Member Spotlight: Nicole McClelland

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“I am a quilter, an African American quilter, who quilts when I can, and what I make isn’t phenomenal,” said Nicole McClelland. “Why would you want to talk to me?” Nicole laughs, and from the other end of the phone, the energy of someone who loves quilting without any agenda is palpable. The South Carolina-based quilter started quilting when she noticed that her husband’s love for football made her, as she calls it, a quilting widow. “I began to take classes to make my mother a quilt,” said McClelland. “I started with a tedious log cabin quilt, and I found I enjoyed it.”

Crimson Swirl quilt made by Nicole McClelland.

McClelland is not a competitive person. She likes to see what other people are working on, and when she gets a chance, she wants to share her work. “I like to be an observer sometimes,” says McClelland. “To me, fabric designers are complete rock stars—I met Tula Pink two years ago, and it was so awesome.” One of the things she loves most about quilting is the sweet, down-to-earth, and talented people. It makes it easy for McClelland to attend as many events as she can. Even her husband has joined her at the shows.

Nicole and her grandmother with the quilt Nicole made for her grandmother's 90th birthday.

“I have two teenagers and a full-time job, so sometimes stress can take over my life,” said McClelland. “I use quilting as fabric therapy, and as much as I set goals, I also am fluid with deadlines.” Most days, she tries to work on some English Paper Piecing, which is slow but works well with her full-time schedule. A project can take three years, and that is just fine. McClelland doesn’t strive to be a prolific quilter; she wants to sew after a hard day of work and watch a television show with her family while she makes a little bit of progress on a project she loves.

A group photo from a retreat Nicole attended in December 2018.

After the Black Lives protests, McClelland has also begun to notice how much she has craved black representation in quilting, especially at guild events. “You want to hear a funny story?” McClelland said. “About two years ago, I signed up for a class with Latifah Saafir in Savannah. Two classes! Then she went and got pregnant on me and canceled.” McClelland was thrilled to take a class with a black woman of Saafir’s stature and experience. Still, when Saafir decided to take time off to enjoy a happy moment in her life, it left an absence of representation. It has been a few years since another quilter of color has taught or spoke in front of her guild.

Galaxy Stars quilt made by Nicole

“I love bright fabrics,” said McClelland. “Lately, I know what I want to do, and I do it.” She did a sew along with a quilter who she met at QuiltCon. She introduced McClelland to the technique of using a low volume background. “In the last four years, I’ve also looked at how fussy cutting lends itself to a kaleidoscope effect that I really love.” McClelland advocates for doing something you like first: if you like being on a machine, do that first, or if you love something challenging, then give that a go. “A creative outlet should bring you joy, and then there is always time to grow within the create and develop new skills that push you outside of your comfort zone.”