On Saturday, May 11, Wake Forest University said goodbye to Ron Wellman, the man who had been the face of Wake Forest athletics since 1992.
To commemorate his contribution to the university’s programs, he received a beautiful one-of-a-kind quilt made from T-shirts representing the range of sports he had overseen with such passion and pride. The quilt was stitched by Gloria Stickney, who has spent 13 years pouring her love for the university into the artistry of her quilts, made for alums who want something unique and personal to remind them of their journey through WFU. It was a perfect gift to remind Wellman of the thousands of lives he had influenced while he led Wake Forest athletics.
“The T-shirts are a touch point,” says Stickney. “Each shirt in the quilt holds a lifetime of memories, and when he touches the quilt, he can remember the difference he made.”
By day, Stickney works at Wake Forest University as a grants and contracts manager. It’s an intense job, requiring extensive business skills. So outside of work hours, early in the morning and into the evening, she works on her quilts. It’s a lot of work, but for Stickney it’s a labor of love.
She sort of stumbled into this side business with Bob, her husband of 40 years. Gloria has been sewing her whole life, starting with a Barbie dress she designed and sewed from scrap fabric her mother had on hand. As many girls her age did, she took home economics in junior high, where she learned to sew her own clothes. She even made a family quilt with her parents and siblings.
But it’s the quilts she makes for Wake Forest University that have transformed her life and touched so many others. To take part in the university’s annual artisan fair, she turned to quilting — an art form she knew from her youth and from her aunt, who is also a quilter. In 2006 she found WFU logo fabrics and used them to make her Dreamin’ Deacon quilt. She used Demon Deacon logos and mascots to adorn the quilt and stitched footballs on the back.
Donald “Buz” Moser, who was then-director of university stores at the college, provided instructions of filing for licensing with Wake Forest University. Gloria and Bob copyrighted their design, incorporated their business as Sew Fabulous, Inc., and secured licensing with the university.
In the early days the work was hard but fulfilling. Without all the proper machinery needed to create her custom-designed quilts, she would sew the toppers at home during the week and drive to her aunt’s fabric shop in Knoxville, Tennessee, to do the quilting work and then come home to put on the finishing touches.
“After about five or six trips like this, we decided we had to do something,” Gloria says. “But longarm quilters were expensive.”
When a local fabric shop sold its floor-model longarm quilter, she and Bob bit the bullet and purchased it. Now they have two longarm quilters and create their designs digitally.
“We’re able to cut and paste from multiple patterns for a very custom design,” Gloria says. “That’s what makes us different, what we’re doing with these quilting designs. There are a lot of digitizers out there and we need to stand out.”
Gloria and Bob aren’t slowing down anytime soon. They have multiple people who work with their business on a seasonal basis, and they have created their own Wake Forest University fabric and two new Demon Deacon quilt designs — Roll the Quad and Deacon on Parade. And while about 25 percent of their business is licensing work for the university, she also quilts for local quilting shows, creates baby quilts and memory quilts, and makes tote bags, hats, pillows, and dog scarves.
But each quilt is a labor of love.
“I try to balance colors and sashes, borders, backing, and stitching designs,” Gloria says. “And many of the future owners get very involved with the process. I love seeing their reaction to the quilts. People see the pictures of T-shirt quilts, but you can’t really tell until you touch it how special it is.”
After making many quilts over the years, Gloria doesn’t remember every quilt she’s made, but she uses her connections with people to pray for them as she stitches.
“My husband was in the ministry and then he was a teacher,” she says. “We have a heart for showing people the love of Christ, and we pray that their lives will be touched.”