Christine Fraga-Thorton…Takes tradition and turns it on its side

ThorntonportraitWhat a great idea…a room can only have so many quilts (you decide the number) but what if those quilt blocks are still whispering your name?  Christine figured out how to have more…locker hook a rug to match your quilt…why hadn’t I thought of that?  Christine is new to the College this year and I for one hope that she’ll be with us for many years to come.  She is clearly a mistress of written communication and her sense of color is lovely.   Her projects elegantly combine practicality with artistry…isn’t that one of the definitions of craft?  This year you can take two of Christine’s classes, Lap Weave Your Bits and Pieces on Saturday and Lap Weave Your Bits and Pieces on Friday.

We all wanted to know more about this beautiful woman, so here’s the beginning of a new relationship…in her own words:

Dear World…here’s “more than a little bit about me, Christine Fraga Thornton.”  It’s a good thing I don’t have a blog; I’d never get back to my creations.

When I’m not teaching textile-related classes, I’m a freelance court reporter which allows me to work from my home office only steps away from my sewing and art studio.  When our house burned (on Valentine’s Day) several years ago, my husband and I were living and working in Nigeria.  I had been home visiting family when it happened, so I returned to Africa until we were able to rebuild.

In Nigeria, my husband bought me a brand new treadle machine in the open market.  I used it to make clothing for the local “Motherless Babies” home, as well as drapes, quilts, and decor for our living quarters.  While there, I taught two young women to sew, and we purchased a treadle machine for one.  Our Nigerian friends were surprised that American women were so versatile – using the laptop and satellite phone to run the office, painting the apartment, fixing locksets, sewing drapes, knitting dishcloths, making rugs, cooking, cleaning, and hand-washing laundry.  When I first baked bread at home, they were amazed – they previously thought it could only come from bakeries.

I returned to the States the spring following the fire.  (9/11 delayed my planned return in September.)  My first replacement purchases were a laptop and steno machine to make money, and a sewing machine to make clothes.  While living with my mother-in-law, I began gutting the only structure that remained on our property, a two-car garage. Over the course of that spring and summer, with the help of a couple friends, we turned the garage into a cottage for two with wonderful natural light.  I personally installed all the insulation, painted every inch of trim, and otherwise was the “go-fer” when I wasn’t taking depositions or sewing clothes and draperies.

Now, I am back at full creative strength, and my loft studio is outfitted with eight sewing machines (including two sergers, two antique treadles, a mid-arm quilter, and a child’s machine), a knitting machine, spinning wheel, tapestry loom, rigid heddle loom, several lap looms, a large cutting table and more totes of fabric and yarn than I’d care to itemize.  (The easel and painting supplies are kept in my office downstairs.)

As president of the Bangor Chapter of the American Sewing Guild, I have been busy the past two years helping teach classes in garment sewing and other related arts, including hand quilting, locker-hooked rugs, Russian punch needle embroidery, and weaving using lap-sized portable looms.

In addition to our guild members, I am teaching my two granddaughters to sew.  The four-year-old has just sewn her first dress, while the 10-year-old loves to make totes and purses.  I started sewing before the age of five and my mother’s machine was always available.  My mother was very artistic and loved to learn new techniques.  We were always tackling something creative, be it home décor or fashion.  From Mom, among other things, I learned to embroider, knit, crochet, sew, and draw.  Most of all, I learned to appreciate the beauty in my surroundings and correct my mistakes when I found them, so they wouldn’t haunt me later on.   (From the fire I learned that life is unpredictable, so sometimes projects are better done than perfect.)

Attending Trinity College in Vermont, I earned my bachelor’s degree in English and Fine Arts, especially enjoying one professor’s interest in textiles borne out of her father’s woolen factory in England.  I bought my first rigid heddle loom in college and used it for many projects.  It wasn’t until I had lived in Maine for many years that I bought my first spinning wheel and taught myself to spin.  (My husband was astonished at the language that came out of my mouth during those first ill-fated attempts.)   Throughout this time, I continued to design and sew, taking classes whenever I could, joining the American Quilter’s Society, Maine’s Pine Tree Quilters, and the American Sewing Guild.

My favorite creative endeavors are when I use my own drawings to design a quilt, a wall-hanging hooked with wool strips, or a cotton locker-hooked rug that matches my one-of-a-kind quilt.  I especially love to design an entire room, beginning with painting, re-upholstering, designing and sewing custom draperies, and finishing with wall-hangings, pillows and throw rugs.

I’ve gotten off track from the questions asked, but I’ll try to meander back to the path.  One question was “What’s your favorite tool?”  That is a really difficult choice.  The one tool I knew I couldn’t live without and brought to Africa was a rotary cutter.  I also lugged along a 33 x 60 inch cutting mat – that wasn’t easy, let me tell you!  I first learned about rotary cutters and acrylic rulers in quilt guild.  Later, I started using a small rotary cutter for garment sewing and have never looked back.  I can lay out and cut an elaborate suit with no pins in less than 15 minutes!  Then I can get to the fun part, putting all those pieces into something recognizable.

I guess when it comes right down to it, that’s my favorite thing – taking a simple everyday thing and turning it into something beautiful, whether a pile of yarn and ribbon that becomes the focal point of a pillow/purse/pocket, or an assortment of cotton fabrics cut into strips that become a beautiful or playful rug/hotpad/mat.  These are the things I will be sharing at Fiber College this year.

ThorntonmatsIn 2004, I started locker-hooking rugs to match my quilts.  I’ve used cotton fabric and Polarfleece, first following published patterns and then designing my own.  Along the way, I’ve incorporated techniques learned from rug hooking with wool to make a more satisfying finished piece – front and back.  Also, I’ve learned to calculate the yardage I’ll need for a design, varying calculations by the materials used.

For “Hook Rugs to Match your Quilt or Decor,” we’ll be making 9” locker-hooked mats.  To prepare the kits, I’ve drawn four different designs and am cutting all the cotton strips for each mat.  I’ve pre-sewn the edges of 12 canvasses and am whip-stitching three edges with coordinating strips.  In addition, each student will receive a locker hook, yarn needle and cotton yarn for “locking” the fabric strips.  From teaching previous classes, I’ve learned to eliminate some time-consuming preparation so students can get right to locker-hooking.   While students are “hooking,” we will discuss design techniques and finishing tips that are also contained on the handouts students can take home.  Using large pieces of graph paper, colored pencils, and markers, students can practice designing custom rugs.

The other class I’ll be teaching is “Lap Weave Your Bits & Pieces.” I’ve started making 12 very portable looms from recycled cardboard, which will be covered with batting and neutral fabric.  Each loom will be pre-warped with two colors of cotton yarn, and every kit contains a wonderful assortment of various weights yarn, ribbon, a weaving needle and yarn needle.  My yarn stash is sorted by colorways, and it’s been great fun making 12 kits of coordinating fibers with vibrant accents.  While students are weaving, we’ll discuss uses for the small woven projects, with examples of pillows, totes, and mats.  In addition to discussing weaving design, use of texture, and color choices, students are encouraged to share their personal fiber-interest stories.   My students find this freeform weaving a very relaxing and addictive process, and it’s a great way to use those little bits and pieces of wonderful yarns you have left over from larger projects.

2 thoughts on “Christine Fraga-Thorton…Takes tradition and turns it on its side

  1. I know her mother and she be proud of you seeing how much you’ve done. I know your brother is!

    How about some Christmas presents; maybe a Hat?

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