of her best quilts to the crowd, allowing for questions and comments. Let’s just say, for the daughter of a sharecropper and a quilter, she didn’t do so bad at all.
Wooten grew up in the small town of Pinetops, North Carolina at a time when quilts were made entirely by hand. She recalls laying the back of the quilt on the floor and getting down on her knees to spread the cotton, by hand, across the back before putting the top layer on and sewing them together. “There wasn’t a long arm except for these long arms,” she joked with the group.
Throughout her career, Wooten created outerwear, clothing and accessories of all kinds. “I did everything but shoes,” she went on to say. Shoes were simply not her forte.
Wooten explained that a lot of people ‘sew for money,’ as in they use their skills to turn a profit, but she sews for freedom, specifically creative freedom. “In all of that, I have to do what someone else wants me to do, but if I sew quilts, I can do what I want to do,” she shared.
That is one reason she came back to quilting, aside from the feeling of home. Quilting was always used as a method of communication by the Black community. In the early days, slaves would create a quilt and hang it on the clothing line during the day to warn about what was to come that evening. As another way to capture the family’s history, Wooten’s mother would put it all in a quilt. “Quilting with her was sort of like a deep feeling,” Wooten said, as she recalls creating quilts with her mother under the lamp light.
“I didn’t get into the feeling of quilting until my mother passed. I took her sewing basket and took out her sewing tools and put them into a quilt and I put my mother sitting by the window with her sewing machine. That’s how I got the feeling of quilts,” she added.
Wooten’s creativity knows no bounds, as she continues to redefine the limits of age and ability. She continues to amaze as she teaches workshops and creates magnificent quilted designs for her family and cancer and sickle cell patients at the hospital.
And her wisdom extends to her children, according to her daughter, Ava Craine. “I have two other sisters and whenever there’s a task that we might find difficult, we look at each other and say ‘We’re Catherine Wooten’s daughters. We can do anything.’”