Last living founder of Mountain Top Quilters
For much of her adult life, Prescott native and nonagenarian Jimmie Johnson’s best friend has been a Singer 401 A sewing machine she purchased for less than $100 back in the early 1950s.
Nothing fancy, Jimmie counts the not-quite-yellow stitching “work horse” as a big player in her life. The just-inducted Arizona Quilters Hall of Fame honoree spends time most days in front of the “antique” perched on a card table next to stacks of 100 percent cotton cloth she crafts into fabric masterpieces. These days, Jimmie said she likes to make “mystery quilts” in classes with fellow members of the Mountain Top Quilters Guild. Jimmie is believed to be the guild’s last living founder.
“I HAVE to sew every day,” Jimmie declares from a rocking chair just beyond her sewing table.
How many quilts has she designed and pieced together as bedspreads, mural-size wall hangings, table runners, holiday decorations, pot holders, window treatments, even gift writing pens (each is lined with a different color fabric) since she discovered the art form in the late 1970s?
“I couldn’t begin to tell you,” said Jimmie who learned to sew as a child making her own doll clothes.
On the walls of the Prescott home where Jimmie and her late husband, Albert, raised her now two adult daughters - Jimmie has four grandchildren, seven great grand-children and eight great-great grandchildren - are various samples of Jimmie’s original designs and handiwork. She has a preference for bright colors and complex piecing in patterns she designs with an old-fashioned protractor and drafting paper.
In the early days of their marriage, the one-time Woolworth’s employee said she could “sew, talk to him (her husband) and see everybody go by,” Jimmie said of her sewing spot in front of the front living room window that looks out onto the neighborhood sidewalk.
With Halloween right around the corner, Jimmie’s back wall is decorated with a Log Cabin-style pumpkin quilt with a silhouette witch, bat, cat and spider in the four corners. The piecing is precise, and impressive – and she names and signs each one of her quilts. She doesn’t sell her quilts, but rather exhibits and donates to area quilt shows or gives them away as gifts.
“She’s pretty famous for her pillowcases,” said granddaughter Tina Childers.
Childers and her mother Darlene Williams, tease that quilting to Jimmie is far more than a hobby: it’s a lifestyle.
“Don’t touch her scissors,” they say almost in one voice as they elaborate that the best way to raise Jimmie’s ire is to borrow her scissors to cut anything other than fabric.
Indeed, Jimmie’s quilting tools and fabrics are pretty sacrosanct. She keeps them in particular “tool boxes” and knows exactly what is in her various fabric stacks spread in various places around her living room/sewing space. Her quilting friends admire her penchant for simplicity – she said she sees no reason to spend several thousand dollars for a new sewing machine when the one she has had for so many years “does everything I need it to do.”
She does have a specialized Serger machine for certain projects; she recently sold a Singer Featherweight machine to a fellow guild member.
And she has a treasured tailor’s thimble for hand quilting, a skill she has perfected and taught for years.
Guild member Linda Marley, who nominated Jimmie to the Hall of Fame that celebrated its induction luncheon in Phoenix last weekend, Jimmie has been a mentor for over 15 years.
In her nomination letter, Marley said Jimmie is known for organizing guild quilt shows, and was part of drafting and constructing the guild’s first Pioneer Quilt, with proceeds donated to the Sharlot Hall Museum.
Jimmie is not one to seek accolades. Her quilting guild friends, though, said her love for the craft, and incredible skills, are worthy of recognition.
“Even today her entire family relies on her to make quilts for new great grandbabies, graduations and weddings,” Marley wrote in her nomination. “Obviously, she has never lost her love of quilting, sewing, and needlework since she began using a needle and thread 85 years ago. Those around her continue to learn from her, sharing in that same love of quilting.”
The guild recently gifted Jimmie a floral quilted wall hanging with a signature block that reads, “Every Quilt Guild Needs a Jimmie Johnson.”