Some people think quilt making is a craft; others consider it an art. In the hands of Robin Snider, itís both. She has been into serious quilt making for about 25 years and her passion for it keeps building.
Although she says itís a hobby and not a business, she works with quilts full time and mostly does it for other people. She sums up her job description in simple terms.
"I make quilts for people. I do all kinds of quilts," she said.
She takes custom orders, as well as making some on her own to sell. She likes making signature quilts, but will tackle about any job she thinks she can handle. She has promised a man sheíll attach a quilt to a bearskin when the weather warms up so she can do it outdoors.
"I donít want a bearskin in my house," she said.
She doesnít just make quilts. She also restores and repairs old ones or finishes some that others have started. She once fully restored an old quilt she salvaged from a trash can after she spotted along the road.
"I do a little of everything," she said. "I restore them if the dog chewed it up or it was damaged in a fire."
One of her great joys is finishing a quilt started by someone who passed away before it was completed. She has done some of those and believes itís a great honor, as well as a project that touches her heart.
She lives in the Mohawk section of Greene County now, but is a Hamblen County native who is the daughter of a preacher. They lived out in the country on farm along Spencer Hale Road in the south part of Hamblen County. Money was always tight, so her mother made most of the clothes for the six kids in the family.
"When we went to school, the other kids all thought we were rich because our clothes were so much nicer than everybody elseís," she said. "My mom sewed all the time and she still does. Sewing and quilting is something thatís been in my family forever and a day."
In a family of sewing enthusiasts, it was her grandmother who introduced her and two girl cousins to quilt making when they were old enough to work a needle.
"We were all 9 or 10 or 11," she recalls.
She admits at that age they didnít always pay as much attention to quilting lessons as they should have. There were plenty of times when they were thinking more about getting out of the house to play. Thatís an attitude she regrets now.
"If I had it to do over, Iíd sit and listen to every world," she said.
Despite her love of quilting, she has not always worked at it. She has had jobs in furniture factories and once worked in a restaurant. She also enjoyed restoring old furniture, bringing it back to like-new status. Somehow, though, quilting moved to first place in her working life.
For most of her quilting career she did it all by hand. That changed last November when she took delivery of a brand new industrial quilting machine from a Wisconsin company called Nolting. Deciding to have a mechanical aid was not just to speed things up or make it easier. She has been developing carpal tunnel syndrome from too much hand work.
Thereís still plenty of hand sewing involved, however. She thinks thatís why many people who start quilts never finish them. It is time consuming and sometimes painful when a needle pokes a finger, which is a regular job hazard.
"Iíve got a big box of Band Aids. Thatís one of the first things you learn to have when you start quilting," she said.
The Band Aids do more than provide mild medical treatment. She lives in fear of getting blood on a quilt in progress.
Getting a quilting machine, which is long and takes up a lot of space, posed a problem. Where to put it? Her brother, Mike Snider, solved that problem by building her a work room in the basement of his home south of Morristown, not far from the old Snider home place. She drives from Mohawk to her brotherís most days. If the weather is bad, she stays home and does hand sewing with a quilt on her lap.
Fabrics for quilts come from "everywhere I can find it" she said. She spends a lot of time in various fabric stores in several towns. It took her nearly five years to find the right fabrics for one yellow quilt she has on display in her work room.
Because both her home and her work room are in out-of-the locations, she provides pick up and delivery service for anyone who wants her to do anything associated with quilt making.
Another aspect of the work she likes is studying the history of quilts.
"Quilts have been in the history of this country since it started. Thereís more to them than keeping warm," she said.
As an example, she told about how different colors on quilts were used as secret signals for slaves seeking freedom as they made their way northward before the Civil War. A quilt hanging on a clothes line indicated if it was safe to stop or if danger lurked nearby.
When she isnít working on a quilt, she loves to talk about how to make them and the different patterns. She has a book that identifies more than 5,500 patterns and often uses it to help people who have old family quilts tell what kind it is.
She said she is always willing to help people who are making quilts and she doesnít charge for information.
"If people have questions about quilts, they can call me," she said. "This is what I do."
Because itís time consuming and requires a lot of hand stitching, quilt making is not a popular as it was in the days when it was necessity for most homemakers.
"Not a lot of people quilt anymore. Itís sad. Weíre losing part of our heritage," she said.
Anyone who would like to talk about quilts and thinks they can use Robinís talents can reach her by calling 423-307-7126.