Bill West is not afraid to tackle something he’s never tried before.
Retiring after 30 years as an agriculture teacher, he learned to care for his wife who had Parkinson’s Disease. He did that while still having 360 head of cattle to tend.
When expenses increased, West didn’t hesitate to take a leap of faith and sell everything to provide for his wife’s health needs, but he does admit one thing threw him for a loop.
“I wasn’t much of a cook,” he said. “I could maybe fry an egg.”
Not satisfied with staying at that level, West searched for ways to improve.
“I started watching cooking shows,” he said. “I ended up really liking to cook and I’ve come a long way from gravy that wouldn’t even come off the spoon.”
A few years after his wife passed away, West remarried. He got back into farming and raising cattle.
“My wife, Cindy, expressed interest in leaning to sew, so I bought her a machine,” he said.
“She took some lessons from Violet Hard at Violet’s Sewing Room in Ripley.”
When Cindy found that sewing wasn’t for her, West saw an opportunity to learn something new.
“Violet did alterations so I took some things over,” he said. “In conversation, I said ‘why don’t you teach me to sew’ and that’s exactly what happened.”
When most people first learn to sew, they make something simple, but not Bill West. He made a shirt for his wife.
“That John Deere shirt was a challenge,” he said with a laugh. “Getting all those tractors going in the right direction was a little tough.”
As a lark, West entered the shirt into the Jackson Junior Fair. He won a blue ribbon and the best of fair award.
“Now, that was a surprise,” West said. “It encouraged me to continue to learn more ways to fix and alter clothes.”
Hard was not content to let her student get complacent. She strongly encouraged West to expand his creative side. She wanted him to quilt.
West said it took some convincing, but he finally agreed to try.
“Coming up with a design was a challenge,” he said. “I wanted to make something for my wife who loves taking pictures of sunsets.”
He started looking for inspiration and found it in an unexpected place.
“I was looking at one of my bull catalogs,” West said with a smile. “I saw this scene that had a shed in it. I didn’t like that, so we decided to change it to a tree.”
Raw edge applique was the technique used for this first quilt. They then used foundation piecing which, according to Hard, is more secure. When the tree got a little nick in it, West said they just added a bird’s nest.
After that, West was hooked on quilting even though he didn’t let his instructor know immediately.
“I didn’t want Violet to get her hopes up,” he said. “But I wanted to do more.”
He soon revealed his wish to continue to learn new techniques, so he and Hard looked for more nature scenes. This time the subject was cows.
Hard sketched out the basic scene but she said, “It blossomed.”
The cow, which was the star of the quilt, began with a black and white face but that didn’t satisfy the picture West had in mind.
“My wife’s favorite cow is #8,” he said. “Cindy took a picture and I looked at that cow as art for the first time. I had never really noticed the white face before. Plus, #8 has an attitude and it shows in this quilt.”
Learning how to do collage quilting and French knots was a challenge, but one West enjoyed. Hard added Dresden plate flowers and the new quilter said it needed a hay bale.
“There are all kinds of hidden things in this quilt,” Hard said. “To see Bill want to add more creative and artistic touches is very special.”
When Hard talks about her student, it’s clear that she’s very proud of him.
“He’s such a dedicated quilter,” she said. “He comes three times a week and follows directions very well, but a lot of the design is his.”
West says that when he sews or quilts, he’s in a different world which he describes as a relaxing, happy place. He credits his teacher with making learning enjoyable.
“Violet doesn’t pressure me at all,” he says. “We laugh a lot and if I get tired, I go home.”
West is pleased with how far he’s progressed in both sewing and quilting. He has made his wife a jacket, along with the original John Deere shirt. He also said that since he’s started quilting, his sister has taken up crochet.
West said he’s come a long way from the first day he went into Joann’s Fabrics to get some material for the #8 quilt.
“I went in knowing I’d need help,” he said with a chuckle. “Figuring I’d need an expert, I went up to the counter and asked to see Joann. Those employees looked at me like I was crazy. We had a good laugh and then they helped me a lot.”
As for the future, West says that he plans to have his quilt done by Christmas. Then he’ll see what’s next in store for “Wild Bill West,” the label he’s begun putting on his creations.
“I’m interested in a lot of things,” he said. “But I really enjoy farming, flowers, and quilting.”