Shoot for the Moon… #2 (Please leave comments)

A Brief History of Location

My quilting quest started early in my childhood as side job. After college Gary and I married in 1985 and focused on having a family and settling down. Seven long years of infertility and lots of tough treatments, drugs and science we had our first son Brooks in 1992.  Being a mom at home I worked part time as a graphic designer, mainly designing shopping bags, gift tissue and wrapping paper for leading packaging companies in the USA. We were in Long Island at the time and eventually settled in Columbia MD to raise our son and expand our family. Columbia was the brainchild of Mr. James Rouse who designed Columbia to be a planned community for families. It was a wonderful place to raise a family and we are still in the area today.

We settled in a wonderful Columbian housing development and we made life long friendships with our neighbors. We had 12-15 houses on our street and we must have had 25 kids among the gang. This was the time when I had our two other boys. Someone was always pregnant on the block. Having some extra time on my hands between being a mom and a part time graphic designer I returned to the world of quilting to make my kids baby quilts and eventually making friend quilts for their kids. One of my long time pals, Dana and I took a beginning quilt class by a well known quilter, Pat Brousil (incredible quilter)  at a great quilt shop about 15 miles away in Catonsville named Seminole Sampler.  It was a 6 week complete beginners course. That was it! I was hooked, or maybe the word is “obsessed”! We made samplers. This is where the madness began. I could not just make one sampler – I made two! I developed an insatiable need to learn as much as I could about quilting. I wanted to piece and applique and bind and anything else that allowed me to play with all the wonderful fabrics. Having my childhood experience with the craft quilter when I was young made me very familiar to the whole quilt scene. I guess I just woke up and thought – oh- now it is my turn to make quilts, create things for my home and eventually just make art with fiber and thread.


I had consciously decided in my head that I wanted to get a degree in quilting. So I made up my own QAD (Quilt Arts Degree) since there were not any real quilting programs around.  I decided I needed to know how to piece triangles, paper piece, piece curves, applique by hand, applique by machine etc. The list went on and on. I took classes and read books during every spare moment.  I think that I had made over 50 quilts in a 3-4 year period. All the quilts were traditional. Once and a while I would make a simple baby quilt with a few nine patches and a simple applique for one of the pregnant ladies on my street. No patterns – just nine patches and a simple drawn applique. I really did not “get it” that there were patterns out there. I had several books and I would follow their instruction – but did not get it that you could buy cute little patterns of fun and interesting things. I guess when I was in a quilt shop all I could see was the gorgeous fabrics and never bothered looking at any patterns or books with any intent.  So I went on making quilt after quilt, taking class after class and zeroing in on the “likes” and “dislikes” of my personal quilting journey.I took classes with Ellen Ann Eddie, Ricky Tims, Libby Lehman, Barbara Barbara, and many other quilting names in the business – before they were big names in the business.

Moving to a New Home

We lived in that neighbor of Columbia for 4-5 years and moved in 1999 to a nearby town of Clarksville. We moved from a 1/4 acre lot to 3+ acres of beautiful rolling farmland. When we moved we had our three boys in tow, Brooks 7 years old, Austin 4 years old and Cole 2-1/2 years old. Oh yes – I was a busy lady! I am proud to say that all my boys put down the toilet seat after the pee! Only a mother of three or more boys understand how much of an accomplishment that was!

New house- new decor. I made all the curtains and pillows in my house. We moved in and the entire house was decorated. I know that is nuts – but I was thinking… You know how one goes nuts frantically preparing your old house to be sold? You paint, you clean, you make the house look its best for the potential buyer. Hey – if I can do all that work for someone I will be leaving my house to – I certainly deserve to give as much if not more effort to my new house! So I planned our entire interior decoration and executed it all before we moved in.   So are you somewhat getting a sense of my over the top approach to life? Those of you who know me now know the pattern of over doing everything started early! lol! We moved in and every wall was faux painted, or wall papered. Every window had custom window treatments of window boxes  or draperies. Every bedspread and couch had matching pillows. It was great! Now – doesn’t that make sense? Work your butt off on your house before you move in instead of only when you move out! The best thing about the our new home is that we built a beautiful 2o x 20 craft room for all of my graphics, quilting and school projects.

