Speculating on the profile of a quilt thief is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Fleshing out human traits and characteristics can prove fruitless – after all, who would steal a quilt? It seems so unlikely as to be unfathomable. The facts are, however, some quilters and fibre artists have suffered devastating losses at the hands of elusive, faceless, and nameless quilt thieves, who often peddle their stolen wares for a mere fraction of their intrinsic value.
A few quilters have had their life’s work taken from them in the blink of an eye; their future path and livelihood altered in an instant. Karen Combs and Meryl Ann Butler are two such women who have faced tremendous adversity and have “chosen” to bounce back with an amazing spirit and resiliency.
Karen Combs is a travelling quilt teacher who had her quilts stolen from the trunk of her parked and locked car in March of 2012. Karen was staying at a reputable hotel in New Braunsfel, Texas when her vehicle was vandalized sometime during the night before she was scheduled to teach her class. According to police, thieves smashed the windows of her car, popped the trunk and took everything that was in her vehicle including a suitcase containing her quilts and class supplies. The theft was random in nature, and although several suspects were charged, Karen has not recovered any of her prized and treasured work.
Karen’s educated opinion is that the “smash and grab” thieves may have tried to pawn her quilts, hawk them to flea market vendors or merely tossed them in the landfill! A heartbreaking notion and inconceivable violation.
The most remarkable part of Karen’s story is her unfaltering resilience. Not only did she teach her class later that very morning she discovered the theft, but she re-made all the quilts for her Patchwork Illusions class within the next several weeks! Working night and day mind you, but she did it. Karen says, “While sewing, I resisted the temptation to become so angry and so sad that I could not focus on my work. The way I looked at it, I had two choices – fall apart and let the theft destroy me or move forward and remake the quilts”.
Meryl Ann Butler is a creative force. She is a teacher, quilter, fibre artist and author (90-Minute Quilts and More 90-Minute Quilts) whose joyful outpouring is an inspiration to her many students. On August 8, 2001, Meryl Ann suffered a car prowling and theft while she was attending classes at the Art Academy of Los Angeles in Sherman Oaks, California. Like Karen Combs, thieves broke into Meryl Ann’s parked vehicle and removed suitcases containing almost all of her textile and quilting projects – basically her life’s work.
A “show and tell” with classmates had prompted Meryl Ann to pack and transport her treasured work to class that day. She purposefully parked her car in the secluded, shady portion of the parking lot. Once class was concluded, she placed her quilts and wearable art back into the trunk of her car. The theft occurred later that same afternoon while she was running an errand with a friend. She feels it’s entirely possible that she was targeted for the theft; she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched. Meryl Ann disregarded her intuition as silly. What a shame! Despite a police report, thorough searches of surrounding dumpsters, and posting signs of the theft, none of Meryl Ann’s fibre art has been recovered…….yet. In keeping with her indomitable spirit and taking into account the unique quality of her work, Meryl Ann remains optimistic that some day her pieces may be recovered.
While Karen Combs and Meryl Ann Butler were victims of car prowlers and thieves, Sally Schneider and Denise Hamilton were victimized in an entirely different manner. Sally Schneider loves creating scrap quilts. She is a designer and author of many quilt-related books, including Scrap Quilts Fit for a Queen. In the making of that publication, Sally shipped three of her quilt projects via FedEx ground from her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico to her publisher in Washington State. Disturbingly, only two of her three quilts made the entire journey! Farmer’s Daughter was removed from the shipping bin prior to its ultimate arrival in Washington. “Sally Schneider Quilts” was listed as the return address on the shipping documents, unwittingly alerting thieves to the bins’ contents. Although Sally has re-made Farmer’s Daughter, she placates herself for the loss of her work by contemplating the sweet notion that her quilt was stolen by a single mother who desperately needed to keep her children warm on chilly evenings.
In May of 2013 in Tampa, Florida, FedEx delivered a package to Denise’s front door. The package contained a quilt pieced together by Denise Hamilton and quilted by a friend that lived in Arkansas. The longarm quilter was returning Denise’s work to her via ground delivery. Unfortunately, the FedEx delivery person left the package at Denise’s front door when no one was at home. All Denise found was the remnants of her delivery in the form of a FedEx door tag verifying that her quilt had indeed been delivered. Denise offered a small reward, reported the theft to both FedEx and to the police and posted signs all around her neighborhood. She has not recovered her quilt.
Countless renditions circulate on how few dollars a thief will actually realize by selling a stolen quilt. Handmade, craftily pieced, amazingly beautiful quilts have been stolen by thieves and sold to unsuspecting vendors for the staggering low, low price of $50.00 or less!
Maria Elkins is the creator of the website, www.lostquilt.com. In her role as Webmaster, she has heard and recorded countless stories of stolen quilts, and has played a huge role in bringing some quilts home to their rightful owners. Despite her expertise and experiences, even she struggles to define the motivations behind quilt theft.
Sadly, there are no sure-fire ways to prevent a theft from happening. Be open to the possibility that your work could be stolen, and that “yes, it could happen to you!” Some precautions worth considering:
· Write on the back of your quilt with a sharpie over part of the hand or machine quilting. This is an infinitely better method of signing your work than is affixing a label…a label can be snipped off with ease.
· When shipping or receiving a quilt, refrain from using the word “quilt” on the shipping documentation. Instead, use innocuous terms like “textile”, “yard good” or perhaps “wall hanging”.
· Be sure someone is home when a quilt is due to be delivered. Request FedEx or UPS not to leave the package without first receiving a signature. Don’t leave your precious quilt at the front door of an unoccupied residence –it may just find itself a brand new home!
· Pay attention to your intuition; it may be your greatest protection.
· When storing your quilts in the car, park your vehicle in a very well-lit, well-populated sector of a parking lot and limit the time period your quilts are left unattended in the vehicle.
(Stay tuned for Part Two of Stolen)
If you or anyone you know have had your work stolen, please leave me a comment on my blog. Thanks everyone.