Lifelong quilt-maker to be honored as show’s featured artist
Diane Coombs, 80, holds up a hexagon quilt she made. The Snohomish resident has more than 60 years of quilting wisdom and will be
honored at the upcoming Quilters Anonymous show at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds.
SNOHOMISH — The story of Diane Coombs’ life could as easily be told in fabric as in words. Since the 1950s she’s been sewing quilts, each one a different page of her story.
Spectators will get a glimpse into her biography March 15 to 17 as she is recognized as the featured artist at Western Washington’s largest quilt show.
“I couldn’t believe she hadn’t been the featured artist already,” said Lorri Brager, who co-chairs the Quilters Anonymous event to be held at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe.
Coombs has held almost every other role in the quilting community, from teacher to shop owner, pattern maker, preservationist and appraiser. A member of Busy Bee Quilters and Quilters Anonymous, she’s served on guilds and even as a quilt show travel guide.
Coombs, now 80, began as many young women then did, assembling quilts for friends’ babies. But as the children, including her own five, grew, she never gave up the hobby.
While technology changed, and today programmable sewing machines can do much of the work for a quilter, Coombs has stayed true to her 1956 401 Singer sewing machine.
“It’s never been in the shop and I can adjust the tension myself,” she says.
It wasn’t until the 1970s, when she made a large quilt for daughter Rebecca, who had broken her leg, that she turned serious about quilting, she wrote in material for the show.
She realized she had a lot to learn, and turned to experts before she in turn became sought after for advice.
Coombs found kinship with the quilters, who she considers lifelong friends. She says quilters are a brand apart, who share materials and
Soon she was teaching. She particularly enjoyed working with children ages 8 to 12, she reminisced, while grateful to daughter Mary for handling the 13 and overs.
“I love teaching beginners,” she said, “because they don’t have any preconceived ideas, they pay attention and learn.”
Throughout the decades, she wove a thread of service. She estimates she spent about 20 years sewing baby quilts for Pregnancy Aid, with group members setting up shop in Coombs’ spacious living room.
Beginning in the 1990s, Coombs and her husband Orville operated the shop Quilt with Ease in Everett.
The couple enjoyed 48 years of marriage before he passed in 2005.
She remembers him with a treasurer quilt.
Orville loved roses. Coombs vividly recalls more than
100 hours assembling a majestic rose quilt of forest greens and dusky pinks, all in secret from her husband.
Without a word to him, she entered and showed the quilt.
“Orville, you have to come over and see the quilts,” she told him. Her husband grumbled, but wisely, he came. He didn’t notice the crowd of more than a dozen people in on the secret who gathered behind him.
Walking down a long row of show quilts, he spotted his wife’s work.
“‘Now that’s a quilt,’” he remarked, before breaking into happy tears when at long last Coombs told her secret.
She keeps that quilt and many others with special meaning close to her, a record of a long life artfully and lovingly lived.
Coombs has spent so much of her life quilting that quilting could be considered her career, “but it hasn’t been a career,” she says, “it’s been a vocation.”
“It’s something I love to do, I just have a passion. I love helping people pick colors,” especially she says. “I live vicariously through them,” she adds with a laugh.
She’s so delighted by the art that in recent years, she’s led tours to popular quilting exhibitions. Next up, she’ll travel to Paducah, Kentucky, home of the National Quilt Museum for the American Quilter’s Society spring show.
But before that, locals will have the opportunity to meet and see the artistry of their own world class quilter right up the road.
The Quilters Anonymous 38th annual show is Friday, March 15 to Sunday, March 17 at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe. For more information, go to www.tinyurl.com/QuiltShow2019
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