The first Christmas in our new house I decided to make  Christmas stockings for my family in my craft room/studio. I love Christmas stockings! I wanted a stocking that was beautiful, lined and big to fit the socks, toys and treats that I so fondly remember in my stocking as a child. My mother and father would always stuff the end of the stocking with a big juicy orange. Oranges are big! I could not find a stocking large enough to fit that orange.  (As an aside – none of my kids love oranges – they would rather have a toy, gift card or candy in that fat toe now!) So I discovered that there was a cute quilt shop less than 4 miles from my house! What a wonderful thing! So I went to “The Quilt Block” and bought some fabric. I loved the moda prints and homespuns in that time, actually I still do. I have not met too many types of fabrics I do not love! I layed out the fabric and just started cutting. I made one and it was a bit too skinny. So it was okay because I still had four more to go. I made the next and the lining was a bit funky. On the third I got most of the shape right by that time and wanted to jazz it up a bit so I added some prairie points. By the fourth stocking I decided to make a cardboard pattern. The forth came out best to that point but still needed some minor adjustments. The fifth stocking was perfect. I had a pattern from cardboard and 4 wonky “off” stockings and one good one. I brought my creations to The Quilt Block and the owner Diane said – hey Debra, those are great. What pattern did you use? I said – no pattern I just made my own.  She asked if I would be interested in teaching a class. I had three young boys at home and I was just moving into a new home – there was NO WAY I would be able to teach a class.  That changed after two of the three boys were in school and I had my baby in pre-school.  I taught my first class in the attic of The Quilt Block sometime around 2000-2001.

My First Quilting Gig

I brought my cardboard patterns and we all made stockings. I think I had 4-6 students and they all left with a finished project in 3 hours. The students loved the project and asked if I taught other classes. I discovered I LOVED teaching in the peaked roof attic in Dayton MD with my first class. That was the beginning of my pattern business. I made a paper pattern with written instructions for the “Prairie Point Stocking”. I sold a ton of those little patterns and taught the class many more times. In my personal life my friends were still having babies. I would show the ladies at The Quilt Block my baby shower gifts for my fertile friends and they would say – “You need to make a pattern of that”.  The next thing you know – I have a pattern of “Trucks ” and I am teaching raw edge applique.  That was the beginning of Zebra Patterns. At that time I did not have the brand “Zebra” – it was just a pattern with a picture of the finished quilt and a small credit …. “designed by Debra Gabel”.

{More to come – come back – leave a comment!}


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Linda Dixon
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 13:29:57

    What an inspiration you are! And, your story helps to explain my obsession with learning just about every technique. YES, it is like pursuing a degree in Quilting Arts and I’ve got to try all those techniques to get down the basics and the lingo. I would venture to say, however, that you are currently working on your Master’s or PhD.

    I, too, lived in Columbia, MD (Kings Contrivance). My son was born there in 1993. I’ve since moved west to Laytonsville, but I still love to visit. It makes me smile when I come across a new street name. In fact, I think Columbia’s method for picking street names just might work for picking quilt names… a classic novel, open the book randomly, select a phrase from the page in front of you. Hmm, I’ll have to try it.

    No quilt gigs in my life yet. But, I reiterate that you are an inspiration. This quilting journey is an open road to a destination I don’t know yet. I’m just enjoying the scenery and translating it to fiber art as I go. It is a pleasure to read about your journey too.


    • zebrapatterns
      Apr 29, 2009 @ 14:02:41

      Thank you so much for your comment. That was my intention – to inspire. Do you belong to any local guilds?


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