Saltwater Portrait

Linda Dugan: Quilting is a family business

Grandmother develops her own crayoning technique
Rehoboth Beach's Linda Dugan holds up one of her favorite quilts, depicting life at the Delaware beaches. BY RYAN MAVITY
June 28, 2011

For Rehoboth Beach resident Linda Dugan, quilting has become a personal cottage industry.

All around her house are examples of her work: quilts on the walls, on the chairs, she even sewed the pillows on the sofa.

“It’s sort of taking over my house as you can see,” she laughed. “When I retired down here, it was like, I knew when you retired you’re better off when you have something to do.”

After retirement, Dugan tried a number of other hobbies. “I thought I loved to paint. I bought paints. No talents. Then I think clay. No talent,” she said. “I thought I could satisfy that thing with my quilts and my sewing stuff.”

With her bifocal glasses and cheery demeanor, Dugan has a grandmotherly look, so it was fitting that she started quilting when she made a baby quilt for her first grandchild, Logan, in 1995. As a child, Dugan had watched as her grandmother and her grandmother's two sisters worked on quilts. The grandma-to-be got some fabric from Mare's Bears in Lewes and went to work on her first quilt.

"I liked doing that, and of course there were other children that came along," she said.

Dugan moved to Rehoboth permanently in 2000 and found the area rich in quilting clubs. She joined a quilting guild – she is now a member of Seaside Appliqué and Ocean Waves quilting guilds, took some classes and has since made about 30 finished quilts.

“My problem is I tend to have six things going at once,” she joked. “Maybe 10 in the process now.”

She also makes what are called “penny rugs,” which are smaller pieces – sort of like placemats – with designs sewn on to them.

“In the old days, they would take their old wool and they would shrink it. Then they would cut pieces out of it, sew it on. This would have been called a table blanket, but it was like a decoration. They didn’t use them as rugs on the floor,” she said.

One of Dugan’s personal touches on her quilts is what she calls “crayoning.” Instead of dyeing the fabric for color, Dugan uses crayons.

“I decided I wasn’t good enough to do the appliqué and I was just learning. So I got a pattern that I liked. I drew it on the piece of fabric. Then I took Crayola crayons, I don’t know if you ever did it in grade school, but you would crayon a fabric, and then you put a paper towel on it, then you put an iron on it and it melts the wax right into the fabric. That’s what I did, I drew them, colored them, heat set it, and then I embroidered around the edges and then sewed them together – and I got a quilt,” she said.

Dugan said the crayoning itself doesn’t take long, but the embroidery all around the quilt takes around a month.

Dugan has gotten good enough at quilting that she is now doing appliqué, a process that involves sewing a piece of fabric onto a quilt block.

“I have the block, then I have the picture – I bought a pattern – and I would trace all those little parts and then hand-sew them down. You just cut out your pieces and hand-sew them down,” Dugan said.

While she has made a lot of quilts and does quilting demonstrations, Dugan said she has trouble selling her work, not because there's no market for them, but because she is so personally attached to her quilts.

“I tried selling some at this craft fair. It was like selling one of my children. You get invested in it. You may not want it, but you want to be sure it goes to a good home,” she said.

Keeping with the theme of quilting taking over her house, Dugan is now turning her sun porch into a quilting studio.

“I’m giving my daughter the piano,” she laughed. “This is going to be my studio instead of the sun porch because the light is good.”

Originally from Somerset, Pa. – a town 70 miles east of Pittsburgh – Dugan spent most of her life as a homemaker raising her two children. A graduate of Penn State University, Dugan moved to Washington, D.C. in 1988 and soon discovered Rehoboth.

“I had been coming here on vacations every summer, and staying longer and longer and longer. Finally I thought, ‘Why don’t I just move here?’” she said.

Dugan’s son and his family still lives in Pittsburgh, while her daughter’s family lives in Manassas, Va.

Of her new life as a quilter, Dugan said, “I never thought this would be the hobby I’d get into.” One of her favorite works is a quilt with Delaware beach scenes.

“I love it at the ocean. I don’t know why I was born in the mountains,” she said, holding the quilt up. “It sort of has everything that I like about here, Rehoboth Beach and the lighthouses.”

Dugan said her hero is Grandma Moses, who became famous for her paintings later in life.

“She couldn’t do needlepoint anymore, because she got arthritis. So she started painting. I thought, ‘You can find something at any age.’”