Joan Cole with Quilt of Valor pic

Joan Cole shows the Quilt of Valor she made that will go to a local veteran while surrounded by numerous other quilts she has made on display in her dining room.

Morganton resident Joan Cole is leaving a legacy one stitch at a time.

Cole, 85, moved to a cottage at the Grace Ridge Retirement Community in 2013 to be closer to her daughter, Melissa Shaw. The two share a decades-long passion for quilting and get together at Cole’s house to work on their projects.

Cole’s house is bursting with nearly 90 quilts she has made over the years featuring numerous designs, sizes and techniques. The quilts cover beds, tables, furniture cushions, pillows, quilt racks and numerous spaces on the walls of each room, even the kitchen.

“It looks like a museum,” Shaw said.

Cole has had a lifelong artistic impulse that has fueled her creative endeavors. She started hand-embroidering and sewing clothes from a young age. She said wanted to go to art school after she graduated from high school, but at the urging of her parents, pursued a career in drafting instead.

She married her husband, John, and his engineering job took them and eventually their four children all over the country. In the mid-eighties, she found herself in an unusual place.

“From Connecticut, we went to Puerto Rico, so that was a big change,” Cole said. “Some wives wouldn’t do it, but I did.”

She said while she was there, a friend gave her a book about quilting, and she became excited about diving into this new art form. As Puerto Rico didn’t offer a lot of cotton fabric for sale, she had to wait until the next move to start experimenting.

“When we moved to New Jersey, that’s when I started quilting,” Cole said. “There were (quilters’) guilds everywhere. I met other quilters and started making things.”

While Cole was in Puerto Rico, Shaw, then in her mid-twenties, discovered the joy of quilting hundreds of miles away in Oklahoma, when her local cross-stitch shop offered a quilting class.

“She (Cole) taught me how to hand-sew and do hand-embroidery, but I actually started to quilt a little bit before she did,” Shaw said. “We were living worlds apart, but I had that foundation from her from when I was younger. She still has the squirrel I hand-embroidered when I was 8.”

After the first quilting class, Shaw was hooked.

“I thought over the years I might go back to cross-stitching, but I love quilting so much, I haven’t,” Shaw said. “But I still love to do hand-embroidery. I find it very relaxing and therapeutic. You can sit and do it wherever you are. I always have a hand-project – that’s one of the things I’ve learned from her (Cole).”

Cole said she has continued to focus on hand-quilting and embroidery techniques, and is particularly drawn to working with colors.

“I like to work with color and put colors together,” Cole said. “And I like to sit in the evening and do hand-work. Hand-quilting is a dying art.”

Shaw said she and her mother now get together every Monday evening at Cole’s house to work on projects together, a bonding activity that holds even more meaning since John Cole passed away last spring.

“We both can appreciate the other one’s art,” Shaw said. “We’ll help each other if we get stuck on something. She was working on a project recently, and she couldn’t figure out how to lay it out, so we talked about it and she figured it out through that. And I appreciate her color choices. Sometimes I have a hard time picking colors, so if do, I’ll ask her, and I respect her color choices a lot.”

Cole is a member of the Burke Quilters’ Guild and sometimes teaches workshops and presents trunk shows there featuring her vast collection of quilts. Cole and Shaw both belong to the Catawba Valley Quilters’ Guild in Hickory and go to the meetings together.

In addition to all the quilts in her house, Cole makes many quilts to give away to family, friends and various charities. She said this year, she gave 20 quilts to the local hospital, police department and a battered women’s shelter in Hickory. Most of her charity quilts are throw-sized pieces made with a sewing machine. She is currently making a Quilt of Valor, which is a national project that organizes quilters to make quilts to honor veterans.

“She’s very giving of her time and talents,” Shaw said. “She likes to do for others and give things away. It’s therapeutic for her since my dad passed away.”

Shaw said she appreciates sharing her time and talents with her mother.

“Since she’s lived in North Carolina, it’s drawn us closer together, because it’s kind of that common bond that she and I have,” Shaw said.

Tammie Gercken can be reached at

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